My favorite pair of headphones for listening to music are the Bowers & Wilkins P5, which I memorably first put on at CES 2011. They sound exceptional and feel amazing, but they also cost $300. Will likes the C5 earphones for commuting, but those are in-ear buds that some people don't find comfortable. So where's the mama bear solution? That's apparently coming in June with the newly-announced P3 headphones. It looks a lot like the P5s, including use of form-fitting (and sound-isolating) memory foam in the pads and a detachable in-line iOS remote, but costs $100 less. That's because this headphone doesn't use sheepskin leather on its band or removable ear cushion covers; the P3 is made with lightweight rubber and acoustic cloth instead. It's the same fabric used for speaker grille covers, which I'm not sure will be as comfortable as New Zealand sheepskin. The P3's earpads also fold up into the band to be more compact for carrying in bags.
But when it comes to premium headphones, it's audio quality that matters. The drivers in the P3 aren't the same as the ones used in the P5, though Bowers & Wilkins isn't saying whether they're better or worse. They've only made it clear that they've modified the drivers for this new product with acoustic components designed from the ground up, and get pretty technical with the details:
To reduce distortion, this diaphragm uses a constrained-layer laminate. It’s a 3-layer construction, with the outer PET skins sandwiching a central PU damping layer. The motor system comprises a copperclad aluminium wire voice coil, chosen because of its low mass and inductance to enhance the highest frequencies, immersed in a linear magnet system to give uniform drive. The magnets themselves are neodymium-iron-boron types. These deliver the necessary magnetic strength while occupying minimal space and their low weight is important in maximising longterm wearability.
Often with headphones, the linear motion of the diaphragm is compromised by placing the terminals on the back of the miniature support structure or basket and obscuring some of the pressure relief holes. This gives uneven pressure behind the diaphragm and leads to rocking, with associated higher distortion. With the P3, we have moved these connections to the back of the magnet itself in order to achieve uniform and even air flow all around the rear of the diaphragm. We have also carefully controlled the absolute amount of venting, to ensure the best balance of isolation, noise leakage and bass performance.
Golf clap to Bowers & Wilkins for being thorough about justifying the price of its premium headphones to customers. But I'll have to do some A/B testing to see if the drivers actually sound better or worse than other $200 headphones and the P5. The Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones will be released in June.