It’s been a while since Bowers & Wilkins first launched the PI5. It was released simultaneously with the PI7, now their flagship true wireless model. The PI5 offered a different flavor for those looking for a set of earbuds that put sound quality first. After over a year, B&W has released a new version of these earbuds with the new S2 versions, much like what they’ve done previously with the PX7. This always calls for comparisons between the old and new, and today we’re going to do that with the PI5 and the PI5 S2.
What You Get
Aside from the charging cases being different colors, you’ll find no difference between the two earbuds in terms of their packaging. They both come with the same user manuals, safety guides, USB type C charging cable, and extra tips.
Look and Feel
The original PI5 and PI7 were available in white and charcoal variations, and the new versions add one new color for each new model. The PI5 S2 adds a purple color variation, adding some variety the the series as a whole. I’m doing this comparison review with the new purple PI5 S2 set up against the white version of the original PI5. I like the new color, but outside of that, build and comfort are pretty much the same. It’s a great design though, so I’m not surprised they kept it the same. With a little twist, the PI5 and S2 will sit in your ear comfortably without issue.
Design and Functionality
I didn’t find the S2 to be the upgrade I was looking for when it came to features. Both versions of the PI5 offer ANC and passthrough modes, and they retain marginal differences in quality. In the grand scheme of things, neither set of earbuds are going to offer the strongest ANC, or even the best mic quality for that matter, but they should still be effective enough. Touch-surface controls are also very responsive on both sets of earbuds too, giving you good feedback to the various actions being used. There are currently no major updates to the companion app, and still possesses very limiting features.
I’m not sure why B&W didn’t decide to go to Bluetooth 5.2 with the PI5 S2. This makes the S2 still feel like it’s apart of the last generation of true wireless products. I don’t think the transmission really suffered though, as I didn’t experience any dropouts or Bluetooth related issues while using the PI5 S2 or the original for that matter. You’ll find both earbuds also feature aptX CODECs.
The S2 adds one more hour of battery life to its playtime off of one charge, making the total 5. You only had four hours off of one charge with the original PI5, but I wouldn’t say this is really a huge upgrade in any way.
I remember being fairly surprised by the width and imaging on the PI5. It was linear but expansive, adding a good amount of separation between instruments. The S2 version keeps the same experience while adding even more precise imaging. Sound elements felt more easily localized in the mix, with even more room to play in. Some instruments and vocals perform in more identifiable layers, like they’re properly stacked on top of and behind each other for added depth. The soundstage on the PI5 S2 is one of its best upgrades from the original release, with more effective pans and sonic identity in the mix.
Neither model lacks in the bass, but there’s something more special about the PI5 S2. With the original PI5 the bass was very realistic and came off with a clean timbre. It’s well controlled throughout the frequency response, but the S2 goes further with its bass expansion. The bass on the S2 crawls a lot deeper than the previous version, with the sub-bass being way more of a factor. You get a more filled out tone, reasonably thick, reaching down to the tip of your throat.
This is the only area where the S2 doesn’t feel like an upgrade to the sound quality. This might be true for texture, but the original PI5 didn’t have this much recession in the midrange. The original PI5 had a bit more neutrality, but responded in a more balanced fashion. Everything felt more even compared to the new v-shaped pattern of the S2. However, that’s a timbre you may enjoy more, and I actually ended up preferring it in the long run. The S2 just feels more fun to listen to overall, offering more coloration to instruments and vocals.
Both the PI5 and the S2 have wonderfully smooth treble responses. They combine accurate brightness and wispy textures to make the tone go down easier. The S2 might be a bit more refined and feature more air, but both should satisfy those looking for a shimmer to hi-hats and crash cymbals.
It seems, the only places where there are significant upgrades to the PI5 S2 are in the sound department. That’s probably what most of us are expecting, but the technical aspects of the S2 are still a bit of a let down. If you don’t mind those parts, then I would say the S2 works best as a different flavor to the original. Its bass is more impactful, and the imaging is a lot more immersive. Those who might like a more balanced sound signature might want to stick with the original PI5, and it’s probably more worth it if you can get it at a reduced price. Overall, neither seems like they’re at the cutting edge of the true wireless market, but have something to offer nonetheless.