Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 review

At $399, Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship Pi7 S2 noise-canceling true wireless earbuds cost $100 more than the already expensive Pi5 S2, placing them among the most expensive models we’ve tested. For the extra money, you get top-class tuning and an extra balanced armature in each earpiece that enables superior sound quality. An excellent standard sound signature, a solid range of codec support and a charging case with the ability to transmit audio are all marks in the Pi7 S2’s favour, but the lack of an EQ in the companion app and unmatched active noise cancellation (ANC) are disappointing for this high price. We ultimately prefer the Apple AirPods Pro ($249) and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II ($299) because they are significantly more effective at blocking noise and offer more customization options.

Impressive interior

Available in black, blue or white, the attractive Pi7 S2 earpieces feature circular outer panels with a metallic finish. They sit securely and feel comfortable even during long listening sessions. You get three pairs of silicone earplugs (small, medium and large) in the package.

Internally, each earpiece houses a 9.2mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature that covers the higher frequencies – each driver also gets a separate amplifier. Unfortunately, Bowers & Wilkins does not share frequency range specifications.

(Credit: Tim Gideon)

The headphones support the slightly outdated Bluetooth 5.0 standard. It’s a notable limitation because we sometimes ran into issues when trying to connect the earbuds to the companion app. Apart from that, they work with AAC, AptX, AptX Adaptive, AptX HD and SBC Bluetooth codecs. If you have a compatible Android phone, AptX Adaptive and AptX HD support means you can stream in up to 24-bit/48KHz quality. But the more affordable Sony WF-1000XM4 earphones ($279.99) have the benefit of LDAC support, which allows for an even higher streaming bitrate.

The outer panels of each earphone have capacitive touch buttons. Tap once on each side to handle playback and calls. Press twice to skip to the next track or three times to go to the previous one. A press-and-hold gesture on the left and right earpiece, respectively, switches ANC mode or summons your device’s voice assistant. The controls are responsive and intuitive, but it’s still easy to accidentally trigger a function when you just mean to adjust the fit.

An IP54 rating is modest, but typical for noise-canceling earphones. The first digit (5) means they are almost dustproof, while the second digit (4) means they can only withstand light water splashes from any direction. They should be fine for sweaty workouts or in light rain, but don’t try submerging them or subjecting them to the pressure of a faucet.

The bulky charging case isn’t waterproof at all, so be sure to dry the earpieces before placing them inside. It has a metallic lid that opens to reveal the charging dock and a manual pairing button. The front has a status LED and an additional button that enables an innovative sound transmission function. Essentially, you can connect the case (with the included USB-C-to-3.5mm cable) to an external source (such as a touchscreen console on an airplane) to stream audio to your earbuds. In practice, we had to turn off Bluetooth on the original device we paired the headphones with to get this feature to work.

Bowers & Wilkins estimates that the earphones can last around five hours per charging with ANC turned off and that the case holds another 16 hours of charging. Of course, your results will vary based on your volume levels and use of ANC. These numbers aren’t particularly impressive, but we’re not surprised that it takes so much power to drive a total of four drivers, each with a dedicated amplifier. The company claims you’ll get about two hours of playback from a 15-minute charge, which should at least take the edge off your battery life concerns.

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 App Experience

The Bowers & Wilkins Music app (available for Android and iOS) is the weakest part of the experience. At first, we often had trouble trying to connect the earbuds to the app, despite a reliable connection to our test phone. We had to repeat the process several times to get them to appear.

Once you get past that hurdle, the main screen displays an image of the product along with battery life for both earpieces and case. Below this is a noise reduction section – you can toggle between ANC On, Auto (ANC automatically adapts to the ambient noise levels in your environment) and Off settings. Further down, you can switch between the Ambient (Passthrough) mode and adjust its intensity with a fader.

Bowers & Wilkins Music app

(Credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

In addition, you can manage device connections, adjust the Wear Sensor settings, and change the sound quality (standard, medium, high, or highest) for both cellular and Wi-Fi streaming scenarios. For people who don’t need to worry about data limits or are on Wi-Fi most of the time, we recommend sticking with the top quality. If you subscribe to music streaming services such as Qobuz, Tidal or Deezer, you can further configure integrations that enable in-app streaming controls.

Otherwise, the app allows you to install firmware updates and contact support. You don’t get any EQ anywhere, which is hugely disappointing given the high price. Many companion apps for much more affordable models have that feature.

Overwhelming noise reduction

The six-microphone here only produced decent results in our noise cancellation test. The earphones bounce back strong low-frequency rumble (like from an airplane) to some extent, but these sounds remain mostly audible. The headphones were a bit effective at cutting lower frequencies from a recording of a busy restaurant with clinking dishes and noisy conversations, but most highs came through cleanly.

We didn’t notice much difference between the regular and adaptive ANC modes in testing. But more worrying is the amount of hiss these modes add to the signal – they effectively amplify the noise floor in a quiet room, making it sound louder than if they were inactive. This is a common fault with cheaper noise-cancelling earphones, but not something we’d expect at this price.

Bowers & Wilkins simply does not compete with Apple and Bose here. The aforementioned models from these companies almost completely cancel high low-frequency rumble and other ambient noise.

Vivid, balanced sound

On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver a powerful low-frequency response that’s robust at moderate volumes and free of distortion at maximum levels. They also have no trouble reproducing the sub-bass at the 34-second mark of Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty.” The synth line gradually deepens, but the dynamic drivers don’t struggle to emit any of this low rumble. The balanced armatures further ensure solid clarity in the vocals here.

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 in case

(Credit: Tim Gideon)

Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, better reveals the sound signature. The drums and Callahan’s baritone vocals benefit from a full, robust delivery with low-mid richness and high-mid clarity. The balanced armatures enable additional definition in everything from vocals to acoustic strums to higher-register percussive hits. The sound signature has some sculpture, but the balanced presentation works wonderfully for most genres. For example, we enjoyed the higher frequency detail on excellent recordings like Broadcast’s “Pendulum” and Miles Davis’ “Pharaoh’s Dance.”

Orchestral numbers, such as the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Second Mary, has a slightly forward bass delivery. However, the crisp treatment of the upper frequencies means that brass, strings and higher register vocals still sound clear and full of detail.

We’re very happy with the Bowers & Wilkins signature, even if it’s not clinically accurate. Most listeners probably prefer this type of sound to a flatter response. However, the lack of an EQ is still a shortcoming because it prevents you from tweaking the signature to taste.

The microphone array offers strong intelligibility. We had no problem understanding every word from a test recording on an iPhone, and the signal sounded relatively strong. You shouldn’t experience call clarity issues over a reliable signal.

Style and sound above all

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 earphones excel in the audio department – ​​their dual-driver approach results in great sound and support for high-resolution streaming should appeal to audiophiles. We’re not thrilled about the absence of an EQ in the app, but the default sound signature is simply top notch. However, the substandard active noise cancellation is less forgivable, especially for $399. The aforementioned Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II remain more well-rounded options, especially because they offer far greater customization options and noise cancellation. And if you want to spend less, you might want to consider the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 dual-driver earphones ($149.99), which also support the LDAC codec.

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