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Bowers & Wilkins' Premium Earbuds Are Incredible — and Incredibly Expensive

Bowers & Wilkins is late to the wireless earbud game but its first pair of wireless earbuds, the PI7, are definite standouts.

bowers and wilkins wireless earbuds and hollow knight on switch
Tucker Bowe

Bowers & Wilkins is very to the wireless earbud game but the high-end audio company's first pair of wireless earbuds, the PI7, still manage to stand out in a crowded field. Their sound quality is among the best of any wireless earbuds I've tested. They're decked out with premium features like noise-cancellation and transparency modes, multi-device pairing and wireless charging. Plus, that have one very unique and clever feature I've never seen in wireless buds before.

The catch? It's the wildly high price. The PI7 are also one of the most expensive wireless earbuds you can buy. At $400, they're significantly more expensive than Apple's AirPods Pro and Bose QuietComfort Earbuds, two best noise-canceling wireless earbuds on the market, which are both terrific in their own right. They're also more expensive than many wireless earbuds that are made by high-end audio companies like Sennheiser, Master & Dynamic, Klipsch and Bang & Olufsen.

But if that's not your breaking point, I can't recommend anything else more highly.

These are audiophile grade, truly.

The audio quality of B&W's PI7 wireless earbuds jumps out right away. From the moment I started listening to them, the sound was clear, punchy and had a wonderfully wide soundstage that wasn't too dissimilar to Bowers & Wilkins's over-ear headphones, like the B&W P7 (and previous B&W PX). I primarily listened to tracks using Tidal HiFi subscription — more specifically, I'm basically been listening to London Grammar's new album, California Soil, on repeat — and to my ears they make for a marked improvement over competition like the AirPods Pro.

bowers and wilkins wireless earbuds
Tucker Bowe

And that should come as no surprise. It'd be astounding if the B&W PI7 wireless earbuds didn't sound exceptional. Each earbud is decked out with dual high-performance drivers and an integrated amplifier to ensure that they're properly powered. And those drivers have been engineered by the same team behind the company's 800 Series Diamond loudspeakers, premium kit that cost $15,000/pair.

There's a catch when it comes to audio quality.

The B&W PI7 are wireless earbuds that are capable of playing high-resolution audio files up to 24-bit/48 kHz, which are some of the highest resolution audio files that you can stream over Bluetooth. But your phone might not be able to handle it.

First, you need to subscribe to a lossless streaming service that supports 24-bit/48kHz audio files, such as Qobuz and Tidal HiFi, which typically cost $15 or $20 per month, which is about twice the cost of premium subscription to Spotify or Apple Music. If you listen to a non-lossless streaming service, the B&W PI7 will still sound great, but they won't sound their exceptional best.

And secondly, you need be streaming from a device that supports Qualcomm's aptX Adaptive audio technology, a codec that lets you stream high bitrate and low latency audio files over Bluetooth. However, there's a good chance that your current smartphone doesn't support aptX Adaptive. It's not supported on any iPhone. It's not supported on any of Samsung's more-recent Galaxy smartphones, either. (You can check out the list of smartphone that support aptX Adaptive, here.) But there is a solution.

(Note: If you pair the B&W PI7 wireless earbuds with an iPhone and a lossless streaming service, they'll still sound great. However, because iPhones do not support any high resolution codecs other than AAC, which maxes out at what is essentially CD-quality audio, the B&W PI7 just won't play audio to their "fullest" potential.)

bowers and wilkins wireless earbuds with charging case
Tucker Bowe

They have the cleverest feature I've seen in wireless earbuds.

If you don't have a smartphone that supports aptX Adaptive, don't worry. The PI7 were designed with that in mind and come with what is maybe the coolest charging case I've ever seen. It looks like a pretty standard charging case, but it actually doubles as Bluetooth receiver that (you guessed it) supports aptX Adaptive, effectively upgrading devices that don't natively support it.

This means that I could connect the charging case to my MacBook Pro via the included USB-C to USB-C adapter, change the audio output in your laptop's audio settings to "Bowers & Wilkins PI7 Case", and then stream high-resolution audio files (up to 24-bit/48 kHz) from Tidal HiFi to the PI7 wireless earbuds. And it just works, which is pretty wicked. You can do this "hack" with the PI7 and any USB-C laptop or USB-C smartphone.

Maybe the coolest thing about the charging case doubling as a Bluetooth receiver is that it allowed me to use the PI7 with my Nintendo Switch. In addition to the USB-C to USB-C adapter, Bowers & Wilkins also includes a USB-C to 3.5mm dongle, so you can connect the case into anything with 3.5mm jack and listen to its audio. You can buy a Bluetooth receiver for around $50, like Twelve South's AirFly, which allows you to use your wireless earbuds with any analog jack, but it's awesome and convenient that B&W integrated right into the case, and (slightly) helps justify the jaw-dropping price.

Bowers & Wilkins PI7
Bowers & Wilkins worldwidestereo.com
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