Bowers & Wilkins don't exactly do things on the cheap, so the fact the Pi7 S2 are considerably more expensive than all of their nearest competition might not come as much of a surprise - particularly when the Pi7 predecessors they replace launched at the same price two years ago.
However, the best true wireless headphones market is changing, and fast. Charging (at least) $100 more than some of your closest competition - which aren't exactly cheap themselves - is a bold move in such a competitive marketplace.
To make it make sense, you really need to back it up with a performance and feature set that blows the competition out of the water. Do the B&W Pi7 S2 succeed? Here's our full review.
Bowers & Wilkins/Pocket-lint
Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2
$349 $399 Save $50
The B&W Pi7 S2 are gorgeous looking earbuds that offer a rich and refined sound. However, they are very expensive and we're not sure the offering here, when compared to the competition, makes that price tag make sense.
- Rich, refined sound
- Gorgeous design
- Stable, reliable performance
- That price...
- Noise cancelling is just ok
- Battery life is lacking
- Bass might be too much for some
- Dimensions (carry case): 61mm (w) x 28mm (d) x 56mm (h)
- Weight: 7g (per bud), 47g (charging case)
- Black, white and midnight blue
You won't be surprised to hear that the B&W Pi7 S2 look lovely and feel supremely well made. Bowers & Wilkins doesn't mess around with design, and the result is a beautiful pair of headphones available in a choice of three colours - canvas white, satin black and the rather striking midnight blue of our review sample.
If you're familiar with the original Pi7, well, you won't find much different here (apart from that blue colour, which is new this time round). They're still the twist-to-fit in-ear design, with the earbud attached to an oval-shaped main body that rests comfortably in your outer ear.
This is topped with a stylish circular endcap, which sits just outside the ear. It's what people will see when you're wearing them - so all eyes are on this for hitting the B&W premium design brief.
They absolutely succeed - there's a tactile, ridged finish here, which catches the light beautifully, and a metallic ring at its base. The Bowers & Wilkins logo is also written subtly on its underside.
It's more than just a design decision though - it also works as a touchpad for the Pi7 S2's controls (more on those in a bit), and as a something to grip onto when you're putting them in and out of your ear (and in and out of the case for that matter).
We find the fit very comfortable indeed. They don't impress themselves upon you too heavily and sit lightly in the ear, with the bud doing the work of creating a decent seal - you get a choice of three tips to find your fit.
They stay put, too. We know that's been a bone of contention for some people, but we've had no problems with them shifting in use at all, and find the 7g weight no problems either - even if it is heavier than competitors like the 6.2g-per-bud Bose Quietcomfort II.
The design déjà vu extends to the charging case, which is much the same as last time round. It's curved and palm sized, with a lid that flips open from the top.
There's a button on the outside for checking the battery level remaining - you'll get a green, orange or red light to let you know how close to needing a recharge you are - while a small button of the inside of the case works as the pairing button. Simply hold it for a few seconds to enter pairing mode.
- 5 hours' battery life; 21 hours with the case
- Support for aptX Adaptive
- IP54 rated
- Bluetooth re-transmission functionality
Not a lot has changed on the outside, then, but there have been a handful of changes on the inside. They're arguably small tweaks, considering these have been two years in the making, but do show B&W has listened to feedback from the first generation at least.
Some of the biggest complaints were patchy connectivity and a less-than-stellar battery life.
Both of these have been addressed here, with a repositioned antenna and more transparent material for the endcaps enabling the Pi7 S2 to double the Bluetooth range they're capable of to 25 metres, and a slightly improved, if far-from-market-leading, battery performance - up from four hours to five.
You'll will get another 16 hours from the charging case for a total of 21 hours, plus there is fast charging of 15 minutes for an extra two hours of playback, so you're - realistically - unlikely to find yourself wanting. However, compared with Sony's WF-1000XM4's at eight hours, and the six hours managed by the Bose QuietComfort II, the upgrade feels a little unremarkable among its competition.
You'll still get Qualcomm's high-res capable aptX Adaptive Bluetooth connectivity of course, which can support wireless playback of up to 24-bit/48kHz with compatible devices, the same IP54 rating for water resistance, and B&W's handy Bluetooth re-transmission functionality that's great for frequent travellers.
This means you can plug the case, via its USB-C port, in to any source that doesn't support Bluetooth natively, to introduce wireless playback.
This come particularly in handy with an in-flight entertainment system, for example, and save you from the horrors of those flimsy airline-supplied headsets.
What you won't find here, are some much-requested additions at this price - namely the ability to change volume on the earbuds themselves, and the ability to tweak the EQ.
Both are a shame, and don't seem hugely difficult to implement - particularly since the B&W Music app has been upgraded since the original buds launched.
It now allows you to better control the buds' connections (there's no true multipoint here but you can manually switch between a couple of devices), access music streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz directly, and tweak the ANC performance, depending on where you are.
With no volume control to hand, the touch controls remain straightforward with a series of taps to access music controls, voice assistance, ANC control and call handling options. They work well, as does the wear recognition, but needing your phone to hand in order to change volume is a little annoying.
Those feature tweaks are pretty much the beginning and end of the Pi7 S2's changes - each earbud features the same two-way drivers that the originals did. That means you can expect a 9.2mm dynamic driver and a high-frequency balanced armature driver - each one independently amplified.
We enjoyed the sound this setup produced two years ago and that's no different this time round. However, those previously mentioned strides forwards the industry has made does give these buds some new competition.
What can't be taken away from these buds is what fun they are to listen to. They are hugely musical, and we lost time to albums writing this review, when we'd planned to listen to one song. It depends how critically you listen to your earbuds as to whether you consider their performance any further than that, though at this price, we might suggest a more critical listen is warranted.
The bass response of the Pi7 S2 is admirable for a pair of in-ear buds and those that like their bass loud and proud will really enjoy how the Pi7 S2 handle the low end. It's never allowed to get unruly, but the bass is undeniably boosted here - moreso than you'll hear in the Bose Quietcomfort Earbuds II, Airpods Pro 2 or Sony WF-1000XM4.
It's not surprising, considering B&W's sound signature with other headphones, but we'd say the Pi7 S2 lean a little further into that warmth than we are used to hearing from the brand. Take a listen to Man by Skepta and you'll hear that the bold - albeit precise and punchy - bassline is front and centre, and at times feels a touch overwhelming.
It can impress itself, ever so slightly, on the midrange too. While that creates a solid, authoritative and confident sound, we'd prefer to hear the Pi7 S2 give the midrange the floor when it's supposed to - rather than the jostle for the limelight that currently happens in the lower mids.
That's not to say that the midrange is lacking clarity. Actually there is plenty of detail here, as can be heard with If I Ain't Got You by Alicia Keys. The piano intro is precise and textured, and vocals are expressed beautifully, particularly where there isn't so much of a fight with a pulsing bassline.
The B&W handle on dynamics is clear too, and the Pi7 S2s masterfully demonstrate the difference in tempo and volume as you'd expect them to. It's slightly more explicit at higher volumes than it is at lower ones, but we did find ourselves listening to these at 75% volume and above most of the time anyway.
That's a credit to them being a comfortable listen up until a few notches before full whack, so if you crave volume, you can take them there without issue. They have plenty of headroom too, and their overall spacious presentation isn't put under pressure when the volume creeps up either.
While the carefully judged treble helps here, a bit more sparkle in the top end would help to balance out that larger-than-life bass response, and give a bit more bite and attack to the presentation. They aren't sluggish, but they don't drive tracks forward with perhaps quite so much energy as we've heard in competition, like the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II.
Noise cancelling is just ok. It will do the job of cutting out the big low-end traffic sounds that you'd want it to, but higher pitched noises or office chit chat will creep in.
It's easily bested by the likes of the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II and Sony WF-1000XM4, so if you’re looking for the very best in ANC performance, you're better served elsewhere.
The B&W Pi7 S2 have arguably taken too long to make too few changes, in a market that is moving and improving quickly. The biggest issue is their price - they are considerably more expensive than their closest rivals and we're not sure they manage to make that make sense.
That's not to say they don't sound good. They do - though you will need to be happy with a low-end that wants to have a fairly considerable say in proceedings. Of course they look good too, but this doesn't have quite the same swing as it does with over-ear headphones.
ANC is fine, but far from market leading - you would want to buy these for the full package rather than noise cancellation, and it feels like other models, like the Bose QuietComfort II or the Sony XF-1000XM4 offer a much more compelling offering - and at a lower price too.
That's a hard sell for the B&W Pi7 S2. If you want a pair of premium buds that serve up a rich, confident and refined performance, you won't be disappointed - but you can find comparable for less.