The world is changing – get used to it. Wired headphones have been around for decades. Or has it been a century by now? Regardless, the latest tech is pushing everything wireless, and earbuds are no exception.
In our in-depth Bowers & Wilkins PI4 Review, we’ll be looking at the brand’s first generation of neck-strap-style earbuds. These high-end and fairly high-priced earbuds may not be for everyone. But from the reviews out there, these things are impressing people across the board.
Are they the best Bluetooth earbuds for you? Let’s have a look for ourselves…
A Little Background
If you haven’t heard of Bowers & Wilkins, it’s because of two reasons. First, because they’re from across the pond in merry ol’ England. Or second, because their high-end products come with similarly high price tags. These are not toys for kids, but for big boys and girls who are serious about sound.
Bowers & Wilkins started in 1966, so this British company has as much street cred as other brands like Sony and Panasonic. Their reputation is good enough to get them an official partnership with famed Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles and many more big names have recorded.
The PI4 is Bowers & Wilkins first line of a neckband, in-ear noise-canceling wireless earbuds. They come in three sharp colors: black, silver, and gold. The construction quality seems tough, and yet they’re comfortable to wear.
Furthermore, instead of less-durable plastic, we’ve got metal shells and rubberized wires connecting things. Therefore these are some of the most durable wireless earbuds on the market.
Although they’re not fully wireless, their connection to your music player is. And unlike some in-ear or on-ear buds that are simply buds, and that’s all, this neck strap adds a little extra security. It’s like the string your mom tied your mittens together with so you didn’t lose them.
Comfort and fit…
The whole contraption measures just short of 16 inches. So don’t worry about it not fitting – this neck strap can fit around even giant necks. With its durable metal construction, the unit weighs 1.48 ounces. That’s pretty hefty if we compare it to truly wireless earbuds, which can get down under half an ounce each.
However, the majority of that weight is in the neck strap. So that makes the buds lighter in your ears than most. As a result, these are some of the best lightweight neckband earbuds available.
Inline controls on the neckband include volume up and down buttons. As well as a multi-function button that can be used to play/pause, skip tracks, or take a call. The power button also doubles as a Bluetooth on/off switch. The on-board active noise cancellation also turns off and on with the touch of a button.
These earbuds charge using USB-C that plugs into the neck strap as well. Unfortunately, they’re not WiFi charging and don’t come with a charging case that can store a charge, as many other wireless buds offer.
Each earbud is driven by a pretty beefy customized 14mm driver, so you’re getting some big sound in a small package. But we’ll talk more about the sound in a second. For now, that’s the basic rundown on these earbuds.
What’s Included with These Earbuds?
Unpacking the neat and modern-looking box, you’ll find the neckband earbuds along with some other goodies. First, they come with an assortment of silicone ear tips and stabilizers (also known as wings). Both in different sizes to help you find a comfortable and secure fit.
You’ll also see the USB-A to USB-C charging cable. Its 6-inch length may be conveniently small or inconsiderately short, depending on how you look at it. Finally, the earbuds come with a palm-size pouch carrying case. This pouch has a cool spring opening that you just squeeze to pop open, and then it springs back closed. This is way better than a drawstring.
That’s it – now time for the sound rundown.
How Does the Bowers & Wilkins PI4 Sound?
We think the PI4 presents an excellent soundstage. The bass is powerful, tight, and accurate but never overpowering. The mid-range is rich and wide, with nothing missing. The high-end is also wide and very clear but never shrill.
These earbuds have a frequency range of 10Hz to 30kHz, so they got all the bases covered. Distortion is very low at less than 0.3% (measured at 1kHz/10mW). In short, we’re going to say the sound is clear, rich, and accurate. Or, in other words, some of the best sounding wireless earbuds you can buy.
Like all earbuds, some special features make them stand out. Let’s take a look at what they can really do.
B&W says these buds can last up to 12 hours on a single charge. That’s half a day, which is pretty astounding. However, this is only under certain conditions. Those would be with the volume at the middle range and the ANC off. Still, that’s pretty impressive.
What’s also great is that you can get three hours from a quick charge of only 15 minutes. So if you grab them to head out for a run and realize they’ve gone flat, you’re only in for a tiny delay. We like that.
But that shouldn’t ever be a problem. They have an LED for battery power to let you know how much juice you’ve got. White LED means you are OK with 30% or more. Between 30-10% that changes to a warning amber color, and under 10% you get the danger red. They’ll flash red if they’re really low.
To help you conserve the battery, there is one other cool feature. When you put the unit down, the earbuds will magnetically stick together and pause your playback. You can pull them apart to play again. Pretty cool, huh?
These earbuds can be controlled and modified using the Bowers & Wilkins PI4 app. The app helps you with Bluetooth pairing, monitoring battery power, managing calls, and more. You can turn voice notifications on and off. Likewise, you can set a timer for the length of inactivity that should turn off your earbuds, once again saving precious power.
While normally ANC means Active Noise Cancellation, B&W have taken it one step further. Here they use the term “Adaptive Noise Cancellation”.
So what’s the difference?
Active noise cancellation uses the on-board microphones in the earbuds to detect the sounds around you, like a jet engine or you’re annoying neighbors arguing through the wall. They then play the exact opposite frequencies into your ears so that they cancel out the outside sounds, leaving you with just your audio to focus on.
With adaptive noise canceling, the mics are always listening and changing the levels of cancellation based on a changing environment. You can manually choose high or low levels of ANC or set it to Auto to take advantage of the adaptive component.
A soft, soothing voice will tell you which level you’re on. The low level is designed to still let some loud noises through, while the high setting is ideal for static or white noise, like the roar of the engines on a plane. The result is some of the best noise canceling wireless earbuds out there.
But there’s yet another feature…
Ambient play-through is another setting that amplifies surrounding sounds for you. This can be turned on or off in the app. It’s a great way to keep you aware and safe as you move through your environment while still on a call or enjoying your favorite tracks.
These earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0, the latest in wireless connection technology. You’ve got 5 Bluetooth profiles going on here with five codecs as well. This includes aptX HD, which should keep your connection at all times, even as you move through a lot of interference.
Bowers & Wilkins PI4 Review – Pros and Cons
- Excellent, robust, and well-balanced sound.
- Strong connectivity through Bluetooth.
- Comfortable to wear and good ear fit.
- Multi-level ANC is fully adjustable in the PI4 app.
- These earbuds have trouble operating in sub-zero temperatures.
- Call quality is often muffled as ANC can interfere with and block out the other speaker’s voice.
- No IP rating.
- No charging case to store extra charge like true wireless earbuds.
Looking for Something Else?
When it comes to earbuds and headphones, we have you covered. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Noise Cancelling Earbuds, the Best Earbuds under $50, the Best Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, the Best Sound Quality Earbuds, and the Best Headphones with Microphone you can buy in 2021.
Also, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Skullcandy Earbuds, the Best Headphones for Skiing or Snowboarding, the Best Wired Earbuds, the Best Ear Hook Headphones, and the Best Lightweight Headphones currently on the market.
Bowers & Wilkins PI4 Review – Final Thoughts
To sum up our PI4 Review, this neckband earbud unit offers a superior sound that will make most anyone happy. The active noise cancellation is effective and highly adjustable for different situations. Unfortunately, while the fit is comfortable and secure, a lack of waterproofing/sweat-proofing means these might not be the best choice for working out or outdoor sports.
At the same time, a generous 12-hour charge is enough to keep these earbuds convenient. The neckband controls add to that, allowing you to operate this unit hands-free. Overall, this is a cleverly designed, quality-built, and excellent-sounding unit that’s going to please a whole lot of ears.
So, until next time, happy listening.