British audio legends Bowers & Wilkins have stepped into the earbud market for the first time with two models of new wireless earbuds. The company is focusing on sound quality first, but has also slipped in some seriously cool features.
In a market flooded with a diverse range of affordably priced but mediocre earbuds, the relative lateness of Bowers & Wilkins is good news for audio quality. The West Sussex equipment producer was established in 1966 and has been making much bigger speakers for a long time (they’re also the official “headphones and loudspeaker partner” of Abbey Road Studios.
None of this history is to suggest that the technology is behind the times. The new earbuds called simply PI5 and PI7, are high end models with some thoughtful touches.
Where Bowers & Wilkins has really stepped up is in sound quality. They’re boasting 24-bit audio connection, quad amps and advanced DSP. The PI5 is designed for high quality synchronization between the buds for their CD-quality playback, with user-selected noise-cancelling settings.
Meanwhile, the PI7 is delivering a bespoke 9.2mm drive unit made by Bowers & Wilkins, and a 6-mic array to support its adaptive noise-cancelling.
One of the coolest features from either model is the PI7’s first-of-its-kind retransmission capabilities. Essentially, they’ve added a wireless transmitter to the case, which can connect to other audio devices via a physical connection (USB or 3.5mm jack). Usually you need a third-party dongle to make another set of headphones work this way—Bowers and Wilkins made it an innate capability of the case.
Is that sort of convenience of use to you? Maybe, maybe not. Access to airline entertainment audio sounds great, though. And if you’re the type of person who enjoys older technology (earlier iPods for instance, or the various handheld game consoles out in the world) then this might be a huge win.
The battery life on the two models is good-not-great: the PI5 will get you 4.5 hours. While the more powerful PI7 will only get you 4. Both models offer wireless charging and quick charges, as well as noise cancellation.
It’s a use-case question: are you going to be putting the kind of uninterrupted miles on these every day for battery life to be a concern?
Some early reviews have been impressed with the sound quality coming from these, and with the extras in quality and functionality, maybe battery is worth the sacrifice. If you agree, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 and PI7 are both available this week. But you may want to consider the price first.