- Superb sound
- Comfortable for long listening sessions
- Innovative charging case doubles as an audio transceiver
- Mediocre call quality
- ANC doesn’t match the less-expensive competition’s offering
- No LDAC support
The Pi7 S2 are some of the best-sounding in-ear monitors for Android users who listen to high-resolution files or music streaming services, but frequent flyers will find their noise cancellation wanting.
Price When Reviewed
Best Prices Today: Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
Bowers & Wilkins has updated its flagship wireless, in-ear headphone. And while this isn’t a from-the-ground-up redesign—the B&W Pi7 S2 use the excellent same drivers as the model that shipped in 2021—improvements in a host of other areas result in better battery life and longer Bluetooth range. More importantly, if your primary consideration is the quality of an earbud’s audio reproduction, they deliver fantastic listening experiences. Your decision could get more complicated as you consider other features, such as active noise cancellation, EQ options, and price.
Bowers & Wilkins has helped define the British hi-fi audio sound for nearly six decades with its highly regarded loudspeakers. The company entered the powered speaker market with its iPod-compatible Zeppelin speaker in 2006 (since updated to support Bluetooth and AirPlay) and added wired headphones to its line in 2013. B&W introduced its first generation of in-ear monitors in 2021 and the Pi7 S2 are the latest release.
This review is part of TechHive’s in-depth coverage of the best noise-cancelling headphones.
How the B&W Pi7 S2 are made
These second-generation earbuds come in Satin Black, Canvas White and an impressive Midnight Blue. The blue earbuds make quite a statement, since the silicone tips, earbud body, and touch surface are all the same striking color. Both the black and white versions feature a silver touch surface. Once you have them seated in your ear canal, only you will know what color earbuds you chose unless they get very close. The blue earbuds have a gold metal lid on the matching case, while the white and black cases have a silver lid.
Bowers & Wilkins
These earbuds come with three sizes of silicone ear tips. The Pi7 S2 feature five hours of playback (improved from four in the previous generation), with an additional 16 hours from the case on a full charge. A 15-minute charge gives two hours of playback in the earbuds. The case supports both wireless and wired charging via the included USB-C to USB-C cable.
B&W promises a range of 25 meters from the audio source, which the Pi7 S2 easily delivered outdoors. Like most Bluetooth signals, however, you won’t get nearly as much distance if your home or office has thick walls. I got dropouts when I moved a few rooms away from the source.
Each Pi7 S2 earbud features a 9.2mm driver plus a balanced armature driver, and B&W has powered each drive unit with a separate amplifier. The Pi7 S2 connect via Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX Adaptive technology, which also supports aptX HD and aptX Classic. The earbuds also support the AAC codec favored by Apple and the run-of-the-mill SBC codec.
There are three microphones in each earbud that power the noise cancellation system and are supposed to provide a great experience for phone calls. The ANC is effective and works fine in a slightly noisy environment, but it can’t compare to the strong noise cancellation delivered by the Apple AirPods Pro 2, the Sony WF-1000XM4, or the Bose Quiet Comfort II earbuds.
The microphones don’t deliver a stellar call experience, either. I tried them on a series of calls during testing and usually got complaints from the other party about the sound. Each one of those people said the improvement was striking when I switched the call to the AirPods 2.
Using the B&W Music app
Bowers & Wilkins relies on its Music app for iOS and Android to control both its headphones and its wireless speakers. For the Pi7 S2, users can get a reading on the battery level for both the earbuds and the case. You can choose between B&W’s default noise cancellation or choose Auto to adjust noise cancellation based on the amount of background noise in your environment. When Auto is activated, you can use the Passthrough setting to adjust the Pi7 S2’s transparency level; i.e., the amount of environmental sound you want to hear mixed in with your music the earbuds are playing.
The app remembers all your device connections, even if you made those connections using different operating systems. That allows you to set the earbuds to automatically reconnect to the device most recently used when taking the Pi7 S2 out of the case. You can also adjust the streaming quality (higher quality means more data consumption) when listening via Wi-Fi separately from when you’re using mobile data where you might have a smaller data cap.
There’s no way to adjust the EQ settings in the app, but the sound design for these earbuds is so good that I can’t think of any adjustments I’d like to make. The same goes for the ANC settings. I couldn’t discern any improvements after making changes from the standard setting.
The B&W Pi7 S2 have a killer feature that doesn’t quite slay
B&W has introduced a feature with the Pi7 S2 that I’ve never seen with any other headphones: Using the provided USB-C-to-3.5mm analog audio cable, you can stream any source to the case and then re-transmit that audio from the case to the headphones. The most common use case for this feature would when you’re traveling by airline and want to listen to the in-flight entertainment without plugging a wired headphone into the armrest.
The appeal of this feature, however, is undercut by B&W’s middling active noise-cancellation technology—at least as its implemented with the Pi7 S2. It’s fine for working in a slightly noisy office, but it just isn’t up to the task of filtering out engine noise on a cross-country flight.
Listening to music with the B&W Pi7 S2
If you value audio performance more than noise cancellation, the B&W Pi7 S2 shine. You’ll need to make sure you get the proper fit by inserting them into your ear canal and giving them a solid twist toward the back of your head, but once they’re in place, the listening experience is magical.
Listening to Low-Life (Definitive), the newly remastered version of New Order’s 1985 album, at Qobuz, the results are striking. There’s decay on the synth drums and cowbell on “Perfect Kiss” that I never heard on the early vinyl or CD pressings of the album. The bass has more low end, and soundstage during the frogs breakdown near the end is breathtaking.
And that description is based on listening via an iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is limited to using the AAC Bluetooth codec. Switching to an Android device—specifically, the OnePlus 10T—and listening to the aptX Adaptive codec delivered an even more immersive listening experience. If the sound on an iOS device was great, the sound for hi-res audio on an Android was great plus ten.
Listening to a lossless Apple Music stream of Tricky’s “Hell Is Round the Corner” from his 1995 album Maxinquaye, the sampled LP surface noise has a crackle that the AirPods Pro 2 couldn’t match. The Pi7 S2 were equally impressive when listening to rock, pop, jazz, and classical. If you’re looking for exaggerated bass, you might prefer something tuned in the old Beats style, but these earbuds should satisfy most any other listener.
If you’re using to a lower-resolution music service, such as Spotify, there are hundreds of earbud options priced at $100 or less that will sound just fine with the lesser streaming quality. B&W is looking to reach listeners who are enjoying their music in at least CD quality, but you need higher-resolution source music to take advantage of the tech built into these earbuds.
For iPhone users, B&W can’t match the versatility of Apple’s own AirPods Pro 2. The Apple earbuds have much better ANC, and they have all the pairing advantages that comes with the in-house engineering that is Apple’s specialty. The Pi7 S2 best the AirPods on audio quality, and they may well be worth the premium price if that’s your primary concern.
Should you buy the B&W Pi7 S2?
If you’re an Android user with a phone that supports the aptX HD or aptX Adaptive codecs, and you listen to high-resolution files or subscribe to a high-res music streamer like Amazon Music HD, Qobuz, or Tidal, the Pi7 S2 are fantastic listening earbuds. If you’re an iPhone user looking to distinguish yourself from the AirPods army, these earbuds offer some compelling color options and audio that’s as good as what Apple has to offer.