Bowers and Wilkins P7 and Oppo PM3 – A Detailed Comparison after 6 months ownership

Introduction – 

Both Oppo and Bowers and Wilkins provide buyers with strong offerings within the under $400 USD price range. Both sport slick metal housings, closed back design and tout class leading audio performance. However while these two headphones might be similar on the spec sheet, their real world performances couldn`t be more different. This is a comparison I`ve thought up after a year of owning the P7`s and around 6 months with the PM3.

 

About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

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Accessories – 

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The unboxing experience is very professional with both headphones, however I`d give the P7`s a slight advantage here. The P7`s are beautifully displayed within a molded, silk lined plastic inlet with a pull tab that reveals the purse-like carry case, extra cable and papers.

The Oppo PM3`s on the other hand present less refined but more extravagant, packaged within an astounding 3 boxes. A plain protective shipping box contains a nice black box like the P7`s with a brushed textured box inside. The zippered denim hard case lies inside the inner most bod along with a 1.2m cable of your choice, a 3m cable with screw on 1/4inch adapter and papers. Of note, the P7`s come stock with an iPhone cable but include a non remote cable as well. Despite some reviews stating that you receive 4 cables with the PM3, I only received 2. Buyers have the choice of no remote, Android or iPhone cables (just have a different remote) and all units come with a 3m cable. So while the P7`s may present better, the PM3`s do come with a more usable selection of accessories.

 

Design – 

P7

The P7`s immediately draw the eye with a striking design melding aluminium face-plates with embossed Bowers and Wilkins logos, lambskin leather ear cups and headband and very solid feeling twisted stainless steel links. The headphones utilize a sliding mechanism for the headband with almost unlimited amounts of adjustment between the end stops. The mechanism is perfectly weighted and holds its position well during use. The P7`s fold up completely and become quite compact considering their size. They don`t swivel much, but the metal links have some degree of flexibility for comfort.

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Although the P7 has thin ear pads, they are are still very comfortable, with soft and plentiful cushioning. In addition, the already supple lambskin leather softens over time, further increasing comfort. During usage, the P7`s are well-sealing and, as a result, can be a little hot. The ear cups are large and deep, fitting most people comfortably.

The headband is less agreeable for me. Like the ear pads, the headband is quite thin, but is packed with much denser foam. This is no problem initially, but repeated long listening sessions (>2 hours) result in discomfort. Regardless, the earcups are encompassing and isolate all frequencies of external noise well. They are fully replaceable, and attach via two magnetic prongs. The earpads have built in acoustic chamber to augment bass response and seal with the drivers through a thin ring of memory foam. This also grants access to the hidden 2.5mm cable jack for replacement.

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They have a nice stock cable that is made of rubber but has a smooth finish that doesn`t catch on clothes. Textured aluminium trim enables easy manipulation of the plug and grip on the remote. Buttons are relatively easy to differentiate, the centre multi-function button is slightly raised above the volume buttons. Unfortunately the cable uses a proprietary, recessed 2.5m connector. It`s nice to have the option at least, but replacements will likely have to be purchased though B&W themselves.

 

PM3

The Pm3`s by comparison offer a cleaner look. Their less flashy build is very mature, almost equally well-finished as the P7`s and perhaps a little more solid in the hand. The ear cups employ an aluminium and plastic blend for weight saving, which feels just a little less premium than the P7 but chamfered edges retain an eye catching look. Notably they showcase no branding, only small Oppo and PM3 markings on the headband twisting mechanism. As a result of their symmetrical build, Oppo have added a small bump on the left frame, though with the single entry cable also on the left, it`s not too hard to differentiate between sides. The headphones do not fold like the p7`s, but fold flat, they are not as wide, but still take up more space in your bag.

The PM3`s are heavier than the P7`s and have stronger clamp force, but much wider ear pads spread the load more evenly and the softer, wider headband creates comfort even from the heavy headphone. Oppo claims that the earpads aren`t removable, but they`re actually not too difficult to change, you can see my video guide here and read more about earpad maintenance/conditioning here. The earpads have a plastic frame at the base that clips onto the body of the headphone at 6 points. In addition, replacement earpads can only be ordered directly from Oppo, you`ll have to contact their support e-mail to order a new set.

The size adjustment uses a conventional clicker with 15 steps. It feels solid and is made from thick steel, but there are no markings on the slider which makes re-adjusting the headband a bit tedious (you have to shorten the headband all the way to use the included case). The Faux leather used is of high quality, it`s about as breathable as the p7`s but not as soft and they do not change over time. The strong clamp force and wide ear pads produce great passive noise isolation, about as good as you could hope for without active noise cancelling and better than the P7`s.  The ear cups are very plush, with adequate cushioning, but they are quite a bit shallower than the p7`s. Ironically, since the ear pads contact so much skin, the force is dispersed and comfort is retained as there are no hot spots. Some people may have issues with this, but the general consensus is that the PM3 is more comfortable than the P7.

 

DSC03343Like the P7`s, the PM3`s have a single side cable entry cable, though it uses a regular 3.5mm port. The port is slightly recessed but most case friendly cables will fit well,  I`m using a V-Moda speakeasy cable for reference. This is much more practical and makes cable upgrades a snap, especially pertinent since the stock 1.2m cable is pretty mediocre. All portable PM3 cables are rubbery and thin without adequate strain relief and the plugs are very smooth, making them difficult to use. A cable upgrade is almost a must and with the V-Moda cable I find that the sound is similar if not a little better whilst the build and usability is far superior.

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Sound – 

This is where the headphones drastically depart. The P7 impresses with a mild V-shaped signature combining powerful bass and bundles of clarity. However the PM3 immediately flaunts a much flatter response, with increases in midrange details and presence, a superior sense of body and unmatched precision. The P7 has a very expansive soundstage for a closed back headphone which, in culmination with great bass extension, is ideal for classical. Imaging is great and instrument separation is spacious. The PM3 feels much more intimate, partly due to the more prominent midrange and partly a result of the slightly recessed treble response, at least when compared to the P7`s. This, in addition to the PM3`s slightly veiled mids, produces a sound that can be congested at times. Instrument separation suffers drastically but imaging remains quite good. The P7`s are slightly more sensitive than the PM3`s and neither are particularly prone to hissing. They both sound fine from a mobile device but scale nicely with a dedicated DAC/AMP. I feel that the PM3`s with their less sensitive planar magnetic drivers do benefit more from amping but the P7`s also gain a lot from a good source. They are both well suited for mobile use.

Bass – 

The PM3 has a more linear bass response with a small sub-bass boost, it`s flat elsewhere. The bass is very well extended with great texture and PRAT. It`s very punchy and well textured. Despite the P7 using smaller 40mm drivers (vs 55mm in the PM3), the Bass on the P7`s is equally well extended, perhaps even slightly more so, with much greater slam, favouring impact over speed. As a result of the P7`s large mid-bass boost and moderate sub-bass boost, it can get a bit flabby/boomy and bass gets lost quite easily in complex passages (not too noticeable unless comparing to a headphone such as the PM3 with a focus on accuracy and detail) but it is well suited to certain music. The P7`s have more bass quantity all round but it remains of great quality, the PM3`s do resolve a little more detail in the bass region however. I never feel that the PM3`s are bass deficient and it really does depend on preference, the bass response is very good on both headphones. Of note, the recessed midrange on the P7`s further accentuates the perceived level of bass and draws attention to the outer extremities of the FR.

Mids – 

A small dip in the lower mids saps a little body from the P7`s in favour of midrange clarity, producing a clear if slightly recessed midrange. Vocals can sound a little thin however. They are still quite detailed and refined, I find that the sound is smooth enough for any genre. The PM3`s have much more midrange detail and more presence. A slight lower mid boost gives the sound nice body but they do have a very slight midrange veil. I`d give the advantage to the PM3`s here any day, but they do sound a fair bit darker.

Highs – 

The highs are quite controversial on the PM3`s and whilst they are a little recessed, it is not to a great degree and there is still some excitement to the sound. The highs actually resolve a lot of detail, they are definitely not sparkly or shimmery,  but they do avoid sounding thin. The treble response is very good and non-fatiguing, it`s just a hair below flat with a slight top end roll off. The P7`s have a very good treble response that is more extended than the PM3`s with much more shimmer. They are a brighter sounding headphone that are very slightly brittle at the top end, but still very good. Treble resolves more details on the P7`s with almost equal body but much more air. It`s not overly accentuated and doesn`t fatigue during long listening sessions. I find the highs to be better overall on the P7`s, but those looking for a more neutral, smoother treble response with slightly more texture will prefer the PM3.

 

Verdict – 

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The sound of the P7`s is extremely well sculpted and specifically designed by Bowers and Wilkins. Whilst not for accuracy, it does portray a reasonably realistic and wowing sound. The headphone is very dynamic and enjoyable, working with all genres of music, it avoids pursuing an overly bassy sound but it is on the borderline for me.

Meanwhile, the sound on the Oppo PM3`s is masterfully designed, with slight deviations from ruler flat reference creating a headphone that is accessible to both audiophiles and general consumers. It is a sound that works with all genres and even directly coming from the P7, the PM3 immediately impresses with more midrange detail and presence and a tighter bass response, but treble sounds dull by comparison.

Both headphones are a solid choice, I personally prefer the P7`s slightly more in terms of sound, but due to comfort reasons I use the PM3`s a lot more. The PM3`s have great sound quality that is technically superior to the P7`s but they lack the last bit of engagement that the Bowers and Wilkins provide.

 

Accessories –

P7 – 8/10, The P7`s are very well packaged and come with everything needed to get started, but the case is impractical for day to day use.

PM3 – 8/10, The PM3`s come with many additions, the denim case works well but the stock cables are rubbish.

Design – 

P7 – 8/10, The P7`s have an exquisite and very handsome design, it is a little more flashy than the PM3 but still looks mature. The headband adjustment mechanism is spot on, isolation is good, the leather is of unbeatable quality but comfort falls short with a flawed headband design. Easily removable ear pads, but cables have a proprietary plug design. The headphones fold for travel.

PM3 – 8.5/10, The PM3`s look great if slightly more inconspicuous. They have no markings on the headband clicker which is tedious however passive isolation is excellent, the pleather is still soft and comfort is superb. The cables are easily removable with a standard plug, but ear pads can`t be replaced by the user and have to be replaced by Oppo. They fold flat for travel.

Bass – 

P7 – 7.5/10, Boosted and lavish, slightly sloppy, but nicely sculpted. Mid bass is quite pronounced but mids are not overly warmed. Still sounds clean. Well extended.

PM3 – 8/10, Flat bass with slight sub bass boost. Focus on quality over quantity, bass remains well textured and very enjoyable for all types of music. Very satisfying and punchy response. Equally well extended and not fazed by complex passages.

Mids – 

P7 – 7/10, Lower mid scoop leaves vocals without adequate body, slightly warm with great clarity. Vocals sound a little scooped but are detailed and clear.

PM3 – 8.5/10, Not a lot of clarity, but more a focus on smoothness and details. Very refined and natural sounding with good body.

Treble – 

P7 – 9/10, Sparkly, airy and extended, not overly accentuated.

PM3 – 8/10, Slightly recessed and rolled off, very smooth but also very textured. Might be a little dull sounding to some.

Soundstage, Imaging and Seperation –

P7 – 9/10, Among the best closed back headphones. Seperation and imaging are excellent, the soundstage has great width and depth.

PM3 – 7.5/10, The soundstage is intimate, sounds a lot more like an iem than a headphone. Imaging remains spot on but seperation is compromised.

Verdict –

P7 – 8.75/10, The P7 is an excellent headphone in all regards. I would not feel compelled to upgrade or buy the PM3`s if not for my personal issues with comfort. They have a wonderful design, strong sound and great features for portable use. They are equally comfortable in the lounge chair running out of a dedicated source.

PM3 – 9/10, Equally well accomplished in design and only slightly edged out in build, the PM3 although the heavier of the two actually maintains better comfort. The sound is less exciting but equally engaging with a fast paced, toe tapping bass response, hyper detailed yet natural midrange and non-fatiguing treble. The PM3`s are slightly better for travel on account of their higher passive noise isolation and more practical case. They are not as sensitive and benefit from a good amp.

It does come down to personal choice in the end, they are equally distinguished, but the PM3 is a slightly better headphone overall. This means nothing if you prefer a bassier signature however and you are best to try and test both for comfort and sound reasons. They are both very polarizing with the P7 pursuing a hyper lavish and broad scale sound and the PM3 impressing with a very neutral, balanced sound signature.

 

 

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    Really nice comparison and especially pictures – makes me wanna get a decent cam again after I sold my EOS 60D.

    I see you’re using the Sony Alpha 6000, have been interested in that one as well for some time. Which lens(es) are you using if I might ask?

    Cheers,
    Chris

    Like

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      Thanks a bunch Chris, glad you enjoyed it.

      Using this lens:
      http://www.sony.com.au/electronics/camera-lenses/sal50f18,
      It`s actually an a-mount lens so I use a cheap adapter to mount it on my a6000 (e-mount). Unfortunately there is a crop factor, no autofocus and manual aperture control, but still f1.8 bokeh is hard to come by for under $100. Apart from that, I use the kit lens for video due to the stabilization and focus. It`s a great camera, you might want to look into the a6300 though.

      Ryan

      Like

      1. Chris says:

        Hi Ryan,

        Thanks for your reply. Might look into that lens, the price seems reasonable. Not too much chromatic aberration, good contrast and a nice field of depth (assuming that no/not much post-processing with Lightroom or Photoshop is involved).

        The a6300 is bit high in price for my taste – might get the EOS80D for that price as well.
        Re-thinking the situation, it was probably a bad idea selling my 60D about two years ago – I should have invested in a better lens instead of using the average one that came with the kit. However, the cam’s viewfinder bothered me (just ninety-something % coverage) and I thought that for the size, I would rather want to go all in for something real like a 5D MKIII or stick to handier compact cameras. Went for the last one and miss the Canon.

        Guess I might try the a6000 – compact size, good sensor size and a quite reasonable price. Would have to get used to the lesser operation comfort though (briefly tested the Alpha NEX-5 or 7 some years ago and was not so super satisfied with the operation), as the Canon’s easy operable wheels and buttons plus the second info screen were a huge comfort benefit that I might miss (hence I don’t even consider the lower tier Canon and Nikon cams).

        You see my misery – the top tier cameras will have all I want but then again I wouldn’t be using them much enough to justify the price and with the system cameras and low tier DSLRs, I might miss the comfort of the better ones.
        Guess I’ll get a mid-tier DSLR with 100% viewfinder or a compact system cam like the a6000 (or even more headphones).

        Anyway, many thanks for the excellent review/comparison and the camera tips.

        Chris

        Like

      2. Ryan Soo says:

        No problem Chris, feel free to contact me if you need more info about the camera, my email is in the about me section on my blog.

        Like

  2. Eric says:

    As a P7 owner your description is spot-on!

    Do you have a suggestion for a portable amp for the P7? Should I even bother?

    The bass is a little too bloated from my iPhone 6, but feel much tighter on my Mac, so I figured the iphone could use some more juice.

    Like

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      Thanks Eric, I found that the P7 scales pretty well with a better DAC/AMP, a lot more so than with a pure amplifier. I haven`t tested a whole lot of different models out, but in my experiences, the Fiio Q1 made a mark-able improvement over my HTC M8 which already has a decent internal amp and DAC. It`s pretty cheap and I`m not sure whether it would make as large a difference coming from a Mac but the audio performance is very similar to the more expensive e17k. Hope that helps, Ryan.

      Like

  3. jawtekblog says:

    A very nice and detailed review. I own both of these headphones (and more than a dozen similarly priced models) and I think your descriptions are very good. IMO, these are both among the top 5 or 6 closed-back headphones in this price range that I have used (and I have used almost all of them). Good job!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      Thanks bud, much appreciated!

      Like

  4. Chris says:

    Would love to hear your opinion of the P7 Wireless as per most reports they have superior sound to the wired P7 (surprising!).

    Like

    1. Ryan Soo says:

      They’re pretty similar, I think the wireless sounds better mainly due to the improved earpads but there may be other small differences to the drivers and housings as well, I only had a brief chance to compare. The P7 and PM3 are still my two picks here for sound quality alone.

      Like

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