I love my B&W P5 headphones. The P5 is a closed-back, on-ear model that folds relatively flat (to the size of a paperback book) for easy packing, and its sensitivity is high enough that ample volumes can be reached using the standard headphone outputs of your smartphone, tablet, or PMP. One of the two cables provided has a built-in mic and remote-control buttons for iOS devices. The other cable forgoes the mic and controls and is terminated with a standard 3.5 mm TRS plug.

I wouldn't call the P5 reference headphones, but they sound wonderfully warm, are extremely comfortable, and exhibit a luxurious look and feel. Premium materials are used throughout, with thoughtful design and engineering. The two sheepskin covered earpads, for example, are magnetically attached to the earcups, and they can be swapped left-to-right since they are identical. The 2.5 mm jack for the cable is hidden underneath the left earpad. And the headband as well as the earcup pivots are designed in such a way that the cable that goes between the left earcup and the right earcup can never be crimped. (right earcup can never be crimped. (If you've ever owned Sony MDR-7506 or MDR-V6 headphones, which have cable-biting ear cup yokes, you know what I mean.)

For me, listening to the P5 is a relaxing experience. I can don these headphones for hours on end without experiencing ear fatigue. Granted, when I'm listening to music for personal enjoyment, I keep the volume fairly low. The bass is a touch heavier than neutral, but unlike the DJ-inspired headphones that are so popular with the street and subway crowd, the P5's lows aren't ridiculously overbearing, and its highs are the opposite of hyped. As far as I can tell, bass extension is way beyond what my ears can hear. B&W claim that the P5 can reproduce frequencies down to 10 Hz, and I certainly hear very little harmonic distortion even at 30 Hz, which is commendable for such compact on-ears. I do hear emphasis in most of the bass region, working up to the lower mids, manifested as a smooth hump starting at 40 Hz and dropping back down at 300 Hz. I also hear a 5 dB bump in the upper mids, centered at 3.2 kHz, followed by a quick 4 dB dip centered at 4.8 kHz. Another bump/dip pair appears an octave up, at 6.5/9.6 kHz. From there, the highs remain soft throughout the low teens.

The soft treble response and the slight emphasis throughout the bass region together contribute to the warmth of the P5 sound. And although the attenuation of the highs may fool you into thinking the bass is not "tight" enough, if you listen to something like a well-tuned kick drum without a hole in the front head - an instrument that can create a big transient without a lot of highs - you'll realize that the low end is indeed very controlled and well damped. In general, the sound is very natural at low to medium volumes, even if the frequency response is not entirely flat. At high volumes, the upper midrange gets strident, and the mids got lost to the bass.

Isolation is unexpectedly good - again, surprising given the size of the headphones. The earpads have high-density memory foam inside of them, and the headband clamps these earpads down with considerable force - but again, they stay comfortable for hours on end. I have no problem enjoying music on the P5 at conversational volumes while sitting on an airplane.

As with all on-ear or over-the-ear headphones, your head and ear shape will affect what you personally hear. In fact, more so than with other headphones, I was able to alter the bass response as well as the peaks and dips in the upper mids and low treble with slight changes in pressure and position, by pulling or moving the earpads. Therefore, I recommend that you audition the P5 for yourself before finalizing a purchase.

I myself am very happy with my P5 headphones. When I'm listening to music from one of my portable devices, and I don't feel like isolating myself from my surroundings with my Shure in- ear monitors, the P5 headphones are what I reach for. I've had a pair of B&W DM100 bookshelf speakers since 1984, and I hope to keep my B&W P5 headphones for many years to come. ($299.95; www.bowers-wilkins.com) -AH

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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