Bowers & Wilkins might be a name many associate with , the Px7 S2 allows you to hear some of the outside world, but there’s no mistaking that you still have headphones on. Environmental noise is muffled and even when there’s no audio playing it’s not the best for trying to have a conversation.

Call quality

Nearly every headphone company touts improved call quality on new models these days, but the actual results can be hit or miss. For the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins changed both the positioning and the angle of the two voice microphones while boosting noise suppression. The company says these tweaks will allow for better performance “even in the noisiest environments.” Thankfully, those claims mostly hold true.

The person on the other end said I sounded as if I were holding my phone up to my face rather than wearing headphones or earbuds. More often than not, headphones make you sound like you’re on speaker phone, but that’s not the case here. They also noticed the Px7 S2 was adept at cutting background noise, like a blaring TV I had on. Even with all of that, I still wouldn’t recommend these as a great choice for regular video or voice calls due to the fact that the ambient sound isn’t that great and I could feel myself getting a bit shouty at times.

Battery life

Bowers & Wilkins promises 30 hours of battery life on the Px7 S2, but the company doesn’t specify if that’s with active noise cancellation turned on or not. With ANC active, that figure would put this model on par with a lot of the best noise-canceling headphones you can currently buy. Some do more and some less, but the Px7 S2 doesn’t woefully miss the mark on its stated figure. What’s more, at the 30-hour mark of what I’d consider regular use – a mix of ANC and transparency mode for music and calls – these headphones still had 33 percent in the tank according to both the company’s app and the Bluetooth menu in macOS.

The company improved its quick charge feature on the S2, adding two more hours worth of play time when you plug in for 15 minutes. That’s now seven hours compared to five hours on the original Px7. A full charge from zero will take two hours, so if you find yourself empty, this short top off will get you quite far.

The competition

Billy Steele/Engadget

Price-wise, the Px7 S2 stacks up with the latest flagship model from Sony, the WH-1000XM5. However, Sony’s new gem offers a lot more features for the money, including handy Speak-to-Chat that automatically pauses the audio when you talk and both activity- and location-based sound settings that tweak the audio without you lifting a finger. Sony also outperforms Bowers & Wilkins when it comes to noise cancellation, though the gap narrows when it comes to overall sound quality. I still give the edge to Sony for its pristine details and support for both 360 Reality Audio and LDAC on top of its DSEE Extreme upscaling tech. Bowers & Wilkins upcoming Px8 will probably be better competition for the M5 when it arrives later this year, but the company has already confirmed a $549 price tag for that set.

If you’re looking to save some money, and design isn’t a primary concern, you might consider the Bose QuietComfort 45 as an alternative. Last year, Bose finally released an update to one of the most popular headphone models. Improved ANC is the star, but clear and balanced audio, long battery life and trademark comfort are there as well. The QC45 lacks some polish – there’s no automatic pausing and the multipoint connectivity wasn’t seamless during my review. They’re $329 at full price though, which is a considerable savings over the Px7 S2.

Wrap-up

When most companies update an existing set of headphones, the refresh is modest at best. With the Px7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins has basically created an entirely new product. This is no iterative update as the S2 showcases considerable improvements to both ANC and overall sound. A design overhaul takes things a step further, and though these headphones could use a bit of polish, they stack up well with flagship models from other companies. You won’t get a truckload of features here, but Bowers & Wilkins has nailed most of the basics, including the two biggest challenges for headphones. And it did that without raising the price, which is always an excellent finishing touch.