Build Quality (8.5/10): Whereas the higher-end P5 is swathed in luxurious leather, the smaller and lighter P3 is more utilitarian with its patterned cloth padding and rubberized plastics. Unlike the P5, the P3 is collapsible, though the addition of hinges does means that the detachable cable is no longer single-sided. Construction quality remains impressive– all of the moving parts are metal and there is no play in the structure. The 2.5mm cable connectors are hidden underneath the magnetically-attached pads and the zigzagging cable route acts as a strain relief of sorts. Both a stereo cable and mic/3-button remote cord are included. The thickness of the cable is a little disappointing next to similarly-priced V-Moda and Sennheiser headphones but the overall construction can give any other small portable headphone out there a run for its money.
Comfort (9.5/10): The P3 is a small supraaural headphone. The cloth pads fit flat against the ear and breathe well, though the cushioning is not quite as soft and supple as the leather padding of the P5 and the headband is not nearly as plush. To compensate, B&W made the fit looser, which allowed the P3 to remain comfortable for prolonger wear but somewhat compromised the secure fit and isolation compared to the P5.
Isolation (7.5/10): Isolation is slightly lacking – the larger, softer, better-sealing pads of the P5 provided good isolation but the noise-blocking abilities of the P3 are average at best. There is also a bit of leakage of sound into the environment.
Sound (7.5/10): By now it is clear that Bowers & Wilkins has established a house sound for their headphones and earphones—the B&W products I have heard are generally warm and smooth, with enhanced bass and relaxed treble. The P3 follows this without misstep. There is not much emphasis in the sub-bass region responsible for depth and rumble but mid- and upper bass are boosted heavily, providing plentiful impact. Bass control is surprisingly good – despite its weight, the punch is tight and accurate. Comparing the P3 to the Klipsch Image One makes the bass of the Klipsch unit sound a lot more bloated and intrusive.
Unfortunately the upper bass of the P3 comes across a bit too strong much of the time, crowding out the midrange and reducing the overall clarity of the headphones. There is also a slight lack of dynamics apparent with many good recordings. The relative tightness of the bass does help, but the P3 never quite manages to deliver the same sort of effortlessly clean sound that the V-Moda M-80 or Sennheiser HD25-1 can put out.
The midrange is detailed, pleasantly warm, and has a thick, fleshed-out note. It is prominent enough to ensure that vocals and instruments are heard clearly and keeps veiling to a minimum. Unfortunately, the mids lose some of their potential to the upper bass emphasis and mediocre dynamics. Clarity is only average for headphones of this caliber – clearly not up the standard set by the V-Moda or Sennheiser offerings.
The treble is a touch laid-back on the whole and rolls off gently at the top. This means that the P3 does not introduce any harshness and even acts to cut down on sibilance already present on recordings. It is not a revealing headphone, but then it was clearly tuned for an inoffensive, consumer-friendly sound. Those who like their treble bright, crisp, and sparkly will be disappointed – the P3 lacks the top-end energy of sets such as the AKG Q460 and Sennheiser HD25-1.
The presentation of the P3 is a bit laid-back. The headphone isn’t dynamic enough to portray distance or space very well and the lack of crispness means that the imaging is never very precise. Instruments are reasonably well-separated but the sonic image of the P3 is a little flat and the presentation lacks the openness more dynamic sets such as the V-Moda M-80 are capable of conveying, sounding a little closed-in and confined.
Value (7/10): The Bowers & Wilkins P3 is a luxury gadget for the iPhone crowd, offering a combination of style, comfort, and portability, all solidly-constructed and draped in B&W pedigree. Those who purchase it for fidelity, however, may be left disappointed—the P3 imposes its own peculiar coloration on music to a greater extent than the higher-end P5 model does. It is far from transparent to source, instead pursuing a warm and smooth sound signature tuned to appeal to the general consumer. That said, consumers who are willing to pay a premium for the combination of aesthetics and functionality will find the P3 to be a non-fatiguing, punchy headphone that works well in portable applications.
Frequency Response: 10-20,000 Hz
Impedance: 34 Ω
Sensitivity: 111 dB SPL/1mW
Cord: 3.94ft (1.2m), detachable; Straight plug
Space-Saving Mechanism: Collapsible