I recently tested out Bowers & Wilikins’ new Pi7 S2, and had mixed feelings about the overall sound signature and performance given the significant price. So, I was curious about how the more affordable Pi5 S2 compared in terms of balance and skill. Can the Pi5 S2 compete with the Pi7 S2 and end up being a better bang for your buck?
In the Box
- Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 Earphones
- Charging Case
- USB-C Charging Cable
- User Manual and Safety Guide
Look and Feel
Though the physical design of the Pi5 S2 definitely sports that elegant Bowers & Wilkins style with top notch build quality, the color choices are a little more playful than those of the Pi7 S2: white (featured in this review), the standard black, and pale purple. Clearly, B&W have let their hair down. The earbuds are also light, offer a good seal, and feel comfortable even during long listening sessions. So, no complaints here. The charging case is a little on the larger side, but its skinny, so it won’t make your jeans bulge in the wrong place.
Unlike the Pi7 S2, which employs two drivers – one dynamic and one balanced armature – the Pi5 S2 is designed with only one dynamic driver to cover the entire frequency spectrum.
Like Pi7 S2, the Pi5 incorporates active noise-cancellation. It’s somewhat effective at eliminating ambient sound, but I still heard myself tapping on the keyboard and the sound of my colleague opening her gyro sandwich. You’ll also get a transparency mode, which lets in sound from the outside environment. Great for ordering coffee or watching ambient TV. You won’t get as much control over these two modes via the app as you would on the Pi7 S2, but who needs all these bells and whistles anyway. You’ll also get all the usual functionality with a few taps on the earpieces, allowing you to play/pause, skip tracks, answer/decline calls, yadi yada.
Calls sounded clear, but the headphones picked up a lot of surrounding noise, like the rubbing of my parachute pants when I changed positions in my chair. But I didn’t run into any dropouts during calls or music listening sessions.
Curiously, both the Pi7 and Pi5 employ the older, Bluetooth 5.0 version. But it didn’t seem to have any effect transmission stability. Also, unlike the Pi7, which supports aptX Adpative, Pi5 can only pull off aptX, AAC and SBC Bluetooth codecs.
The other element missing on the Pi5 S2 is the audio retransmission capability, which allows you to transform a wired source into a wireless connection. This is the huge plus of the Pi7 S2. It’s is useful for when you’re on a plane, for example, and want to watch a movie on the onboard screen. With the Pi7, you can connect the charging case via cable to the headphone input, and listen wirelessly through your earbuds.
There’s some decent width to the soundstage, though, at times, the thick bass makes the overall space feel slightly cramped. Still, there is a bit of depth and height here, and you can certainly hear instruments placed behind the ear and above the head. And degrees in placement long the vertical axis feel clearly defined.
Upon first listen, the bass on the Pi5 S2 almost feels less heavy and overwhelming than the Pi7 S2. That being said, the low-end on the Pi5 S2 is still generous and satiating, delivering plenty of punch to pop tracks and some nice warmth to acoustic genres as well. It is, of course, less detailed than the Pi7 S2, smoothing over some of the nuances in string instruments. But still for the price, it’s got a decent level of clarity.
Like the Pi7 S2, the Pi5 S2 suffers from a touch of cloudiness in the low mids, as the bass sometimes creeps into this range. But the upper-midrange offers a clearer picture. So genres like folk have a cleaner sound overall. And that’s when the Pi5 begins to show off some of the famous Bowers & Wilkins sound characteristics. Acoustic guitars are handled tenderly, and there’s steadiness and smoothness to overall sound profile. The Pi5 S2 is also quite a bit more dynamic than the Pi7, highlighting female vocals more and giving percussion a little more oomph.
There’s some nice detail in this range, revealing velvety breath in vocals and nuances in timbre with respect brass and string instruments. And again, there’s a pleasing fluidity to the sound in this range. At the same time, the Pi5 S2 never holds back on the highest treble registers, offering sparkle and extension on funk and classical tracks. In fact, like in the upper mids, the highs seems to be where these earbuds most excel.
Although the Pi5 S2 is perhaps less detailed than the Pi7 S2, it was just as enjoyable for me to listen to. So, if you can forego a little transparency and want to save yourself 100 bucks, the Pi5 S2 is a solid alternative to B&W’s relatively expensive flagship model. Unfortunately, the only thing missing on the Pi5 is the analogue adapter that comes with the Pi7. But hey, no such thing as a free lunch.
You can buy the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 at Audio 46.