With the arrival of the B&W PI5 and PI7 Bluetooth in-ear monitors, the famous British brand known for its loudspeakers is entering the True Wireless IEMs arena. Priced at €249 for the PI5 in-ear monitors with dynamic drivers and €399 for the hybrid model PI7, these IEMs are Bluetooth aptX compatible and feature active noise reduction and a transparency function. Will the B&W PI5 and PI7 be able to hold their own in an already crowded market?
Packaging and accessories
B&W’s PI Series in-ear monitors come in a small, discreet and compact cube-shaped box. Inside are the essentials elements for handling and using True Wireless in-ear headphones, including:
- a charging case
- a pair of B&W PI earphones
- 2 additional pairs of silicone ear tips (S and L)
- a USB-C to USB-C cable for charging the case
- a 3.5mm mini-jack to USB-C cable for the PI7
- a quick start guide
- a Warranty and safety precautions guide
As you can see Bowers & Wilkins doesn’t bother with a wide selection of ear tips and accessories. If one of the 3 pairs of silicone tips supplied works for you, that’s great, but if you can’t find the appropriate shape or size, that can be a problem.
Bowers & Wilkins has a reputation to uphold when it comes to design and ergonomics. Fitting into the mould is not an option for the British brand, which has always been able to distinguish itself by the unique aesthetics of its speakers. We are thinking in particular of the Formation range of speakers and their singular design or the iconic Nautilus model. B&W has risen to the challenge by creating in-ear monitors that are worthy of their lineage. With their modern look and curves that scream B&W, these IEMs are designed to offer the best possible listening conditions, another Bowers & Wilkins hallmark. At first glance one might think that these IEMs might be a little heavy or uncomfortable. But the brand has managed to offer a satisfactory solution, even if there is room for improvement. With eight grams per earbud and a design that balances weight optimally, the B&W PI5 and PI7 Bluetooth in-ear monitors fit well without being too noticeable. They’re not the most discreet or comfortable True Wireless IEMs we’ve ever used and a little discomfort can be felt after several hours of listening. Overall, however, they are satisfactory, especially considering their size.
The B&W PI5 and PI7 True Wireless in-ear earphones have an identical design with the exception of a finishing detail that distinguishes the two models. The top part of the earbuds has a small circular compartment that houses the touch interface. Below this is a larger plastic shell containing the microphones and transducers. The top part has the same color as the rest of the earbuds for the B&W PI5 and a metallic finish for the PI7, as does the case, which has the same color lid.
The B&W PI5s feature a 9.2mm diameter dynamic driver per earbud and have a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz. The B&W PI7s have a hybrid design, which is one of the main differences between the two models. The dynamic driver handles the bass and midrange frequencies, while the highs are handled by a balanced armature driver specially designed to reproduce this frequency range more accurately. Each transducer has a dedicated amplifier, making a total of four amplifiers for the B&W PI7 headphones. The PI7s also feature a dual microphone system compared to the single microphone of the PI5s. The PI7s therefore have one microphone specifically for calls and a second for active noise cancelling and the transparency mode. The B&W PI5 and PI7 headphones are also compatible with the native voice assistants of the associated device. This means that the built-in microphones allow you to use vocal assistants such as Google Assistant or Siri by simply activating the earphones’ microphone.
Bowers & Wilkins’ main reason for its late entry into the True Wireless IEMs market is that it was essential for the brand to be able to offer monitors that could deliver the sound quality for which B&W is known. That’s why the B&W PI5s and PI7s are Bluetooth aptX codec compatible, in addition to being compatible with the aptX Adaptive codec for the PI7s. The aptX Adaptive codec enables wireless transmission at up to 24-bit/48kHz, which is higher resolution than CD quality. B&W’s PI Series IEMs also feature multipoint Bluetooth transmission for pairing with multiple devices and easily managing multiple connections from the app.
Active noise cancelling and transparency mode
The B&W True Wireless PI Series earphones feature active noise cancelling and transparency functions. Each of these functions can be activated via the touch interface by placing your finger on the left earbud for one second for noise cancelling and the right earbud for transparency mode. Note that the latter automatically pauses playback. The active noise cancelling function combined with the passive isolation inherent in in-ear monitors is extremely satisfying. The PI7 headphones differ with their adaptive active noise reduction. This means that the dedicated microphones pick up outside sounds and adjust the level of noise reduction according to your environment to ensure optimal listening conditions, whether you’re walking down the street or in a relatively quiet place. With both the PI5 and PI7, not a single outside sound was heard during our listening sessions and the noise canceling even adds a bit of low-end punch, which is not necessarily an asset with all musical styles. We’ll look at this point in more detail later.
The transparency mode is also excellent. Despite the very good passive isolation of the B&W PI series, once this mode is activated, you can hear conversations and sounds around you very clearly. Finally, the built-in microphones also perform well when making hands-free phone calls indoors and outdoors. The B&W headphones have a battery life of four and a half hours on a single charge and a total of twenty-five hours with the case. The B&W PI7s have a slightly shorter battery life due to their more power-hungry design, providing four hours on a single charge and twenty hours of total battery life with the case. A quick 15-minute charge gives two hours of battery life with each model, so you can enjoy a long walk or listen to music while commuting to and from work.
The charging case for the B&W True Wireless PI Series earphones is relatively large compared to some of the competition and has a very ordinary design with no real aesthetic flare. It’s a far cry from the Zippo-like case of the Klipsch T5 or the Marshall Mode II charging case with its ultra-compact design and amplifier-like finish. Nothing special on the surface, but B&W has more than one trick up its sleeve and the charging case of the PI7s stands out in a unique way as it can be used as a Bluetooth transmitter. This means that the B&W PI7 headphones can be used with all devices featuring a 3.5mm mini-jack or USB-C output, whether they are Bluetooth compatible or not. All this while taking advantage of the aptX Low Latency codec. It’s an excellent idea implemented by the brand. Despite its ordinary appearance and its slightly larger than average size, the charging case of the B&W PI7 headphones offers a unique advantage and makes them extremely versatile. This means that you can enjoy Bluetooth aptX transmission even if your smartphone, tablet or DAP does not support the codec. It is also possible to enjoy YouTube, watch films or series and play video games without any lag between sound and image. The presence of the 3.5mm mini-jack to USB-C cable also means that the B&W PI7 can be connected to a hi-fi amplifier or even used to watch a film on a plane without having to deal with the hassle of a cable. However, note that the IEMs touch interface cannot be used to control playback when the box is used as a Bluetooth transmitter.
B&W Headphones app
The B&W Headphones app is another asset of the B&W True Wireless PI Series. Well designed and intuitive, it quickly recognises which monitors are being used (PI5 or PI7) and offers a number of extremely practical and well thought out functions. However, we regret the absence of a built-in equalizer, which is the only thing that stops the B&W application from being flawless in our opinion. In addition to the usual display of the autonomy of the headphones and the case, there is a control of the noise reduction and the transparency mode. The latter can be set to three levels (high, low, off) for the PI5s or precisely adjusted with a slider for the PI7s. The B&W Headphones app also allows you to manage the different sources to which the IEMs are connected, so you can switch between smartphones, music players, tablets and Bluetooth-enabled computers quickly and easily. The auto on/off feature can also be turned on or off from the app. While this may seem like a trivial feature, we particularly liked this option given the many problems we’ve had with the sensors on many Bluetooth headphones and in-ear monitors tending to pause the album or podcast when we haven’t removed the headphones. A pleasant surprise and another point to add to the score of the B&W application. Finally, it is also possible to play ambient sounds to be chosen from the app. A nice touch for those relaxing moments or if you want to sit comfortably on your sofa with a book and background music, the B&W Headphones app offers atmospheres such as the sound of waves, a forest, a campfire, a mountain stream, a waterfall or raindrops on a window. The B&W application is intuitive and makes the PI series in-ear monitors really simple and enjoyable to use. It is a shame that the app does not feature an EQ function.
- 9.2mm dynamic transducer
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
- Active noise reduction
- Proprietary digital signal processor
- Compatible with Siri, Google Now voice assistants
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Codecs : SBC, AAC, aptX
- Battery life: 4.5 hours + 20.5 hours (case)
- Quick charge: 15 minutes for two hours of battery life
- Hybrid design
- 9.2mm dynamic mid/bass driver
- Balanced armature transducer for treble
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
- Adaptive active noise reduction
- Proprietary digital signal processor
- Compatible with Siri, Google Now voice assistants
- Bluetooth aptX Low Latency transmitter box
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive
- Battery life: 4 hours + 16 hours (case)
- Quick charge: 15 minutes for two hours of autonomy
We paired the B&W PI5 and PI7 True Wireless in-ear monitors with a smartphone to listen to tracks stored on the internal memory in MP3 320 kbps and WAV files in CD quality. We also watched videos from YouTube on our smartphone by connecting the B&W PI7 IEMs case to the 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output. Lastly, we paired them with a Nintendo Switch to test the Bluetooth aptX Low Latency transmission with video games.
During our test with the Nintendo Switch the transmission seemed to lag slightly between the sound and the image during the first few minutes, but this latency soon disappeared. Synchronisation when watching YouTube videos from our smartphone was flawless. A very practical solution for enjoying a wide range of sources and for taking the B&W PI7 IEMs on long flights.
House of Pain – Jump Around (16 bits / 44 kHz)
The B&W PI Series headphones delivered this track with great energy and rhythm. The song’s iconic beat filled up the soundstage and the vocals were clear and well-defined. The PI5s delivered a warm sound and deep bass, while the PI7s provided better dynamics and additional bite.
Roky Erickson – Night of the Vampire (16 bits / 44 kHz)
The PI5 and PI7 IEMs delivered a great performance with this track recorded in 1979 and released in 1981. The vintage production was reproduced very naturally by both models. The bass was round and warm, the drums were perfectly in place and the guitar and keyboard ensemble filled up the soundstage, offering a homogeneous background to accompany Roky Erickson’s voice without drowning it.
Joe Hisaishi – One Summer’s Day (24 bits / 48 kHz)
B&W’s goal of offering True Wireless in-ear monitors that deliver true hi-fi performance was a hit with this track from the soundtrack of Spirited Away. With this high resolution version, the PI series in-ear monitors offered a listening experience that could rival some wired models. Especially the B&W PI7s, which were strikingly dynamic and natural-sounding for true wireless models. The piano sounded rich and detailed, while the string instruments sounded natural. The crescendos were reproduced with great ease and sounded natural. The B&W True Wireless PI Series IEMs will delight fans of classical music and film scores.
Deftones – Hexagram (24 bits / 96 kHz)
Considering that the B&W PI5s feature a single 9.2mm dynamic driver per earpiece, we were expecting a bass-heavy signature with more aggressive, modern production tracks. This is indeed the case, but to the point where the listening experience can become unbalanced or even stuffy at times. This is a bit of a disappointment coming from B&W, as we didn’t think that they would follow the path of many brands opting for particularly emphasized lows. The bass guitar was very present and the kick drum impacts as well as the guitars would have benefited from a little more softness and restraint. It was difficult to focus on the rest of the sound stage as this register seemed to be so prevalent. This defect did not particularly disturb the listening with less muscular styles or older recordings, but it was very noticeable here. However, the PI7s were much more balanced and at ease. The soundstage was wide and spacious, with all the instruments filling up the space in a harmonious way. The balanced armature driver reproduced high frequencies with great clarity and the hybrid design with dual amplifier module of the B&W PI7 IEMs proved to be very musical and capable of keeping more aggressive musical styles under control.
Epos GTW 270: The Epos GTW 270 Hybrid in-ear monitors are in the same price range as the B&W PI5. The EPOS IEMs are more versatile, feature an aptX Low Latency dongle and also have the upper hand when it comes to sound as they offer a more balanced listening experience. However, the B&W PI5s have a longer battery life, as well as active noise cancelling and transparency functions that can be very useful. The B&W PI5s are therefore more suitable for use on the move.
Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2: These competitors to the B&W PI7 True Wireless in-ear monitors feature a single 7mm dynamic driver, but still have a frequency response of 5Hz to 21kHz. With a total battery life of 28 hours with the charging case, they are best suited for long journeys. With their aptX Adaptive compatibility, hybrid design and Bluetooth Low Latency Transmitter charging case, the B&W PI7s offer a more dynamic, natural and detailed sound and greater versatility. In terms of sound quality, the B&W True Wireless IEMs take the cake.
Who are they for?
B&W’s PI Series in-ear-monitors are aimed at people looking for True Wireless IEMs that offer rich sound and support aptX transmission. Particularly suitable for everyday use at home, in the office, while commuting or walking in the streets, they are packed with convenient features and can be worn for an hour or two before they really start to make their presence felt. The B&W PI5s are primarily aimed at fans of acoustic music, orchestras and retro productions. The B&W PI7s, on the other hand, are made for all styles and will reproduce all types of music in a natural and dynamic way.
The B&W PI7 IEMs clearly stand out with a balanced, detailed and natural sound signature thanks to their hybrid design and versatility due to the Bluetooth transmitter charging case. While the PI5s inherited many of these qualities, it is regrettable that the bass can be too invasive and out of control with certain musical styles. A built-in equalizer in the B&W Headphones application might have allowed us to adjust this little flaw that prevents the PI5s from receiving all the praise their big siblings received.
- The balanced and dynamic sound signature of the PI7s
- The richness of the registers
- The Active noise cancelling function
- The transparency mode
We would have liked
- Better controlled lows for the PI5s
- An integrated equalizer in the application