Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2: TWS with a sophisticated audio profile

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
8.5

Since its inception in 1966, the English company Bowers & Wilkins has specialized in crafting Hi-Fi, mid-range, and high-end speakers with cutting-edge materials and technologies in their drivers, establishing itself as a leader in these categories. The firm recently branched into a new area, making a mark in the wireless headphone market. With the introduction of the Bowers & Wilkins PX in 2017, the company’s first foray into headphones, it set a new standard for high-quality sound, challenging established industry leaders with its superior audio performance, relegating noise cancellation and other features to secondary importance. Following the PX’s success, Bowers & Wilkins expanded its lineup to include compact, in-ear headphones, offering greater portability and convenience.

Although I didn’t get the chance to experience the first-generation Pi7 and Pi5 models, which reportedly had issues with connectivity and signal dropouts, these problems were rectified in the second generation, which also brought enhanced sound quality and longer battery life. In this review, I’m focusing on the Pi7 S2, Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship true wireless (TWS) headphones. They impress with exceptional sound quality and an appealing design, though they are not without their flaws.

Unpacking and packaging

The headphones come in a compact, dual-section square box. The outer layer features a dust jacket adorned with images of the headphones, along with the model name and brand. The sides of the box showcase the headphones from various angles, while the back details their features. The inner box is plain white and bears the Bowers & Wilkins logo. A Velcro seal keeps the box closed; once opened, the case containing the headphones is immediately visible, nestled within a cardboard insert. A silica gel packet is attached to the bottom of this insert for moisture protection. Beneath this setup lies the documentation and a separate box holding all additional accessories.

In addition to the headphones themselves, the case includes:

  • cable USB type C – USB type C (80 cm) – for charging headphones
  • USB type C cable – 3.5 mm miniJack (80 cm) – for using the charging case as a Bluetooth transmitter (details separately)
  • in addition to the already installed ear cushions of size M, an additional 2 pairs of size L and S are packed
  • a short user manual and a warranty card

The package includes some unconventional items, notably a USB Type-C to 3.5 mm mini-jack cable. However, it’s worth mentioning that the inclusion of only three pairs of ear tips might not suffice for everyone, even though they are of high quality and available in different sizes to ensure a good fit.

Design and features

The case’s design initially gives the impression of being crafted from metal, thanks to its sophisticated appearance, but it is actually made of plastic. The Bowers & Wilkins logo is prominently displayed on the top cover. Located at the bottom of the case is a USB Type-C connector, serving a dual purpose for charging and as a Bluetooth transmitter. This introduces the case’s unique feature: by using the USB Type-C to 3.5 mm mini-jack cable, it can connect to any device with this interface—such as computers, laptops, or TVs—allowing users to stream music from devices without built-in Bluetooth capabilities. Additionally, the case is compatible with Qi wireless charging, offering another convenient charging method.

The case features a prominent button on the front, designed to activate its Bluetooth transmitter function. An LED indicator above this button displays the case’s charge level: green for 100-40%, yellow for 40-20%, and red for less than 20%. The Bowers & Wilkins Music app provides a detailed view of the battery status for both the headphones and the case. The indicator also flashes blue to signify that the headphones are in search mode, which can be activated by pressing a small button inside the case for 1.5 seconds. A solid blue light indicates a successful connection. Inside the case, there’s a helpful sticker illustrating the correct way to wear the headphones and the location of the microphones.

I received the headphones in Satin Black, but they are also available in Midnight Blue and Canvas White. The case is aesthetically pleasing and compact, yet the lid has a slight half-millimeter play, which may be concerning at this price point, although it does not significantly impact usability. The lid closes smoothly, without accidental openings or loud clicks.

The design of the headphones is notably unique, with the top part made of metal and shaped like potentiometers (volume or tone control knobs found on amplifiers), appealing to audiophiles. This design, reminiscent of the concentric circles on my Technics AZ60, presents a mature appearance. Each earbud houses three charging contacts and two magnets for secure placement in the case.

A standout feature is the automatic play/pause sensors that activate when the headphones are removed from the ears, functioning at distances over 30 cm. Each earbud includes a separate amplifier for each driver, resulting in bi-amping and, considering the inclusion of both dynamic and armature drivers, equates to four independent amplifiers per headphone.

The headphones come equipped with three microphones for calls and noise cancellation. While recording quality is average, voice transmission during calls is notably superior to less expensive options, effectively filtering out background noise. The Pi7 S2 is particularly suited for conversations in noisy environments.

Regarding the hybrid noise cancellation system, it performs well, though not flawlessly, with an intelligent design that minimizes impact on music quality. It effectively reduces low and some mid-frequency sounds. While it does not offer adjustable noise cancellation levels, the transparency mode is exceptional, allowing for natural hearing through the headphones. The system allows for noise cancellation, hybrid mode, or off, with adjustable transparency levels, providing versatility in listening experiences.

Management and application

Headphone management is as simple and intuitive as possible.

Functions:

  • holding the left earpiece for 1 second activates the noise canceller, holding it again turns it off
  • holding the right earpiece for 1 second activates the voice assistant
  • a single tap on either earbud is to pause/play or answer a call
  • double-clicking on any earbud is the next track or reset the call
  • triple click also any earbud – previous track

After pairing the Pi7 S2 headphones with a source device and launching the app, the main screen prominently displays the current operating mode of the headphones. Users can easily switch between noise cancellation, hybrid mode, or completely turn off these features. Additionally, the app shows the battery percentage of the headphones, providing a quick glance at their remaining power.

The app allows for integration with various streaming services, although it notably lacks support for Spotify. Testing with TuneIN radio revealed satisfactory operation, despite a perceived drop in quality compared to Spotify, leading to a preference for returning to the latter for streaming needs.

Within another section of the app, users can find more granular information regarding the charge levels of both the headphones and the case. This section also revisits the mode settings, including the transparency mode which—as previously mentioned—performs exceptionally well, irrespective of the noise control settings engaged. Furthermore, there’s a feature that lists devices connected to the headphones, offering the option to manage automatic connections, enhancing user control over device interactions.

Sound and comparison

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 headphones deliver a great audio experience, likened to a dreamlike state for any music genre aficionado seeking high-quality sound. The freedom from wires allows for an uninhibited dance experience, propelled by the assurance that the music’s grip will be irresistibly compelling. These headphones possess a magical quality, transforming even the most overplayed or initially unappealing tracks into pieces you’re glad to revisit. Remarkably, at the lowest volume setting, they produce a full frequency spectrum, ensuring a satisfying listening session. Unlike other headphones that may necessitate higher volume levels to truly shine, the Pi7 S2 stands out for its capability to deliver robust and undistorted sound even at peak volume.

Frequencies

The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 headphones exhibit a sophisticated audio profile that appeals to a wide spectrum of listeners, including those with a preference for bass-heavy music. The low frequencies are deep and pronounced, showcasing high overtonal contrast and allowing listeners to discern the texture and variability of bass across different tracks. The balance between speed and softness in the sub-bass region ensures a dynamic listening experience without overpowering the overall sound.

Mid frequencies are rendered smoothly and naturally, devoid of abrupt drops or harsh accents often found in darker sound signatures. Vocals are rendered with exceptional clarity and liveliness, marking a high standard for the TWS format. The seamless transition between low and mid frequencies highlights the absence of distortions across the spectrum, although the soundstage is somewhat limited.

High frequencies are carefully balanced, ensuring that they are present without overwhelming the listener. The use of a separate armature driver for the highs prevents blending with the lower frequencies, enhancing clarity and detail. Despite their emphasis, the highs are tuned to appeal broadly, providing microcontrast where needed without discomfort for those sensitive to higher frequencies.

When compared to the FiiO FW5, the Pi7 S2 offers a more robust and textured bass response, though with a less pronounced emphasis on high frequencies. The FiiO FW5, while offering quicker bass, lacks the softness and full-bodied experience found in the Pi7 S2. The midrange in both models conveys emotion effectively, but the Pi7 S2 stands out for its more natural presentation and smoother integration across frequencies. High frequencies in the FW5 are brighter but may not suit all tastes due to their pronounced accentuation.

Against the Technics AZ60, known for its darker sound profile and stronger bass emphasis, the Pi7 S2 distinguishes itself with a more balanced and natural bass, superior instrument detailing, and positioning in the midrange, and more defined high frequencies. The AZ60, while offering a warm and natural midrange, does not match the Pi7 S2’s level of microcontrast and clarity in the highs. The comparison suggests that the Pi7 S2 not only surpasses the AZ60 in terms of quality but also positions itself as a more refined, Hi-Fi grade audio device.

Conclusion

Bowers & Wilkins have indeed delivered a terrific audio experience with Pi7 S2, crafting a product that not only sounds incredible but also stirs vivid emotions, compelling listeners to move. The sound signature is pleasingly warm, richly bass-infused, yet balanced and natural. This is achieved through the headphones’ hybrid design with separate amplification for different frequencies, ensuring that the midrange and high frequencies are well-defined without overlapping.

A standout feature is the ability to use the headphone case as a Bluetooth transmitter, vastly extending the headphones’ compatibility with a myriad of devices. This, along with their attractive design and the practical though not extensive battery life, positions the headphones as a compelling choice for a broad audience. The battery life, while not the longest, is deemed sufficient, especially considering the efficient power usage that allows for a full-spectrum sound experience even at low volumes. The combined battery life of the headphones and case offers around 4-5 days of use, with the headphones providing 5 hours and the case an additional 16 hours of charge.

The noise cancellation feature is implemented with restraint, focusing on preserving the integrity of sound quality above all. While the performance of the microphones during voice recording is average, telephone conversations reveal their strength in voice transmission quality. Any concerns about the slightly loose case lid are minor compared to the overall satisfaction with the headphones’ audio performance and the gentle manner in which the lid closes, ensuring that the overall user experience remains highly positive.

Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
8.5

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