With the popularity of true wireless earbuds, wireless neckband headphones aren't as easy to come by as they once were – which is a bit of a shame if you're keen for a more secure fit while running, exercising, or simply commuting.
Fortunately, the Bowers & Wilkins PI3s are good enough that you won't mind that your options are somewhat limited. They're not perfect, but when it comes to the key features that make a good pair of headphones, they do the job admirably.
We used them during plenty of different scenarios to see how well they performed – and while we were missing a few key features, we were mightily impressed by the sound quality they provide.
Price and availability
The Bowers & Wilkins PI3 has a recommended retail price of $199 / £169.99 – that works out at around AU$300, though official pricing in Australia is still to be confirmed.
There are a few colors to choose from, including space grey, gold, or blue – somewhat unusually, there's no sign of an AirPods-style white variant.
The Bowers & Wilkins PI3 look pretty attractive for their form factor. Neckband headphones need to be both sturdy enough to withstand a bit of rough and tumble, while still feeling good around your neck; these do the job pretty well.
The strap part is thin and flexible enough that you can easily hide it under a shirt collar or jumper without feeling conspicuous. There's also the fact that these turn into a form of necklace when not in use as the two earbuds stick together magnetically, so you won't have to worry about losing them or getting tangled up in cables. Unlike other neckband headphones though, they won't automatically pause your music when you remove them from your ears.
They're lightweight, too. You'll soon forget you're wearing them around your neck, which is particularly useful when hitting the gym or going for a run. Although, when it comes to popping them in your ears, you will need to experiment with the included eartips and ear stabilizer fins – and this is well worth doing if you want to achieve the best fit (and therefore sound) you can.
Disappointingly, these are only resistant to light rain, splashes, and sweat. There's no 'proper' IP-based waterproofing and that seems like a missed opportunity. Living in an area prone to heavy rainfall too, we're a little worried about Bowers & Wilkins's definition of 'light' rain too.
On the left side of the neckband is the power button which also doubles as the Bluetooth pairing button. On the right hand side are two circular buttons which control volume, as well as a multi-function button between them.
This button controls the playback, pausing, and skipping of your music, as well allowing you to accept or reject calls. Underneath it is the USB-C charging port.
Features and battery life
Battery life is a crucial aspect of any wireless headphones and the Bowers & Wilkins PI3 perform fine in this area. They offer about eight hours, which during our testing we found was more like seven hours.
That's about average for wireless earbuds, though models like the Optoma NuForce BE Sport 4 offer 10 hours, while the Beats Powerbeats 3 offer a 12-hour battery life. On the plus side, as it's charged via USB-C, it only takes 15 minutes to get two hours of charge back.
Don't expect noise-cancelling here either – you'll need to shell out $299 / £269.99 (about AU$450) for the Bowers & Wilkins PI4 Wireless Headphones to get that feature.
The PI3s work with the Bowers & Wilkins headphones app, so you can easily update them, see the battery percentage, and um, listen to some soundscapes when you want to relax for a bit. We'd have much preferred an equalizer in the app but we guess some relaxing noises when you're resting are useful to some.
There's also a built-in mic for taking calls and we found it to be pretty clear when speaking on the phone.
Bowers & Wilkins frequently uses a Dual Driver technology, whereby one 9.2mm driver is used for lows and mids, while another is used for bass, with each is given its own dedicated amplifier. That's the case with the Bowers & Wilkins PI3, which goes some way to explaining why they sound so good.
We tried them out on Queen and David Bowie's Under Pressure, the Bowers & Wilkins PI3 ensured it sounded crisp, lively, with weighty, well-balanced low frequencies. That continued when we cranked up the volume, and we didn't experience any issues with distortion, even at higher volumes.
Similarly, bass-heavy music like White Stripes' Seven Nation Army and The Beatles' Come Together sounded punchy and rich; there's no excessive thump here.
Mids are smooth, too. It's quite extraordinary how pleasant the Bowers & Wilkins PI3 sound with, whatever you throw at them. With every track, details are noticeable, from the cough at the beginning of Wonderwall, to the '1, 2, 3, 4' at the start of Stereophonics' I Wouldn't Believe Your Radio. If you switch to the PI3s from cheaper headphones, suddenly everything sounds that little bit sharper, with no loss of quality to be heard.
Perhaps then there's no need for an equalizer for the Bowers & Wilkins app – but we're greedy and we'd have liked to have been able to tweak things ourselves just every once in a while.
So, the Bowers & Wilkins PI3 aren't perfect. Lack of waterproofing is annoying and we'd have liked better battery life.
However, the sound quality is so exceptional, it makes up for some of the features we're missing.
Comfy to wear when out and about, they're just right for daily wear. Just be wary of heavy rain and don't be surprised if they need recharging every couple of days. You won't care so much though when you're busy rediscovering your favorite music all over again.