Bowers & Wilkins has just announced two new sets of true wireless earbuds: the B&W PI7 S2 and the B&W PI5 S2. These are, as the names suggest, the successors to the B&W PI7 and PI5 respectively – and I’m extremely excited about the PI7 S2, because I had by mind blown by the original model when it launched.
As you can read in our full original Bowers & Wilkins PI7 review, these earbuds blew basically everything else on the market of the water when they launched when it comes to sound quality. Compared to the original AirPods Pro (2019) I was using at the time as my regular daily headphones, the PI7 were a revelation – the depth of bass, the detail in the treble, the clarity of the vocals were on another level.
They also offer a genius audio transmission feature – you can connect the case’s USB-C port to a computer or analog audio source, and sound would broadcast in aptX quality to the buds. They really went beyond any other earbuds – but they also cost about 50% more than the likes of AirPods Pro, so you’d hope for a lot more, right?
Since then, the world of the best true wireless earbuds has caught up a lot when it comes to sound quality: there have been other super-rich premium options, and the likes of the AirPods Pro 2 and Honor Earbuds 3 Pro really raised the bar for audio quality at a lower price, so Bowers is back to try to reclaim its throne.
The B&W PI7 S2 doesn’t seem to promise any huge advancements when it comes to the sound quality of the drivers – the two-way audio setup of a 9.2mm driver with a balanced armature treble unit in each bud looks on paper to be the same as the previous generation, though obviously there may have been refinements.
But the tech behind the drivers has been tweaks. There’s no support for aptX Adaptive wireless, so you should get a more reliable connection overall (B&W is saying you also get longer range of up to 25m) as well as Hi-Res Audio from compatible sources.
And the noise-cancelling, which wasn’t worth writing home about on the original, now promises to be Adaptive Noise Cancellation, so in theory should be smarter about blocking sound. Perhaps the processing behind this will also improve sound quality from the drivers overall – we’ll have to wait and test them to find out.
The new Bowers & Wilkins Music app will also offer better control and customization of the buds – and the audio retransmission feature is still on board.
The biggest weakness of the original PI7 was the battery life, and the PI7 S2 improve that… just. The battery life in the buds has been improved from 4.5 hours to… 5 hours in the new version. I was hoping for more like 6 hours, which is the norm now for the best noise-cancelling earbuds – and many beat it comfortably.
And the other most notable potential problem with the original PI7 is still around: they’re very large. The physical design hasn’t changed, which means there’s a big section that sits just outside your ear canal. I gave the originals to one small adult (but still well within ‘typical’ size) and she couldn’t even fit them in her ear due to the shape.
However, they do come in three new colors: Satin White, Canvas Black, and Midnight Blue – the latter is extremely pretty, with gold highlights on a deep mystic indigo.
And the B&W PI7 S2 are still very expensive: £349 / $399 / AU$700 – I hope they’ve upped their game in the ANC department, because there’s more premium choice than ever now.
The PI7 S2 are available today, but the blue version will launch sometime during the spring.
B&W is also launching a new version of its other true wireless earbuds: the PI5. The PI5 S2 will use a 9.2mm driver, but won’t have the extra balanced armature, so won’t deliver quite the same dynamic range as the PI7. It still supports aptX, but it’s not aptX Adaptive, and it lacks the audio retransmission feature in the case. It has active noise cancellation, but not the adaptive tech used in the PI7 S2 (though you can adjust the level of cancellation). And it also has 5 hours of battery life in the buds.
The PI5 S2 comes in four colors: Cloud Grey, Storm Grey, Spring Lilac and Sage Green colors (the latter again is due in ‘spring’). These cost £249 / $299 / AU$450.
If you’re looking for a good way to get aptX Hi-Res sound over to these buds, may I suggest our list of the best portable music players?