Skip to main content

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Which noise-cancelling earbuds should you buy?

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro
(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

This Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro comparison analyzes two of the best noise-cancelling earbuds in the same price class, helping you decide which pair best suits your needs.

The Bowers & Wilkins PI5 is the company’s entry-level model, with the PI7 serving as the more powerful (and pricier) flagship. Despite lacking its sibling’s advanced audio specs, these buds manage to deliver some of the finest sound and active noise cancellation in the category. They also come in a strikingly handsome design and have longer battery life than the PI7's.

A top seller that continues to extend its shelf life with almost every iOS 14 update, the AirPods Pro is the ideal iPhone or iPad companion, with adaptive sound, excellent call quality, impressive ANC, and unbeatable iOS integration. Most importantly, Apple fixed the AirPods’ biggest issue, fit, which is now customizable, thanks to bundled ear tips and special software that checks if a proper seal has been established.

Different features, similar price, these are two great items that offer their own unique listening experiences. So, which is the superior model? Our B&W PI5 vs. AirPods Pro breakdown will inform you of the better ANC earbud investment.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Specs compared

Bowers & Wilkins PI5AirPods Pro
Price$249$249
Wireless Charging CaseYesYes
ChipQualcomm QCC5126Apple H1
Battery Life (Rated)4.5 hours (ANC on), 24.5 hours (with charging case)4.5 hours (ANC on), 5 hours (ANC off), 24 hours (with charging case)
Water ResistanceIP54IPX4
Case Size2.3 x 1.1 x 2.2 inches1.8 x 0.9 x 2.4 inches
Case Weight1.6 ounces1.6 ounces
Special featuresActive noise cancellation, two-level ambient listening mode, aptX Adaptive support, SoundscapesActive noise cancellation, transparency mode, adaptive EQ, spatial audio, automatic switching, customizable fit, audio sharing, announced messages with Siri, “Hey Siri” voice-activated assistance

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Price

There is no difference here – both the PI5 and AirPods Pro are sold for $249 brand new. Where some brands sell a wireless charging version for a premium, Apple and B&W include the feature as part of their packages.

The AirPods Pro is often on sale with some retailers having dropped the price down to as low as $180. We’re also anticipating a markdown for Amazon Prime Day 2021, but don’t hold us to that prediction. Being the newer release, the PI5 likely won’t see a price drop anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth every penny.

For all of the latest Apple and B&W headphones deals, be sure to bookmark our best cheap AirPods deals and best headphones deals pages.

Winner: Tie

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Design

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

B&W audio products usually look stunning and the PI5 is no different. Matte plastic and sturdy aluminum give these buds a premium presence. Build quality is superb and you won’t fear scratching or breaking them. An IP54 rating also ensures they're protected from splashes, sweat, and dirt. Details like the protruding cylinder are distinctive and act as a multi-function capacitive button. Then there are the silicone tips that have a mesh barrier to prevent earwax build up for optimal acoustic performance.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Apple has implemented changes on the AirPods Pro compared to the standard Apple AirPods, shrinking the stems and adding black vents for a more distinguishable appearance. The all-plastic frame is tougher than what was used on the regular AirPods, and you’re getting IPX4 certification for sweat and water resistance. But, if we’re being honest, the design isn’t as exciting as what we’ve seen on many of the best wireless earbuds.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The charging cases may come in different forms, but they are still compact and pocket-friendly. As sleek as the PI5 case looks, it doesn’t provide the same sturdiness as the earbuds, nor does it feel as durable as the AirPods Pro case. Another difference is that Apple has its pairing button on the back, whereas B&W chose to inconveniently place it on the inside.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Comfort and fit are two areas where the AirPods Pro excel. The buds easily insert into your ears with the silicone tips making a world of difference by creating a tight seal and latching onto the canal. These characteristics also put the AirPods Pro among the best sports headphones out there. You should be able to wear the buds for long stretches, though listeners with low pain thresholds might notice some discomfort after 1.5 hours of use.

Apple went a step further and developed its own Ear Tip Fit Test that not only calibrates the AirPods Pro to determine the best tips for proper fitting, but also helps to achieve the best possible sound quality and noise cancellation. The results are adequate.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

We find the PI5 to be moderately comfortable. Just be mindful that it can cause fatigue after about an hour of use with the elongated sound port pinching the front part of your ear. In addition, it requires effort to properly twist and lock the buds in place, otherwise, they’ll fall flat onto the concrete. At least the tips have a strong grip to keep the buds stabilized when on the go.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins PI5

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Controls

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

Apple’s Force Sensor controls and “Hey Siri” voice activation is a winning combination that delivers on the operational front in every way. The sensors register presses accurately and produce great tactility to ensure users of intended commands. On-ear detection is on point too, automatically pausing music when removing the buds and resuming playback when placed back on the ears. If there’s anything to complain about, it is the limited number of controls that can be assigned to each bud.

Those who are heavily committed to Apple’s ecosystem will view “Hey Siri” as their virtual BFF. The feature works flawlessly and activates the moment you utter the key phrase, opening the door to thousands of hands-free commands, which it executes in swift succession. Android users won’t have access to “Hey Siri”, but can enable the digital assistant function on their devices through third-party apps like Assistant Trigger.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

B&W programmed touch controls, on-ear detection, and voice assistance into the PI5, though the results vary. Siri and Google Assistant won’t disappoint, as the PI5’s mic array demonstrates great mic intelligibility. It’s everything else that acts up. Multi-tap gestures are often confused for one another, and motion detection is imprecise, pausing music half the time when taking the buds off.  

Winner: AirPods Pro

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Sound quality

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The PI5 doesn’t share the same high-end specs as its sibling, the PI7, including the likes of full aptX support, bigger drivers and audio retransmission via charging case. Still, B&W flexed its engineering muscle to give the PI5 top-tier sound. Each bud has a 9.2mm Dynamic Drive Unit that feeds your ears spacious, well-balanced audio. Lows, mids, and highs all blend well and have a strong presence on orchestral tracks.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Apple did improve its sound profile by creating an adaptive EQ for the AirPods Pro that enhances bass and clarity. The low end has more kick to it and vocals sound sharp on most songs. Highs don’t exactly stand out and you won’t hear some of the subtle nuances in complex recordings much like you would on the PI5. However, the AirPods Pro has a special trick that the PI5 doesn’t: spatial audio. This mode adds immersive surround sound to video content and Apple Music.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins PI5

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Active noise cancellation

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

When it comes to noise neutralization, the PI5 and AirPods Pro perform equally well. The PI5’s ANC technology handles common indoor distractions like family chatter, household appliances and loud TVs with finesse. and is resilient at blocking out wind and humming sounds. It also performs well in busy environments like grocery stores and shopping districts. Apple’s two-mic noise-cancelling array is no slouch either and can combat the same ambient noises as its rival. We’ve found the AirPods Pro most useful on commutes, droning out disturbances like airplane engine humming and talkative subway riders.

Blaring, high-frequency sounds are unavoidable, no matter what model you choose, but the good news is that the PI5 and AirPods Pro reduce these ambient noises at a very high level. Crying babies and car horns aren’t as transparent as on other wireless ANC earbuds.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

Speaking of transparency, these models have their ambient listening modes that come in handy for increasing awareness in your surroundings. The AirPods Pro version is fine for hearing other people’s conversations and traffic, but we appreciate the PI5’s version more, since it can blend with ANC to make ambient noises sound more distinguishable and less harsh on your ears.

Winner: Bowers & Wilkins PI5

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Special features and apps

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The AirPods Pro crushes the PI5 in extra features, and does so even without the need of a companion app. Apple’s commitment to optimizing hardware by introducing new features via firmware updates is an ideology that several other headphones manufacturers are adopting. Apple’s H1 chip comes with exclusive perks that you won’t find on other earbuds. 

We already touched on spatial audio, but there are other cool audio features such as Headphone Accommodations to create a sound profile based on your hearing, sound personalization via EQs in the iPhone settings, and the ability to share audio with another pair of Apple or Beats headphones. The AirPods Pro can perform other tricks like automatic switching, find misplaced or lost buds, and learn your daily charging routine to preserve battery health over time.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

A companion app is available for the PI5, but its feature set is limited. Outside of basic toggle controls for on-ear detection and listening modes, you get battery level indicators at the top, firmware updates and a Soundscapes mode to mask ambient noises by reproducing nature sounds. The latter works really well and is arguably the best take on the "added relaxing noise" concept out there. 

Unfortunately, the PI5 doesn't benefit from all of the extra bonuses afforded to the PI7, such as 16 levels of adjustable transparency, adaptable ANC, 24-bit sound, and, again, audio retransmission.

Connectivity is a game that the AirPods Pro always wins. The H1 lets you instantly pair to iOS and macOS devices. You can pair Apple’s buds to Android devices, though the process is a bit more strenuous. The PI5 will instantly connect to compatible devices, but it’s the terribly short range that makes using these buds frustrating at times; to hear audio stuttering when 15 feet away from your smartphone or laptop is not good.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Call quality

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Tom's Guide)

The original AirPods was always considered a serviceable calling headset and the Pro is one of the best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls. Voices are clear on both ends and the mics do an admirable job of blocking out external sounds. Blaring sounds will eventually creep onto calls. Wind resistance is impressive and reduces the whooshing effect usually produced when speaking in drafty conditions. Having the H1 chip at your disposal also means 50 percent more talk time.

Call quality is tenable on the PI5, so you’ll be able to enjoy brief chats as long as you’re in only mildly busy settings. Volume is louder and wind resistance is stronger on these buds than the PI7, helping reduce cutout and interference when talking outside. The AirPods Pro just offers better clarity and blocks out more noise.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Battery life

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Battery life on both models is underwhelming, rated at 4.5 hours with ANC on, which is below the industry standard set by the regular AirPods: 5 hours. There are competitors that trample the PI5 and AirPods Pro in playtime, including the Master & Dynamic MW08 (10 hours) non-ANC models like the Beats Powerbeats Pro (9 hours). However, the AirPods Pro has longer listening times with ANC off (5 hours), speedier quick charging (5 minutes for 1 hour versus 15 minutes for 2 hours), and superb battery management.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Regan Coule/Future)

The wireless charging cases aren’t all that different, except that the PI5 case holds 30 minutes more when fully charged. That doesn’t make much difference in the grander scheme of things, as high volume, streaming, and running multiple features in the background at the same time will drain battery life quickly on either set of buds.

Winner: AirPods Pro

Bowers & Wilkins PI5 vs. AirPods Pro: Overall winner

Our previous face-off between the Bowers & Wilkins PI7 vs. AirPods Pro proved that Apple can beat all promising newcomers, and the end result is no different in this battle. The AirPods Pro has more going for it in terms of functionality and special features. The level of noise cancellation and sound you’re getting, both from a listening and calling perspective, is outstanding. We get that the design has overstayed its welcome and battery life should be top priority regarding the rumored AirPods Pro 2, but Apple’s porcelain noise-cancellers give you more than your money’s worth in overall performance. Period.

Bowers & Wilkins PI5AirPods Pro
Price and value (5)44
Design (15)1311
Controls (10)69
Audio quality (20)1817
Active noise cancellation(20)1817
Special features and apps (15)813
Call quality (5)45
Battery life (10)67
Total score (100)7783

The PI7 and PI5 make huge statements with their incredible sound, robust ANC, and gorgeous designs. Neither comes cheap, but the PI5 is more attainable and a must-buy for audiophiles that want something more premium than any Apple wireless earbuds. Had B&W opted to give the PI5 some of the extras reserved for the higher-priced PI7, this face-off might have been closer.