Published on August 20th, 2010 | by Greg0
Bowers & Wilkins Expands Audio Dominance To Your PC and Headphones
We regularly review sound equipment here, from headphones to home speaker systems. But one of our all-time favorite pieces of audio gear (that we still use regularly) is the Zeppelin from Bowers & Wilkins. They’ve been around since the 1960’s, so they know a thing or two about longevity, craftsmanship, and setting a high standard in the audio industry, and we’re thrilled to seem them branching out to other high-end consumer areas beyond docks.
Recently, they’ve introduced a few new items, including their first set of computer speakers- the MM-1 Desktop Speakers. We’ve also had a chance to try out the P5 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones, which we’ll discuss a bit later.
The MM-1 Computer Speakers are designed to connect to your computer rather than an iPod or iPhone, and are small enough to be used with a laptop yet powerful enough that they’d be more than enough for a desktop system. The footprint of the two speakers is small, though they do require an open outlet and power, rather than being USB-powered. Of course, it shows- they offer a dense, layered sound with better separation and sound than any other unit their size. Not to mention the fact that they are incredibly classy-looking, with a clean, sleek, black and silver look. There are a couple of nice details as well, including a nifty storage area in the base of the speakers that allows you to hide any excess cable.
The system includes a built-in digital-to-analog converter and connects to your computer via USB for easy connectivity. Setup was extremely simple, as it was a plug and play system. Each of the speakers is about seven inches tall, housing a 3-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. Volume and output don’t impress; these won’t fill a large room for instance. Where they shine is with music- almost any file we tried, regardless of bitrate or codec, sounded better and and crisper through the MM-1s. We wouldn’t recommend these unreservedly for gamers- though they are fairly precise, they don’t stand up to a good headset for your action needs. With movies, the bass can be a tad underwhelming, but anything with a good orchestral score will wow the audience. It’s sort of the difference between an old TV screen and a new high-definition flat-panel LCD- you’ll notice things you wouldn’t have been able to in any other way.
We didn’t feel a need for a separate sub-woofer in most cases, as the MM-1 has a maximized bass output delivered by the their Dynamic EQ technology. Not to mention that it makes the units easier to take with you on the go. The only major downside we see is the price. At $500, it’s the priciest set of desktop speakers that we’ve seen, though they appear difficult to find at the moment (no listings were available at press time). Carefully consider your use case- if you already have or plan on getting a system for your television, you may want to find a good way to get your music through it instead. On the other hand, for those with space limitations and a desire for great computer speakers, these can’t be beat.
Switching gears on over to another of Bowers & Wilkins products, the P5 Mobile Hi-Fi Headphones. We deemed these worthy of their price tag and were most impressed with these high-end noise isolating headphones. They aren’t true noise-canceling, but offer enough other features that they are now our headphones of choice during longer plane trips.
To understand how they got so good, you have to know where they came from (and specifically what). The P5s consists of two 40-millimeter dynamic drivers made from lightweight Mylar and Neodynium magnets. And, again, the styling is almost too luxurious- we felt a bit uncomfortable riding around the subway or running around the streets with these, but we were doing it for science.
Again, the focus here is on sound quality rather than quantity, though even fans of overpowering volume will find something to like. This pair shone brightest with high-quality lossless files, and imparted a deeper, almost wood timbre to most good files. Unlike many sets, there wasn’t anything tinny or slight, most sounds came out warm. After trying out a variety of musical genres from classical to hard rock, we found the bass to be natural. Balance was key here, even with lower quality downloads. And the decent noise isolation means that our adventures took place with us able to focus on the music instead of the conversations or babies crying or cars honking.
The silky smooth finish- black sheep skin leather- tells you a lot of what you need to know about the old school touches. But if that wasn’t enough, they boosted the comfort in the form of the very modern memory foam and an ultra-plush, easily adjustable headband. The attached cable features an Apple device controller (which also doubles as a microphone for the iPhone), that allows you to change the volume and playback on your attached Apple device without having to even touch it. For users who aren’t as obsessed with Apple products or normal mini-jack devices, the P5 does come with a quarter-inch jack adapter. You can swap between the cables by removing the P5’s earpads, which are magnetically attached. It’s really cool. Even the packaging screams: “I’m way too good for earbuds”. Of course, they have downsides- they are less portable than a pair of buds, and we found the microphone to be decent but not amazing (talking in crowds left the person on the other end confused and unable to pick up our voice clearly).
Build quality leaves little to be desired. Our minor gripes: we would’ve liked to see the cable lined in cloth instead of rubber, and we wish hat they would have designed the cable to be a bit longer. For those of us who don’t necessarily tuck our iPhones in front pockets, it can be a bit of a stretch.
Bowers & Wilkins has really give their competition something to think about, and listen to. Every single person who tried these, preferred them over any other listening device. Now, if only they’d consider making a gaming headset, we’d find all of our audio needs met. The P5’s are available through Apple for $300.