speaker maker

tries headphones

P7 headphones, $400,


Primarily known for making hi-fi speakers for audio studios and luxury hotels, the British company Bowers & Wilkins recently turned its expertise to headphones. The company quickly built a high-quality lineup, and rounding out the roster is the P7, its first over-ear headphones.

The inside of the P7 headphones includes parts designed with a traditional loudspeaker in mind. The technology includes voice coils made of a light aluminum-copper compound, which improves high-frequency reproduction, and damping materials to reduce distortion.

But the company seems to have spent equal time on the exterior of the P7. The headphones are made with sturdy materials like leather and stainless steel, providing a look of refinement. "Dual-cavity" cushions on the ear cups are intended to provide a more comfortable fit while blocking outside noise. The ear cups even have a rectangular shape that resembles a loudspeaker.

All of that attention to detail pays off in the sound quality. The aural precision is pretty amazing; it's like sitting in a sound studio.

a COLORFUL SPEAKER with retro features

JBL Spark, $130, www.jbl.com

The JBL Spark Bluetooth speaker is a little bit silly, but that is what makes the device charming.

Its striking design doesn't look like the latest in technology. Rather, it resembles a funnel with a cord coming out of its spout. And it is available in three colors of see-through plastic, pop art tints of red, blue and yellow, that would feel at home in Andy Warhol's factory.

There is a single speaker in the 6.5-inch funnel, so there is no stereo sound, only mono. The sound quality is pleasantly mediocre, with little bass — it reminded me of listening to a decent transistor radio.

What is really silly is that it is a Bluetooth speaker that has to be plugged into the wall. Does that even qualify as wireless? It might make more sense if you could pair two Sparks together to have left and right channels. Nope, mono only.

Then there is the price — $130. That is a lot for sound of this quality, since you'd pay about the same for a better-sounding and truly wireless Jambox or foxL.