Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the launch of the brand spanking new Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones. As you may know, Bowers & Wilkins are a legendary high-end speaker manufacturer, associated with quality and class, so it was odds on for a fine evening.
What made it extra special for me was that the launch was at Abbey Road studios in London, in Studio 2. This is arguably the most famous recording studio in the world, as it’s the room in which The Beatles recorded most of their music. As a dyed-in-the-wool Beatles fan this was pretty exciting stuff.
Of course many other acts also have recorded there too – Pink Floyd, for one, so in rock terms it’s virtually hallowed ground. (That said, Cliff Richard also used to record in there. Sorry Cliff – loved your Young Ones record. No I mean, the one with the actual Young Ones). It’s a studio that’s still constantly used (indeed the party was over by 9pm as we were chucked out to make way for someone else) but it was nonetheless a huge thrill to think of the Fab Four sitting, composing and recording so many of their tunes in the room where I was chatting and casually drinking a beer.
Bowers & Wilkins has a long established connection with Abbey Road – its speakers have been used as reference monitors in there since the late 80s – and the company had placed many of its current products around the room, including one of its Diamond range speakers, its P5 headphones, its well known Zepplin iPod dock, and a single flagship Nautilus (that’s £5,500 to you sir).
A grand piano sat at one end of the room. Had Paul McCartney tinkled away on the ivory keys on this very piano? Yes, probably.
The launch was delightfully mellow and unstated a brief introduction to the company and products by two of its senior members. We were then treated to a live performance by a band called Portico Quartet that we were told had just been had been nominated for a Mercury Prize. Spotify describes them as “a contemporary modern jazz and ethnic fusion”, which sounds like a load of pretentious bollocks – but actually it was pretty cool, mellow and trippy.
The twist was that the performance was being recorded and we were each given a pair of the new P3 headphones attached to a wireless mic that was tuned into the mixing desk. We were therefore listening in to a live recording being made in front of us. This was then mixed and mastered, and on leaving the studio we were presented with a pair of P3s and an iPod shuffle on which was placed the recording of what we’d just seen and heard so we could listen to it on the way home.
It was, without too much fanfare or pomp, the most enjoyable press launch I can remember going to for a long while.
But what of the P3s themselves? These are the baby brother of the very successful P5s and have the advantage of being smaller, more lightweight, more portable (they fold and are supplied with a carry case) and at an RRP of £169.99 – less expensive. They are also superbly comfortable to wear, both for short and longer listening sessions and also look incredibly classy and cool – which is no more than you would expect from Bowers & Wilkins.
The one thing I’ve not mentioned in that list is sound quality. Needless to say, the P3 are truly excellent, especially for the price. I’ll home straight in on the bass, which is beautifully rich, full and rhythmic. It’s great how you can follow a bass line and pick out the intricacies and subtleties of the playing.
That said, I have to admit to some reservations. My first impression are that while the sound is really excellent, there’s something missing that I can’t yet put my finger, or at least my ear, on. Is there a lack of crispness at the high end? Is the sound a touch – muddy? I’m not sure. I’ll leave it to a dedicated review to make a final judgment.
Clearly though there’s a lot of love, passion, and great engineering that has gone into the P3s and I’m sure they are going to a a massive success for the company. And they could not have picked a more fitting location for the launch that Abbey Road Studio 2.