Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) has finally launched its first true wireless earbuds. The $399 PI7 (available in white or charcoal) and the $249 PI5 (available in white or black) both feature active noise cancellation (ANC) and IP54 dust and water protection, but the PI7 includes a feature we’ve never seen before: Its charging case can double as a Bluetooth transmitter for times when you want to listen to a non-Bluetooth audio source like the headphone jack on an airplane seat.
We’ve seen other companies try to bridge that wireless gap using a series of wired tethers, like the Motorola Tech3, but B&W’s solution is both more compact and more elegant. A 3.5mm-to-USB-C cord lets you plug the PI7’s charging case into any analog audio source. The transmitter connects automatically to the PI7 earbuds, but if you put the earbuds back in their case, you can also pair one of B&W other wireless headphones, like the PX7.
When you consider that an AirFly transmitter costs $40, the PI7’s clever case goes a long way to helping justify the premium price B&W has placed on these earbuds.
Both the PI7 and PI5’s cases support either wired or wireless charging.
There’s also an impressive amount of tech within the earbuds themselves. The PI7 use a dual driver arrangement, with one dynamic driver and one balanced armature driver, each with its own discrete amplifier. They connect to wireless devices using Qualcomm’s aptX Adaptive Bluetooth codec, which bundles aptX and aptX HD into a single, automatically adjusting package that is capable of up to 24-bit/96kHz audio for a better-than-CD experience depending on the source.
The PI5 gets Qualcomm’s aptX codec, which allows for a higher-quality Bluetooth connection on Android devices.
A three-microphone array on each earbud powers the PI7’s noise-canceling and calling features (the PI5 has two mics per earbud) and both models have transparency modes to let you hear the outside world.
The outer surfaces of these earbuds look like touch controls, but B&W says they’re in fact physical buttons, which should offer more precise and tactile operation. Wear sensors let your music auto-pause and resume when you remove or reinsert the earbuds.
Battery life appears to be the one area where B&W’s new earbuds fall a bit short: Both models only get about four hours of operation per charge, which is less than most other true wireless earbuds at these prices. The PI7’s case holds 16 extra hours, while the PI5’s holds an additional 20. Both models can fast-charge for 15 minutes and get two hours of operation.
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