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Bowers & Wilkins PI7 Review

Luxury Earphones with a Game-Changing Extra Feature

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

Bowers & Wilkins is known for its luxury headphones and speakers, but what happens when it tries its hand at the true wireless market? The PI7, that’s what. Coming in at $399, they’re priced to match the pedigree but we’ll be seeing if they have the features to match — and there’s at least one we haven’t found anywhere else. Let’s take a closer look and see just how well they earn that high asking price. 

Specifications

  • Current Price: (Amazon, Bowers & Wilkins
  • Key Features
    • True Wireless technology
    • Bluetooth 5.0 with AptX Adaptive technology
    • 24-bit True Wireless design with Qualcomm aptX™ Adaptive
    • Dual Hybrid Drive units with individual amplifiers
    • Six microphones for perfect sound and call quality
    • Auto ANC
    • Audio streaming from charging case
    • Wireless and USB-C charging
    • Fast charging support
  • Bluetooth Codecs:
    • AptX – Adaptive
    • AptX – HD
    • AptX – Low Latency
    • AptX – Classic
    • AAC
    • SBC
  • Bluetooth Profiles:
    • A2DP v1.3.1
    • AVRCP v1.6.1
    • HFP v1.7.1
    • HSP v1.2
    • BLE GATT (Generic Attribute Profile)
  • Drive Units 9.2mm Dynamic Driver with Balanced Armature
  • Frequency Range 10Hz to 20kHz
  • Distortion (THD): <0.3% (1kHz/10mW)
  • Battery Life: Up to 4 hours Bluetooth
  • Charging: 15 minute charging = 2 hrs Bluetooth
  • Weight: 7g for earbuds, 61g for charging case

Overview and First Impressions

If the Kardashians used true wireless earbuds, they would choose the Bowers & Wilkins PI7s. They really do feel that fancy. They come in two colors, white or black, with pale gold backs and side vents and a matching case. The buds are entirely plastic but use dense, glossy plastic. The case abandons the soft-touch material found on many TWS cases and instead goes for smooth matte plastic. It’s difficult to describe, but the texture and color choice really do make the case stand apart from the competition. Put another way, it’s clear that these earbuds are intended to look absolutely premium. Throw these in a Louis Vuitton and no one will bat an eyelash.     

Apart from being much more of a style accessory, you’ll find these are built using similar external materials to most other TWS buds. They’re lightweight plastic, which is a boon to comfort and functionality, but that pale gold is for looks only (using actual metal would add weight and interfere with the Bluetooth functionality). Still, both the buds and the case feel well-made and durable. I’m especially pleased with the use of magnets to hold the case lid down and the buds in place. It feels solid and gets the job done very well.

The buds themselves are quite small and weigh only seven grams each. Once they’re in place, you hardly feel their weight (though you won’t forget they’re there since they seat securely in your ear canal). I have medium-sized ears. They don’t sit flush but won’t attract attention or look silly. Pictures really don’t do their small size justice, which is a definite positive for true wireless earbuds.

Bowers & Wilkins is known for delivering exceptional sound quality and that’s definitely the case here. I’ll delve deeper in the listening section, but the PI7s deliver powerful, fun bass without losing detail in the mids and highs. It accomplishes this by including two drivers in each earphone, each driven by their own amplifier. Bass duties are handled by a large 9.2mm dynamic driver. Its range extends up until it’s handed off to the balanced armature driver. BAs specialize in mid and high-frequency detail (fun fact: they’re commonly found in hearing aids!). At any given time, each of these tiny speakers is playing its own section of what you perceive as a singular sound source, but splitting the frequency response range is a tried and true way to enhance the clarity and presence of what you’re listening to. By letting each driver specialize, the buds are also able to deliver a wider than average frequency response range of 10Hz to 20kHz, which is a big reason why the bass sounds as good as it does.

The PI7s specialize in high-quality audio and effectively one-up the competition in sheer fidelity. They support all of the major aptX codecs, including aptX Adaptive, HD, Low Latency, and standard aptX (in addition to common AAC and SBC settings). Using aptX Adaptive, you’ll be able to listen to full 24-bit audio. In practice, that means higher resolution music on the level of Apple’s new lossless codec. If you’ve ripped your favorite CDs into FLAC files and have a device that supports aptX Adaptive, you’ll hear them at a quality that is virtually indistinguishable from a wired connection.

But there’s a catch: your device has to support aptX Adaptive. Since the codec is still so new, there simply aren’t many out there. Even if you don’t have the latest and greatest version of aptX, even older versions will outperform standard bluetooth. Since aptX is built into modern versions of Android, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to take advantage of the higher sound quality the PI7s have to offer. 

Rather than use dedicated buttons, the PI7s use capacitive touch control for navigation and option setting. Like most touch-controlled earbuds, you'll tap to pause, double and triple tap to move tracks forward and back, and hold to summon your virtual assistant. Likewise, the same combinations will answer and end calls or decline them before answering. These controls worked reliably in my testing and were definitely preferable to the push-button method that presses the earbud uncomfortably into your ear. 

The buds also offer other premium features, including adaptive active noise cancelation. ANC can be set to off or on, so no high or low like B&W’s over-ears, and can be set to automatically switch to adapt to your surroundings. I'm in the camp of "ANC high, all the time,” so I chose to leave it there and was generally happy with the results. The ANC definitely focuses on the lower frequency band, which is going to be perfect for trips by plane or bus but isn’t that effective against human voices or the sound of keyboard typing. The Sony WF-1000XM4 and AirPods Pro are clear winners in ANC but the PI7s are no slouch. Even with its heightened focus on the lower spectrum, it will still pick out droning sounds like computer towers and box fans very well, so it’s still helpful even in an office setting. There’s also a great ambient setting that uses the microphones to let you hear your surroundings and sounds very natural when enabled.

The PI7s have a lot going for them, but battery life is disappointing. With ANC on, the buds are rated to last “up to” 4 hours. In my testing, this was actually quite close when listening at 50% volume (the buds get quite loud, so I didn’t need to turn it much higher). But, compared to the competition, it’s on the short side. The AirPods Pro come in slightly higher at 4.5 hours, the Galaxy Buds Pro land around 5 hours, and the WF-1000XM4s lead the way at eight hours. The case brings this to around 20 hours total (and supports fast charging). If you do happen to run them dry, the buds support fast charging, so just 15 minutes in the case restores two hours of listening. I found this to be very usable, but given their price, I would have like to see better battery life out of the gate. 

And that brings us to the PI7s most unique feature: the case can retransmit wireless audio from just about any source. Using one of two included cables, the case can connect directly to USB Type-C or 3.5mm sources. When not connected over Bluetooth, the earbuds can connect directly to the case itself with the push of a button. That means the PI7s can add high-quality wireless audio to almost any source: console controllers, laptops, Nintendo Switch. Heck, I even connected it to my GoXLR to wirelessly monitor my mic (which revealed some minor latency but was still usable for this purpose). Later, I hooked it up to my gaming PC to overcome its notoriously inconsistent bluetooth connection. This feature makes the Bowers & Wilkins the single most versatile true wireless earbuds on the market.

They’re not without their wireless limitations, however. There’s no multi-connect, so you can’t seamlessly swap from a call back to PC audio. Still, it’s a feature that becomes progressively more useful the more devices you use. No more switching between headphones just because you’ve changed devices or need to hop on a plane with wired-only audio.

Fit and Comfort

The Bowers & Wilkins PI7s are quite the comfortable earphone. Their tiny size and light weight made fitting, and keeping, them in my ears thoughtless. The insertion depth is just enough to allow the tips to find into the opening of the ear canal which provides a reassuring secureness. As is always the case, you’ll want to take the time to find the appropriate size ear tip to make sure they form a proper seal for both fit and sound quality. Once fit to my ears, I had no trouble keeping them in for their entire battery life whether I was sitting at the PC or out and about.

Listening and Use Impressions

At the end of the day, what really matters most is how these earphones sound. As I mentioned previously, the decision to use a dual-driver arrangement was a smart one and allows the PI7s to deliver a truly outstanding sound. This isn’t a matter of simply having two drivers, however. Each driver is also fed by its own amplifier ensuring that it’s running on enough clean power to reach its potential. 

The result is a sound that performs near the apex of what true wireless earbuds are capable of today. The bass is big and thumpy but doesn’t sound bloated or overwhelming. It’s the kind of bass that’s well suited to rock with driving kick drums. Coheed and Cambria’s Neverender had a thump you could almost feel. Swapping to Catastrophe by Atreyu revealed that the bass performance can actually be quite nuanced, delivering gradations of sound to make what you’re listening to sound realistic and true to the source.

Despite powerful bass, there’s a great separation of sound that can be attributed to a mix of the dual-driver setup, tuning, and the ample power the drivers are provided. Mids are crisp and tight, particularly in guitars. Vocals in this range have a realistic timbre and solid micro-details that make them sound true to life.

Treble performance is also excellent. This is especially audible in cymbals which came forward with a realistic and fun splash that never sounded sibilant. In fact, I didn’t find these earphones fatiguing at all and could easily listen to them for their entire battery life without needing a break.

For my own tastes, I adored the sound of the PI7s. They had enough detail to sound adequately hifi and avoided the usual pitfalls of too much bass to appeal to the mainstream. The thing is, they don’t need gimmicky bass to stand out. These earbuds are some of the best tuned I’ve ever heard and combined with their comfort, I found myself reaching for them over my previous go-tos, the Sony WF-1000XM4s. That said, the omission of an EQ within Bowers & Wilkins’ Headphones app is a strange gap indeed. If you happen to like more bass or treble, or just like to customize your sound, it’s time to look into a third-party equalizer.

Even though I didn’t expect to use the wireless retransmission, it was so easy, I found myself using it all the time. Rather than futz around with a different headset for gaming, I’d plug the case into the headset, push the connect button, and go. I wound up doing the same with my gaming PC, even though I have a dedicated audio setup. It’s just so easy that it became a natural move. 

I would also be remiss for not noting a common concern with these earbuds is audio dropouts. I fully updated my unit and experienced a total of two for less than five seconds each. Random dropouts, then, were a non-issue for me. I did find, however, that my wireless range was about 7-10 feet less than on my XM4s or Galaxy Buds Pro.

Final Thoughts

The Bowers & Wilkins PI7s are a luxury earphone if ever I’ve seen one. Not only are they extremely expensive but they have the look and internal tech to match. At $399, there are better options out there for active noise cancelling and longevity, but there’s no mistaking that these earphones sound great). Those other sets lack the killer feature here, however: audio retransmission from the charging case. 

That one feature allows the PI7s more versatility than any other true wireless headphones on the market today. Spotty bluetooth connection on your gaming PC? Plug in the case. Traveling on a plane and don’t want to plug in wired headphones? Plug in the case. Want wireless audio for a work or school PC and don’t want to use a bulky headset? You guessed it, plug in the case. 

Will the PI7s be for everybody? Absolutely not and they’re clearly not intended to be. If you’re the kind of listener who loves the true wireless form factor and want instant compatibility with virtually any device, these are the only true wireless headphones capable of it today, and that very well may be worth paying extra for. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.
 
8.0Great
Pros
  • Tiny and comfortable
  • Outstanding sound with every form of aptX support
  • Audio retransmission from the case brings high-quality wireless audio to any device
  • Beautiful design
  • Dual drivers, each with their own amp
Cons
  • Comparatively low battery life
  • Very expensive
  • Noise cancelling isn’t great for typing or conversations
  • Reduced bluetooth range


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight