- Manufacturer & Model
- Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 True Wireless Earbuds with ANC
High-quality sound profile, excellent fit and finish, high-performance ANC, above-average call quality, mediocre app without EQ, limited touch controls
Bowers & Wilkins follows up its well-received Pi7 True Wireless Earbuds with the Pi7 S2. Both models offer a similar performance profile in terms of sound, however the Pi7 S2 improves battery life and operational Bluetooth distance. While controls remain limited and some features (such as ambient pass-through) are frustrating to access, the Pi7 S2 delivers a stellar sound experience loaded with detail and rich bass. All-in-all, the Pi7 S2 will please hardcore music fans looking for a premium sound experience
It’s hard to believe that two years have passed since I first reviewed Bowers & Wilkins' flagship entry in the true wireless earbud space. The original Pi7 tested as a fantastic-sounding pair of buds, with solid active noise cancellation (ANC) performance. I liked them so much, they’ve remained one of my favorite go-to wireless options, particularly when I’m looking for a weighty depth of sound.
As luck would have it, I was roaming the halls of Masimo Consumer’s Carlsbad, CA headquarters on the day the new Pi7 S2 True Wireless Earbuds launched, and a sample landed in my hands. I instantly put them to work on a long cross-country flight from sunny San Diego to Washington, DC. My conclusion following that trip (and the next five to six weeks of use) is largely positive, primarily because the Pi7 S2 delivers the same sound experience as the original Pi7, with a few improvements to boot.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the Pi7 S2 is that its form factor, case and all, is practically a mirror image of the original Pi7. Even the bud’s packaging appears to have remained unchanged, which isn’t a bad thing. The box, its folding lid, and its internal presentation are a gateway befitting of a product that retails for $399. Also, it's worth mentioning that most of the packaging is paper-based, with relatively few plastics.
What you’ll find in the box are the buds (pre-charged and nestled in their case), a 3.5mm to USB-C cable, a USB-C to USB-C charging cable, a manual, and the requisite assortment of ear tips.
New for this model is three colors, including Satin Black, Canvas White, and Midnight Blue. My particular sample came in black, which features a nifty silver color on the bud’s machined metal control nubs.
As I noted in the original Pi7 review, Bowers & Wilkins' engineers have given both generations an intriguing physical appearance that’s refreshingly different from Apple’s teardrop design. The largest portion of the earbud's housing is an elongated oval shape that twists/locks the PI7 S2 into place within the structure of the outer ear, while a metal circular knob mounted on that housing serves as a multi-function touch control and a gripping point for inserting/twisting the PI7 into place.
The included charging case is relatively small (2.4" x 1.1" x 2.2") and weighs 1.66 ounces, making it easy to transport in a pocket or carry in a bag. Matching the black and silver appearance of the earbuds, the case serves as a Bluetooth pairing mechanism, a charging station (providing 16 hours of mobile charging time), and a wireless transmitter for use with external sources. Thanks to a multi-color LED and action button, the case can relay operational and charge status information about docked earbuds while also relaying the charge status of the case itself.
By all accounts, the Pi7 S2 uses the same dual-driver array found in the Pi7, which is great news for music fans. The array comprises a proprietary 9.2mm drive unit and a separate high-frequency balanced armature driver. Each driver is powered by its own amplifier, combining to deliver an overall frequency response of 10Hz to 20kHz (<0.3% distortion, 1kHz/10mW). Earbud-to-earbud synchronization is performed by 24-bit/48kHz wireless transmission, which directly compliments the PI7 S2's support for aptX Adaptive Bluetooth. AAC is also supported for Apple OS and iOS users.
Each earbud carries three microphones for Active Noise Cancellation (ANC), pass-through, and phone calls. And a free app (iOS and Android) gives owners access to adjustable ambient pass-through and noise canceling controls, precise charging information, a power-saving "wear sensor," firmware updates, and a few other features.
While the Pi7 S2 doesn’t offer radical changes in design, there are two internal differences worth noting. The first is a slightly better battery that bumps functional use from four hours (20 hours if you include recharging with the case) on the original Pi7, to five hours (21 hours including recharges). The second is a new Bluetooth antenna that gives the Pi7 S2 an operating distance of 25 meters from a source. That’s equivalent to about 82 feet.
Bowers & Wilkins says these changes aren’t software-driven but are the direct result of hardware improvements. During testing, I found both features to be accurately portrayed, with nearly 5 hours of playback time with ANC disengaged (closer to 4 hours with ANC engaged), and an additional 2 hours instantly available with a 15-minute “quick charge” feature.
Distance-wise, the Pi7 S2 gives you a comfortable amount of range away from a source, though the new antenna design isn’t a magic bullet – the buds still dropped a signal in the typical dead zones within my home. That said, by a straight line of sight, the specified 25 meters of performance distance is achievable.
The Pi7 S2 is an interesting beast. It does some things great and fails to do other things at all. If you’re one that wants large amounts of control over output, you won’t find it here. Despite having an app, the Pi7 S2 doesn’t provide owners with any sort of customizable EQ, nor does it allow owners to customize touch controls. Both output and touch functions are baked into the buds – what you see is what you get. That’s a bit surprising for a product that costs nearly twice as much as highly competent true wireless models that offer significant amounts of tweakability. But, keep in mind, most of those models can’t claim the Pi7 S2’s superior sound capabilities, with or without EQ controls.
Onboard tap controls allow users to answer calls, start and stop playback, summon an assistant, and turn ANC on and off. Unfortunately, ambient pass-through is only activated through the app. That’s a notable inconvenience.
As I demonstrated with measurements of the original Pi7, the superior fit of the Pi7 (and Pi7 S2) natively knockdown quite a bit of ambient noise from 1 kHz and up, while engaging ANC applies additional coverage from 1 kHz to below 100 Hz. What’s interesting, is that engaging ANC actually increases some external noise in the 2 kHz range. This is both audible and measurable (see Figure One in the original Pi7 review), but not a deal breaker. While I’d prefer to have frequencies in that range remain suppressed, it's not enough of an issue to complain.
In real-world use, the Pi7 S2’s ANC does an excellent job suppressing sounds in places like an airplane cabin or a coffee shop. And its pass-through function certainly boosts ambient noise for both environmental awareness and hearing your own voice during calls. My only nitpick is that pass-through is only toggled on and off through the app. In other words, pass-through can't be achieved by tapping either bud – yes, a glaring omission.
Much like the original Pi7, phone calls are clear and intelligible for the user and caller. I tested call quality for both myself and a caller in multiple conditions, including places where there was elevated ambient noise. Multiple test subjects were given an opportunity to experience these conditions with both the PI7 S2 and a competing pair of buds in use. In both scenarios, the subjects said the PI7 S2 accentuated less background noise, leading to a more pleasant conversational environment. That’s a huge bonus in my opinion.
One of the Pi7 S2’s niftier features is the case’s ability to be used as a transmitter. If you’re on an airplane, for example, and want to use the earbuds with the inflight entertainment system, the included 3.5mm to USB-C cable plugs the case into the headphone jack. The case takes the incoming audio signal and passes it along to your earbuds. I tested this unique feature and it works!
Generally speaking, the Pi7 S2 is comfortable to wear and stands as a good option for active users, even runners and gym rats (IPX rated for sweat resistance). That said, the buds' metal knobs protrude just enough that they catch on straps or other items being pulled over your head. That's something to keep in mind, particularly if you enjoy CrossFit.
While a lack of EQ controls might be a deal breaker for some, it’s little more than an afterthought for me. Bowers & Wilkins has worked serious magic with the tuning of the Pi7 S2, and, frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Performance-wise, this latest S2 version sounds exactly like the original Pi7. It has an evenness of sound and tonal balance that punches with a robust nature, loaded with confident muscle that remains competent at high volume levels.
The bud’s ability to dish a rich and textured low-end is a definitive strength, particularly when it comes to music that thrives on bass (here’s looking at you hip-hop and techno). That’s not to say that the Pi7 S2 isn’t comfortable swimming in less aggressive waters, because I found its sound to be refined and welcoming across all of my preferred genres, including singer-songwriter material.
Of course, the Pi7 S2’s ability to shield the ears from ambient sound helps to keep music and media content free from external contamination, which is a major bonus.
The Pi7 S2 stands as a high-level option for music lovers and users that value sound quality above all else. If you’re the kind of wireless earbud fan that places convenience first, they might not be the best fit for you.
The lack of substantial upgrades leaves this reviewer wondering if the Pi7 S2 is a recommended buy for fans of the original Pi7. My gut says no, particularly if your Pi7s are still going strong. But, if you’re in need of a slightly longer leash from Bluetooth sources, the Pi7 S2 might give just enough extra leeway to make an upgrade worth it.
For those of you that aren’t owners of the Pi7, the all-new S2 version should be all over your radar. This is particularly true for buyers that want a high-end, refined sound experience – well done, B&W!
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Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 True Wireless Earbuds Specifications
- Fit Style: True Wireless
- Earcup Type: Closed
- Earcup Width x Height: 0.877" x 0.675"
- Noise-canceling: Yes
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Bluetooth Version: 5.0
- Bluetooth profiles: A2DP v1.3.1, AVRCP v1.6.1, HFP v1.7.1, HSP v1.2, BLE GATT (Generic Attribute Profile)
- Bluetooth codecs: aptX™ – Adaptive, aptX™ – HD, aptX™ – Classic, AAC, SBC
- Single-earbud Operation: Yes
- Mic For Taking Calls: Yes
- Waterproof: Yes - IP54 (earbuds only)
- Battery life: Up to 5 hours for earbuds (with ANC off), Additional 16 hours from charging case, 15 minute charge = 2 hours playback
- Amazon Alexa: No
- Google Assistant: Yes
- Siri: Yes
- Parts Warranty: 2 Years
- Labor Warranty: 2 Years
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