Updated: Aug 21, 2021
Bowers & Wilkins is a pretty well-known name in the audio world; their products look amazing and sound good. But how do their first pair of true wireless earbuds, the Bowers & Wilkins PI7, match up to the competition in 2021? I’ve tried the PX7 headphones before and they were a delight, so I’m coming into this review with really high expectations for these.
Let’s talk design. The PI7 comes in two colours, Charcoal or White, and we have the Charcoal version here. It’s really gorgeous, with a soft-touch matte coating on the body of the case, and a metallic-looking plastic on the lid with the company name printed on. There’s an LED indicator on the front that flashes blue to indicate pairing and also shows how much battery life is left.
The button under it serves two purposes, one of which is to show the battery of the case and earbuds, and the other is a bit more interesting, because this case is pretty cool. It’s a re-transmitter, which means that you can actually connect the charging case via a USB-C cable to a source such as a laptop or audio player if you have one without Bluetooth, and then the case will stream the music in aptX Low Latency to the earbuds.
This is really super cool, because it opens up a whole bunch of situations where you can use these earbuds with stuff like the Nintendo Switch that typically requires an external Bluetooth adapter to use true wireless earbuds with, or even for desktops that might not have a Bluetooth card. It’s really easy to use too. I plugged the case into my desktop with a USB-C cable I had lying around, and took the earbuds out of the case, and they paired to the case without any further action on my part. Major thumbs up to Bowers & Wilkins here.
Anyway, I digress. The second use for the button is to connect another pair of Bowers & Wilkins headphones to the case for media streaming. Unfortunately, I’ve returned the PX7 I tested, so I couldn’t try out this feature.
Flip open the lid and you get the earbuds along with a button inside for pairing or for resetting the earbuds.
The earbuds themselves look pretty sweet. Sure, they’re on the bigger side, but I found it relatively easy to get them secured in my ears, and they stayed in snugly. The brushed gold faceplate and raised area for touch controls is a nice contrast to the dark body, and the touch-sensitive area is large enough so you won’t struggle to find it.
Touch controls are okay, they’re relatively responsive and they control the usual few stuff, play/pause, track skipping, voice assistant and noise cancellation modes. Unfortunately, there’s no option to adjust the volume directly from the earbuds, so you’ll have to do it directly from the source device.
You get a companion app that is a little barebones. There’s no EQ feature here, but you get software updates, the ability to choose how much external noise gets piped in for Transparency mode and choose whether to turn wear detection on or off. I can’t say I mind the lack of EQ too much, since these earbuds are already pretty darn good out of the box.
These are dual driver earbuds, so you get both a dynamic and balanced armature driver in here, both with their own amplifiers, which is cool. You get Bluetooth 5.0, but these earbuds support a bunch of codecs. SBC, AAC, aptX Classic, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency as well as aptX Adaptive. Having support for aptX Adaptive means that high-res music transmission is possible, and Bowers & Wilkins backs that up with 24-bit/48kHz wireless transmission between each earbud.
The sound quality is exactly as you’d expect from Bowers & Wilkins. Really, really good. In fact, it’s so good that I tested a track that I would usually never test with true wireless earbuds, Billie Eilish’s Wish You Were Gay. From the 1:06 mark, there’s a soft ticking that makes its way left to right, right to left. It’s usually quite impossible to hear with true wireless earbuds because of how subtle it is, and it requires a pretty loud volume to pick it out. Well, I put Spotify at 100% volume and lowered my computer’s volume to 20% and the ticking was there, clear as day. Not only that, the imaging was spot on. If you’re looking to pick out these sorts of subtle details from your music, I can’t recommend the PI7 enough.
Moving on to other tracks, I found the bassline in the chorus of The Hills by The Weeknd impactful and rich while still maintaining control. Mids on these are beautiful, guitars sound excellent and very well separated, all while maintaining a good sense of space and airiness. Treble is also pretty good; complex songs with three or four string instruments never end up blending together, and there’s no sibilance or hiss even though these have a slightly more V-shaped signature. I’d say my one critique is that vocals can feel a bit laidback, particularly with male vocals. This is purely personal preference though, and I think B&W has done a really good job with the sound signature and tuning on these. The sound is just overall, really impressive.
Battery life is pretty average, unfortunately. You get four hours in the earbuds, which is on the low end, with most other earbuds averaging six or eight hours these days. There are an additional four charges in the case for a total of 20 hours, which is slightly better. The case can be charged either via USB-C or wirelessly, which is definitely nice. There’s also IP54 water and dust resistance on the earbuds, so they’ll be safe with a bit of sweat, but the case isn’t rated, so keep that in mind.
There’s adaptive noise cancelling in these that are just… passable. Don’t expect these to have anywhere near the same level of ANC efficiency as the Sony WF-1000XM3, Apple AirPods Pro or even the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which is probably the closest in terms of price.
So how much do these cost, you ask? Well, that’s the problem. These cost S$602, or US$399. I know, I know. These cost almost as much as the PX7 headphones, and those are headphones while these are true wireless earbuds. Add on the fact that the ANC isn’t the greatest and that the battery life is pretty average, and these are possibly some of the most expensive true wireless earbuds I’ve tried, maybe even the most expensive, but all I can say is that if you want the best sound quality you can get out of true wireless earbuds, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another option. Like I always say, you get what you pay for.
by Cheryl Tan