Bowers & Wilkins PI5 S2 Review
With the recent release of the Noble FoKus Mystique and the impending release of the Final Audio ZE8000, the new Bowers & Wilkins PI5 S2 (and PI7 S2, but that’s for a different review) is proving 2023 to be the year of premium wireless audio. At $300, the PI5 S2 is more expensive than its predecessor: the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 goes for just about $250. Does the PI5 S2 hold its weight in the emerging premium wireless tier? Let’s go over some of the practical and technical points before we jump into what these new Bowers and Wilkins wireless buds sound like.
What’s In The Box?
- Bowers and Wilkins PI5 S2 Wireless Earbuds
- Charging Case
- 3 Pairs of Silicone Ear Tips
- USBC Charging Cable
- User Manual
- Safety Guide
Wireless Review and Specs
|Specs||Bowers & Wilkins PI5 S2|
|Battery Life||5 hours playback in Buds, 19 more in charging case. 2 hrs playback/15 min charge.|
|Codecs||AptX, AAC, SBC|
|Microphones||2 per bud|
|Modes||ANC, Pass through (low and high), passive|
Some things to note before I jump into my personal experience. The following is all as-reported by Bowers and Wilkins:
-Upgraded the antennae design from the PI5 to give the PI5 S2 25 extra meters of distance in its wireless connection.
-The buds’ battery life has gone from 4 hours of playback to 5 hours.
-Better app connectivity, set up, and support.
As for my experience…
-ANC (Active Noise Cancellation): The usual concha-filling design in Bowers and Wilkins PI series provides pretty respectable passive cancellation, which is very well complimented by a strong active noise-cancellation on the PI5 S2. Higher pitched outside frequencies are still pretty audible, but the roar of the central air unit that I sit next to was reduced to a very faint hum. The ANC produced a very quiet hiss at times, but I had to focus in order to hear it, and couldn’t hear it at all when music was playing. All in all, the cancellation is on the upper end of average for wireless buds.
-Pass Through Mode: In the Bowers & Wilkins app listeners have some control over much outside noise they want entering their ears via the mics by choosing between Low and High Pass Through. I found the sound quality pretty decent; not the most natural, but not too harsh either. The “Low” option was pleasant enough, “High” was a little coarse and trebly.
-Microphone Call Quality: The mic picks up on the lower end of voices, and a little bit of that crunchy phone-quality tone is present. Maybe it’s not the crispest quality, but it’s clear enough to easily make out what someone is saying.
-Connection and Pairing: I download the Bowers & Wilkins app, followed some very simple instructions to connect, and I was good to go. Connection was easy, and I experienced just a couple of extremely brief cut outs when I listened for hours in a stable office environment. These issues were admittedly somewhat more frequent when I was outside on a busy midtown Manhattan street, but the PI5 S2 nonetheless performed better than most wireless buds I perform this test on – including the original PI5.
One somewhat wonky feature of the Bluetooth connection is that the PI5 S2 connected to my phone’s Bluetooth and the B&W app separately – at one point music was playing (thus connected to my phone), but the app was asking me to reconnect to the buds. I hit reset, heard about a second of garbled audio, and then all connections were back to normal. I had to reconnect to the app a couple of times over the full course of the day. This was mostly just a minor hitch, but still worth noting.
-App: Here, you can check the wireless bud battery status, choose between pass through modes, and turn ANC on and off. You can also link accounts you have on streaming services to play directly through the app. The UI and font is pleasant and refined. I’m a little disappointed that there’s no equalizer, but I didn’t really need one as I liked the PI5 S2’s balance quite a bit. I outlined my issues with the app in the Connection and Pairing section above.
Look and Feel
If you’re familiar with other units in Bowers and Wilkins PI series, you can probably skip this part. The PI5 S2 is seemingly identical to the PI5 and PI7 in its physical design – though a few new color options will be offered.
Bowers and Wilkins is a British company, but a lot of their designs seem Swedish in style: muted pastels, simple shapes, modern metallic details. I for one really like the look to their PI series. It looks accessible and chic – something I can see in the ears of casual listeners and audio nerds alike.
The buds are small and somewhat ovular, resting casually in a listener’s concha and filling it up to provide additional passive isolation. The circular metallic nub invites you to use it as a convenient handle for slipping the Bowers and Wilkins PI5 S2 into and out of your ears. The PI5 S2 provided an incredibly practical and comfortable fit that required virtually no fussing once I had the buds set in my ears.
The secure fit is a perfect match for the PI5 S2’s buds’ impressive IP54 waterproof rating, and gives listeners the greenlight to get a sweaty workout in.
The PI5 S2 shares a lot here with the original PI5. For one, it has the same 9.2mm dynamic driver. It also has the same subtle, semi-open back design, with a grill on the edge of the buds that points upwards towards the upper ridge of the ear. TWS+ technology is used to ensure a strong and accurate connection between the left and right buds. Most of the upgrades from the PI5 to the PI5 S2 seem related to wireless functions which I mentioned in the above section.
Within 10 minutes of listening, it was abundantly apparent that the PI5 S2 has simply exceptional staging and imaging for a wireless bud. The stage is adequately wide and forward facing, and the depth is particularly striking. It didn’t take much imagination to hear more subtle parts of tracks as if they were positioned at a distant angle from my face, or feel powerful bass slams on the back of my head. Lush stereo reverbs sucked me into a different headspace, and pans felt as if they traveled 180 degrees around my head. More than just being accurate and providing great separation, it was genuinely entertaining. Wireless units are notorious for struggling with their imaging and staging, so the PI5 S2’s vivid and engaging performance in this department was refreshing to hear.
The PI5 S2 has a fat and energetic low end that reaches deep. Beyond offering an impactful mid bass slam, subs came through loudly with a physical rumble that I could feel in my ear canals. High bass is notably present as well, and adds a persistent warmth to nearly anything the PI5 S2 touches. I’m particularly sensitive to high bass, so I’m pleased to say that I found it just controlled enough to mostly avoid any unnatural pillowy or congested timbre. The only time I felt critical towards the high bass balance was when I was listening to songs with loudly strummed acoustic guitars, which had their lower, humming fundamental a little overemphasized. However, this heavy and broadly boosted low end enhanced poppier and more electronic music, gluing together and fortifying bass lines and kick drums. So as I’ve pretty much already said, this low end balance wasn’t perfect for every genre, but the average pop or electronic listener is likely to fall in love with it.
The center frequency profile seems moderately V shaped – that is, emphasized low mids and high mids with somewhat attenuated center mids. The boost in the low mids was the most audible quality in this profile, and acted as a continuation of the warmth provided in the high bass. This is a risky area to boost in a balance, but the PI5 S2 does it right. Drums hit with an extra thump, and lower piano notes had a little extra meat in their vibrations. Lower vocal fundamentals were brought up, but served to soften vocals rather than muffle them. The PI5 S2 avoids its low end completely dominating its tone with a welcome ramp-up in the high mids that continues into its low and mid treble. It’s this high mids balance that keeps vocals sounding natural, with the amplitude in their high-mid overtones balancing out the extra weight in their fundamental.
Much to my pleasure, the PI5 S2 packs in some pretty bold treble. Most of its high-frequency weight is put into low and mid treble, giving electric guitar distortion and overdrive a bright and biting quality. Transients were expressed with a physically felt tap that seemed like bite sized pieces of the slam I was hearing and feeling in the mid bass. The extension on the high treble seems fairly reasonable, retaining a sense of realism while low and mid treble does most of the heavy lifting and coloration. Vocal air and sibilants had easy and breezy qualities, which mixed soothingly with their fundamentals’ warm, low mid emphasis.
I have to say, I’m extremely impressed with the Bowers and Wilkins PI5 S2. There are some minor issues with the app that can use some smoothing out, but I’m giving this one a MajorHifi Silver anyway. I see a bigger picture here; Bowers and Wilkins isn’t looking to make an obscure, premium wireless bud catered specifically towards audiophiles. Instead, it seems apparent that they’re going for the crown: a cool and popular look, an easy and comfortable fit, and an engaging stage with a great balance that is perfectly suited for mainstream listeners and audiophiles alike. Apple’s been put on notice; there’s no reason that the Bowers and Wilkins PI5 S2 can’t become one of the most popular wireless buds this year.
The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 S2 can be purchased here from Audio46.
|-Exciting, heavy low end that’s great for pop and electronic genres.
-Well balanced mids that are warm without sounding muddy.
-Bold treble that provides detail and lift, nice contrasting synergy with the dense lows.
-Excellent, vivid imaging with a fairly wide stage
-Solid Bluetooth connection
-Easy and comfortable fit
-Simple and cool look
|-Low end isn’t quite right for every genre
-Some minor hitches with the app
Compare the ranking of various headphones, earbuds and in-ear monitors using our tools.
Discuss this, and much more, over on our forum.---
MAJORHIFI may receive commissions from retail offers.