Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Neckbuds for audiophiles

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
170
inc VAT

Bowers & Wilkins’ first wireless in-ear neckband headphones are a resounding success – but there’s room for improvement

Pros 
Among the best sounding in-ear wireless headphones available
Excellent design and build quality
Easy to pair and simple to use
Cons 
Become a little uncomfortable after being worn for long periods
No IP rating
Average battery life
Advertisement

Bowers & Wilkins is one of those audio brands that generates interest whenever it releases a new product. It has consistently demonstrated innovation in design and excellence in sound quality, a track record that saw it named speaker and headphone partner of the world-famous Abbey Road recording studio in late 2018.

It’s perhaps a little surprising then that the firm is only just entering the growing market of wireless in-ear neckband-style headphones with the PI3 and its active noise cancelling counterpart the PI4. Bowers & Wilkins may be a little late to the party given Bose has had neckbuds on the market for a number of years but is it a case of better late than never?

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: What you need to know

The PI3 are Bowers & Wilkins’ first in-ear neckband-style headphones and offer the most up-to-date wireless connectivity courtesy of Bluetooth 5.0. They support the usual range of Bluetooth codecs, including AAC and SBC, while also supporting more recent codecs including AptX-Adaptive and AptX-HD to facilitate efficient, hi-res music streaming.

The company is heralding the PI3 as the world’s “first fully active two-way wireless earbuds” owing to their use of hybrid dual drivers. This technology sees the incorporation of one dynamic and one balanced armature driver in each earbud, with each being powered by its own dedicated amplifier.

The PI3’s rechargeable battery is good for up to eight hours of use and Bowers & Wilkins has stated they’re resistant to light rain, splashes and sweat, although they do not come with a certified IP rating. 

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Price and competition

Bought directly from the Bowers & Wilkins website, the PI3 will set you back £170, although you’re likely to make a decent saving by grabbing a pair from Amazon

Should you like the PI3 but find yourself wanting active noise cancellation, you can move up to the PI4, which cost £269 and have a couple of other advantages, namely improved battery life and the ability to pause audio by clipping the earpieces together.

If you’re the sporty type looking for a pair of earbuds to work out or go running with, the Libratone Track+ are a fantastic choice at £144, while the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 offer great value for money at £99.

More premium options include the RHA T20 Wireless, which can be used either wired or wirelessly, and are available for £200 from John Lewis and the Bose QuietControl 30, which at £250 provide great noise cancelling and good quality sound at the expense of comfort and battery life.

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Design, build quality and comfort

The PI3’s design is simple, yet very effective. Available in blue, space grey and gold and weighing 31g, it’s a neckband design, with a short length of silicone rubber connecting two earbuds together. The section of the headphones that goes around the back of your neck is flat, ensuring it sits comfortably against your skin and doesn’t move around too much, even when running.

The left control unit houses the power button, which is pressed for two seconds to turn the headphones on/off and held down for 5 seconds to engage Bluetooth pairing. The right control unit again keeps things simple: two circular buttons control volume and flank a multi-function button that takes care of playing, pausing and skipping music, alongside call-related functions. A small LED on the right control changes colour depending on your battery level and sits next to the USB Type-C charging port.

The earbuds come with three sets of ear tips and three ear stabiliser fins. Although this is about par for the course, I’d have liked a few more size options as none of those provided felt completely comfortable in my ears. Eventually, I settled on the large ear tips combined with the medium fins as this gave me the tightest seal and the best sound quality. However, even with this setup, I found that wearing the headphones for extended periods of time caused a little earache.

The back sections of the earpieces are magnetic so when they’re not in your ear they clip together neatly. Sadly, this magnetic connection doesn’t automatically pause your music unlike many other neckband headphones, including the OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 and the PI3’s more expensive sibling, the PI4. It’s a small thing but its absence is disappointing. 

In terms of carrying your PI3 around when not in use, you get a Bowers & Wilkins-branded travelling pouch to safely stow them. You need to do a bit of looping and folding to fit them in but this isn’t too much of a bother and the pouch itself will fit into a reasonably sized trouser pocket.

All things considered, the PI3 are brilliantly designed and about as easy to use as in-ear wireless headphones get.

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Sound quality

The sound quality produced by the PI3 is phenomenal. Their hybrid drivers create the most well-rounded soundstage I’ve experienced from a pair of in-ear wireless headphones.

The PI3’s 9.2mm full range dynamic drivers deliver powerful bass that is forceful and weighty without ever feeling overwhelming. Mids and highs are extremely crisp and instrument separation is truly impressive for a pair of in-ear headphones.

READ NEXT: Best Bluetooth headphones

Listening to the 2014 remaster of Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G (featuring Puff Daddy and Ma$e) illustrated just how well balanced the PI3 are. The high-pitched chorus and accompanying electric guitar are clean as a whistle and the vocals of the rappers are well defined, doing justice to their unique styles. Underpinning it all, the thudding bass that keeps the track moving is reproduced near-flawlessly.

Pop tracks sound great, too. Every note of Anne Marie’s 2002, particularly during the brief acapella section, is articulated so well it’s impossible not to succumb to the warm nostalgia the artist invokes in her lyrics.

The PI3 has one mic for telephony and on the whole, the clarity of the calls I made during testing was very good. At a crowded train station I did have to repeat myself on a couple of occasions but that may well have been due to Bluetooth connection issues rather than any problems with the mic; in a less hectic environment, I was heard loud and clear. It’s worth noting that with my prefered ear tip and fin combination, my ear canal was so well sealed that I couldn’t hear myself speaking particularly well, which I always find a bit disconcerting. Some earphones – the Apple AirPods Pro, for instance – will mix in a little audio from the mics while you’re on a call to mitigate this issue.

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Features and battery life

The PI3 is compatible with the Bowers & Wilkins Headphones App, which allows you to manage the devices you are connected to (up to two), shows your battery percentage and facilitates software updates when they’re available. You can also listen to six different soundscapes designed to help you relax and reflect if that’s your thing.

For a pair of headphones that look so sporty and are designed in such a way that they are great to use while running or working out, it’s surprising that they don’t come with an IP rating for water resistance. Bowers & Wilkins has stated that they “are resistant to light rain, splash, and sweat”, which is reassuring to hear, but you’ll definitely want to avoid wearing them out on a particularly wet day.

Battery life is decent on the PI3, with each charge providing eight hours of wireless play time at average volume levels. I found they lasted closer to six and a half hours during testing at louder volumes, which is fine, but nothing to write home about. They do charge quickly, though; a 15-minute charge provides two hours of use and they can be used while charging, which is handy. To help save battery, the headphones have an auto power cut off feature that can be customised through the app.

Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review: Verdict

There’s no doubt about it, Bowers & Wilkins have got the sound quality of the PI3 absolutely spot on. You won’t get a better sounding pair of neckband-style in-ear headphones for the money. They’re also supremely easy to use, well-built and look great.

Were they more comfortable to wear for long stints, which they could have been with the inclusion of more ear tip and fin options, I wouldn’t have hesitated in giving them a five-star rating. The only other minor drawbacks are their lack of water resistance certification and slightly lacklustre battery life but these factors aren’t enough to detract from what is otherwise a fantastic set of headphones.

Read more

Reviews