The English brand Bowers & Wilkins has the rightfully deserved status of a legendary manufacturer, their speakers are often among the models that have been talked about for many years and that determine current trends in hi-fi. This is a very decent performance for a company that offers no exotic high-end creations, but rational and generally acceptable products. In recent years, however, B&W has also focused on headphones, from the classic high-end to in-ear true wireless models.
At the very top of the range is the active PI7 model, fully wireless in-ear headphones, equipped with noise suppression technology and an elegant rechargeable case.
Appearance and construction
PI7 are available in gray / gold or white / gold color scheme, they are among the slightly larger headphones, but they still fit perfectly in the ear canal (thanks to a wide range of terminals), they sit in the earlobe area thanks to a pleasantly shaped body made of valuable material. Only a gold round tip with touch pads protrudes from the ear for quick control.
On the body of the headphones you will find elegantly recessed holes for microphones, which are of course used both for calls and for capturing the surrounding noise, which the headphones then filter using adaptive noise cancelling. The degree of adaptation is very good, except for really sharp gusts of traffic, everything is dampened as if behind a thick wall.
The case is also worth mentioning – it works not only as a rechargeable one (so the standard four-hour endurance lasts almost all of your listening thanks to recharging), but also as a retransmission station. In other words – you connect the case via USB to your computer and it works as an external audio device that transmits the sent signal to the headphones. It’s a great solution for anyone who can’t need to connect headphones to a computer directly via Bluetooth. You can charge the case itself via USB-C and wirelessly.
Technically, the PI7 builds on a pair of drivers – one is the classic “tube” Balanced Armature tweeter, the other is a more classic woofer with a diameter of 9.2 mm. The manufacturer doesn’t really say anything else, but that’s perfectly common in this segment.
However, you will learn about Bluetooth 5.0 support with aptX Adaptive and aptX HD technology (and all the important codecs and profiles), as well as the frequency range 10 – 20,000 Hz and total harmonic distortion below 0.3% (1 kHz / 10 mW) .
It’s also worth discussing the accompanying application – you don’t necessarily need it, but it’s worth paying attention to. It’s called Headphones, it’s fast and non-violently clear. After adding headphones, you always just tap, the application will connect and you can set. Firstly, you can see the state of charge of the headphones and the case, then you can turn on noise suppression, or its automatic superstructure (it adjusts the ambient level) or the degree of passage of ambient noise (so that you do not run over the car). You can also manage which devices the headset connects to and, of course, request a firmware update or (de) activate the wear sensor.
The third page in the application is atypical, offering a total of six “ambient sounds” – there is a waterfall, rain behind the window, sunset by the sea, wind in the autumn forest, a campfire and a lush stream in the mountains. You can set the amount of time that a given background sound will play and it’s honestly amazing; you can cut yourself off from the world around you and you don’t even have to be online. From personal experience, we can say that it creates a very pleasant environment for concentration.
How it plays
As with all headphones of a similar type on the border of lifestyle and the higher hi-fi world, the PI7 has a slight emphasis on the bass segment. The banging of the bass in “Remember Hymn” by Robert Balzar Trio and John Abercrombie (“Tales” | 2008 | Robert Balzar | 9802115026 2) sounded concrete, but not dry-tight, it was a relatively juicy and palpable bass. But it is known that B&W is not a pompous and effective brand, prim still plays a purely played and well-defined tone.
The voice, guitar and various sound effects in “While I Play” from the album “Life in a Tin Can” by Bee Gees (1973 | Polydor | 833 788-2) sound very clean, but also not hard, maybe it’s still possible slightly “shaping” the presence of deep tones. The sound is full, juicy and well defined, easy to read, but not expressive or perhaps even explicitly explicit. The emphasis on possible hissing and sharpness, for example on the country-sounding violin, is also prevented by the fact that you do not expose the PI7 to high levels where you would be in danger of permanent hearing damage – very loud yes, but not to extremes.
The sharp, penetrating and wild highs in the extravagant “Meeting of the Spirits” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (“The Inner Mounting Flame” | 1998 | Columbia | 9802115026 2) are pleasantly specific over the PI7, but at the same time slightly smaller in proportion due to clearer bass and so on. the core track is not offensive and tiring. It is an interesting mix of a good feeling of metallicity and sound with non-aggressiveness. In any case, cymbals have structure and good purity without being dominant in any way.
Gershwin’s “American in Paris”, performed by the two pianos of the Labéquus Sisters and the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly (1987 | Decca | 466 424-2), is quite well-trodden and the headphones handle all the poetic twists and rocking shouts of the orchestra without feeling any muffled – the forceful sounds of the various percussions are clear, fast and fresh, but perhaps a little smoother and less biting than in reality, but the breaths have a range as well as the string section and overall the dynamics affect the proportions of small headphones as you would expect from a famous manufacturer . It’s a high standard of controlled energy from the bottom of it (as only acoustic instruments can do). But the overall impression is rather “calm”.
Szymanowski’s “King Roger” performed by the Birmingham Orchestra under the baton of Sir Simon Rattl (2008 | EMI Classic | 50999 5 14576 2 4) is full of modern musical twists and layered compositions, headphones play casually, do not draw the latest nuances and still hear the thin sound of a triangle over there in the background, the voice sounds as clear and legible as the violin, they don’t interfere with each other and even though it’s not a piercing sound but rather softer, it’s an honest hi-fi as it should be.
Mozart’s “Allegro Moderato” from his second violin concerto K211 performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter (Philharmonia Orchestra & Riccardo Mutti | “Violin Concertos Nos. 2 & 4” | 1998 | EMI | 5 65539 2 7) sounded pretty spacious – it still is Of course, the headphone stereo inside your head, however, the continuous scene and the good perception of the right-left space with a slight overlap in depth already create a nice experience with good orientation in the recording.
The PI7 character fits perfectly with the pop classic “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush (“Hounds of Love” | 1997 | EMI | 7243 5 25239 2 4) – the rhythm drums stand out thanks to the slightly more elongated bass part of the spectrum, easy to understand, the heights are calmer, but still clear enough. Everything is mainly well connected, tireless and rather smoothly non-violent.
PI7s are already more expensive in-ear headphones, yet if we take into account the premium brand and the fortunately associated premium manufacturing quality, we add a smart charging case, providing not only protection and energy, but also an interface for non-Bluetooth sources and pack it into a good, pleasant, albeit slightly more effectively balanced sound, we get a premium product for those who want to listen relaxed, level and not necessarily purist anytime and anywhere – the fun is beyond absolute authenticity.
Good noise cancelling, working without problems even in airplanes or city traffic and surprisingly pleasant relaxation modes are just the icing on the cake. Bowers & Wilkins PI7 are not purist high-end, but they are definitely premium among wireless in-ear headphones. That’s why we paid for the tested sample and decided to use it for personal use…
Bowers & Wilkins PI7
- Body material plastic, metal
- Converters dynamic, 9.2 mm
- Active noise reduction
- Frequency range 10 to 20,000 Hz
- Harmonic distortion <0.3% (1kHz / 10mW)
- Water resistance IPX4
- Bluetooth 5.0
- Bluetooth codecs SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive 24-bit
- Charging USB-C and wireless charging
- Battery life 4 h + 20 h with case
- Compatibility Bluetooth 5.0, codecs SBC + AAC + aptX Classic + aptX HD + aptX Adaptive
- Mass 7 g headphones, 47 g case
Editor’s note: The author is the editor-in-chief of HiFi Voice magazine, the article was taken from HiFi Voice