At $399, Bowers & Wilkins’ flagship Pi7 S2 noise-canceling true wireless headphones cost $100 more than the already expensive Pi5 S2, placing them among the priciest models we’ve tested. For the extra money, you get top-notch tuning and an additional balanced armature in each earpiece, which enables superior sound quality. An excellent standard audio signature, a solid array of codec support, and a charging case with the ability to transmit audio are all marks in favor of the Pi7 S2, but the lack of an EQ in the companion app and uncompetitive active noise cancellation (ANC) are disappointing at this high price. We ultimately prefer the Apple AirPods Pro ($249) and the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II ($299) because they are significantly more effective at blocking noise and offer more customization options.
Available in black, blue or white, the attractive Pi7 S2 earbuds have circular outer panels with a metallic finish. They fit securely and feel comfortable even over long listening sessions. You get three pairs of silicone ear tips (small, medium and large) in the package.
Internally, each earpiece has a 9.2mm dynamic driver and a balanced armature that covers the higher frequencies – each driver also gets a separate amplifier. Unfortunately, Bowers & Wilkins does not share frequency range specifications.
(Credit: Tim Gideon)
The headphones support the slightly outdated Bluetooth 5.0 standard. That’s a notable limitation as we’ve occasionally encountered issues when trying to connect the earbuds to the companion app. That aside, they work with the AAC, AptX, AptX Adaptive, AptX HD, and SBC Bluetooth codecs. If you have a compatible Android phone, AptX Adaptive and AptX HD support means you can stream up to 24-bit/48KHz quality. But the more affordable Sony WF-1000XM4 headphones ($279.99) have the advantage of LDAC support, which allows an even higher streaming bitrate.
The outer panels of each earbud have capacitive touch controls. Tap once on either side to handle playback and calls. Tap twice to skip to the next track or triple to go to the previous one. A press-and-hold gesture on the left and right earpieces respectively switches the ANC mode or calls the voice assistant of your device. The controls are responsive and intuitive, but it’s still easy to accidentally trigger a function when you simply mean to adjust the fit.
An IP54 rating is modest, but typical for noise-canceling headphones. The first digit (5) means that they are almost dustproof, while the second digit (4) means that they can withstand only light splashes of water from any direction. They should be fine for sweaty workouts or in light rain, but try not to submerge them or expose them to the pressure of a faucet.
The bulky charging case is not waterproof at all, so make sure to dry the earbuds before putting them inside. It has a metallic lid that flips open to reveal the charging dock and a manual pairing button. The front has a status LED and an additional button that enables an innovative audio transmission function. Essentially, you can connect the case (using the included USB-C-to-3.5mm cable) to an external source (like a touchscreen console on an airplane) to stream audio to your headphones. In practice, we had to turn off Bluetooth on the original device we paired the headphones with for this feature to work.
Bowers & Wilkins estimates that the earbuds will last about five hours per charge with ANC off and that the case will hold an additional 16 hours of charge. Of course, your results will vary based on your volume levels and use of ANC. These numbers are not very impressive, but we are not surprised that it takes so much power to drive a total of four drivers, each with a dedicated amplifier. The company claims you’ll get about two hours of playback from 15 minutes of charging, which should at least take the edge off your battery life.
Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 App Experience
The Bowers & Wilkins Music app (available for Android and iOS) is the weakest part of the experience. For starters, we often had problems trying to connect the earbuds to the app, despite a reliable connection to our test phone. We had to repeat the process several times to see them.
Once you get past that hurdle, the main screen shows a picture of the product, along with the battery life for both earbuds and the case. Below this there is a Noise Cancellation section – you can toggle between ANC On, Auto (the ANC automatically adjusts to the ambient noise levels in your environment), and Off settings. Further down you can switch the ambient (passthrough) mode and adjust its intensity with a fader.
(Credit: Bowers & Wilkins)
Additionally, you can manage device connections, adjust wear sensor settings, and change audio quality (standard, medium, high, or highest) for cellular and Wi-Fi streaming scenarios. For people who don’t need to worry about data limits or are on Wi-Fi most of the time, we recommend sticking with the top-level quality. If you subscribe to music streaming services such as Qobuz, Tidal or Deezer, you can set up further integrations that enable in-app streaming controls.
Otherwise, the app lets you install firmware updates and contact support. You don’t get EQ anywhere, which is severely disappointing in light of the high price. Many companion apps for much more affordable models have this feature.
Underwhelming noise cancellation
The six-mic array here produced only decent results in our noise cancellation tests. The earbuds call back powerful low-frequency rumble (like from an airplane) to a degree, but these sounds remain mostly audible. The headphones were slightly effective at cutting back the lower frequencies of a recording of a busy restaurant with clinking dishes and boisterous conversation, but most of the highs came through cleanly.
We didn’t notice much of a difference between the regular and adaptive ANC modes during testing. But more concerning is the amount of shots these modes add to the signal – they effectively amplify the noise floor of a quiet room and make it louder than if they were inactive. This is a common fault of less expensive noise-cancelling headphones, but not something we’d expect at this price.
Bowers & Wilkins just don’t compete with Apple and Bose here. The aforementioned models from those companies almost completely cancel out loud low-frequency rumble and other ambient noise.
Vibrant, balanced sound
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Messer’s “Silent Shout,” the earbuds deliver a powerful low-frequency response that’s robust at moderate volumes and free of distortion at maximum levels. They also have no trouble reproducing the sub-bass at the 34-second mark of Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty.” The synth line gets progressively deeper, but the dynamic drivers don’t struggle to emit any of that low-end rumble. The balanced fittings here continue to ensure solid clarity in the vocals.
(Credit: Tim Gideon)
Bill Callahan’s “Drover”, a track with much less deep bass in the mix, shows off the sound signature better. The drums and Callahan’s baritone vocals benefit from a full, robust delivery with low-mid richness and high-mid clarity. The balanced armatures allow for added definition in everything from the vocals to the acoustic strums to the higher register percussive hits. The sound signature has some sculpture, but the balanced presentation works wonderfully for most genres. For example, we enjoyed the higher frequency details on excellent recordings such as Broadcast’s “Pendulum” and Miles Davis’ “Pharaoh’s Dance”.
Orchestral pieces, such as the opening scene of John Adams The Gospel According to the Other Mary, have a slightly bass-forward delivery. However, the crisp treatment of the upper frequencies means that the higher register brass, strings and vocals still sound clear and full of detail.
We are very happy with the Bowers & Wilkins signature, even if it is not clinically accurate. Most listeners are likely to prefer this type of sound to a flat response. The lack of an EQ remains a shortcoming, however, as it prevents you from adjusting the signature to taste.
The mic array provides strong intelligibility. We had no problem understanding every word of a test recording on an iPhone and the signal sounded relatively strong. You should experience no call clarity issues over a reliable signal.
Style and sound above all
The Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2 headphones excel in the audio department – their dual-driver approach results in fantastic sound and support for hi-res streaming should appeal to audiophiles. We’re not thrilled about the lack of an in-app EQ, but the standard sound signature is simply top-notch. The substandard active noise cancellation is less forgiven, but especially for $399. The aforementioned Apple AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II remain more well-rounded options, especially since they offer much greater customization options and noise cancellation. And if you want to spend less, you might want to consider the dual-driver Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 headphones ($149.99), which also support the LDAC codec.
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