With the PI4, Bowers & Wilkins deliver another superbly well-equipped neckband in-ear with two 14.2mm full-range drivers, three different aptX codecs, Bluetooth 5.0 with multipoint capability, adaptive noise reduction and a good app which enables you control and customise many of the features.
The PI4 comes in an elegantly designed cardboard box, but they are not lightweight; the controls and all the technology are encased in metal, there are magnets inside the headphones which are also enclosed in a metal housing, and then there is the battery. It all adds up – to 40 grams, to be exact; fortunately, all the weight rests on your neck and doesn’t pull on your ears. There are no complaints about in these headphones in terms of wearing comfort.
Bluetooth 5.0 and more
The coupling process is initiated by pressing the main switch for five seconds. It works straight away and the app – if already installed – immediately indicates the successful connection. Thanks to Multipoint, the PI4 can connect to a MacBook and to an iPhone at the same time; this allows phone calls to be received while music is being streamed from the other device. This is extremely practical and the app allows you to utilise it without interruption.
Thanks to there being three pairs of ear moulds and hooks included in the package, the right combination of fit can quickly be achieved. Pressing the middle of the three stylish looking buttons starts the music, although the pressure point was a little too spongy for me. In our test this is initially “Collaborations” by Ed Sheeran. The first impression is of a balanced sound that has the potential to suck you right into the album. Powerful bass, followed by full and wide mids, rounded off with clear and wide highs. Undoubtedly, the Bowers & Wilkins PI4 gives very good sound, and unlike with their little brother, the PI3, the bass does not give the impression of being too obtrusive. All in all, the PI4 delivers a more neutral tuning and thus feels comfortable for all genres.
If you want to reduce street noise while listening to music, you can fade it out in three steps using the active noise reduction, controlled on the left side of the cable. In the finest British English, a soft female voice tells us which of the modes “low”, “high” and “auto” has been selected. While “low” intervenes rather gently so that, for safety reasons, outside noise is not suppressed too much, “high” takes a bolder approach and, according to the manufacturer’s specifications, is particularly suitable for cancelling out static noise, such as the roar of aircraft engines or the rumble of a moving train. The suppression generally works well, and there is distinguishable difference between “low” and “high”. The “auto” mode automatically adjusts noise cancelling to the prevailing environmental noise – if you move away from static noise and the outside noise becomes more dynamic, the level of cancellation changes accordingly. Overall, the noise suppression in each of these modes is gentler and not as isolating as you might experience from equivalent top brand over-ears. Fortunately, this “gentler” separation from your environment also ensures that the so-called diving bell effect, i.e. the uncomfortable feeling of negative pressure in the ears, does not occur with the PI4. At the same time, the timbre and aesthetics hardly change when noise cancelling is activated. Perhaps that’s the secret of Bowers & Wilkins – not pushing technology into the foreground, but applying it in a way that works perfectly. So despite the lower isolation performance of the ANC, these headphones create a coherent overall sound that will make your listening enjoyable.
Additionally, you can also set the transparency of the Ambient mode in the app, a long press on the ANC button activates it. The built-in microphones then capture and amplify environmental noise, which is played through the headphones while the music continues quietly in the background. The advantage of this is that the in-ears can remain in your ears so that you don’t miss important announcements, such as when on the train or at the airport. Of course, you could argue that it would be faster to simply press the stop button or even to take the ear pieces out of your ears for a short time, but such a feature is always useful.
When you snap the magnetic headphones together at the rear, the music stops, put them back in your ears and it continues. This feature can be turned on or off in the app. Also controlled in the app, a timer that determines the length of inactivity that will cause the PI4 will turn off completely. In addition, voice announcements can be deactivated if desired. The remote works in a conventional way and offers many control options. Fortunately, the manufacturer has decided to reserve two buttons exclusively for volume control. Tip top!
As far as the quality of the connection is concerned, speech intelligibility varies depending on where the call is made: both sides are clear and understandable when there is little or no outside noise. Outdoors, the PI4s naturally try to filter out interference, which means that the other party’s voice will always be muffled. All in all, these in-ears deliver a good result, which should be especially pleasing for those who make frequent calls. And for business users, the problem of combining two calls into one conference call is also nicely solved.
A few words about battery performance. The manufacturer states that there will be between ten and twelve hours of battery life depending on which features are turned on, with the USB-A to USB-C cable the PI4 can then be fully charged within three hours, and thanks to the Quick Charge feature, 15 minutes plugged into the power cable is enough to achieve three hours of playing time.
The PI4 from Bowers & Wilkins are high quality Bluetooth in-ears with very good sound, many useful features, codecs, and a good app. The adaptive noise reduction may be a bit more restrained than some people would like. The workmanship and appearance are top notch, with a touch of luxury just as you would expect from headphones by Bowers & Wilkins.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 30.000 Hz
- Weight with cable40 g
- Cable length20 cm
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of ear pieces (S, M, L)
- 3 pairs of ear hooks (S, M, L)
- USB-C charging cable
- Carrying pouch
- available in black, silver and gold
- BT codecs: aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, aptX Classic, AAC, SBC
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: A2DP v1.3.1, AVRCP v1.6.1, HFP v1.7.1, HSP v1.2, BLE GATT (Generic Attribute Profile)