Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 Earbuds Evaluate: Similar Implausible Sound, However Solely Slight Enhancements

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When Bowers & Wilkins launched its first true-wireless earbuds in April 2021, they had been among the many very best-sounding fashions in that extremely aggressive headphone house. Now we get the following 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 price, the names are “pi 7” and “pi 5”, styled in all caps and no areas, not “P seventeen” and “P fifteen.” Obtained it?)

Like

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

Do not Like

  • Dear
  • Similar 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. Should you look intently, the grilles over the microphones look 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 newest 5 collection 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). 

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 in their wireless charging case

David Carnoy/CNET

With the unique PI7 buds, you solely received about 4 hours of battery life on a single cost with a further 4 expenses 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 good points within the buds have been achieved by {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 brand — 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 inside the earbud endcaps. On the similar time, now we have switched to make use of plastic, somewhat than aluminum to trim every endcap. The result’s stronger Bluetooth sign power, giving us our improved 25-meter vary.”

Whereas I actually admire 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 might 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 count on 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 swap to your smartphone when a name is available in (as a substitute, it’s a must to manually swap between paired gadgets). Nor are you able to count on to see assist 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 hard and fast 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 function. And the PI7 S2’s wi-fi charging case, like its predecessor, converts right into a transceiver, so you’ll be able to 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 could possibly 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” function in its case can also be absent.

All concerning 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 identical design to Sennheiser ear ideas, and the big ideas match my ears properly. These are massive ear buds that may stick out of your ears a good quantity, however they did match my ears comfortably and pretty securely. They provide IPX54 water-resistance, which suggests they’re splashproof and dust-resistant, so you’ll be able to run with them, although there are higher earbuds choices with sport fins which are extra appropriate for sporting actions (I am undecided you wish to danger a $399 earbud dropping out of your ear). Nevertheless, I might don’t have any downside utilizing them on the gymnasium.

Like its predecessor, the PI7 helps Qualcomm aptX Adaptive wi-fi transmission (which incorporates the aptX HD codec) from suitable cellular gadgets, permitting for “high-resolution music transmission from appropriate streaming providers, similar to Qobuz.” The listing of Android gadgets — and devoted music gamers — that assist 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 high-quality and sound excellent with Apple’s iPhones, which assist the AAC codec. (Each the PI5 and PI7 assist AAC streaming however the PI5 solely helps customary aptX, not aptX Adaptive.) Alas, Sony’s LDAC hi-res audio codec just isn’t supported, however usually headphones assist 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 cellular platform. As I stated with the unique PI7, the PI7 S2 has precisely what I am in search of in a superb 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 instances, barely edge out most 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 value $400. 

Nevertheless, once 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 by 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 degree up — extra visceral with added girth and punch — and there was slightly extra sparkle, depth and nuance to the music throughout. I got here away feeling my Spotify wanted an improve. 

bowers-wilkins-p17-transceiver-case

As with the unique PI7 (proven right here), the case converts right into a Bluetooth transceiver and will be related 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 may want a good seal to get optimum efficiency for noise canceling, which will be set to on, off or an “auto” mode that adapts the noise canceling in response to the ambient sound in your atmosphere. You too can regulate how a lot “passthrough” sound you wish 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 a number of the others I’ve used (for the time being, the AirPods Professional 2’s transparency mode is the gold customary). I settled on a halfway level for the slider setting in between “min” and “max” for what I felt was the perfect transparency expertise. 

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

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

Bowers & Wilkins PI7 S2 closing 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 primarily smoothed out a number of 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 consumer expertise, regardless of its considerably bare-bones high quality (in comparison with Sony’s Headphones app anyway). 

Should you’re evaluating the PI7 S2 to the PI5 S2, which additionally sound glorious however not fairly pretty much as good because the PI7, you may wish to regulate the PI5 S2’s worth, which ought to dip extra shortly than the PI7 S2’s worth. The unique Pi5s are promoting for as little as $150, or $100 off their listing worth of $250, so we’ll see the place all the pieces shakes out. The PI5s might find yourself being the higher worth, although it is unlucky that Bowers & Wilkins added $50 to their listing worth. 

For sure, $400 is rather a lot to spend on a set of earbuds. And whenever you spend this a lot, you ideally need the most recent 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 gadget and streaming service, they will sound downright particular. 

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