- Manufacturer & Model
- Bowers & Wilkins PI7 In-Ear True Wireless Headphones
Dual Hybrid Drive units with individual amplifiers for performance down to 10Hz, 24-bit True Wireless design with aptX Adaptive Bluetooth, Active Noise Cancelling, six microphones for excellent call quality, charging case holds up to 16 hours of charging time and has audio retransmission capability.
Bowers & Wilkins flagship in-ear wireless headphone, the PI7, delivers reference quality audio loaded with potent bass and an even-tempered mid-to-upper frequency range. It's unique physical design allows it to lock in place for a comfortably secure fit, and onboard Active Noise Cancelling effectively quells ambient noise. Solid call performance tops off an impressive feature set.
It's hard to argue against the simplicity and performance factors offered by Apple's popular AirPods Pro. From design and usability to ecosystem integration, Apple has given the masses access to competent sound coupled with effective noise-canceling capabilities. Of course, any product achieving worldwide success will inspire competition, and that's exactly what's happened; the market is flooded with alternatives ranging from inexpensive knock-offs to top-shelf offerings. Today, we're taking an in-depth look at a new high-end performance model designed and manufactured by one of the audio segment's heavy hitters: England's Bowers & Wilkins (B&W).
The PI7 is one of two in-ear true wireless headphone models launched by B&W this year. The step-down PI5 takes direct aim at Apple's AirPods Pro, while the PI7 carries a price tag that's $150 heavier, landing at $399. Endowed with a range of appealing technologies, the PI7's spin on performance is impressive, taking functionalities you'd expect from quality earbuds and giving them notable polish.
Physically speaking, the PI7 features a combination of glossy and low-sheen plastics along with machined metal, and is available in either white or charcoal. Shunning the teardrop shape pushed by Apple, the PI7's rounded, stubby presence is both eye-catching and smartly functional. The largest portion of the earbud's housing is an elongated oval shape that locks the PI7 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. Of course, both elements harbor B&W’s complex concoction of advanced audio technologies.
The included charging case is relatively small (2.36" x 1.1" x 2.24") and weighs a mere 2.15 ounces, making it easy to transport in a pocket or carry in a bag. Crafted from plastics and colored to match the earbuds, the case serves as a Bluetooth pairing mechanism, a charging station (providing four full charges or 16 hours of 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.
The PI7's dual-driver array comprises a proprietary 9.2mm drive unit and a separate high-frequency balanced armature driver. Overall frequency response is specified to be 10Hz to 20kHz (<0.3% distortion, 1kHz/10mW), with each driver sourcing power from its own amplifier, giving the PI7 a controlled and potent audio foundation. Earbud-to-earbud synchronization is performed by 24-bit/48kHz wireless transmission, which directly compliments the PI7's support for aptX Adaptive Bluetooth.
Each PI7 earbud carries three microphones for Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and phone calls. And a free app (iOS and Android) gives owners access to adjustable ambient pass-through controls, precise charging information, and auto-connect selection menu, ambient soundscape recordings, the ability to engage a power-saving "wear sensor," firmware updates, and a few other features.
Unboxing and Set-up
Bowers & Wilkins' choice in packaging materials mirrors the brand's elite billing, safely nestling the PI7s within a snazzy box complete with high-res images and a folding top with a magnetic clasp. Internally, owners will find a USB-C to USB-C charging cable, a 3.5mm to USB-C cable, small and large-sized spare ear tips, a quick start guide, and a multi-language "Safety and Warranty" booklet. Little touches, such as B&W branded velcro cable ties, round out an excellent unboxing and product presentation experience.
For purposes of this review, I paired the PI7 to an iPhone 11 Pro and a MacBook Pro using procedures clearly outlined by B&W's quick start guide. In my case, the earbuds were unboxed, paired, and operating within a matter of minutes. Fitting the PI7s was also straightforward, requiring a 180-degree twisting motion to seats the long end of the PI7's main body in the antihelix portion of the outer ear.
Use and Audio Evaluation
From a fit perspective, the PI7’s physical design lends to exceptionally comfortable listening sessions. The supplied medium ear tips were sized perfectly for my needs, and the PI7's ability to lock within the ear resulted in hassle-free positioning, requiring very few adjustments. Thanks to the PI7's IP54 waterproof rating, I was able to wear the earbuds during extremely demanding, sweat-filled workouts that involved spinning, running, rowing, and weightlifting. The buds even outlasted the grind of a full Cross-Fit Murph, all the while maintaining a consistent fit. And, in those moments where small adjustments were needed, the outer knob structure provided plenty of surface area to grip for repositioning.
The PI7's fit is so snug and secure that it natively induces impressive levels of sound isolation, even when powered off. Using Room EQ Wizard and miniDSP's EARS microphone rig, I measured the impact of the PI7 with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) both on and off. As you can see in Figure One, the PI7 natively knocks down external frequencies by 10 decibels or more, beginning around 1kHz (green line), with ANC having an additional impact below 1kHz (blue line). Figure Two illustrates a second round of measurements capturing the PI7's performance in a simulated commercial aircraft cabin environment. Here, the PI7's ANC resulted in a reduction of 10dB or more, beginning at 38Hz and extending to the threshold of human hearing.
In real-world testing, the PI7's ANC performance was excellent, effectively marginalizing noise generated by standard household equipment, like a vacuum or a gas-powered leaf blower, while muting ambient noise and voices at typical conversational levels. Even with ANC turned off, the PI7 made it challenging to understand typical casual chatter. To aide in hearing conversations and external sound, the included app provided access to an ambient pass-through feature that adjusts on a sliding scale. At the most "open" end of the scale, the earbuds were able to amplify external sounds to decipherable levels. However, these controls are only available within the app, making quick or repeated adjustments on the fly rather inconvenient.
Sound-wise, the PI7 delivered big with a wonderfully refined, non-fatiguing sonic signature. Bass output was deep and thunderous, high-end frequencies remained peppy without shredding the ears, and mid-range tones were smooth and balanced. The vast majority of my listening sessions were fueled by tunes from TIDAL, and it's not an exaggeration to say my ears were smitten after just two songs. Jon Bellion's "80's Films" (The Human Condition, TIDAL HiFi) was painted with luscious and revealing bass drops that sounded limitless, while airy elements of the song floated with ease. And Lorde's "Team" (Pure Heroine, TIDAL HiFi) pounded away with the confidence you'd hope to experience with a full-range two-channel system, presenting an audio buffet that wasn't slimmed down or wildly exaggerated.
Having used the PI7 daily for nearly five weeks, I've yet to find any faults in its musical capabilities. Its evenness of sound and tonal balance is excellent, and it never lacks the muscle needed to create a complex sonic stage at elevated volume levels. From classic rock to techno and singer-songwriter to jazz, the PI7 consistently serves a deliciously rich and refined audio experience. Of course, its ability to shield the ears from ambient sound helps to keep music and media content free from external contamination, which is a major bonus. If you're looking for heady reference-level performance from the convenience of wireless earbuds, the PI7 will give you quite a ride.
Listening sessions routinely reached the four-hour mark on a single charge, and the case was able to inject several hours more with 15 to 20 minutes of docking time. So, from a longevity perspective, the PI7 gets the job done with minimal pitstops. On the connectivity front, the PI7 consistently provided a strong, crystal clear Bluetooth connection within reasonable distances, and the case legitimately served as a wireless transmitter when connected to my computer with the 3.5mm to USB-C cable.
Calls and Controls
Phone call quality tested as clear and intelligible for both the user and caller. One of my biggest gripes about Apple's AirPods Pro is its inability to filter external noise as heard by a calling party, often amplifying noise to levels that rival, if not exceed, those of a conversation. With that in mind, I tested call quality for both myself and a caller in multiple conditions, including during noisy tasks such as washing dishes. Two test subjects were given an opportunity to experience these conditions with both the PI7 and AirPods Pro in play. In all scenarios, both subjects said the PI7 picked up far less background noise, leading to a more pleasant conversational environment. That's a big value add for the PI7.
The PI7's touch controls and associated operational tones were easy to learn, requiring light taps on the flat surface of the buds' brushed metal knobs. Unfortunately, it’s easy to touch that surface when inserting or repositioning the earbuds, which can lead to awkward activations of control commands. This became less of an issue with practice, but I suspect most owners will find there’s a learning curve associated with handling the PI7.
A healthy price point should command superior performance, and Bowers & Wilkins' PI7 In-Ear True Wireless Headphones delivers in just about every facet imaginable. From powerful, reference-grade sound to high-level active noise canceling capabilities, it's a maker of untethered audio bliss. Thanks to a snug and secure fit, the PI7 can remain firmly in place during vigorous physical exercise while remaining comfortable during long listening sessions and everyday use. And to top things off, B&W's engineers endowed the PI7 with excellent call capabilities, rounding out a package that offers exceptional levels of performance.
If your budget has the wiggle room to accommodate the PI7's $399 price tag, do your ears a favor and pick up a pair. Easy to recommend.
Bowers & Wilkins' PI7 In-Ear True Wireless Headphones Specifications
- True Wireless technology
- Bluetooth 5.0 with AptX Adaptive technology Auto ANC
- Audio streaming from chargingcase
- Wireless and USB-C charging
- Fast charging support
- AptX – Adaptive
- AptX – HD
- AptX – Low Latency
- AptX – Classic
- A2DP v1.3.1
- AVRCP v1.6.1
- HFP v1.7.1
- HSP v1.2
- BLE GATT (Generic Attribute Profile)
- Tx mode: 2402MHz to 2480MHZ, ISM Band
- Rx mode: 2402MHz to 2480MHz, ISM Band
- < 0r =10.0 dBm
- 9.2mm Dynamic Drive with Balanced Armature
- 10Hz to 20kHz
- <0.3% (1kHz/10mW)
- Up to 4 hours Bluetooth
- 7g for earbuds, 61g for charging case