One of our top picks of 2022, the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 Wireless Headphones rather quickly solidified its position as one of the best sounding mid-priced ANC wireless headphones on the market. More than a few of us purchased a pair and it has been one of the easiest recommendations to make to family and friends. The Px7 S2 has sold extremely well and it was rather surprising when Bowers & Wilkins announced that its replacement was already available.
The Px7 S2e is not a significant overhaul of the existing model; something that would make very little sense when you have already created an excellent product that is better than 95% of the wireless headphones available.
But the reality is that the wireless noise cancelling headphone/earbud market has become a $20 billion category and manufacturers need to maintain their momentum with Apple gobbling up a rather significant percentage of the overall pie.
The Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e are the third generation of this popular headphone and the entry-level model in the lineup that also includes the award-winning Px8.
Likewise, their wireless earbuds lineup consists of the entry-level Pi5 S2 and Pi7 S2 models. I’ve been a fan of the B&W headphone line since purchasing a P5 Series 2 shortly after it was released back in 2014.
Asking if there is a lot of daylight between the discontinued Px7 S2 and the Px7 S2e is a rather fair question for consumers to ask; a quick visual inspection of the two models revealed that Bowers & Wilkins have not even stamped the new model with the revised “Px7 S2e” designation and even removing the ear cups to read the part and serial numbers did little to offer that the two models were different.
We put the two side by side and had to turn them on and put them in pairing mode to determine which one was the new model.
The exterior of the cases are also exactly alike, although my original Px7 S2 has a white interior whilst the newer S2e has a black interior.
One of the only ways to tell them apart is the new Forest Green colorway; which is another finish option aside from the Anthracite Black, Ocean Blue, and Cloud Grey that were options with the Px7 S2.
There were no major shortcomings to the controls or design elements of the Px7 S2; the design team decided to not make any changes to the new model in that regard.
The headband is cloth on the top surface with a padded leather underside that matches the pads. The cups retain the stepped design with cloth on the outer shelf and anodized metal on the center cap.
Controls are also unchanged with a single ANC button on the left cup and the USB charge port, a power slider that also serves as a pairing button, and 3 buttons on the right cup for volume control, play/pause, and forward/back.
Likewise, the adjustments are still the same friction fit tubes that extend from the headband and the gimbals are also unchanged with their single attachment point just above the mid-point of the cup.
Bowers & Wilkins have kept the weight at roughly 310 grams which makes it slightly heavier than a lot of its mid-priced competition, but a quick examination of the materials and build quality make it rather obvious that you are purchasing a higher quality pair of headphones.
The industrial design is very similar for both the Px7 and Px8 and reminds us that they are a luxury brand and it is encouraging that they build the entry-level products with the same attention to detail as the most expensive headphones in the range.
The Px7 S2e easily outclasses the Sennheiser Momentum 4, Sony WH-1000XM5, and Bose QC45 when it comes to the overall build quality and refinement.
Listeners hoping for a substantial change under the hood will be disappointed to learn that not much has changed there as well; the driver is a 40mm design with a biocellulose diaphragm with a stiffening resin coating, and 20mm voice coil mounted at an angle to the ear.
Bluetooth codec support includes aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, AAC, and SBC.
One of the biggest strengths of the Px7 S2 was its 30 hours of playtime after roughly 3 hours of charging; our tests confirmed that the new iteration delivers the same performance. It also retains the quick-charge feature which nets between 6 and 7 hours usage time with a 15 minute charge.
The Bowers & Wilkins Music app also remains the preferred application for managing the Px7 S2e; the older Bowers & Wilkins Headphone Control app which was designed for earlier models does not work with the Px7 models.
So what has changed?
The digital signal processor has been updated which impacts the ANC and transparency modes and the driver has been “retuned” resulting in a change to the overall sonic signature.
Bowers & Wilkins took what was learned during the development of the Px8 wireless headphones and modified the Px7 S2e to have a sonic signature that is closer to its more expensive sibling.
The Px8 and Focal Bathys were our top overall picks in 2022 in the wireless headphone category, so any changes that elevate the sound quality of the Px7 S2e have to be considered an improvement on paper.
When we compared the Px7 S2 to the Px8, the overall group consensus was that the Px8 delivered a much larger soundstage and better detail retrieval.
The Px7 S2 offered a good overall balance and excellent clarity, but the top end was more energetic than it needed to be and the midrange was slightly thin sounding listening to string instruments and choral performances.
The low end performance of the Px7 S2e remains largely unchanged from its predecessor; sub bass information has strong impact and definition with all genres of music. Nobody will call these headphones bass monsters, but movie soundtracks and electronic bass are delivered with sufficient punch, texture, and speed to make them a good option on the train watching your favorite films or even gaming.
The mid bass retains that level of impact with ample texture and strong pacing; there is no excess of bass information that bleeds over into the upper bass or lower midrange.
The Px8 improves on this with better resolution, detail, and greater transparency.
The lower midrange is rather clean sounding giving male vocals an opportunity to take a step forward in the mix with excellent timbral accuracy and weight.
Cello pieces are delivered with improved tonal accuracy over the Px7 S2; both timbre, texture, and detail take a positive step in the right direction and lower strings come across as more natural sounding.
The Px7 S2e delivers music with greater pace than its predecessor and what was most notable was the improvement listening to both electric and acoustic guitar tracks that had improved detail, presence, and attack.
The violin came across as slightly thin through the Px7 S2, but that has been rectified with the new model; the improvements in tonal accuracy and presence made classical recordings feel that much more accurate and engaging.
The upper midrange push of the Px7 S2 has moved lower down in the range giving piano and string instruments greater weight but without having a negative impact on clarity.
That emphasis in the upper midrange does not translate into more energy in the lower treble; there is a mild plateau that results in a smoothing out of the sound but the range still retains enough energy to be detailed and open sounding.
Snare rattle is tight and clean and cymbals have enough energy to sound realistic without being over-done. What has changed is that the treble and upper treble are a bit more airy with some sparkle that the S2 lacked.
The S2 erred on the side of caution and was a safe tuning, but for those looking for a more natural presentation, its treble presentation was somewhat subdued.
The Px7 S2e manages to be smoother overall but with better top end detail and extension without even becoming fatiguing. The magic of DSP.
Soundstage and ANC Performance
One of the biggest failings of most wireless ANC headphones is that the manufacturer sets out to design as much passive isolation as possible as part of the overall design. The soundstage is always the first casualty of this.
Our review of the Px7 S2 highlighted that its performance in this area was surprisingly sufficient which was meant as a compliment but also an acknowledgement that one should set realistic expectations when discussing ANC headphones.
Listening to the same playlists, what stands out about the Px7 S2e is that the soundstage now comes across as slightly deeper and the sensation of height now allows for better placement of musicians and vocals from front to back and with a more realistic sense of size.
It does not compete with headphones from the HDxxx series that are open-back models that deliver a far spacious presentation, but it sounds far less crowded and constricted between your ears compared to almost every other closed-back wireless headphone in its price range.
Imaging is far more precise as well; instruments and vocalists are locked firmly in place and the overall stereo separation is excellent.
ANC has proven to be a double-edged sword for a lot of wireless headphones; sound quality almost always takes a hit when you engage the ANC button and there is almost always some hiss added to the overall presentation.
Most manufacturers try to integrate as much passive isolation as possible so that the electronics have less noise to eliminate and the Px7 S2e are no exception.
The clamping force is on the higher side but that became less of an issue as we put a lot of hours through the original Px7 S2 and the S2e models.
One of the biggest differences between the two models is that the midrange is much cleaner sounding through the S2e with ANC engaged.
The Px7 S2 was very good at removing low droning noises (car engines and air conditioners), but struggled with voices and higher frequencies.
The new model retains that excellent performance with low frequencies and is now comparable to the Sony XM5 in terms of overall noise reduction.
More impressively, the Px7 S2e delivers a much cleaner sounding presentation with superior dynamic response than the Sony which is a significant win for the Bowers & Wilkins model.
Ambient mode is now even better at letting in outside noise without detracting from the sound quality and it’s clear that the lessons learned from the Px8 have been integrated into the Px7 S2e making it one of the best ANC wireless headphones on the market.
Bowers & Wilkins took a bit of a risk discontinuing the Px7 S2 so quickly and replacing it with the new model; especially when you are talking about a product surrounded on all sides by products offered by Apple, Sony, and Bose.
The changes may not appear to be significant but the performance has improved enough to warrant a rather strong recommendation from us. The Px7 S2e are not inexpensive and most consumers will require a strong reason to spend this amount of money on wireless ANC headphones. This is where most of the market sits and there is no question that the Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e are the best mid-tier wireless ANC headphones currently available.
Where to buy: $399 at Amazon | Crutchfield | Headphones.com