Bowers and Wilkins Pi7 S2 Review
Another high-quality listening experience with an improvement felt in terms of comfort, but there are still areas where the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 fall short of the less expensive competition.
- Excellent, refined audio
- Better comfort levels than original
- Strong wireless connection
- Clear call quality
- Solid enough noise cancellation
- Battery life is below average
- Fit is not the tightest
- Limited app features
- UKRRP: £349
- USARRP: $399
- EuropeRRP: €399
- AustraliaRRP: AU$700
- Adaptive ANCAdapts noise-cancelling strength depending on externa sounds
- 24-bit connectionSupport for hi-res audio
- Wireless audio retransmissionCharging case can transmit audio from external device to headphones
After waiting several years for Bowers & Wilkins to launch its first true wireless in the Pi7, it has taken only two for the brand to follow it up with the Pi7 S2.
They replace the predecessors and match up with their over-ear siblings in supporting Bowers’ Music app. That’s along with a few improvements such as a tweaked design, new finishes, and longer battery life.
Otherwise, they’re the same true wireless earphones with audiophile sensibilities. But the market hasn’t stood still since the Pi7 debuted, so has B&W’s latest earphone exceeded expectations or is it playing a game of catch-up?
- More comfortable than the original
- New colours
- Strong water resistance
- Not the tightest fit
Bowers hasn’t seen fit to change much about the design but on the surface of things, well, the surface has changed.
The material that cushions against the inner ear is noticeably smoother. With the original, I found its hard surface often caused a dull ache over longer periods but that feeling of discomfort is reduced with the Pi7 S2.
Though comfort levels are improved, these still aren’t the best fit, and neither do they offer the tightest seal. While a change to a bigger ear-tip brought about better comfort levels and a more secure fit, the Pi7 S2 still had a habit of coming loose walking about, and that can negatively impact the noise-cancellation and audio.
Water-resistance is rated at IP54 (buds only), similar to Jabra’s Elite earphone range, and it aims to repel splashes of water and protect against low levels of dust.
There’s no change to the touch controls, which are kept simple in terms of inputs and have the same tactile feel to them. The case is the same too: curved, compact and pocketable.
What has changed are the colour options with Midnight Blue (this sample) joining white and black versions. The blue version looks terrific – these remain one of the most stylish earbuds on the market.
- Below average battery life
- High-res audio support
- Excellent call quality
Bowers say it has boosted the battery life over the original from four to five hours but that’s not the full story. That quoted figure is with noise cancelling off, and there’s something strange happening with the battery life levels too.
Two hours streaming a Spotify playlist brought the earphones down to 54%, which indicates you’ll get little more than four hours with noise-cancelling on. What’s odd is the way the battery life depletes. On three occasions I noted it dropped to the low eighties before jumping back to the nineties. I can’t say I’ve seen that behaviour before.
Overall, there’s 21 hours of charge (16 in the case) and that’s with noise-cancelling off. All you get is an extra hour of battery life over the original Pi7, which is a meagre gain. Fast charging (15 minutes for two hours), and wireless charging are supported.
Wireless codecs include SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, aptX-LL and aptX-Adaptive, and you’ll only find the aptX variants compatible with Android devices. The Adaptive version supports 24-bit/48kHz audio resolutions and has the added element of adjusting the bitrate so the connection doesn’t fall apart in busy signal areas.
I’ve found the wireless performance to be very strong – much like Bower’s over-ear headphones such as the Px8 – with only minor stutters encountered at Waterloo and a few flickers in other areas.
The PI7 S2 also support 24-bit/48kHz transmission between each earbud, making these one of the few Hi-res audio capable buds on the market. The only surprise is that Bowers didn’t see fit to add support for Snapdragon Sound, but I imagine it’s not as easy to add as it was to write that sentence.
The Pi7 S2 follow the over-ear siblings in shuffling to the Bowers & Wilkins Music app. This is the company’s new home for its wireless speakers and headphones, with services such as Tidal and Qobuz integrated directly into the app.
The layout is good, mostly concerned with curating music playlists for users to enjoy. By clicking on the cog at the bottom, access is provided to settings, though options are few with the means to adjust the ANC, transparency mode and toggle the wear sensor on and off. Customisation is also thin, with not even the means to change the controls or EQ provided. This gives the impression of a rigid and controlled experience.
Opening the app can, on occasion, cause a brief stutter when music is playing, which is identical to what happened with the old app. Another curio is how the ANC settings work.
There is Adaptive, On and Off settings to choose from, which makes sense, but what doesn’t is there’s no way to switch between noise-cancelling and transparency modes on the earbuds themselves. Unless I’ve missed something, the only method to choose the transparency mode is by opening the app. I couldn’t even change between the three modes, as holding the touch surface only jumps between the selected ANC mode and off. If you have it set t ‘On’, you can’t switch to ‘Adaptive’. I find that strangely unintuitive.
For what it’s worth, the noise-cancellation is effective but reliant on achieving a good fit, maintaining its seal (which is not always the case) and tweaking the volume. Using them in the bustling centre of Amsterdam and comparing them against the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, the Pi7 S2 weren’t as successful in dismissing noise. I could still hear people and vehicles, and while they weren’t loud enough to distract, I was still aware of what was around me rather than sinking into a bubble of isolation.
Worn on an airplane, at Ikea and on several train journeys, I encountered a similar vibe. The Pi7 S2 provide solid suppression against persistent and ambient sounds but voices and general activity still manage to break through. Bowers would likely maintain the line they don’t want the ANC to unduly affect the music performance, but at £349 a pop I’d expect more.
The PI7 S2’s charging case retains the audio retransmission feature the original. Connect the USB-C-to-3.5mm cable provided in the box to the charging case and plug it into anything that has a 3.5mm jack, and audio is routed through the case to the earbuds.
It remains a clever idea and works with little to no latency watching YouTube videos on my laptop. It’s matched (or you might say pinched) by the less expensive LG Tone Free UT90Q, but I couldn’t get the feature to work on the UT90Q no matter what I did, whereas there were no problems with the Pi7 S2 whatsoever.
Call quality is excellent. Having conducted two calls on different days, the person on the other end of the line said they couldn’t hear much background noise at a busy food market I was milling in. My voice came across as clear though I did have to raise the volume to hear them during noisier moments.
Walking on busy roads and not much noise was heard on their side either. They did mention when it did get loud my voice went high pitched, and anyone who knows me is aware my voice is as far from high pitched as you can get.
- A refined, slight warm presentation
- A wide, detailed soundstage
- Rich treble performance
A lot can change in a couple of years, but there was little reason for Bowers and Wilkins to change anything where the sound was concerned. The original was one of the higher quality listening experiences in the true wireless market and the Pi7 S2 takes on the baton.
There don’t appear to be any changes made, and any I do hear could be put down to the various ear-tips used. The buds’ character hews to the same musical approach as its predecessor. They’re not concerned with being flashy or excitable and are personified by a sense of refinement with whatever song passes through the 9.2mm/balanced armature drivers. I wouldn’t describe them as a neutral listening experience, as there’s a slight warmth and richness throughout the frequency range.
That perhaps robs them of some dynamic heft and impact, but there’s no doubting these are a fluid, musical and engaging listen. Ashley Henry and Makaya McCraven’s Dark Honey (4The Storm) features a rich reproduction of the trumpets, McCraven’s rapid drumbeats are delivered with good tempo, and the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 keep up with the rhythm without coming across as muddy.
Rhythmically they’re more than adept, accelerating to a song’s pace or downshifting when called for. The cymbal crashes aren’t the crispest in their definition, the Pi7 S2 are not particularly sharp or bright but the instruments at the top end of the frequency range are easily identified, informative and richly showcased. The midrange is home to voices that are smoothly described such as Shara Zoe Ahmed Gure’s vocals in the Dark Honey track, Kendrick Lamar’s rap in United in Grief or Lenny Kravitz’s in Fly Away.
Bass carries weight, though not to excitable amounts. The Pi7 S2 are not earbuds to get recklessly carried away but with TNGHT’s Higher Ground streamed on Qobuz there’s a good punch that helps solidify the lower frequencies, moreso if you’re using the larger ear-tip. But it’s not just about punch, the Pi7 S2’s bass is varied and textured which helps to describe a variety of tracks and genres.
The soundstage is described in pleasingly wide terms, and there’s a sense of scale and expansiveness that immerses. You’ll want to partner these earbuds with a high-quality music subscription to get the best audio possible.
Should you buy it?
If you have audiophile tastes: Subscribe to the likes of Tidal and Qobuz? Then you’ll want to give the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 an audition.
If you think £349 is too much: Around four hours battery life, with solid but not class leading noise-cancellation. You’d expect more value in return for parting with so much cash.
The Pi7 S2 are more of the same, which is both good and not-so-good. The subtle design changes produce a less fatiguing sense of comfort, and everything I liked from the original remains just as good with this sequel. Otherwise, the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 are a small improvement, and integration with the Music app is rather odd.
The noise-cancellation performance cuts through the chatter but don’t expect it to reach the suppressive heights of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II.
The wireless audio retransmission feature remains cool, but I’ve seen it appear on at least one less expensive true wireless, which starts to poke questions at the Pi7 S2’s perceived value. They sound as good as before, but is that enough to justify the price?
I don’t think it does. These are a high-quality listening experience, but as an overall package they’re not the best and at this price, that’s where they need to be.
How we test
We test every set of headphones we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested across six weeks
Tested with real world use
Battery drain tests conducted
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