Decades from now, when historians look back on this particular era in consumer electronics (historians do that, right?), they will undoubtedly dub this the Golden Age of headphones. Not only is there a seemingly endless variety of models available to suit any preference or price point, but we've even reached a point where even mid-priced models pump out some pretty great sound. Bowers & Wilkins is a storied Brit audio company that recently introduced its third headphones model to the market, the travel-centric P3 (which is slight step-down from its upper shelf P5). While the P3 headphones' looks are self-consciously retro, their performance and modern guts are anything but.
Unlike virtually every other model on the market, P3s are constructed almost entirely of metal, fabric, and rubberized plastic, all of which just feel more solid and better than typical all-plastic versions. The fabric portions line both the head band and the ear pieces, while rubber is on the outer portion of those same parts. The earpieces fold up smoothly on all-metal hinges. The P3s come with two sets of cables: a standard one and another one with audio controls (volume and pause) for use with the iPhone. Conveniently, swapping the cords out is as easy as pulling away the magnetically attached ear pad and unplugging the cable. When folded up, the P3s would easily fit in the pocket of a travel bag, or a coat pocket. We've rarely seen such clean design with so many moving parts.
Looks aside, the question is whether or not these cans can rock, especially to the tune of $200. Our verdict, in short, is yes. It's always an eye- (and ear-) opener to put on a nice pair of headphones when you've become accustomed to lower-tier offerings. The P3s sound cleaner, richer, and more balanced than the often overly bass-heavy models (like, say, any from Beats by Dre). We found the mid-range to be particularly defined on both alt-rock and classical music, in our listens. Then again, if immersive bass is your thing, you may want to look elsewhere. These sit on-ear, and so knock out a good amount of ambient, outside noise, but nowhere near what over-ear, in-ear, or active noise-canceling models can do, so, again, keep looking if you're planning on using these for air travel. But if you simply crave fantastic audio from an incomparably comfy pair of lightweight, travel-friendly headphones with smart and solid build quality, then you've found your match. [$200; bowers-wilkins.com]