Every year about this time, at some pre-Christmas party, I bump into an old lobbyist friend (and gadget sceptic) who makes a slightly barbed comment about the number of headphones I cover here, and asks, a little disingenuously, how I manage to maintain my enthusiasm for them. It was while listening to these gorgeous new premium headphones from Bowers & Wilkins – which at £700 are actually mid-priced for the quality on offer – that I finally came up with the answer I plan to deploy this year. “Would you,” I will posit, “ask an oenophile how he keeps up his passion for different wines? No, of course not. Headphones, dear chap, like loudspeakers and other hifi components, are like fine wines, all subtly different, and infinite in their variety.”
B&W’s P9 Signatures (not to be confused with Huawei’s Leica-camera-equipped P9 Android phone, which I reviewed earlier this year and would also recommend as a Christmas gift) are a superb piece of engineering and electronics, which also sound, look and feel (from their Italian Saffiano leather to their foldable aluminium arms) quite marvellous – pure, undiluted luxury at every level. The sound caressing your ears comes from B&W’s own-design piston diaphragm speaker drivers and is grown-up and balanced, quite conservative and unenhanced, but incredibly faithful – and eminently suitable for all kinds of music, but especially, I have to say, serious classical material.