Choosing between headphones and earbuds for travel gets more difficult as technology continually improves. However, having only ever been a premium brand in the headphone space, Bowers & Wilkins has entered the earbuds market with the PI7 and PI5 buds.
Bowers & Wilkins PI7 Earbuds
While there is no doubting the audio credentials of Bowers & Wilkins products, wireless earbuds are one market they were yet to venture into until they could deliver their signature sound without compromise. This feat now appears to have been accomplished with not one but two new models.
The new flagship PI7 and (ever) so slightly less spec’d PI5 share the beauty of Bowers & Wilkins design and craftsmanship to accompany that audio experience.
But, it’s the PI7 that has a very useful ‘party trick’ for frequent fliers!
It’s clear Bowers & Wilkins has focused on sound and design with its first true wireless Active Noise Cancelling earbuds as the PI7 headlines do hide, what some may consider, a sub-par battery performance.
Each bud has a 9.2mm driver unit and its own amplifier to deliver the “sort of superlative sound quality that is only available from Bowers & Wilkins”.
There are 6 microphones, 3 in each earbud, built into the PI7 for optimal noise cancelling from external sources. Bowers & Wilkins says that with 6 mics, the PI7 can continually adapt to your surrounding noises to ensure you get the best playback experience possible.
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Recognising the current day need for more than just audio, though, Bowers & Wilkins are putting those same 6 mics to good use for voice too. The PI7 earbuds have Qualcomm cVc2 echo-cancelling and noise-suppressing technology working with the microphones for better call quality and voice commands. PI7 is compatible with both Siri and Google Assistant.
To connect the PI7 earbuds to a device, Bowers& Wilkins has used aptX Adaptive Bluetooth, which promises a low-latency connection. This feature many wireless headphone brands continually push, but the tech is getting so good the improvement or difference is difficult to spot from one premium brand to another.
Shape & Design
This might just be me as I use more earbuds than most, but the PI7 earbuds look really comfortable and provide a secure fit, mostly inside the ear. They appear to be larger than some of the competition, although dimensions haven’t been published yet, so users with smaller ears may notice the size more.
We set out to make PI7 sound like our loudspeakers and designed them to sound open, focused, lavishly detailed and effortlessly dynamic.Bowers & Wilkins
The Bowers & Wilkins PI7 has three distinct sections to the earbuds. Firstly the ear tip with a silicone tip to give a perfect seal in your ear should come with a selection of sizes included, but this hasn’t been confirmed yet.
Then the main body comes in a choice of two colour options, Charcoal or White, and has the mic openings. On the external face is the touch control panel finished in a rather understated gold with the Bowers & Wilkins logo completing the look.
Charger Case with a Difference
A charging case is an expected feature of any wireless earbuds. With the buds getting smaller and smaller, the battery technology must continually improve to maintain playback time as the devices around them shrink.
At the time of launch, Bowers & Wilkins are only quoting up to 20 hours of playback from a fully charged case. This will most likely mean around 2 to 4 hours of ANC use for fully charged earbuds.
The case itself supports wireless charging or can be topped up via USB-C, but for travellers, the most important feature of the case is its unique Audio Retransmission feature.
There are standalone devices available that perform this function, but at present, no other wireless ANC earbuds case do this.
With Audio Retransmission, you plug the charger case into the headphone port on an aircraft seat or any audio device with a headphone jack. The case converts the audio into a wireless signal and sends it to the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds. There’s even a cable included!
There’s no doubt that the PI7 will get all the focus, but the PI5 buds are still a solid offering using the same 9.22mm driver and amp combo in each bud.
Where they differ, though, is with the PI5 housing only 2 microphones in each earbud; however, Bower & Wilkins say the voice quality is still of a very high standard and on par with others in the PI5 price range.
The charging case doesn’t come with the Audio Retransmission feature and instead has a larger power reserve as the quoted battery life for the PI5 is around 24 hours compared to the 20 on the PI7.
Bowers & Wilkins PI7 & PI5 Specifications Comparison
|Driver||9.2mm Dynamic||9.2mm Dynamic|
|Battery||Up to 2-4 hours with ANC|
Up to 24 Hours w/case
|Up to 2-4 hours with ANC|
Up to 20 Hours w/case
|Charging Case||Fast Charge|
|Voice Control||Google Assistant|
|In the Box||PI5 Earbuds|
USB-C to USB-C Cable
USB-C to USB-C Cable
3.5mm to USB-C Cable
Bowers & Wilkins PI7/PI5 Pricing
The Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds are priced at $399/£349, and the PI5 buds are $249/£199. Both models can be brought directly from Bowers & Wilkins.
I’m really looking forward to trying the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 earbuds out on a flight soon. When earbuds reach a certain price point, it becomes hard to justify buds when ANC over-ear headphones would most likely give a much better overall performance. But, I get why so many travellers still prefer the smaller, more discrete look of earbuds than headphones.
At the top end of the earbud market, there is the Apple AirPods Pro, Sony WF-1000XM3 and the Bose QuietComfort® Earbuds, all of which are most likely to be upgraded later in the year. These are great earbuds and getting close to half the price of the new PI7 buds. Therefore Bowers & Wilkins will need to deliver!
The inclusion of Audio Retransmission is great news for frequent fliers who may still enjoy the aircraft VOD rather than their own media on a laptop or tablet.