There is a compelling reason to choose headphones from Bowers & Wilkins: the sound. This applies to the revised version of the Pi5 as much as it did to the previous model. Fans of the British manufacturer will not mind if one or two features are sacrificed compared to competing products.
Bowers & Wilkins released the S2 variants of their True Wireless models in early 2023. Along with their top model Bowers & Wilkins Pi7 S2, the Pi5 S2 operates at the upper end of its class in terms of price and has to compete with Sony, Sennheiser, Apple, and Bang & Olufsen, as well as compelling performances from Technics and Audio Technica.
Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 – differences from the previous model
According to the manufacturer, the antenna design has been revised, which on the one hand, makes the end caps seem somewhat more powerful, and on the other hand, should increase the range by 25 metres. In our test, however, the Pi5 S2 did not seem to have a greater range than comparable products. Since my test of the previous model was two years ago, I can neither confirm nor deny the improvement. The Pi5 S2’s Bluetooth connection broke after about ten metres on the way to the office coffee machine through three lightweight walls at the same “magic” limit where the competitors also usually fail.
The runtimes of the two batteries have been extended by 25%. According to the performance catalogue, this means: five hours of listening are now possible with ANC use without recharging instead of four. Again, a comparative review was difficult.
During our test, the headphones were stowed in their charging case about 20 times in different everyday situations, and this automatically triggered a recharge. In the app, the charging status thus showed 100% after each (charging) pause. On the seventh day, however, the charging case’s LED changed its colour from dark green to yellow to finally prompt recharging with a warning red. This was done quite fast with the included USB-C cable and was obviously a little slower with a cheap Qi charging pad.
Unfortunately, the charging status of the case was not transmitted to the app, so you are always slightly uncertain about the status. On longer journeys, a power shortage can occur unexpectedly – you should, therefore, proactively connect the case to a USB power supply every now and then.
More colours, bigger app – look and feel of the Pi5 S2
Bowers & Wilkins is looking to expand its customer base via an expanded colour range and now offers the Pi5 S2 in storm grey with semi-transparent dark red ear tips, cloud grey with shimmering pink end pieces, light green and – as with the model we tested – spring lilac with plain ear tips, which I felt was rather chic. The design of the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 has remained the same, which means that these in-ears still protrude a bit from your ears, something that you need to bear in mind if you like to wear a cap or hat.
Control via the outer ends of the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 remains: Tapping from one to three times controls the music. For phone calls, tapping once will answer a call, tapping twice will hang up, and holding your finger down for longer will reject a call. It does not matter which side you use to do this. Only when noise cancelling or voice assistants from Google or Apple are activated do the two sides of the headphones take on different tasks: The ANC is switched on the left, the voice assistant on the right.
I am a fan of simple operating concepts and basically found the menu navigation to be successful; unfortunately, the Pi5 S2 lacks a volume control. When on the move, it was extremely practical to be able to adjust the volume to the circumstances without having to dig my mobile phone out of my pocket. Sure, it is also possible to ask the voice assistant to turn the volume down or up, but: How does that work on the tram if you are constantly calling out commands that another person might misunderstand?
The corresponding app (iOS, Android) is fairly spartan in terms of setup and control. Of course, noise cancelling can be switched on and off just as with the left-hand side of the earpiece. However, the “ambient cut-through” or transparency mode can only be switched on and off in the app: “Off” does not transmit any external noise captured by the microphones, “High” passes on a slightly amplified signal to the headphones, and “Low” lets the acoustic environment through in a slightly muffled manner, but this allows you to maintain sufficient attentiveness in road traffic without drowning out an audible signal.
An important item in the app is “Auto Connect”, which regulates handling with different players. In the app, all previous connections are listed, and you can prioritise them. If, for example, a smartphone and a laptop dominate your working day, these are listed in the app, and the devices can be switched at the touch of a finger. Since the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 cannot handle multipoint, “Auto Connect” is an important function, as it automatically establishes connections with known devices as far as possible.
The “Wear Sensor” is an equally important menu item. When this is activated, the earphones notice when they have been removed and reinserted. They continue to work at the point that was interrupted when they were removed. However, the sensitivity cannot be adjusted. In our test, sometimes one side of the Pi5 S2 didn’t want to work because it apparently didn’t fit correctly in the ear canal – although it seemed fine. Parking the earphones in the case for a moment and then putting them back in your ear solved this problem.
In addition to headphone control and setup, the new “Music” app opens up the world of audio streaming. As already described in the the Pi7 S2 review, hi-res streaming services such as Qubuz, TIDAL and Deezer, as well as radio providers such as Tuneln, can also be linked to the Bowers & Wilkins app. The streaming quality can be reduced in mobile mode to save data costs. If available, you can also smartly switch between different Bowers & Wilkins products, such as soundbars or speakers. Incidentally, the app must be personalised via email address but does not require any further data from you.
Good sound from the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2
As we hoped, the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 also lived up to expectations in terms of sound. Nothing has changed technically compared to their predecessors, and I didn’t feel that the tuning had been changed either. The sound performance was particularly impressive with finely resolved classical recordings such as “La Mer” from Claude Debussy’s works for orchestra. A very nice differentiation and spatiality with very good localisation provided pleasurable moments that are rarely achievable with in-ears.
But tracks like Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” can also be a great headphone listening experience with the Pi5 S2. The lightly distorted guitars worked neatly with the spot-on electric bass and Mark Knopfler’s calmly delivered voice.
The dynamic 9.2-millimetre drivers were also at their best on tracks like “The Way” from our Spotify playlist. The bass, which was always defined, left enough energy for the other sounds to unfold. And pop ballads with subtly produced reverberation spaces like “When All Is Said and Done” by Nils Landgren Funk Unit were transmitted by the Pi5 S2 to my complete satisfaction.
With aptX and AAC, Bowers & Wilkins only provides codecs with standard resolution, foregoing high-resolution audio as with the Pi7 S2. On the one hand, you lose a high-value feature, but on the other, the Pi5 S2 provide a remarkably good listening experience from streaming standards such as CD quality on Deezer, and Spotify also streams in the highest quality.
Good noise cancelling and transparency mode
The Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2’s noise cancellation (ANC) acts consistently well across the entire frequency band: Everyday noises are effectively attenuated so that street noise with your window open or noise from your neighbours in the office were largely masked by the signal. However, the Pi5 S2 did not provide the quietness of over-ear headphones. The transparency mode can be activated in two stages via the app and provides a slightly reduced ambience in the “Low” setting. Voices and traffic noises were transmitted to the ear at a pleasant volume with good transmission quality. For louder environments, it can be set to “High”, which provided a slight boost but added a slight hiss.
The Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 in practice
In our test, we got to know and appreciate the Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 in common everyday situations. The wearing comfort and handling were good, even if the Pi5 S2 are rather “bulky” for in-ears. The protruding end caps make a statement; they make for clearly noticeable bulges under caps or sweatbands.
The Pi5 S2 is not necessarily an accessory for workouts – despite the IP54 rating of these earphones – instead, they are for chilling out. Nevertheless, they did a good job in urban areas as well as during walks in nature. The noise-cancelling system shielded outside noise well, although not as dramatically as the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II did.
With ANC activated and the “milder” transparency mode on, you can achieve a very good balance between undisturbed listening and sufficient good attentiveness both in traffic and in nature.
Telephone calls were unobtrusive and easy to make and understand on both sides. If you like to use different devices such as smartphones, computers or tablets, then you will miss having a multipoint function, even though Bowers & Wilkins can connect “known” devices as quickly as possible with the Pi5 S2. If you only use a smartphone as your everyday device, then you will be able to do without Multipoint.
Control via touch gestures worked perfectly in our test and was easy to learn. What we really missed was the ability to control the volume via gestures. Competitors such as Bose as well as Sony and Apple have operating concepts that function well in this respect.
The Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 are most fun for audiophile moments. As in-ear headphones, they allow you to enjoy music at a very high level. Even though this model doesn’t support Hi-Res codecs, for mobile use, they offer the highest level of sound quality with the usual streaming standards.
The Bowers & Wilkins Pi5 S2 are great-sounding true wireless in-ears and, as a constant everyday accessory, they offer the most important features for mobile listening pleasure. The battery life, on the other hand, is only average and could push long-time listeners to their limits by the middle of the day. Some of you may also miss multipoint. If you are aware of this and appreciate Bowers & Wilkins’ expertise in sound, you will definitely have a lot of fun with the Pi5 S2.
- very good sound
- good noise cancelling
- improved battery life compared to predecessor
- Music app with convenient connection to streaming services
- no multipoint
- no volume control on the headphones themselves
- relatively high price
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Weight without cable6 g each, case 47 g
- Cable length80 cm
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of ear tips (S, M, L)
- USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- available in dark gray, light gray, lilac and green
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: A2DP v1.3.1, AVRCP v1.6.1, HFP v1.7.1, HSP v1.2, BLE GATT
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