After we tested the PI7 some time ago and found them to be pretty good, we were naturally curious to see how the PI5s from Bowers & Wilkins, which have been stripped of a few features, would perform. It was already clear after the first time we tried them that there was no need to worry about the sound quality from the smaller model: the British naturally set the bar high in terms of sound quality.
Just how high will be revealed later in a comparison with the PI7, but for now, we’ll take a look at the facts about the PI5, which competes in the 250-Euro class:
The casing of both these true-wireless models is identical, the PI5 weighs seven grams less than the PI7, and the charging case is three grams lighter, which is fairly insignificant but can be explained by the absence of one or two components. The PI5s have two (instead of the three on the PI7) microphones per earpiece and are equipped with 9.2 mm dynamic drivers – compared to a hybrid with an additional balanced-armature driver on the PI7.
Three included silicone attachments in S, M and L should allow a tight seal to be made in the ear canal. With a slight twist, the PI5s gained sufficient grip to allow movements of a sporting nature to be carried out safely, at least in the ears of our tester.
The PI5s offer Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX, AAC and SBC codecs and can be connected to mobile devices in just a few steps. Reconnection is instantaneous on both Android and iOS and at the point in the audio where it was paused during the last connection. Since Bowers & Wilkins do not offer multipoint with the PIs, unfortunately, you need to disconnect from the first device in order to connect to another. This is a significant disadvantage in terms of comfort when compared to products from the Apple range of Apple or Beats headphones, but it can at least be done relatively easily in the free B&W app. Otherwise, the app only manages the most important things: noise-cancelling and transparency mode, pairing and disconnecting or managing Bluetooth devices, deactivating the sensors and software updates. One or two more user functions would have been nice, especially since the manufacturer offers a much larger feature set in terms of app configuration with the PI7.
With 4.5 hours of headphone runtime and further power reserves of up to 20 hours via the charging case, the PI5s offer a slightly longer runtime than the larger PI7s. A quick-charge function can be used to recharge the headphones for two hours in 15 minutes. The case can be charged via the supplied USB-C cable or wirelessly. This worked flawlessly with a 15-Euro charger. The charging status of both earpieces is displayed as a percentage value, but unfortunately not – as with the PI7 – the energy reserves of the case. As soon as the power in the case runs out, look out for the case LED, which lights up red.
The PI5 in everyday use
My first test with True-Wireless headphones usually takes me outside. These weatherproof (IP54 rated) earphones are forgiving of rain showers and even a splash in a puddle, although the latter action was not on our test timetable. The former, on the other hand, was. These slightly protruding in-ear earphones also fit when you’re wearing over-ear hats, making them all-season all-rounders.
The touch control via the outer sides is rudimentary: start/pause/answer a call by tapping once, skip forward twice, back three times – that’s it. ANC is activated or deactivated with a one-second hold on the left side, and a voice assistant is summoned in the same way on the right. All this always worked smoothly.
What I missed was the ability to adjust the volume on the earpieces, and I had to reach for my iPhone more often than I would have liked. I would also have liked to be able to activate or deactivate the transparency mode using touch control. This would be particularly useful when you meet someone on a walk and want to make small talk.
The phone quality was good, and the handling of answering and hanging up was trouble-free and convenient.
At home on the computer, the PI5s were also impressive although I usually prefer the MacBook Pro’s microphone for phone calls, the PI5’s mics are also good for making a video call.
The Bluetooth range of the PI5 is – as with the PI7 – towards the lower end of what I have tested so far with wireless headphones. The walk to the coffee machine 10 metres away was interrupted connection-wise shortly before I reached my destination. Otherwise, dropouts were virtually inaudible.
As with the PI7, Bowers & Wilkins have a very good grip on external noise reduction. Both at home, where they blocked out noise such as the clatter of dishes and the neighbour’s lawnmower and while out on a walk, where the PI5 were able to push the sounds of the distant motorway below my personal “noise threshold”. A ride on the tram with the PI5s in my ears was passed my test in terms of “listening to music in peace and quiet and still being aware of the outside world”.
Compared to the PI7, the PI5s only offer a slimmed-down automatic adaptation to ambient noise. This also affects the transparency mode, which does not act as efficiently when compared to the PI7. The amount of pass-through, e.g. of voices, could not be regulated by degrees, and I found this to be a disadvantage. When I was walking the dog, I always had to pull out my mobile phone for small talk with dog friends, go to the app and activate the transparency mode. It would have been nice if this could also be done via touch control.
For in-ears, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 already sound very good. Just how much better in-ears can sound becomes clear when comparing them to the PI7s. Both models deliver the best sound quality across all genres. Even the deep bass of an electronic track like “Q1” by Biosphere is transmitted in pleasurable doses with the PI5. “In My Secret Life” by Leonard Cohen is a quiet “splash” piece with bass, drums, organ background and the late Cohen’s smoky voice, and it was delivered to my ear with soothing airiness. Great acoustic staging.
Diana Krall’s “A Case Of You – Live in Paris”, was finely conveyed by the PI5 and included the reverberations of the concert hall, the soft hammers of the grand piano and its lively incidental noises, and Diana’s soft/harsh voice.
Let’s listen to some classical music. For this, I chose a sacred choir (Guillaume de Machaut – Messe de Notre Dame) to experience the spatiality of the church interior. Here, too, the PI5s do their job very well. In terms of enjoyment, the smaller Bowers & Wilkins play at a high level even in purely acoustic recordings.
Compared to the PI7, however, you can clearly hear the 150 Euro price difference. The 7s sound more powerful, take away the slight haze in the highs that you might not have noticed the PI5 have without comparing them to their big brother, and they transport the sound a bit more directly to the ears. The texture is the same from both, but the PI7s provide – to use a term from the textile world – a slightly thicker fabric and a silkier sheen. While the PI7 score 5 points for sound, I would definitely give the PI5s a well-deserved 4.5 points.
Both in terms of noise cancelling and functionality, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5s lack quite a few things, even when compared to competitors like the Sony WF-1000XM4, so while I can definitely recommend the PI5s as the class leaders in sound, the sacrifices in functionality result in a lower rating.
Nevertheless, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are very good-sounding True Wireless in-ears. Full stop. However, the competition once again comes from their own stable. If you’re looking for better sound and more comfort features, you’ll have to dig deeper into your pockets and go for the PI7.
- Ear couplingIn-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)10 - 20.000 Hz
- Weight without cable7 g each, Case 47 g
What's in the box
- 3 pairs of ear tips (S, M, L)
- USB-C charging cable
- Charging case
- available in anthracite and white
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: A2DPv1.3.1, AVRCPv1.6.1, HFPv1.7.1, HSPv1.2, BLE GATT