Bowers & Wilkins PI7 real wi-fi in-ear headphone review: This one’s for the audiophiles

by

While you happen to safe energetic noise cancellation can’t support nonetheless alter the sound, or now not it is crucial to listen to those in-ear monitors.




Theo Nicolakis / IDG

On the present time’s Only Tech Affords

Picked by TechHive’s Editors

High Affords On Immense Products

Picked by Techconnect’s Editors

Few audio companies on the earth can withhold a candle to the storied heritage of veteran British speaker maker, Bowers & Wilkins. B&W’s speakers are frail within the one of the essential essential arena’s most renowned recording studios, including the well-liked Abbey Avenue, and in addition they’ve been exhibited at Recent York’s Museum of Fashioned Art.

While B&W has dipped its toes into the wired, wi-fi, and ANC headphone market earlier than, the producer has been noticeably absent from the actual wi-fi headphone arena—unless now. B&W’s PI7 are its first real wi-fi in-ear headphones, and in addition they elevate the performance bar, introduce gargantuan-chilly improvements, and sport good industrial affect; alas, in addition they endure from some of first-generation quirks you’ll desire to be aware of. The company launched the less-pricey ($250) PI5 on the an analogous time, which now we safe now not evaluated.

This review is portion of TechHive’s protection of the appropriate noise-cancelling headphones, the place you’ll receive opinions of the competitors’s offerings, plus a purchaser’s ebook to the strategies that probabilities are you’ll also fair mute retain in thoughts when trying to receive this design of product.

Assemble and affect quality

The PI7 come for your substitute of matte white or charcoal finishes with matte gold accents. The matte lift out on the case ensures it obtained’t stride out of your hands, because the appealing-serene AirPod and AirPod Educated cases are inclined to attain. Evaluating the two, the B&W PI7’s case is greatly larger—roughly 40 p.c larger—than the AirPod cases in each and each dimension.

The PI7’s affect is correct beautiful, and its specifications are formidable. The rated frequency response is 10Hz to 20kHz (no tolerance given). There are two drivers within each and each earbud: A 9.2mm pressure unit and a high-frequency, balanced-armature driver. While you happen to’re uncommon with that technology, a balanced-armature structure depends on an electrical signal to vibrate a runt reed or rush hundreds of cases per 2nd. The reed is balanced between two magnets, therefore the identify. Armature drivers are runt and lightweight and such as a multi-driver loudspeaker affect, might possibly presumably fair moreover be tuned to contend with a unfamiliar fluctuate of frequencies. 

[ Further reading: The best high-res digital audio players ]

B&W says that a dedicated amplifier on each and each of the four entire pressure gadgets within the earbuds ensures “excellent control, superlative dynamics and deep, honest bass.” Advertising and marketing lingo aside, the affect works, and in addition they sound if truth be told excellent as I’ll command in more detail quickly.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The B&W PI7 comes with three pairs of silicone ear tricks, a USB-C to USB-C charging cable, USB-C to about a.5mm cable, and a ProCase charging case that doubles as a Bluetooth streaming transmitter.

Tapping the flat facet of each and each earbud performs defined capabilities: Pressing and holding your finger on the left-hand earbud for one 2nd will toggle noise cancelling and come up with a particular tone to teach. Pressing and holding the appropriate-hand bud for one 2nd will spark off your natty machine’s express assistant. With tune playing, a single tap toggles play/cease, a double tap advances to the next display screen, and a triple tap goes to the earlier display screen. Correct thru a phone name, the characteristic switches to an acknowledge/hangup toggle. Quantity control is handled by the source machine. These strategies all worked as advertised in my testing.

AAC and aptX Adaptive codec give a improve to

The PI7 helps Bluetooth 5.0, and connections had been most ceaselessly true. I might possibly presumably without complications transfer 33 toes and extra from my source, including getting the signal thru partitions, doorways, and floors. I did skills some random Bluetooth anomalies—including tumble-outs for the length of phone calls—that I couldn’t reasonably pin down as a pattern or teach within the occasion that they had been related to most likely interference. I might possibly presumably handiest kind issues by re-seating the headphones encourage in their case.

The PI7’s selling level is its codec give a improve to. The PI7 characteristic SBC, AAC, and Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec. Apple’s AAC codec delivers audio in 16-bit decision and a 44kHz sampling payment. I had no station connecting the PI7 to my iPhone 12 Educated or 2019 15-shuffle MacBook Educated by technique of Bluetooth.

Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive codec helps wi-fi high-res tune playback to your PI7 at as a lot as 24-bit decision and 48kHz sampling charges from sources that give a improve to the codec. AptX Adaptive is backward successfully matched with aptX Traditional and aptX HD. While high-res playback appears improbable on paper, it became once more problematic in put together.

I might possibly presumably now not join the PI7 efficiently to any of the Astell&Kern high-res digital audio gamers I had available, including the A&Okay KANN, SR15, and AK70 MKII. I couldn’t join the PI7 to my FIIO M9 high-res DAP, both. The PI7 paired, correct magnificent nonetheless would skedaddle into a join and disconnect loop on each and each machine.

I became once in a position to get the PI7 to work on my FIIO FX7221 and Pioneer XDP-100R high-res DAPs, nonetheless the compatibility points I encountered intended I couldn’t test the PI7 the use of an aptX HD connection for high-res tune playback.

Bowers & Wilkins

The B&W PI7 are also available in a matte white lift out.

A B&W representative said the company is aware of these points and believes the station is related to the aptX Adaptive codec. B&W is working with Qualcomm to be taught more. Within the period in-between, within the occasion you’re planning to pair the PI7 with a high-res tune participant, that probabilities are you’ll also fair be out of luck within the short time interval. With a cramped bit of luck, B&W and Qualcomm will identify the foundation region off rapidly and B&W will start a firmware update to fix the station. Frustrating as it became once, I did now not dock the PI7 any facets for this station since B&W is aware of it and is engaged on an answer.

A improbable listening skills

As I discussed above, the PI7 has a known station connecting to plenty of high-quit, high-res DAPs. I therefore tested the B&W PI7 on an iPhone 12 Educated, a 2019 15-shuffle MacBook Educated, a Fiio X7221 DAP and a Pioneer XDP-100R DAP. The Fiio and Pioneer use aptX Traditional. I frail my Roon Nucleus server to hasten tune to the iPhone 12 Educated, MacBook Educated, and Pioneer XDP-100R with notify from my native media library and Tidal. For the Fiio, I frail a diversity of high-res and CD-quality source recordsdata kept within the community on the machine.

The B&W PI7’s musical presentation for a pair of real wi-fi headphones is nothing in want of improbable. Music is prosperous, lush, dynamic, detailed, and appealing. B&W’s PI7 headphones possess a defined, layered soundstage with instruments and vocals placed firmly in location and time.

The PI7 beautifully rendered the enduring voices of Adele, Natalie Provider provider, Alicia Keys, and Bono. Amongst essentially the most intoxicating for the length of my review interval became once Andrea Bocelli’s vocals on “Tremo e t’amo” from his album Sogno. The hairs on fingers stood on quit as I became lost within the tenor’s vocals.

Bass strains on Katie Melua’s “Fancy is a Soundless Thief” had been deep and tight, with Ms. Melua’s vocals cleanly presented and layered in entrance of the instrumental soundstage. Bass strains on Sade’s “Soldier of Fancy” and Lorde’s “Royals” dropped in tight, detailed, authoritative bursts. Bass became once continuously controlled. The subsonic bass opening of Bonnie McKee’s “Effort” became once cranium-vibratingly intoxicating. As I’ve illustrious in varied opinions, when the use of the aptX codec I noticed continuously elevated larger bass. While some might possibly presumably fair love that extra improve, it tends so that you can add some bass bloat.

Bowers & Wilkins

The matte lift out on B&W’s case helps make sure it obtained’t stride out of your hand.

Piano notes are so complicated for any speaker—worthy less headphone—to nail, nonetheless that’s exactly what the PI7 did. The opening keys of Lana Del Rey’s “Mariner’s House Advanced,” Adele’s “Hi there,” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” had been plump bodied, tonally honest, and detailed.

I fully most well-liked the B&W PI7’s musical presentation. It’s a true winner.

A real wi-fi headphone with a stable fit

It’s many times a station for me to get in-ear headphone designs to suit successfully without falling out. B&W’s C5 in-ear headphones with their revolutionary loop affect are the appropriate fitting in-ear headphones I’ve ever frail. The loop continuously saved the headphones in my ears without them sliding out. 

While Apple’s AirPod Educated are among the many larger total real wi-fi headphones I’ve tried, they mute crawl out better than I’d love. That’s now not the case with the PI7—they are the appropriate-fitting real wi-fi headphones I’ve frail. The secret lies within the PI7’s elliptical shape that is designed to curve and lock into your ear’s concha. The twist and lock affect works and works extremely successfully—even for the length of energetic exercises.

The earbuds (now not the case) are IP54 rated for safety against dust and splashing water. This makes them ideal for sweaty exercises, and likewise you obtained’t safe to anguish within the occasion you get caught within the rain whereas strolling or jogging.

Dash any audio source thru the incorporated case

Within the sphere you’ll receive a pair of PI7 earbuds, a “natty” charging case (B&W calls it the ProCase), three sets of silicone ear tricks, a USB-C cable, and a USB-C to about a.5mm cable. So, what makes the ProCase natty? It’ll characteristic as a wi-fi transmitter for any external audio source the use of both of the incorporated cables. It’s freaking shiny and it if truth be told works flawlessly! Simply join the three.5mm to USB-C cable to an in-flight leisure system, your gaming console, your computer, or even a high-quit audio system and the audio world is streaming at your fingertips.

Bowers & Wilkins

The B&W PI7 provide a good, tight fit.

When I plugged the USB-C cable into my 2019 15-shuffle MacBook Educated, the B&W ProCase looked as an audio output machine in my sound control panel.  Selecting “B&W ProCase” as an output, I might possibly presumably then play any tune from my Roon media server to the PI7! I am unable to repeat you how improbable this characteristic is. While you happen to’re questioning, B&W told me that within the occasion you are streaming thru the ProCase, B&W uses the aptX codec between the case and the PI7.

The ProCase helps both USB-C and wi-fi charging. Not like the AirPod Educated’s case that opens spherical 110-levels, the B&W PI7’s case opens up handiest at a 90-stage perspective. I stumbled on this affect made it inclined to closing too without complications for the length of staunch-world use—even with the slightest nudge. I’d opt to appear B&W redesign the quilt to open wider in a future revision. Don’t be troubled in regards to the earbuds falling out, though; the case’s magnets withhold the earbuds snugly and likewise you’ll want more force than probabilities are you’ll presumably presumably safe to pull them out.

The ProCase has a conduct you’ll desire aware of: If I became once charging the ProCase by technique of USB-C on my MacBook Educated, and an iMessage or any varied audio came thru, the ProCase would start a Bluetooth connection and disconnect the PI7 from varied energetic connection. This isn’t a worm, it’s the anticipated conduct, alternatively inconvenient it must also fair be at cases.

Decent battery life

The PI7 are rated at as a lot as four hours for every and each earbud with an further four re-costs from the ProCase (16 hours in entire). I stumbled on the like a flash-payment characteristic to be extraordinarily truly handy; a 15-minute payment affords you roughly two hours of battery life.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The PI7 earbuds drain their batteries inconsistently, depending on which one is the vital and which is the secondary. 

There’s an asterisk to that battery life: The earbuds don’t drain uniformly. In my testing, I continuously noticed that one earbud’s battery drained some distance more rapidly than the assorted. If I didn’t recharge the earbuds, the adaptation reached as worthy as 37 p.c between the two (when one earbud would be fully drained, the assorted retained 37 p.c of its payment).

When I inquired about this discrepancy, a B&W representative said the earbuds characteristic in a essential (grasp) and secondary (slave) configuration, with the vital the use of more battery vitality. The grasp/slave project adjustments on every occasion you first use the machine, so the sooner-draining bud will alternate between the left and correct facet. B&W says more than one requirements resolve which unit is designated as predominant and which turns into secondary. My hunch from testing is that whichever one you pull out of the case first tends to alter into the vital.

Only realistic energetic noise cancellation

The PI7 be a part of the rising lineup of real wi-fi headphones with a suite of noise cancelling strategies. The PI7 uses three microphones on each and each bud in service of both phone calls and for adaptive noise cancellation. The buds visual show unit, analyze, and adapt their noise cancelling signals in step with your setting.

To get the quite a bit of the B&W’s noise cancelling strategies, you’ll want the accomplice cellular app for iOS or Android. The app affords a plump fluctuate of noise-cancellation strategies as successfully as overall battery info, Bluetooth connections, soundscapes, and varied settings.

I stumbled on the B&W’s noise-cancellation performance to be realistic. Working thru my frequent assessments of air purifiers, HVAC noise, and blasting airplane cabin noise at 92dB thru my in-ceiling speakers, the B&W got the job accomplished, nonetheless it completely didn’t wow me in any explicit dwelling. On the assorted hand, the PI7’s noise cancellation didn’t noticeably affect the tune the sort it does on many varied brands I’ve listened to.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG

The B&W PI7 and its natty charging case.

Ambient cross-thru (also every now and then referred to as transparency mode) lets sound from the open air world in, so that that probabilities are you’ll also fair moreover be aware of your setting. You region the stage of cross-thru by technique of a slider within the app, with “pure” on the center setting. B&W’s implementation doesn’t stay the pure feeling of spaciousness and sound that I get from the AirPods Educated. It attenuates the sound of the open air world too worthy and inconsistently unless transfer the slider to between 90 and 100 p.c. Increasing ambient cross-thru to this stage, alternatively, launched some enlighten and ceaselessly an unnatural sound balance. 

Conclusion

Has Bowers & Wilkins accomplished its purpose of a building an real wi-fi in-ear headphone that doesn’t compromise sound quality for consolation? In gargantuan portion, sure. While you happen to’re a predominant tune lover who can place up with about a kinks—especially as related to high-quit digital audio participant give a improve to (or await B&W to iron them out)— Bowers & Wilkins’ PI7 real wi-fi in-ear headphones are a sonic revelation.

Adding to the PI7’s wow part is the flexibility to hasten tune by technique of the ProCase, enabling you to play from a high-quit network source love a Roon server—that’s correct freaking shiny. If high-constancy internal most audio is what you study, that probabilities are you’ll also fair mute fully capture the PI7 for a spin.

Point out: While you happen to desire one thing after clicking hyperlinks in our articles, we are able to also fair invent a runt commission. Read our affiliate hyperlink policy for more facts.

  • The B&W P17 is an efficient searching real wi-fi in-ear headphone, no matter the compatibility points we encountered with some illustrious high-res digital audio gamers that the producer objectives to fix.

    Professionals

    • Heat, detailed, audiophile sound you obtained’t receive in most real wi-fi headphones
    • Balanced-armature drivers, plus dedicated amps for every and each driver
    • AptX Adaptive codec for 24-bit/48kHz streaming
    • Ingenious relay streaming from 3.5mm analog or USB digital sources
    • ANC doesn’t greatly affect audio quality
    • ANC and ambient cross-thru strategies are correct realistic

    Cons

    • Incompatible with some high-res digital audio gamers (firmware fix is within the works)
    • Unequal battery drain between the two ear buds

Theo Nicolakis is a C-Level technologist and digital communications professional. He’s also a passionate audiophile and residential theater aficionado.

Theme Majalahpro Design by Gian MR