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Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: comfort and quality

Can these in ear noise cancellers keep pace in the fast moving, dog eat dog world of premium true wireless earphones?

When we looked at the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 headphones earlier in the year we liked them a lot. An awful lot. The drawback is that they were £349 and despite the awesome sound quality, it’s quite an ask at that kind of outlay.

The reason is that the true wireless market is red hot with superb rivals; Apple’s AirPods Pro, the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, Technics’ EAH-AZ70W, Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 2, Sony WF-1000XM4 and more.

So Bowers & Wilkins has an answer – the PI5 is a more price-competitive set that slips in under the £200 mark – still premium, but in a price range that more are willing to pay. Utilising Qualcomm aptX tech like so many rivals and available in white or charcoal, these buds just work; so many in-ear sets have connection problems and sync problems between the two buds.

None of that here – just glorious high-quality sound thanks to 9.2mm drivers. They’re a step up from the slightly more expensive AirPods Pro in our opinion. If you have an Android phone, they also support Google’s Fast Pair tech, too, though we found no issue with iOS.

The noise cancelling is active rather than adaptive on the PI7’s, while there are four mics instead of six to repel external sounds. There is a transparency mode that has a couple of presets, but you need to turn this on in the accompanying app. You can turn the noise cancellation on and off with a long-press on the left bud.

Wireless charging is also included with the case and there’s a nice large LED indicator to let you know when the buds are pairing or charging. The case lid feels a little like it could break off, but otherwise, the quality of the materials seems high. Battery life lasts around four hours out of the case, but there’s a full 24 hour charge in the case. A quick 15 minute juice-up will give you a few hours of playback.

You can summon Google Assistant or Siri using a long press on the right-hand bud. You do get used to the controls (other than the commonly used press once to pause music or answer the phone) but as with many other buds, it can be easy to initiate the wrong command unless you know what you’re doing.

The PI5’s are comfortable when in the ear (as you’d expect there are three sizes of tips included) and are actually pretty good to wear for a long period of time. But they do stick out of your ear a long way and like many other buds like this, they don’t look that great to others. 

Verdict

Although we were expecting a watered-down version of the PI7’s, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are anything but. Indeed, we loved the sound quality, the comfort, reliable connectivity and the noise cancelling is pretty decent. It matches or betters rivals including, crucially, Apple’s AirPods Pro.

Tech specs

Driver size9.2mm
Active Noise CancellationYes
Number of mics4
Water resistanceIP54 (buds only)
Fast charging15 minutes for two hours
Supported codecsAAC, SBC, aptX
Bluetooth version5.0
Case dimensions60 x 57 x 28mm