Bowers & Wilkins PI4 vs PI3 Review

I recently reviewed the Bowers & Wilkins PI4. And while I admit that it had a rich and pleasing sound signature, my overall conclusion was that it was a tad overpriced for what it offers. So, I was curious to see how the much more affordable PI3 performed in comparison. Many reviews have already been written about both of these models. So this review is for those who are already familiar with at least one of these models but need a comparison before they take the plunge. Which B&W model should you invest in? Let’s take a look in this Bowers & Wilkins PI4 vs PI3 Review.

Bowers & Wilkins PI4 vs PI3 Review

FIT

While both models provide the same level of sound isolation, I found the PI3 a little more comfortable. The PI4 sports wider eartips, so it feels a little more obtrusive.

PI4 is displayed on the left in black. The PI3 is displayed on the right in grey.

Both B&W PI models employ earfins, but the ergonomics slightly differ

DESIGN

Functionality

Both headphones have a 3-button remote that allows you to control all the standard functions, such as play/pause, track skipping and volume control. But of course, the main reason that the PI4 is $100 more expensive than the PI3 is that it provides an active noise-cancellation feature. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI4 vs PI3 Remotes

Active Noise-Cancellation

So, yes the PI4 offers ANC. But to be honest, when comparing the PI4 (with the ANC turned on) and the PI3, the difference was very slight. Both models are so effective in isolating sound that the ANC may prove unnecessary.

The PI4 has ANC, while the PI3 does not

Call Clarity

The call clarity is about the same on both models. But the caller noted that the high frequencies of my voice were more audible on the PI3. And because her ears are sensitive to high frequencies, she preferred the PI4. TMI?

Battery Life and Charging

The PI4 wins in this department, giving 10 hours of battery life compared to the 8 hours offered by the PI3. But both headphones are quick to charge thanks to the USB-C charging connection.

Supported Codecs

Both models support AAC and aptX.

SOUND

Low Frequencies

About the same level of bass response here. That is, both models offer a generous level of low-end presence. However, the resolution is slightly better on the PI3. And as a result, the PI3 shows a little more color and feels a tad more dynamic. And listening to acoustic instruments in this range, the PI3 feels a more detailed and natural, while the PI4 displays a more “smoothed over” performance.

Middle Frequencies

The PI4 and the PI3 share the same balance in this range. That is, the upper mids have a little more presence than the slightly recessed lower mids. But again, the difference lies in the level of transparency. In contrast to the PI3, the PI4 just feels a little veiled in its presentation. Now, this difference is less than glaring. But when you listen to these two models side by side with a critical ear, the contrast is certainly noticeable.

High Frequencies

Listening to percussion at the high frequency peaks, the PI4 sounds a touch more blunted than the comparatively crisp feel of the PI3. I guess the upside of the PI4 is that it’s slightly easier on the ears for folks who are sensitive to high frequencies. 

Soundstage

The PI3 feels more spacious than the PI4, while the imaging feels slightly more multidimensional as well.

PROS and CONS

B&W PI4

Pros: Smooth and easy listening sound; good sound isolation; snug fit.
Cons: Resolution not as good as the cheaper, PI3.

B&W PI3

Pros: More clarity than the more expensive PI4; good sound isolation; snug fit.
Cons: Battery life only 8 hours.

SUMMARY

I try never to take sides, but I think this one’s a no-brainer. Unless you’re willing to pay an extra 100 bucks for marginally better noise-cancellation and 2 extra hours of battery life, then you should probably go for the better sounding and more affordable, PI3. 

You can find both of these models for the best price here:

Bowers & Wilkins PI4 at Audio 46

Bowers & Wilkins PI4 on Amazon

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 at Audio 46

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 on Amazon

SPECS

Bowers & Wilkins PI3

Bowers & Wilkins PI4

Battery Life 8 hours 12 hours
Codecs AAC, aptX AAC, aptX
USB Type USB-C USB-C
Weight 1.1 oz 1.4 oz

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