Bottom line: An eye-catching pair of truly wireless earbuds that look and sound terrific. However, the price point makes it prohibitive and makes the AirPods Pro look like a discount product — which isn't good for B&W!
Near perfect sound and call clarity
Durable smart charger
Useful companion app
Noise cancellation is not extraordinary
Where's the balance?
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Although Apple's AirPods Pro remains the best true wireless earbuds on the market, there are other standouts to consider. One of these, the Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones, feature a brilliant design that matches its nearly perfect sound.
Available in two color combinations (white and charcoal), with each accented in gold, the mostly comfortable earbuds offer adaptive noise cancellation, fast charging, and more. Though not for everyone because of its price and other factors, the B&W P17 Headphones appeal to Apple and non-Apple device owners alike because of their compatibility with iOS and Android, respectively.
In this review, you'll learn more about one of the newest true wireless headphones on the market and discover where it shines and lacks.
Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones: Price and availability
You can find the earbuds directly through the B&W website and retailers like Best Buy and B&H Audio. Though also being sold by Amazon, the headphones were out of stock when this review was released.
Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones: Strong, a mostly good fit, excellent battery life
True wireless earbuds must check various boxes that go beyond audio and battery life to rise to the top of the food chain. Among these is a solid built quality that doesn't translate into a weighty experience in the ears. Though the P17 headphones are a tad larger than the well-received Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2 and heavier than the AirPods Pro, at no time do the earbuds look or feel heavy. Additionally, the headphones include one of the best-designed smart charging cases to date. Slender yet durable, the case easily fits into pockets, making it easy to carry around.
The headphones hold enough power for up to four hours of continuous wireless playback; with the case, you can experience up to 20 hours of listening enjoyment before it needs a charge. Though it takes up to three hours to fully charge the case, a 15-minute quick charge provides up to two hours of playback time. The P17 Headphones ship with a USB-A to USB-C charging cable. The P17 case also works with compatible Qi chargers.
From a comfort standpoint, these earbuds mostly work. However, at least initially, those will smaller ears might have difficulty finding the perfect fit since the headphones only come with three silicone ear tip options. Luckily, it works with most standard ear tips, so it's a possible problem with a quick solution.
For sound, Bowers & Wilkins didn't hold back with varying degrees of success. Both earpieces in the P17 include dual drivers and individual amplifiers that do a great job of balancing higher frequencies and delivering precise vocals. There's also a 9.2mm dynamic driver for clear mids and extended bass. The satisfaction level is less so here since Bowers & Wilkins once again takes a balanced approach; this isn't necessarily bad, but it's neither extraordinary.
The P17 Headphones support Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless music listening and phone calls. Additionally, there's aptX Adaptive, which automatically adjusts to prioritize audio quality or low latency, depending on your listening situation. With aptX HD decoding, you're guaranteed high-quality music streaming on all compatible devices. With multi-point connections, you can pair the P17 to two devices at once.
For calling, the P17 serves up three mics in each earpiece. During my testing, calls were mostly clear, although drop-outs did occur when making some calls while driving. There were fewer problems when using the P17 with Siri and Google Assistant, which you can access using the headphone's touch-capacitive controls. Those controls are also used for noise cancellation and music playback.
Finally, I'm a big believer in companion audio apps and believe they add to the overall experience. So on this point, Bowers & Wilkins deserves some kudos. The free app for iOS and iPad makes it possible to control and change noise-canceling settings, update the headphones' firmware, listen to soundscapes, and more.
The P17 Headphones ship with USB-A to USB-C and 3.5mm to USB-C cables in a unique twist. By connecting the USB-C end of either cable to the charging case with the other end attached to a music source, the case can act as a retransmitter. The case can stream the audio playing to the in-ears at aptX Low Latency standard. The feature is ideally suited for gaming consoles and in-flight entertainment systems.
The P17 earbuds also feature Bluetooth repeater functionality. With this, you can share sounds with a secondary Bluetooth device, which adds to the cool factor if for nothing else.
Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones: Weak noise cancellation, more about that sound, and where's the volume
Adaptive noise cancellation is an essential ingredient to any successful true wireless headphones. The P17 tries really hard to stand out on this point. Unfortunately, it only does a good job here, not a great one. Through ambient pass-through, you can control the sound transparency by cycling through various levels using a slider in the app. This process is much more thorough than what Apple offers for the AirPods Pro. However, there's no setting where all the outside sound is removed from the experience. For most folks, this shouldn't be a dealbreaker. And yet, it's still a tiny annoyance that's worth mentioning.
Circling back around, the biggest takeaway about the P17 Headphones is just how balanced the sound is here at all levels. There's nothing wrong with this, although offering EQ controls via the app would be nice. Where things stand, you're left with an effective, enjoyable listening experience and yet one that lacks any punch.
Then finally, there's the P17's biggest omission: There's currently no way to control the playback volume from the headphones! The massive oversight could be one easily corrected by a software update. But, unfortunately, Bowers & Wilkins have yet to offer one. Perhaps it will at some point as users continue to complain about the missing feature.
Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones: Competition
The true wireless headphone market continues to grow. Besides the AirPods Pro and Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, you should check out Master & Dynamics latest lineup of in-app audio products, including the stylish MW08 (opens in new tab).
Bowers & Wilkins P17 Headphones: Should you buy them?
You should buy this if ...
- You want an AirPod Pro alternative with more compatibility
- You're looking for something more unique
- You don't care about spending more on high-quality items
You shouldn't buy this if...
- You're only using Apple products
- You are on a budget
- You have tiny ears
In summary, the B&W P17 Headphones are a highly rated product that most would-be buyers would enjoy having. They are built for long-term use, offer a nice balanced sound, and look terrific in the ears.
However, its price and some quirky omissions have to be considered. These are expensive earbuds and are even more so when you consider what the never thrifty Apple charges for the AirPods Pro. Did I mention how you can't change the volume directly on the headphones?
Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.
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