Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 Earbuds review: Same great sound, but only minor improvements

When Bowers & Wilkins introduced its first true wireless earphones in April 2021, they were among the best-sounding models in the fiercely competitive headphone space. Now we get the next generation of those buds, the PI7 S2 ($399, £349, AU$700) and the PI5 S2 ($299, £249, AU$450) — and they manage to be both absolutely brilliant and disappointing at the same time. the time. the same time. (For what it’s worth, the names are “pi 7” and “pi 5,” styled in all caps and without spaces, not “P seventeen” and “P fifteen.” Get that?)


  • Great sound
  • Battery life and Bluetooth range have been improved
  • Very good noise canceling and voice call capabilities
  • The wireless charging case turns into a Bluetooth transceiver, allowing you to connect to an external audio source such as the in-flight entertainment system

You do not like

  • The price
  • The same Qualcomm chipset found in the previous model
  • Some features usually found in premium headphones are missing

Let’s start with the disappointing part. or better or for worse, although the PI7 and PI5 now come with new color options, their design has hardly changed, and they look very similar to their predecessors. If you look closely, the grilles above the mics look a bit larger, and there’s a sensor below one of the mics that wasn’t there before. Bowers and Wilkins didn’t say anything about the new drivers, so presumably they’re the same, and I’ve confirmed that these new models use the same legacy Qualcomm QCC5126 chipset (with bluetooth 5.0) as original. (the Latest 5 series chips are QCC5141 and QCC5144).

So what is being upgraded? According to Bowers & Wilkins, the new models have better battery life and a Bluetooth range, now up to 25 metres, double that of the previous one. Plus, the buds now integrate into the new Bowers & Wilkins Music app for iOS and Android and have a much improved setup experience (that I can attest to).

David Carnoy/CNET

With the original PI7 Buds, you only have about four hours of battery life on a single charge with four additional charges in the box (20 hours total). Battery life on the PI7 S2 comes in at five hours for the buds with an additional 16 hours from the case (21 hours total). Meanwhile, the PI5 goes from 4.5 hours on a single charge to up to five hours but drops from the extra 20 hours from the case to 19 hours.

Bowers & Wilkins says the buds’ battery life gains have been achieved through hardware changes, not software updates. The batteries in the buds are new and the antenna design has also changed. “The caps at the end of the earbuds — the sections with the logo — have been redesigned to improve antenna performance,” a Bowers & Wilkins representative told me. “We’ve introduced a new antenna design and repositioned it inside the speaker end caps. At the same time, we’ve switched to using plastic instead of aluminum to trim each end cap. The result is stronger Bluetooth signal strength, giving us a range of 25 meters.”

While I certainly appreciated the better battery life and improved Bluetooth range with a more reliable wireless connection, the updates struck me as relatively modest. Of course, Bowers and Wilkins could add features later, which we’ve seen before with premium buds that use Qualcomm chips (Jabra and Bose, for example). However, Bowers & Wilkins never updated the firmware for their original buds. So don’t expect these devices to get multipoint pairing via Bluetooth, which allows you to pair the speakers to two devices simultaneously—say, a computer and a smartphone—and automatically switch audio to your smartphone when a call comes in (instead, you have to manually switch between paired devices). And you can’t expect to see spatial audio support coming from Qualcomm or Bluetooth LE Audio with Auracast capabilities.

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 has different endings

Bowers & Wilkins changed the antenna design for the buds.

David Carnoy/CNET

The app is also missing an equalizer to adjust the sound. Personally, I don’t mind a solid EQ that sticks to the company’s signature sound, but a lot of people like to customize the sound settings for their headphones.

All that said, the touch controls work very well, as does the automatic ear detection feature. And the PI7 S2’s wireless charging case, like its predecessor, converts into a transceiver, so you can plug the case into the headphone port on an aircraft’s inflight entertainment system and wirelessly stream audio from the case to your earbuds. Alternatively, you can also connect the case to your laptop’s audio port and use it to stream high-resolution audio wirelessly to your speakers.

Note that PI5 is largely a step-down model. It has a single driver instead of the dual drivers found on the PI7 and one fewer microphone on each earbud (two instead of three). The aforementioned “Wireless Audio Repeater” feature is also absent out of the box.

It’s all about the sound

Simply put, the PI7 S2 sounds great as long as you get a tight seal from one of the three sizes of ear tips included. I’m a fan of the Bowers & Wilkins ear tips, which have a similar design to Sennheiser’s ear tips, and the large tips fit my ears well. These are large ear buds that will stick out of your ears a fair amount, but they fit my ear fairly snugly and securely. They offer IPX54 water resistance, which means they’re splash and dust resistant, so you can run around with them, though there are better earphone options with sport fins that are more suited to sporting activities (not sure you want to risk a $399 earphone falling out of your ear). . However, I would have no problem using it at the gym.

Like its predecessor, PI7 supports Qualcomm aptX adapt Wireless transmission (which includes the aptX HD codec) from compatible mobile devices, allowing “high definition music transmission from appropriate streaming services, such as vault. The list of Android devices — and dedicated music players — that support aptX Adaptive has grown over the past few years, and you should ideally pair your speakers with a device that supports aptX Adaptive (along with a streaming service that does high service though, your speakers also work just fine). And sound pretty good with Apple’s iPhones, which support AAC codec.(The PI5 and PI7 both support AAC streaming but the PI5 only supports aptX standard, not aptX Adaptive.) and LDAC from Sony Hi-res audio codec is not supported, but headphones usually support either aptX or LDAC, not both.

I listened to the headphones using the iPhone 14 Pro and Asus ROG 6 An Android smartphone powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 platform. As I said with the original PI7, the PI7 S2 has exactly what I’m looking for in a good set of headphones: accurate, articulate sound with deep, well-defined bass, natural sounding, and treble Well detailed folds, and a spacious soundstage give the overall sound some generous.

On my iPhone, I tested the speakers with Spotify, Apple Music, and Qobuz. The PI7 S2 can go from toe-to-toe and, in some cases, only slightly beats many of the mainstream earphones out there for audio, including the WF-1000XM4 from SonyAnd AirPods Pro 2 from AppleAnd Bose’s QuietComfort 2 earphonesAnd Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 And Bang & Olufsen Peopleplay EXwhich also costs $400.

However, when I switched to an Asus and streamed HD tracks from Qobuz (with aptX Adaptive), I went from saying to myself, “This sounds really good” to “Wow, that sounds great.” Bowers & Wilkins has a playlist on Qobuz for their full-size PX8 speakers, so I ran through a bunch of those tracks. Some of them included Taylor Swift’s The Guardian, God’s Athletes Don’t Want to Be Ordinary, Anna B. Savage’s Since We Broke Up, Orbital’s Dirty Rat and Pixies’ Vault of Heaven. Bass quality was top notch – deeper with more volume and punch – and there was more sparkle, depth and nuance to the music throughout. I came away feeling like my Spotify needed an upgrade.

Bowers-Wilkins P17- Transceiver

As with the original PI7 (shown here), the case converts into a Bluetooth transceiver and can be connected to your computer or to the headphone port of an onboard entertainment system (a USB-C to 3.5mm cable is included).

David Carnoy/CNET

Good noise cancellation but not the best in its class

As with audio, you’ll need an airtight seal for optimal noise-canceling performance, which can be set to on, off, or an “auto” mode that adapts noise cancellation based on the ambient sound in your environment. You can also adjust the amount of “crossover” sound you want to let into the buds, which is commonly referred to as awareness or transparency mode.

The Buds’ Transparency mode isn’t quite as natural-sounding as some of the others I’ve used (at the moment, the AirPods Pro 2’s Transparency mode is the gold standard). I settled halfway to setting the slider between “min” and “max” for what felt like the best transparency experience.

The noise cancellation is very effective and does a good job of reducing a decent amount of ambient sound, especially at lower frequencies. However, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 do a better job of reducing noise across a wider range of frequencies (higher frequencies are more difficult for noise-canceling headphones to muffle). So while the PI7’s noise cancellation is obviously respectable, it’s not in the same class as earphones.

The PI7’s voice communication capabilities are on a similar level—very good but not best-in-class. The buds did a good job of reducing background noise on the streets of New York. While callers said they heard very little background noise, it was significantly reduced, and they said my voice came through clearly without any distortion. I can also hear them pretty well, and there’s a bit of a side note so you can hear your voice in its cradle while you’re speaking.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2inal Thoughts

Yes, the PI7 S2s are technically a second generation product, but they look and feel like a generation 1.5 product. Bowers & Wilkins basically smoothed out some of the rough edges on the original buds (I mean that figuratively, not literally). The extra hour of battery life and extended Bluetooth range (with apparently more reliable wireless connectivity) are welcome changes. And the setup and integration with the Bowers & Wilkins Music app creates an overall better user experience, despite its somewhat basic quality (compared to the Sony Headphones app anyway).

If you’re comparing PI7 S2 to PI5 S2, which also looks excellent but isn’t as good as PI7, you’ll want to keep an eye on the price of PI5 S2, which should drop more quickly than the price of PI7 S2. the The original Pi5s It retails for as low as $150, or $100 off the $250 list price, so we’ll see where it all changes. The PI5s may end up being a better value, though it’s a shame Bowers & Wilkins added the $50 to their list price.

Needless to say, $400 is a lot of money to spend on a set of earphones. And when you spend that much, you ideally want the latest technology and features (aptX lossless,or example). But if great sound is your priority, the PI7 S2s deliver it. And with the speakers paired with the right device and streaming service, they can sound just as special.