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Bowers and Wilkins PI7 Review

Verdict

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The B&W PI7 come with a price tag to match their ambition. They’re the first true audiophile wireless earbuds, and in that sense their audio performance requires higher-quality tracks to make the most of the potential on offer. Noise cancelling is strong and the audio re-transmission feature is a genuinely innovative feature. The PI7 are expensive, but they’re also one of the best-sounding true wireless options yet.

Pros

  • Expressive sound with high-quality tracks
  • Great looks
  • Strong noise cancellation
  • Audio re-transmission feature is impressive

Cons

  • Better performing ANC earbuds are available
  • Not the most comfortable over long periods
  • Short battery life
  • A few connectivity issues

Availability

  • UKRRP: £349
  • USARRP: $399
  • EuropeRRP: €399

Key Features

  • Charging caseAudio re-transmission via charging case
  • Hi-res audio support24-bit/48kHz resolution playback
  • BatteryFour-hour battery life (20 hours total)
  • IP ratingIP54 water-resistance against splashes and dust protection

Introduction

It’s been a long time coming, but Bowers & Wilkins has entered the true wireless headphone market – and the brand is taking few prisoners with the flagship B&W PI7.

Everything about these earbuds is premium: from the finish and features, to the focus on high-fidelity audio. The price will make you wince – they cost a lot more than their rivals. Bowers & Wilkins’s reputation promises much, but the brand still has plenty to prove with the PI7.

Bowers & Wilkins has mastered hi-fi speakers and full-sized headphones, but can we say the same about the company’s first wireless earbuds?

Design

  • Not the most comfortable for prolonged use
  • Great looks
  • Nice, tactile feel to operation

B&W enters a market no longer in its infancy, so the company has had a few years to observe what others have done. While the B&W PI7 are fairly traditional in terms of form, they exude the style and elegance you’d expect from a Bowers & Wilkins product. The earbuds’ design follows a tripartite structure with the touch control at the top, main housing and ear-tip.

Available in charcoal and white colour options, the charcoal version with gold accents supplied for review are beautiful and well made. The quality of the matte finish and circular/metallic pattern on the touch controls are almost worth the price of admission. The PI7 feel crafted, and in the looks department they lord above the competition.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds

The PI7 are also quite petite, weighing 8g per earbud and smaller than rivals from Bose, Sennheiser and Sony – which is (ahem) no small feat. The matching case keeps the compact dimensions, so it should fit into the slimmest trouser pocket.

In terms of comfort the B&W PI7 initially sit well, but over longer periods they caused a dull ache. A fair amount of experimentation didn’t really change matters, either. They’re not always the most comfortable, then – at least not over prolonged periods of wear.

The main issue I had was with the seal they created. With the default ear-tip, I didn’t get the sense they were as secure as I wanted – perhaps my ears are just massive – and a weaker seal affects noise isolation and noise cancellation performance.

Two more ear-tip sizes are included (S, M, L in total), and the largest option suited my ears just fine, so there’s room to dabble. The fit was more snug and the seal more consistent, although those dull aches were still a feature.

Touch controls have proved responsive and have required little pressure to operate for those who don’t like the ‘push in’ nature of earbuds. Operating the B&W PI7 has been a nice and tactile experience.

Features

  • Battery life on the low side
  • Effective noise cancellation/Ambient pass-through
  • High-res audio support

The B&W PI7 feature everything you’d expect – plus a unique feature you might not (more on this later). However, it’s the PI7’s stamina that disappoints the most.

At least it is if you’re going to use these earbuds frequently, which you likely will. Four hours per charge with four more top-ups in the case (20 hours in total) is at the lower end of the scale. It’s more than the QuietComfort Earbuds’ 18 hours, but the Bose offers six hours per charge.

I think the 20 hours total is fine, and listening to the PI7 a few hours every day the earbuds lasted a week. The issue is that if these are likely to be your main pair for listening, then four hours will have you concerned about battery life more than it should.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 on top of case

The inclusion of just a USB-C-to-USB-C charging cable is an odd inconvenience unless you’ve got a spare adaptor (most likely an Apple one). The front of the case features a LED status strip (green is good, red is a problem), and located inside is a button for Bluetooth pairing. Fast-charging is possible (15 minutes for two hours), and the case also includes Qi wireless support.

Other features include a very well-implemented wear-detection feature that’s super-prompt with its stops and starts. Water-resistance is IP54, enough to protect against splashes and limited ingress of dust. That’s better than the competition, some of whom don’t even bother with IP certification. Voice assistance for Siri, Google and others is available via a brief hold of the right earbud.

Wireless connectivity is Bluetooth 5.0, although I’ve experienced a few issues with my OnePlus 7T. On occasion the PI7 would connect but no sound would play, requiring a re-connection. The wireless distance doesn’t always feel as far, either, and in busy areas (train stations) it seems susceptible to interference.

Connection to the Headphones app causes a brief stutter, and if no music is played for a couple of minutes, the PI7 disconnect before one earbud re-connects. I’m not sure whether this is deliberate.

Wireless support is formidable in SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, aptX-LL and aptX-Adaptive. The latter factors in 24-bit/48kHz resolutions, as well as adjusting the bit-rate to maintain the wireless connection. The B&W PI7 are also capable of 24-bit/48kHz transmission between each earbud, so from the source to ears it should be an unfiltered hi-res experience – as long as you have access to tracks in that quality, of course.

Noise cancellation is available in one-size-fits-all and adaptive forms – the latter I’ve never been too sure about. The adaptive version adjusts the PI7’s noise cancelling to its surroundings. In theory, the more noise there is the stronger the effect. It’s hard to decipher how effectively it works, I feel.

Once the right fit and seal have been achieved, I’d say the PI7 cancel noise effectively, although not as well as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds or Sony WF-1000XM3.

Engines of vehicles are nullified, the bumps and clangs of train journeys are smoothed out, and the general hustle and bustle of the outside world is reduced. However, the WF-1000XM3 deal with vehicles better, and the QuietComfort Earbuds transport the wearer to some sort of alien landscape.

The PI7 don’t quite deal with voices as robustly; I could still hear people both near and far. I should emphasise the B&W PI7’s ANC is quite strong, but the Bose and Sony are better and cheaper.

Bowers & Wilkins Headphone app

There is the companion Headphones app that’s easy to use and offers a few customisations (although an EQ mode is lacking). You can adjust the level of noise filtered through the Ambient Pass-through slider, and that offers good awareness of surroundings with no noise or sense of artificiality. It has a tendency to say ‘Can’t Connect’, but restarting the app resolves this.

The PI7’s charging case has a very unique feature in audio re-transmission. It’s the main reason the B&W PI7 are as expensive as they are. Plug the USB-C-to-3.5mm cable into the charging case and connect to a 3.5mm jack – I’m not going on a plane anytime soon, so a PlayStation Vita will do – and audio is channelled through the case and transmitted to your ears.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 audio re-transmission

It’s an ingenious idea, and genuinely impressive in execution. My experience was rather choppy and stuttery at first, having switched from a Bluetooth connection. However, restarting and using the Vita from the off, there was no perceptible lag, drop in sound or stutter. It’s really impressive in action and extends the PI7’s use away from just smartphone use.

Sound quality

  • Sound best with higher-quality audio
  • A lush, musical yet dynamic presentation
  • ANC offers greater presence to audio playback

Armed with a bespoke 9.2mm dynamic driver, a high-frequency balanced armature driver, and a quoted 10Hz – 20kHz frequency range, the PI7 aspire to be an audiophile true wireless. ‘Uncompromising’ is the byword for the PI7.

While they sound very good with noise cancelling turned off, music is better served by having it on – aside from the slight volume bump, music has a greater presence and firmer definition.

So the place to start is, of course, a 320kbps Spotify stream. It’s with lower-quality streams that the B&W PI7 perhaps play their weakest hand. That’s not to say that they sound bad – they do sound very good – but there’s little to differentiate the earbuds from the competition.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 charging case

With lower-quality streams the soundstage isn’t described with a whole lot of width. The Sennheiser Momentum TW2, which I feel are a close rival, feel more spacious. Tracks are afforded plenty of detail and are articulated well, and with a bit more warmth than I expected. Vocals, such as those of Bill Withers in I Wish You Well, are conveyed with a smoothness similar in character to the PX7 over-ears.

The B&W PI7 are easy on the ear and mellow, but also balanced so no part of the frequency range sticks out like a sore thumb. I’d label them slightly laid-back – you’d never mistake the PI7 for being explosive – with the Sennheisers having edge in terms of clarity and definition with lower-quality streams.

A Tidal Master track of David Bowie’s Modern Love sees a step up in clarity, although there’s still an element of warmth. On Tidal, it takes on a more lush and musical tone. Bass is weighty, with the PI7 expressing low frequencies with more impact than the Sennheisers.

Bowers and Wilkins PI7 and case

It’s through Qobuz that the B&W PI7’s talents come into focus. There’s more dynamism, the soundstage is wider and bigger in scope, and it summons more energy. Christophe Beck’s Prologue from the Ant-Man and the Wasp takes on a grandiose feel, the PI7 conveying the scale and size of the orchestra before easing down to something more intimate. They’re a great communicator of highs and lows, and there’s a sense of being swept away once the PI7’s are in flow.

Alexandre Desplat’s Snow in the Garden is delicately and lushly handled, the playing of the piano dynamic in tone. Although note that the bigger ear-tip sacrifices a little detail and clarity to the default option, with the shifts in tempo – even small ones – come across as measured and precise.

Jorja Smith’s voice on Addicted via Qobuz is presented with more clarity, detail and intimacy than the same track on Spotify, and that’s the PI7 (and high-res audio’s) selling point in a nutshell – it brings the listener closer to the music. It’s more expressive and the result is a more emotive listen.

When all the pieces fall in place, the B&W PI7 sound fantastic. Are they worth the asking price? If you can afford them, and the streaming services to take advantage of their talents, then the answer is very much in the affirmative.

Should you buy it?

If you listen to high-quality tracks If you’re a subscriber to the likes of Tidal and Primephonic, and enjoy the convenience of true wireless over full-sized headphones, then the PI7 fit the bill. The audio quality is fantastic with the right quality to hand.

If you find short battery life inconvenient It perhaps isn’t surprising that the battery is only four hours long given the focus on channelling high-quality audio. If you’re going to use these often, and for the price tag you will, then battery may become a concern.

Verdict

The Bowers & Wilkins PI7 come with a price tag to match their ambition. They’re the first true audiophile wireless earbuds, and in that sense their audio performance requires higher-quality tracks to make the most of the potential on offer. Noise cancelling is strong and the audio re-transmission feature is a genuinely innovative feature. The PI7 are expensive, but they’re also one of the best-sounding true wireless option so far.

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FAQs

What’s the difference between the PI7 and PI5?

The PI7 earbud supports high-resolution audio and has a more advanced driver set-up, but the PI5 has a slightly longer battery life.

Specification

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