Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 Earbuds Review: Same Fantastic Sound, But Only Slight Improvements

When Bowers & Wilkins launched its first true-wireless earbuds in April 2021, they have been among the many very best-sounding fashions in that extremely aggressive headphone house. Now we get the subsequent technology of these buds, the PI7 S2 ($399, £349, AU$700) and PI5 S2 ($299, £249, AU$450) — and so they handle to be each fairly spectacular and a tad disappointing on the similar time. (For what it is value, the names are “pi 7” and “pi 5”, styled in all caps and no areas, not “P seventeen” and “P fifteen.” Obtained it?)


  • Nice sound
  • Improved battery life and Bluetooth vary
  • Superb noise-canceling and voice-calling capabilities
  • Wi-fi charging case turns right into a Bluetooth transceiver, enabling you to hook up with an exterior audio supply resembling an in-flight leisure system

Do not Like

  • Dear
  • Identical Qualcomm chipset as within the earlier mannequin
  • Lacking some options usually discovered on premium buds

Let’s begin with the underwhelming half. For higher or worse, though the PI7 and PI5 now are available new coloration choices, their design has barely modified, and so they look similar to their predecessors. If you happen to look intently, the grilles over the microphones seem like barely bigger, and there is a sensor slightly below one of many microphones that wasn’t there beforehand. Bowers and Wilkins did not point out something about new drivers, so presumably they’re the identical, and I’ve confirmed that these new fashions use the identical legacy Qualcomm QCC5126 chipset (with Bluetooth 5.0) because the originals. (The most recent 5 sequence chips are the QCC5141 and QCC5144).

So what’s upgraded? In response to Bowers & Wilkins, the brand new fashions have higher battery life and Bluetooth vary, now as much as 25 meters, which is double the earlier vary. Moreover, the buds now combine into the brand new Bowers & Wilkins Music app for iOS and Android and have a a lot improved set-up expertise (I can attest to that). 

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With the unique PI7 buds, you solely received about 4 hours of battery life on a single cost with an extra 4 prices within the case (20 hours whole). The battery life on the PI7 S2 is as much as 5 hours for the buds with 16 hours extra from the case (21 hours whole). In the meantime, the PI5 goes from 4.5 hours on a single cost to as much as 5 hours however dips from 20 hours extra from the case to 19 hours. 

Bowers & Wilkins says the battery life features within the buds have been achieved via {hardware} modifications, not software program updates. The batteries within the buds are new and the antenna design has additionally modified. “The caps on the finish of the earbuds — the sections that carry the emblem — have been re-engineered to enhance antenna efficiency,” a Bowers & Wilkins rep knowledgeable me. “We have launched a brand new design of antenna and repositioned it throughout the earbud endcaps. On the similar time, we now have switched to make use of plastic, fairly than aluminum to trim every endcap. The result’s stronger Bluetooth sign energy, giving us our improved 25-meter vary.”

Whereas I definitely recognize higher battery life and improved Bluetooth vary with a extra dependable wi-fi connection, the updates struck me as comparatively modest. In fact, Bowers and Wilkins may add options later, which we have seen earlier than with premium buds that use Qualcomm chipsets (Jabra and Bose, for instance). Nevertheless, Bowers & Wilkins has by no means up to date the firmware of its unique buds. So do not anticipate these to get multipoint Bluetooth pairing, which lets you pair the buds with two gadgets concurrently — say, a pc and smartphone — and have the audio robotically change to your smartphone when a name is available in (as a substitute, you need to manually change between paired gadgets). Nor are you able to anticipate to see help for Qualcomm’s upcoming spatial audio or Bluetooth LE Audio with Auracast capabilities. 

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 have different endcaps

Bowers & Wilkins has modified the antenna design of the buds.

David Carnoy/CNET

The app can also be lacking an equalizer to tweak your sound. I personally do not thoughts a set EQ that sticks to an organization’s signature sound, however lots of people wish to customise the sound settings of their headphones. 

All that stated, the contact controls work very properly, as does the automated ear-detection characteristic. And the PI7 S2’s wi-fi charging case, like its predecessor, converts right into a transceiver, so you may plug the case into the headphone port on an airplane’s inflight leisure system and wirelessly stream audio from the case to the earbuds. Alternately, you may additionally join the case to a laptop computer audio port and use it to wirelessly stream high-resolution audio to the buds.

Notice that the PI5 could be very a lot a step-down mannequin. It is received a single driver as a substitute of the twin drivers discovered within the PI7 and one much less microphone on every earbud (two as a substitute of three). The aforementioned “wi-fi audio retransmission” characteristic in its case can also be absent.

All in regards to the sound

Merely put, the PI7 S2 sound nice as long as you get a good seal from one of many three sizes of included ear ideas. I am a fan of Bowers & Wilkins ear ideas, which have an analogous design to Sennheiser ear ideas, and the big ideas match my ears properly. These are massive ear buds that can stick out of your ears a good quantity, however they did match my ears comfortably and pretty securely. They provide IPX54 water-resistance, which implies they’re splashproof and dust-resistant, so you may run with them, although there are higher earbuds choices with sport fins which are extra appropriate for sporting actions (I am unsure you need to threat a $399 earbud dropping out of your ear). Nevertheless, I might don’t have any drawback utilizing them on the gymnasium.

Like its predecessor, the PI7 helps Qualcomm aptX Adaptive wi-fi transmission (which incorporates the aptX HD codec) from appropriate cell gadgets, permitting for “high-resolution music transmission from appropriate streaming providers, resembling Qobuz.” The record of Android gadgets — and devoted music gamers — that help aptX Adaptive has grown over the previous few years and you must ideally pair the buds with a tool that helps aptX Adaptive (together with a streaming service that provides high-resolution streaming). That stated, the buds additionally work simply positive and sound excellent with Apple’s iPhones, which help the AAC codec. (Each the PI5 and PI7 help AAC streaming however the PI5 solely helps commonplace aptX, not aptX Adaptive.) Alas, Sony’s LDAC hi-res audio codec just isn’t supported, however usually headphones help both aptX or LDAC, not each. 

I listened to the buds utilizing an iPhone 14 Professional and an Asus ROG 6 Android smartphone that is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 cell platform. As I stated with the unique PI7, the PI7 S2 has precisely what I am searching for in an excellent set of headphones: Correct and articulate sounding with deep, well-defined bass, pure sounding mids, properly detailed treble and a large soundstage that offers the general sound some largesse.

On my iPhone, I examined the buds with Spotify, Apple Music and Qobuz. The PI7 S2 can go toe-to-toe and, in some circumstances, barely edge out lots of the prime mainstream earbuds on the market for sound, together with Sony’s WF-1000XM4, Apple’s AirPods Professional 2, Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds 2, Sennheiser Momentum True Wi-fi 3 and Bang and Olufsen Beoplay EX, which additionally price $400. 

Nevertheless, after I switched to the Asus and streamed high-resolution tracks from Qobuz (with aptX Adaptive), I went from saying to myself, “That sounds actually good” to “Wow, that sounds superior.” Bowers & Wilkins has a playlist on Qobuz for its PX8 full-size headphones, so I ran via a bunch of these tracks. A few of them included Taylor Swift’s Vigilante Shit, Athletes of God’s Do not Wanna Be Regular, Anna B Savage’s Since We Broke up, Orbital’s Soiled Rat and Pixies’ Vault of Heaven. The standard of the bass was a stage up — extra visceral with added girth and punch — and there was a bit extra sparkle, depth and nuance to the music throughout. I got here away feeling my Spotify wanted an improve. 


As with the unique PI7 (proven right here), the case converts right into a Bluetooth transceiver and might be linked to your laptop or the headphone port an in-flight leisure system (a USB-C to three.5mm cable is included).

David Carnoy/CNET

Good noise canceling however not best-in-class

As with the sound, you will want a good seal to get optimum efficiency for noise canceling, which might be set to on, off or an “auto” mode that adapts the noise canceling in response to the ambient sound in your setting. You too can alter how a lot “passthrough” sound you need to let into the buds, which is usually known as an consciousness or transparency mode.

The buds’ transparency mode is not fairly as pure sounding as among the others I’ve used (for the time being, the AirPods Professional 2’s transparency mode is the gold commonplace). I settled on a halfway level for the slider setting in between “min” and “max” for what I felt was the most effective transparency expertise. 

The noise canceling is kind of efficient and does a pleasant job of lowering a good quantity of ambient sound, significantly within the decrease frequencies. Nevertheless, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds 2 do a greater job lowering noise throughout a broader vary of frequencies (larger frequencies are more difficult for noise-canceling headphones to muffle). So whereas the PI7’s noise canceling is clearly respectable, it isn’t in the identical class because the earbuds’ sound. 

The PI7’s voice-calling capabilities are at an analogous stage — excellent however not best-in-class. The buds did a pleasant job of lowering background noise on the streets of New York. Whereas callers stated they might hear a little bit of background noise, it was diminished significantly, and so they stated my voice got here clearly with none warbling. I may additionally hear them fairly properly, and there is a little bit of sidetone so you may hear your voice within the buds as you converse. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 remaining ideas

Sure, the PI7 S2s are technically a second-gen product, however they really feel extra like a technology 1.5 product. Bowers & Wilkins has basically smoothed out among the tough edges on the unique buds (I imply that metaphorically, not actually). The additional hour of battery life and prolonged Bluetooth vary (with seemingly a barely extra dependable wi-fi connection) are welcome modifications. And the setup and integration with the Bowers & Wilkins Music app creates a greater total person expertise, regardless of its considerably bare-bones high quality (in comparison with Sony’s Headphones app anyway). 

If you happen to’re evaluating the PI7 S2 to the PI5 S2, which additionally sound glorious however not fairly pretty much as good because the PI7, you will need to keep watch over the PI5 S2’s worth, which ought to dip extra rapidly than the PI7 S2’s worth. The unique Pi5s are promoting for as little as $150, or $100 off their record worth of $250, so we’ll see the place every little thing shakes out. The PI5s may find yourself being the higher worth, although it is unlucky that Bowers & Wilkins added $50 to their record worth. 

For sure, $400 is quite a bit to spend on a set of earbuds. And if you spend this a lot, you ideally need the newest know-how and options (aptX Lossless, for instance). But when nice sound is your precedence, the PI7 S2s ship it. And with the buds paired to the appropriate system and streaming service, they’ll sound downright particular. 

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