STEREO GUIDE verdict
+ spatially convincing sound
+ deep, voluminous bass
+ sounds smooth, suitable for long term use
- Voices somewhat narrowed tonally, not very open
- bass sometimes too dominant and voluminous
- dynamics and level could be more
Sound: Tonal balance / transparency9
Sound: Bass / Dynamics8.8
Ease-of-zse / Connectivity9.3
Bowers & Wilkins, as a traditional hi-fi manufacturer, entered the business with TWS, i.e. True Wireless Earbuds, relatively late. With the Pi5, however, it managed to place a successful model with a focus on very good sound and a high luxury factor on the Bluetooth in-ear market. Now, after less than two years, it has a successor: the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2. It faces tough competition in the price range up to 300 Euros: Manufacturers like Sennheiser and Sony fight a tough battle in the segment of high-end in-ears with noise-canceling. Visually, it rather competes with the more expensive Bang & Olufsen Beoplay EX, which we recently had in review.
We do not find any major technical changes in the spec sheet. If you disregard the five hours of autonomous operation per battery charge instead of the previous four hours. The colors have changed a bit, besides two rather unimpressive matte grays there is now a pastel purple and in the future pastel green. In contrast to the somewhat plainly designed competitors, the Pi5 S2 is a real feast for the eyes with aluminum rings and matte surfaces.
The smaller Bowers have to do without technical treats like the wireless streaming case or the 2-way drivers of the top model Pi7 S2. A dynamic 9 mm driver alone ensures the implementation of the entire frequency spectrum. For this, the Pi5 S2s, which protrude a bit further from the ear but are sufficiently light at 6 grams, have six microphones per pair. These serve to improve speech intelligibility with sophisticated runtime recognition technology. But the noise-canceling should also be able to analyze external noise particularly well. You cannot manually influence the efficiency of the suppression, but the manufacturer promises automatic adaptation to different situations of external noise.
Bluetooth is used in variant 5.0. AAC and aptX are installed as high-quality codecs for music transmission, which means that both iPhone and Android users do not have to worry about a sonic bottleneck during Bluetooth transmission.
The case is used to store and charge the Earbuds. After five hours of Bluetooth operation without noise-canceling, these require a stay in the fairly flat and nicely rounded case, but are then partially charged after 15 minutes for another two hours of operation. The case itself can be powered via USB-C or wirelessly. In total, the manufacturer promises about 24 hours of operation with deactivated noise cancelling. By the way, this is a bit more than the heavier sister model Pi7 S2, which is explained by half the number of power amplifiers and correspondingly less amplifier power.
Finger exercise to start
Its compact and chic design, rounded on the opposite side of the flap attracted by magnetic force, does not allow the hard case to stand up to remove the earphones. And if you put it on one of the long sides, you have to be careful when removing the two magnetically fixed in-ears that the flap does not close by itself. Because both earpieces are firmly fixed and cannot be gripped easily, it is necessary to show some dexterity and not to accidentally call up the touch functions on the upper side of both Pi5 S2.
Functions limited to what makes sense
Feedback on the current status and functions is symbolized by a multicolor LED in the case. The usual functions can be conveniently controlled via the touch surfaces of the left and right earpiece. Especially the activation of the voice assistant, which is often used in practice, and the switching of the noise cancelling mode are very well solved. The latter can be activated really quickly. On the train or plane during an announcement, a real advantage to quickly get into transparency mode. The Pi5 S2’s sound is adjustable in two levels via the app and allows for really good intelligibility in the middle level without reverberating or clattering.
However, there is no quick and intuitive volume control via the multi-function buttons of both earpieces. The multi-assigned keys control playback functions such as play, skip or pause. They are also used to accept or reject calls and to activate/deactivate the ANC system. Also, depending on whether you use an iPhone or Android device, you can use it to call Siri or Google Assistant.
Streaming services in the app
With the S2 generation, the manufacturer promises that the True Wireless headphones are now fully compatible with the Bowers & Wilkins Music App. We already know the software, which is available free of charge for iOS and Android, from the Formation speakers and the Zeppelin Gen 4. However, it takes over rather rudimentary control functions in the Pi5 S2. After all, noise cancelling can be activated here as well as the two-stage transparency mode. And software updates also come to the in-ears via the B&W Music app. If you activate the wear sensor, the two earpieces automatically switch off after being removed from the ear.
The transmission quality of the Bluetooth connection can be adjusted in four levels, which means subtle effects not only on the sound, but also on the distance to the transmitter. However, we missed a tone control.
The Pi5 S2 with noise-canceling in real life
Three ear adapters in different sizes are supplied by the manufacturer. That doesn’t sound like much. However, the soft ear pads cover quite a wide range of ear canal diameters. After a bit of practice “screwing” them in, they also sealed well. However, we strongly recommend trying it out on your own ear canal, because especially the size step between medium and (the very large) large seems quite wide to us.
The water and dust resistance is specified with IP54. Not a record value and a reason not to drop the handsets into the water, but it should be quite sufficient for occasional downpours or sweat. We also found that although the Pi5 S2s protrude noticeably from the ear cups, they fit fairly securely in the ear canal. In any case, we did not miss a sports bar. The visually somewhat angular center section of the case fits very well in most ears and holds the earpieces. Unless the ears are generally too small, then the PI5 S2 could also push back a bit.
Made for travelers
Active noise-cancelling was similar to that of the larger Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2: evenly and naturally attenuated, but also not the strongest on the market. Ideal for train, plane and in the street noise and with a certain relaxation factor.
However, we also observed a very slight, high-frequency background noise in the Pi5 S2 in quiet rooms during playback pauses when ANC is activated. It was not quite as obtrusive as that of the Pi7 S2, but just as perceptible in a quiet apartment. Switching to noise cancelling “Off” eliminated the background noise, but directed the subjective focus to the low-frequency noise components from outside that were not cancelled then.
This is what the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 sounds like
In terms of sound tuning, the Pi5 S2 deviates somewhat from its more expensive brother (and the tonal ideal line). We would describe its bass range as “cinematic”: Like with a miniaturized subwoofer in the ear, low bass and upper bass took over a dominant role. This sounded absolutely impressive on older recordings, such as classic rock or soul, but can be too much of a good thing on many modern recordings. Yello’s “Point”, for instance, was abysmal, massive and blessed with a high fun factor in the bottom end, but the also somewhat soft low end seemed to slow down the rest of the freq spectrum a bit.
In return, voices seemed a bit more voluminous and direct than in the Pi7 S2. Depending on the recordings, this could bring a nice portion of extra melting into the brilliance – or it could be too much of a good thing, so that certain recordings then easily tipped over into obtrusiveness. We wouldn’t call that annoying, though, as the Bowers & Wilkins always remained clean and high-res in an unobtrusive way.
Its spatial representation was one of the B&W’s strengths in the test. achieved a balance of credible room size, pleasant vocal presentation and directness of central singers that is rare for in-ears. At least with pop and rock music. Classical recordings with a lot of reverb sounded with a somewhat exaggerated impression of width and depth, which was at the expense of clarity, dynamics and joy of playing.
Thus, the impression of a spectacular, yet audiophile-tuned in-ear remained. A TWS earphone that, when looked at critically, does not fit all music genres equally well, but can be a lot of fun with the right recordings or the right wearer. Especially if you are looking for a balance of wide spatiality and fat bass.
Conclusion, alternatives and market environment
The Pi5 S2 faces tough competition from almost all upscale brands in the segment. The Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3 narrowly pulls ahead from a hi-fi point of view with even more kick and differentiation in the bass. However, the German is also more merciless on bad recordings and delivers less spaciousness.
Specifications B&W Pi5 S2
- Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: 300 Euro
- Type: In Ear
- Transducer principle: Dynamic
- Weight: 6 g
- Features: Noise-canceling, app operation, 5 hours of operating time, 24 hours with recharging in case.
- More at: bowerswilkins.com.