Do the Bowers and Wilkins P9 Signature Reign Supreme?

A Challenger to the Thrown of Premium Lightning Headsets has Finally Arrived

We don’t want to beat a dead horse to death, but hey, a lame horse is of no good use to anyone, so we’ll say it one more time: Lightning powered headphones are AMAZING! We’re seeing things never before done, such as incorporating DAC and amplifiers in the headphones themselves, like in the Philips Fidelio. We’re seeing active noise cancelling put into tiny little earbuds that appear to operate magically without cumbersome battery packs. Powered Lightning cables makes this all possible. Audio lovers are on the edge of a whole brand new unexplored world of listening potential, and the more we explore, the more excited we get!

When Audeze releases their EL-8 Titanium’s, and later Sine planar magnetic powered Lightning cans we thought we’d died and gone to heaven. Planar magnetic headphones are only made by three companies, Oppo, HiFiman and Audeze. Of those, only Audeze offers a model that can connect to Lightning ports, and they do so with their Cypher cable which contains an integrated DAC. Overall the technology is nothing short of amazing. They do come with a price tag to match, retailing at Apple for $799.95. Ouch.

Well, there’s a new king in terms of exquisitely crafted, hi-end Lightning-capable headsets and that is the Bowers and Wilkins P9 Signature. You may have heard the name before, as luxury car makers like Jaguar and BMW have used Bowers and Wilkins audio systems in their high end sports cars for years. B&W as they’re known for short, made their name with loudspeakers, most notably their famous $30,000 800 D3 loudspeakers. Those same engineers have now birthed the P9 Signature upon the world.bw p9 signature reviewed

 

B&W P9 Signature Overview

The P9’s are simply put the mac-daddy of the entire Bowers and Wilkins headphone range. This is evidenced by their P naming classifications.. with models decreasing in luxury and features as they go down from P9 to P7, P5, P3 and then C5 for their earbud unit.

Introduced in October of 2016, just in tim for the holiday season, the P9’s are the largest and most luxurious headphones to come from the audio geniuses at B&W. They are also quite brown…and we love it.

Here is the entire B&W line compared to illustrate just how large and brown these bad boys are:b and w product line

As you can see, from the very obvious size difference to the colors and materials used, these are very clearly designed to stand out from the other headsets in the B&W lineup. Quite frankly, they are the Signature model and they certainly do “dress the part”.

 

Lighting Coming Soon

Currently the P9 Signatures come with a standard headphone jack so you can run them off your laptop, MP3 player or old smartphone. They also ship with a longer 5M long cable with a 6.3mm adapter for use in high-end home setups.

Still, this is a website all about Lightning headphones though, so where’s the Lightning cable at? Well, B&W has promised a Lightning cable to be shipped to anyone who purchases and registers their P9 Signatures. They’ve also stated that in the future (starting early 2017) they’ll include the Lightning cable in the box, so they’ll be Apple-friendly right from the get go.

p9 lightning

Screenshot taken from official B and W website stating Lightning cable promise.

This is big news. As soon as the Lightning cables are shipped the P9’s will take over the thrown as the most expensive and perhaps most luxurious hifi Lightning-enabled headphones on the market. Combined with a full two year warranty, these things are pretty much “future-proof”, and that’s great given their price.

Additionally, their main competitor, the Audeze EL-8 and Sine cans are planar magnetic, while the P9’s are run by brand new 40mm Neodynium magnets, so in a way they’re already be in a class of their own.

Tantalizing? We agree. Let’s dive into these and see what B&W brings to the table..

 

Product Specifications

The P9 is a not just a highly refined audio headset, it is a statement piece designed to celebrate 50 years of B&W design and engineering prowess. The P9’s were released in commemoration of B&W’s 50th anniversary, having been founded in 1966 in England. In a way, then, these headphones reflect the best of what the Boffins at B&W can come up with.

Newly Designed Cans

As previously mentioned, these are a celebratory set of headphones to commemorate 50 years of precision audio engineering at Steyning Research Establishment in West Sussex in England. What does this special design entail?

Expensive Engineering Methods

Well first of all, there are all new ear cups that have built in acoustic cabinets using B&W’s Finite Element Analysis or FEA, which basically is the process of testing and selecting only the best elements to be used in the construction of things like the headphone dome tweeters. It’s all terribly scientific and technical, but if you’d like a read you can download their use of FEA in their development process (this links to a PDF download) here.

The P9’s also use a semi-pistonic diaphragm similar to those found in their much (MUCH) more expensive loudspeakers as opposed to traditional combined diaphragms with separate suspension. What does this mumbo jumbo equate to? Well, from the stooges themselves it results in:

A crystal-clear midrange (that) comes together with deep, yet agile bass and a crisp, sweet treble for a breath-taking performance, while a new approach to transducer placement delivers imaging unlike anything else in the headphone market.

“Magical” Floating Ear Cups

So, use of specially studied metals in construction? Check. But these aren’t just made of expensive materials, their also expensively engineered. One such example of expensive engineering is how the cans, or the units holding the speakers, are completely de-coupled from the headband. This is akin to the introduction of independent suspension on automobiles. It’s huge.

Solid headbands, especially exquisitely forged headbands like those on the P9 Signature, have a tendency to vibrate sometimes conflicting frequencies to one another, compromising pure sound quality. To top unwanted vibrations traveling from the right can to the left and vice versa, the P9’s feature ear cups that are completely decoupled from the headband itself. In essence, for all practical audio purposes, they float.

Creative New Angled Transducers

Are your ears positioned exactly parallel to one another? Nope. So why should the transducers (you know, where the sound is coming from) in headphones be parallel? B&W gave this a big long think and decided to actually angle the transducers in the P9’s so that they more accurately facing the ear canal. This projects the sound at the correct angle to be received directly, rather than after it’s been bounced around in the ear cup.angled driver in p9

This results in a much more natural sound more reminiscent of sitting in a room with stereo speakers rather than the closed-off cramped sound historically associated with closed headphone audio.

This seems like a small improvement, and perhaps technically it is, but what it illustrates is an obsession to detail which involved re-evaluating every single element that goes into a pair of headphones. All together, the sum of these incremental and subtle changes, such as driver angle and floating ear cups, is a truly impressive evolution of hifi tech.

Typical B&W Expert Craftsmanship

Brand new tech is not good if it’s not wrapped in comfortable luxury materials, and the P9’s do not disappoint here either. The ear cups are quite large, larger than anything B&W has made to date, and that is not an accident as they are constructed of memory foam they are also B&W’s most comfortable ear cups to date.

Wrap that sumptuous memory foam in the finest Saffiano (saffiano is leather that is processed with a textured press machine, creating an iconic cross-hatch finish) Italian leather from Scabrenta (a high-end designer leather shoe label out of Italy).

When you’re done using them you can stash them in your matching brown Alcatara case, also adorned with Saffiano leather. P9 signature carrying case

These are a truly refined luxury product that wouldn’t look out of place on a private jet or Emirates first class lounge. From the engineering to the materials, to the fact that they actually hid the connection portion of the cables (yes, the P9’s feature removable/swappable cables, meaning you’ll be able to use them with your iPhone 7 AND your Macbook’s 3.5mm jack) under the ear pad really show an extreme attention to detail.hidden cable connector

Unfortunately, although not for us, they only come in brown. It’s kind of a statement, it’s luxury, like Coach bags, and it’s kind of British too. Some people won’t like the lack of color options, but we respect B&W’s decision to break with their black/metal design language and really put out a statement piece in beautiful matte aluminum and natural brown leather.

With built in-line controls, these are ready for whatever classy adventure awaits!

 

Expert Reviews

Our job at Lightning Cans is to bring you the latest and greatest news from around the world of Lightning-equipped audio gear. We are not however millionaires, so the process of actually sitting down with all the new products and listening and testing them we leave up to the experts. Below are what some of the industries most trained ears are saying about the P9 Signatures:

Theo Nicolakis from Techhive says:

B&W’s exquisite P9 Signature Headphones are the largest, most luxurious, best-sounding headphones the British company has ever put within the reach of moderately well-to-do mortals.

The stooges at PCMag gave the P9’s an Editor Rating of 4.5 stars and said:

The Bowers and Wilkins P9 Signature is an absolute top-of-the-line headphone pair, with exceptional performance and a sky-high price to match.

Finally, the quite picky, and never shy to mince words writers at What HIFI give them a full 5 stars saying:

There’s no doubt that the P9 Signatures are a very talented pair of headphones. No matter what you feed them, they find themselves right at home, delivering a sound that’s not just accurate, but that’s enjoyable too.

The price tag won’t be easy to swallow for many, but the detail, dynamic and organizational improvements these offer over the rest of the B&W range, makes them worthy of their price, not to mention their flagship status.

Overall pretty glowing reviews pretty much all around! The only negatives we found from some writers and journalists were that A. the price was too high, which may be a fair point for some, although B&W does offer fantastic cans at less price points and B. they don’t feature new tech like active noise cancelling or bluetooth. Active noise cancelling is cool, but more for travel-heavy headphones, not listen-in-your-living room sets like these, and Bluetooth.. well.. just get outta here with that!

 

Our Opinion

We’d very much like to have a pair of these, we won’t deny it. We love the look, we love the subtle design breakthroughs like the angling of the drivers and the unique driver composition. We also like that they’ll be getting a Lightning cable in the near future, making them compatible with our iPhone 7s, making these some of the hottest iPhone 7 headphones on the market.

Also, given that even “entry-level” quality Lightning earbuds are running around $200 (we’re talking about the JBL Reflect Awares here), then $900 isn’t really that outrageous given the flagship status of these audiophile cans.

Ultimately it comes down to your means. If you have the cash, these seem like a no brainer. If you don’t have the cash, then obviously they’re too expensive, but you can’t fault them for price alone, just like you don’t fault a Ferrari for being expensive just because you can’t afford it.. you still respect it for what it is: a piece of engineering beauty.

If the P9’s are clearly out of your price range don’t worry. The Audeze Sine’s are a very unique headphone that utilizes a very special planar magnetic driver mechanism and come with a built in DAC/Amp AND a Lightning cable..meaning they’re ready to go right now. At$500 the Sines are a steal compared to the P9’s, however they’re not a flagship model.

If $500 is still more than you can stomach for a pair of headphones, but are still dreading using the crap earphones that Apple ships with the iPhone 7 then consider checking out the Fidelio M2L from Philips. They were the first Lightning-specific headphones on the market, have excellent reviews and come in at a very affordable sub $200 total. You can compare all the above mentioned cans with this handy comparison table.

Ultimately, headphones and cars are perfectly interchangeable for comparisons purposes. You don’t have to spend at the very top of the range to get a quality product in either industry. Both industries offer great economical options, but also lack ceilings and offer refined delicacies at truly astronomical prices. It’s up to you how much you value audio quality and listening experience, just like drivers evaluate their love of driving, to determine how much is “fair” to pay for that which you value.

In the end, whatever makes you happy is the best choice, as long as it doesn’t bankrupt you that is!


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