The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 earbuds are the most expensive I’ve ever placed in my ears.
Last year, those same ears were quite literally opened to Bowers & Wilkins, thanks to the opportunity I was given to review both the Px7 and Px8 over-ear noise-cancelling headphones. Both knocked my socks off.
Can the Pi7 S2 do the same? And, more importantly, can they drag me away permanently from the AirPods Pro 2?
Let’s find out!
Pricing and features
The Pi7 S2 will set you back £349 in the UK. They’re essentially an updated version of the Pi7, which arrived in 2021 to great acclaim.
The spec list is as impressive as it should be, given the price. They feature two-way drive units which promise to work “just like high-performance speakers”, a 24-bit connection between both earbuds to aid the support for aptX codecs, and the connection is handled via Bluetooth 5.0.
Battery life is slightly below the class-leading AirPods Pro 2 with five hours of playback sans ANC and an additional 16 hours provided by the charging case. Both wireless and fast charging support are included, with a 15-minute charge delivering two hours of playback.
Three mics on each earbud provide adaptive noise cancellation and the ability to make and receive calls, and there’s an ambient passthrough mode, too. Touch controls, voice assistant integration, and IP54 water resistance (for the buds only) complete an impressive package.
It’s hard to find differentiating features in the consumer audio space these days. Still, Bowers & Wilkins go some way to achieving this with the addition of ’retransmission technology’ for the Pi7 S2 case. This enables you to connect the case via the included cable to any external sound source and have it stream that content to the earbuds.
The most obvious applications for this are inflight entertainment systems or laptops containing high-fidelity music which can’t be streamed via your smartphone. I didn’t get a chance to test the feature, but it is undeniably unique.
Design and comfort
The Pi7 S2 come in either white, black, or blue and, like every Bowers & Wilkins product I’ve had the fortune to turn over in my hands, they are stunningly designed.
They feel premium, tough, and undeniably Bowers & Wilkins. The bold branding is present on the earbuds and the case – something that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I’m a big fan.
They’re also the comfiest stemless earbuds I’ve worn. They don’t protrude too much once placed into your ears, and there’s minimal fiddling required to achieve the best seal. The only downside is the touch controls, which remain an absolute pain in the backside on earbuds without a stem.
I understand why we get touch controls on earbuds like the Pi7 S2 – the options are limited, after all – but it results in a frustrating user experience. By their nature, stemless earbuds need to be pushed into the ear canal and occasionally readjusted, and it’s incredibly hard not to accidentally play or pause your music while doing so.
Another sticking point with the Pi7 S2 is the case, which is absolutely huge. I guess that this is mainly due to the retransmission tech built into it, but I’d personally forgo that feature if it resulted in something that’s more trouser-friendly.
Despite these gripes, the Bowers & Wilkins design always seems to go a long way to making you feel better about your purchase. Add in the supreme comfort and that admirable water resistance rating, and we’re off to a pretty good start with the Pi7 S2.
This is an extremely subjective topic, so please take what I’m about to say with a pinch of salt, but I feel very confident in saying that the Pi7 S2 are the best-sounding pair of earbuds I’ve ever used.
It is epic, right out of the box. There’s plenty of creamy bass that doesn’t overpower (and which goes surprisingly low), the top end is detailed and doesn’t fatigue, and the mids are just where I like them.
The Pi7 S2 dealt with everything I threw at them and never failed to raise an eyebrow in appreciation. This is rare when testing earbuds. Beyond the second-generation AirPods Pro, everything else I’ve tried in this space has been adequate and entirely unexciting. The Pi7 S2 are something else.
This is where that extra money is being spent. Seriously – if you just want an amazing-sounding pair of earbuds which will immediately knock your socks off and you have a decent budget, stop reading this now and go and buy a pair of Pi7 S2.
Although, there is some more stuff to discuss.
Noise cancelling and transparency
Thanks to the comfy and secure fit offered by the Pi7 S2, there’s a good deal of passive noise cancelling to be had, but the presence of active noise-cancelling is, of course, welcome.
Testing active noise cancelling versus standard noise cancelling is, by the former’s definition, very tricky. The good news is that, on or off, the Pi7 S2 are brilliant noise-cancellers. They don’t quite reach the heady heights of the second-generation AirPods Pro, but, then, nothing does.
Unfortunately, there’s one decision made by Bowers & Wilkins which I simply cannot get my head around. As noted earlier, the Pi7 S2 come with an ambient passthrough mode, which is designed to let the outside world in when you want to be aware of your surroundings.
Great stuff! The problem, however, is that you can only turn the feature on and off in the Bowers & Wilkins app, and, when you do so, it switches it on for all settings – whether you have active noise cancellation turned off or on.
I have no idea why there isn’t a touch control option for the passthrough mode. It makes the Pi7 S2 questionable in terms of convenience for calls and for anyone who wants to regularly switch between noise cancelling and the ability to hear ambient sounds.
Final thought: are they better than AirPods Pro 2?
Apple’s latest version of its top-end earbuds is utterly fantastic. But they don’t sound as good as the Pi7 S2 by quite a margin.
However, AirPods Pro 2 are £100 cheaper than the Bowers & Wilkins earbuds, have a better case, feature the best noise cancellation (and a transparency mode which is as convenient to use as it should be), and benefit from longer battery life. They also integrate neatly into the Apple ecosystem – a significant quality-of-life benefit all third-party earbuds have to forgo.
The answer to the question above, therefore, depends entirely on your preference. As noted earlier, if you just want the best-sounding earbuds and don’t care about much else, the Pi7 S2 are a clear winner. Beyond that epic sound, the design, build quality, and brand heritage will remove any possibility of buyer’s remorse.
If you want ultimate convenience, Apple ecosystem integration, and the best noise-cancelling on the market, the second-generation AirPods Pro 2 remain the default choice.
Will I switch to the Pi7 S2 full-time? I’m afraid not. But they have grabbed a permanent place in my rucksack, thanks to that incredible sonic performance.
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[…] we have the Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2, which I reviewed recently, and which are easily the best-sounding earbuds I’ve ever tried. […]