When comparing the B&W P5 to the much more expensive Sennheiser HD-800, and to the much less expensive Sennheiser PX-100, I feel that the P5 has the neutrality and smoothness of response that the Sennheisers do, particularly the HD-800. Where the P5 mainly differs is that it lacks some of the mid- to upper-midrange clarity of the HD-800, but it has much better clarity than the PX-100. The reason I use the term clarity is to avoid confusion about emphasis or de-emphasis of tonal or frequency ranges – all three of these are fairly neutral in that respect, particularly the P5 and the HD-800. So clarity seems to come from a better or more expensive design that produces better detail, as far as I can tell.
Many people feel that the HD-800 sounds slightly bright as opposed to being completely neutral, and if that’s true, the P5 would fit that description as well. Since the P5 doesn’t sound exactly like the HD-800, and since comparing them decibel for decibel would not give you a real feel for how it sounds, I’d like to suggest a two-word summary: “HD-800 Light.” Slightly less extension at the low and high ends and slightly less weight in the low bass, noting the comments about clarity in the above paragraph.
From what I hear, the P5 was designed to be a portable headphone, for use with iPods and the like. It works well with those as long as the songs have adequate volume. If the volume is too low in the tracks themselves, you may not get a satisfactory listening experience. The P5 is comfortable to wear as far as head pressure and cushions are concerned, but on my head the earcups slip too easily when I move my head around, which means they work well for me when walking, but not when running or doing other activities. This is not a major problem in my opinion, because the sound of the P5 and the P5’s price suggest more careful listening, whereas the more active person might prefer the PX-100 or other lightweight plastic headphones which sound just about as good when engaged in activities with a lot of movement.
My take on the headphone market today, with its abundance of portable music players, is that there’s a greater emphasis on bass response than there used to be. Headphones like the Klipsch Image One, the Philips O’Neill Stretch, and the Beats by Dr. Dre produce a much stronger bass than the B&W P5, which sounds more like a classic headphone design by Sennheiser, Grado, or AKG to name a few. I believe that most people would be happy with the P5 for home or portable listening (noting the above caveats about movement), because the sound is true high fidelity, with good detail from the deep bass to the upper highs. I don’t find the P5 to be better suited to any particular type of music, since it sounds very good with everything I threw at it, as long as the music tracks were good quality to begin with.