If TWS usually isn’t your thing, the only brand that can swing a true blue audiophile is the brand name that appears on the top lid of our review sample here - Bowers & Wilkins. Long associated with the unforgettable image of Alan Parsons tweaking knobs at Abbey Road Studios, this Brit brand has catapulted many a casual listener into audiophile notoriety. The PI7 is the flagship TWS model in their collection and the price tag doesn’t shy away from proclaiming it either. So what do you get for your cash aplenty?
Bowers & Wilkins PI7 Review
The first word that comes to mind when you pick up the softly rounded case of the PI7 is premium. The matte gold flip top lid has a nice click to it and the earbuds themselves have matte gold tips too that double as touch sensors for basic controls. Three different sizes of silicon ear tips are provided to find the most secure fit for your ear type. The twist and lock fit provides a great fit that doesn’t intrude too much into the ear canal but also attenuates a big chunk of the ambient noises passively. If you want to tackle the city traffic or a jet engine’s roar, there is ANC, which can be toggled on/off with a long press on the left earbud. A pass-through mode to let ambient sounds in can be selected via the accompanying app and honestly, it’s one of the few uses of the otherwise humdrum app experience. There’s no EQ on board, but you may want to use the app for future firmware updates.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the PI7 is its wireless re-transmission feature that lets you plug in the case via the supplied USB-C to 3.5mm cable to any external source like in-flight entertainment systems or older laptops that may not have Bluetooth. It’s actually a big deal because I have found myself carrying two sets of headphones on long-haul flights because sometimes you just don’t have the space, battery or the will to watch content on your own device all the time. It’s a seamless process and the PI7 switches from BT to wireless re-transmission the moment the case is plugged into a headphone out. Additionally, the case also allows another pair of Bowers & Wilkins headphones to be connected to it, making shared listening easier.
Being a Bowers & Wilkins though, hi-fi snobbery is a given and although the PI7 is a miniature representation of the brands’ prowess, it does have a 2-way driver system. Consisting of a 9.2mm dynamic driver for the lows and a balanced armature driver for the highs, the necessary HD codecs support the hardware via Bluetooth AptX Adaptive. This includes AptX HD, AptX Low Latency, AptX Classic and of course AAC for use with Apple i-devices.
Hitting ultimate potential like a roadblock is Apple’s closed ecosystem that doesn’t allow transmission with the AptX codec. So right off the bat, if you want the best possible sound quality from the PI7, use it with an Android device that is AptX compatible. Between our Samsung S22 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, using Apple Music, we clearly gravitated towards the Android device for critical listening due to the ability to transmit in 24-bit resolution. Whether it’s 24-bit on the Android or 16-bit on the iPhone that was making the difference, the level of engagement, clarity and overall soundstage depth was better on the S22 Ultra. The PI7 has an obvious bass boost to its tuning that emphasizes the low-end and depending on the track and recording, can get a bit much and even stressed out the dynamic driver on Be Your Man by Cub Sport. Thankfully, the PI7 redeems itself when it comes detail and resolution and it has plenty of both. Raiders March by John Williams is played back with verve and openness that makes it easy to find yourself in a swashbuckling western hunting for lost treasure. Even while you may actually just be waiting for your turn at the ATM. In typical B&W fashion, the midrange is recessed just the right amount to control the forwardness of instruments or vocals and it’s the characteristic that makes it easy to listen to them for long durations. Low level detail on acoustic music is superbly resolved and there’s a refinement to the sound that sets it apart from lesser competitors.
ANC on or off, the difference is hard to tell, especially indoors. Out on the road (or mid-air), the AirPods Max or Sony WF-1000XM4 both beat it in terms of noise suppression.
But, even though the PI7 digs deep for emotional impact, its inflated price tag stands as a haze between your ears and mind. After all, with so many great options under Rs. 20,000, at almost triple their asking price, the PI7 needs to sound at least thrice as good. And it doesn’t. In terms of battery life too, the roughly 3-4hrs of run time is supplemented by another four charges in the case, giving you a total of 20 hours or thereabouts, which is par for the course. The case does support wireless charging and even fast charging, which are both a plus and can juice you up for an additional two hours with only 15mins of charge time.
Not having multipoint BT doesn’t help if you want to shift seamlessly from watching Suits on your laptop to answering your lawyer’s call on the phone. This is a feature offered on much lower-priced TWS models nowadays, so again is a strange omission.
The legacy of Bowers & Wilkins puts some amount of pressure on its products and while the PI7 is hugely entertaining and enthusiastic in its presentation, it is far from neutral. Even then, this could’ve easily been a five-star sound and product if priced within the realm of its competitors. It blends premium aesthetics with materials and the ability to transmit from any analog source, which could be a game changer if you’re a frequent international traveler.
An expensive indulgence, but one that delivers on sound quality if you want to be entertained.
|1 x 9.2mm dynamic driver, 1 Balanced Armature
|10Hz - 20kHz
|AptX Adaptive, AptX Classic, AptX Low Latency, AptX HD, SBC, AAC
|up to 4hrs