Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: similar to the T3 award-winning headphones but so much cheaper

The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds with superb sound

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

While the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 true wireless earbuds don't have absolutely everything you could need from a pair of headphones, they do have tonnes to offer including high-end sound and effective noise-cancelling tech. They're a great alternative B&W's priciest pair of buds.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Impressive sound quality

  • +

    Reliable noise-cancelling

  • +

    Comfortable fit and elegant design

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    No manual equaliser settings in the app

  • -

    Average battery life

  • -

    Need to use the app to switch on the transparency mode

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For anyone looking for some of the best true wireless earbuds, this Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review will be worth a read. While they may not be perfect, they do have loads to offer and they're not crazy expensive either. 

The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 earbuds are the more affordable sibling of the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 - a very pricey pair of buds with excellent sound quality and solid noise cancelling. They were so good that they picked up a whopping 5 stars in the official T3 review. If you like the look of these but can’t bear the thought of spending $400 / £350 on a pair of headphones, then the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are a great alternative.  

In this Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review, I’ll go through everything you need to know before splashing the cash on these true wireless earbuds - from their price, features, design and fit to their sound performance and ultimately, whether they are worth buying, or not. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: price and availability 

You can buy the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 directly from the brand for £199 but they are available from a number of other retailers across the web. Take a look at the widgets on this page to see more recent pricing.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: features and what's new

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review

(Image credit: Future)

As well as using Qualcomm aptX to deliver high-quality audio wirelessly, the Bowers & Wilkins earbuds also feature Active Noise Cancellation, two microphones on each earbud for clear calls, voice assistant support and an intuitive wear sensor. The smart charging case allows for fast wireless charging as well. In the box, they come with a USB-C to USB-C cable and three sizes of silicone ear tips. 

So how do the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 differ from the Bowers & Wilkins PI7? Well, firstly they have active noise cancelling instead of adaptive noise cancelling. The PI7 use six internal microphones to filter out noise from your specific environment, whereas the PI5 only has four so won’t be able to do as good of a job at keeping you immersed in music. 

The PI5 charging case is a little different as well because it doesn’t have the capacity to be used as a wireless adaptor. The PI7 charging case lets you stream music in aptX when connected to a compatible analogue audio output. 

Then, when it comes to sound, you're unlikely to get the same level of sound quality from this cheaper pair because the PI7 have a dual-driver arrangement in each bud whereas the PI5 only has one 9.2mm driver in each bud. 

While the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 true wireless earbuds are much lighter on features, there is one area where they're actually a little better than their more expensive counterparts - battery life. It's not a huge difference but you will get an extra half an hour of music with ANC switched on. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: design and fit

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review

(Image credit: Future)

Available in White or Charcoal, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 do look quite smart when you take them out of the case. They have an oval shape with silver circular controls on the outside of the bud. Truth be told, they don’t look amazing when you have them in, just because they stick out quite a way from your ear. It’s not a huge problem but it’s hardly discreet. When it comes to the build quality, they feel sturdy and premium, you don’t get the impression that they could break easily. 

The matching charging case has Bowers & Wilkins written across the lid and an LED light strip on the front indicating its battery level. Measuring 5.7 x 6 x 2.8cm, the case is bigger than you get with some other buds, but in saying that, it only weighs 55g. The case is made from matte white plastic so feels a little more flimsy than I expected, it’s sure to pick up some dirty marks here and there as well.

In the box, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 come with three sizes of silicone ear tips in small, medium and large. I used the smallest size and found they were comfortable to wear for a long time, they stayed put no matter what I did which is always a bonus. You’ll easily be able to work out in them or go for a run. The only problem was that because they stick out quite far from your ears, it was easy to accidentally brush your hand past them and pause the track without meaning to, this happened to me a few times. 

You can control the music through the touch controls on the earbuds, it’s really easy to remember each gesture: touch once to pause or play the music, twice to skip forwards and three times to skip backwards. You can also answer your calls with a double-tap, hold down the left bud for a second to switch on noise-cancelling or hold the right earbud to summon your phone’s smart assistant. 

Using the controls on the earbuds themselves you can only turn the noise-cancelling on or off. To switch to the ambient pass-through mode or to choose how much noise to let in, you’ll have to go through the Bowers & Wilkins smartphone app. 

Each bud will give you about 4.5 hours of music, with the charging case providing an additional 20 hours, so you get about 24.5 hours of playback in total. That seemed to ring true when I tried them out. It’s not the best battery life you can get from a pair of true wireless earbuds, some will give you as much as 10 hours from a single charge - take a look at the Master & Dynamic MW08 if you need loads of playtime. But despite that, it is similar to the AirPods Pro and it's more than you get from the much more expensive Bowers & Wilkins PI7 buds. 

What’s good is that if you do get caught short on battery life, a quick 15-minute charge will give you up to two hours of music, and the case supports easy wireless charging as well if you have a compatible Qi-certified charger. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: performance 

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to sound quality, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 aren’t going to match up to the incredible sound offered by the PI7 earbuds, but considering these are $150 / £150 cheaper, they still sound pretty darned good. 

The bass is powerful without being too overbearing, you can still hear the lyrics with clarity and instruments come through with impressive accuracy as well. Even in tracks like Bassline Junkie by Dizzee Rascal, the low-end doesn’t take over although there was slight distortion at the very highest levels. Listening to songs like New York I Love You by LCD Soundsystem you can hear just how balanced the sound is, you can easily make out each instrument while the vocals still manage to sit in the limelight. One problem I did have was the lack of manual equaliser settings, that’s always a great feature to have with any pair of headphones especially when they cost this much money.  

To stop you from losing one of the earbuds, the audio is automatically paused when one falls or is taken out, and it plays again when you put the headphones back in. It’s a useful feature that is sure to give you peace of mind. One minor thing I did notice was that when you put one of the buds back in the case, they will still stop the music so you will have to physically press play on your phone if you want to continue listening with just one earbud in. 

The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 feature Active Noise Cancellation and they do manage to cut out a fair amount of sound, like road traffic or office chatter. Having said that, I have heard more effective ANC, these don’t cut out my own annoying keyboard taps and I wouldn’t trust them to get rid of aeroplane noise either. 

As well as ANC, there's an Ambient Pass-through / Transparency mode which can be set to Less or More depending on how much noise you want to cut out. I’m not sure there’s a massive difference between the two settings but it’s still useful to have when you want to let in some noise when you’re out and about. 

With Fast Pairing, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 connected automatically to my phone when I took them out of the case. For the most part, the connection remained stable, even when I walked away from my phone. There were a few rare instances where they disconnected randomly though.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: verdict 

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

If you like the sophisticated look of the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 but the price tag made your eyes water, then the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are definitely worth considering instead. They don’t offer quite as many features and the sound isn’t quite as impressive but when you put them up against similarly priced buds they're truly excellent. 

So the sound is great, the noise-cancelling works well and they’re comfortable. What more could you ask for? Well, manual equaliser settings for one, and maybe more battery life as well but those are the only notable downsides with the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 true wireless earbuds.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 review: also consider  

When it comes to the best true wireless earbuds you can buy, you'll definitely want to add both the Apple AirPods Pro and the Sony WF-1000XM4 to your shortlist, they're the most popular and best sounding earbuds you can buy right now. Really it'll be down to how much you want to spend, whether you use iPhone or Android and which design takes your fancy more. 

If you want a pair of the best running headphones, then look towards the Beats Powerbeats Pro. They’re undoubtedly the best true wireless earbuds for workouts because not only do they fit comfortably and securely but they also sound incredible. 

Despite being cheaper than our favourite true wireless earbuds, the Bowers & Wilkins PI5 are still quite expensive, not everyone will want to spend so much on headphones. If that’s the case then the best affordable earbuds you can buy right now are the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 Plus which will only set you back $100 / £100 and they sound amazing. 

Yasmine Crossland
Freelance Tech Expert

Yasmine is the former Reviews Writer for T3, so she's been knee-deep in the latest tech products for reviewing and curating into the best buying guides since she started in 2019. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her travelling the globe – the perks of being a freelance tech expert – tending to her plants when at home and, but of course, planning her next big trip.