The B&W PI7 S2 Is Nice But Pricey.
A couple of years ago, Bowers & Wilkins introduced the PI7 earbuds, and at that time, they were incredible. Amazing sound quality and a really cool re-transmitter feature. But there were problems with it at the same time. Has the company solved them with this new PI7 S2?
So, let’s talk design first.
These look quite identical to the original PI7 earbuds, which can be a good or bad thing depending on you. There are new colour options, with Satin Black, Canvas White and Midnight Blue available. We have the Satin Black with us, and something that I personally really like, is that there’s a weathered, gunmetal look to the lid of the case. Aside from that, you get the big re-transmitter button under that, and a USB-C port at the bottom.
Inside, you get the earbuds along with a pairing button. Speaking of the earbuds, they’re still the same design as the original, which is a bit of a flawed design to me. They’re big and do stick out of the ear a good amount, but more than that, they’re just not very comfortable to wear for prolonged periods of time. My ears did start to hurt after a few hours of use, so yeah.
The raised circle for touch controls is now a dark gray colour which does add to the subtlety of the earbuds instead of the original gold, and I much prefer this.
Touch-controls-wise, it’s pretty much the same as the original. A single tap controls play/pause, a double tap skips tracks forwards and a triple tap skips tracks backwards. It’s the same across both sides. On the left side though, a long tap and hold toggles between ANC modes, while a long tap and hold on the right pulls up the voice assistant. Unfortunately, there’s no way to toggle transparency mode or adjust the volume via the earbuds.
These work with the Bowers & Wilkins Music app, and it’s simplistic as always. You can change noise cancellation modes, toggle transparency on or off, manage multipoint connections and toggle the wear sensor on or off, as well as manage streaming quality. There is no EQ feature or ability to customise the touch controls, which is a shame.
As mentioned, there is the re-transmitter feature which works like it did previously. Basically, you can plug in the case to a source, whether that’s an airplane’s in-flight entertainment system, your computer or something else, and the case will be able to re-transmit the data to the earbuds, which is fantastic for situations where you can’t pair Bluetooth earbuds to source devices. I can definitely see myself using this a lot on planes.
The Specs & Features
Like the original PI7, these earbuds have both a 9.2mm dynamic driver as well as a balanced armature driver in each ear, all powered by their own amplifiers. Unfortunately, these are still running on Bluetooth 5.0, although Bowers & Wilkins did say they improved Bluetooth performance and range via a re-engineered antenna design. Personally, I did notice a bit of cut out when walking around in crowded areas, but it wasn’t a frequent issue. Regardless, I do hope B&W goes up to Bluetooth 5.2 or 5.3 in the future for new earbuds.
The earbuds still support a wide range of codecs, SBC, AAC, aptX Classic, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive, which allows for streaming up to 24-bit/48kHz if you have a compatible music streaming service that offers it.
Battery life has been improved, which was a weak point in the original model. Now you get up to five hours in the earbuds with an additional 16 hours in the case for a total of 21 hours. It’s just slightly better than the original, but an improvement is an improvement. There’s also wireless charging here and the earbuds are IP54 dust and water resistant, although I reckon there won’t be a lot of people using these while exercising.
Mic quality is decent, although it does basically seem to pick up ALL background noise with no rejection at all. It somehow picked up my keyboard clacking away when most other earbuds would be able to isolate and remove that.
As for active noise cancellation, I didn’t think the ANC in the PI7 was all that great, and unfortunately, it’s the same here. While there is a bit of improvement when turning on the auto ANC mode, it’s still not as powerful as other earbuds on the market right now. Regardless, at least there’s ANC to block out some noise.
The Sound Is Awesome But now we come to sound, and well, it’s great. Incredibly detailed and nuanced, paired with a neutral presentation that really lets instruments and vocals shine. The bass is present and impactful, and the subbass rumble is generally present, although well-controlled. Mids are well-defined and clean. There’s a good amount of sizzle here and the vocals are forward, which I enjoy.
The treble actually feels a bit more pronounced here, with sparkle and air. Unfortunately, even though these earbuds are excellent technically, I feel like there’s just something missing. Not sure if it’s musicality or emotion, but these aren’t earbuds that make me want to dance or like, bob my head along to the music. It just feels a little more laidback in general.
Soundstage is great though, it’s wide and deep and instrument imaging and layering is fantastic. If you’re looking for detail and accurate reproduction, these are an amazing choice.
At US$399 or S$729, they’re pricey. The US price hasn’t changed, but the Singapore price has gone up by almost S$100, which is a tough pill to swallow. If you don’t have the original PI7, these might be an okay option if you have the money. But there are quite a few missing features and such from this model that makes the price tag hard to justify. Once these go on sale, it’ll be a bit easier to recommend them, but until then, $700 really is just too much. You can get great headphones AND another pair of decent earbuds with that money.