It’s no secret that Bowers & Wikins (“B&W”), best known for their high-end loudspeakers used in music recording studios, makes some killer consumer speakers. I have previously gushed over both the Zeppelin Mini and the MM-1 on these berry-filled pages. But the C5s are B&W’s first foray into the field of consumer in-ear headphones. So, do the C5s pump out refined bass-filled beats like their big brothers? Well, follow the link to find out!
Unlike most of my speaker reviews where I separately analyze the sound and the features, I really can’t separate the two with the C5s. Like a first date, the C5s really only deliver if the setting is right. So before getting into the quality of audio and what makes it great, let’s run through the setup and features that make the C5s comfortable to wear.
Setup: The C5s come with a variety of ear gels designed to fill up your ear canal. Completely plugging up the ear is important because it ensures ambient noise can’t sneak in and the music can’t sneak out. Thus, it pays to take some time to find the ear gels that are right for you; earphones that will feel as comfortable after an hour’s use as they did in the first five minutes.
Hanging In: Unlike simple earbuds that balance in the ear or earphones that wrap around the back, the C5s have a few new tricks to keep themselves secure and to keep their all-important position as the bouncer to your ear canal. The C5s stay balanced in the ear with (what B&W call) a secure loop. The adjustable secure loop pushes against the inner-ear cartilage in order to stay in place. To keep the C5s leaning into the ear canal, the inner casing is weighted with Tungsten. In my testing, the combination of the weights and secure loop did a fairly good job keeping the headphones secure in a day of normal movement and an airplane ride, but I found myself readjusting a few times when out on a jog. But let’s be serious–these high-end earphones are designed for casual environments, not the rough and tumble gym setting.
Trick: To get the earbuds deep enough into the ear to stay secure, grab the top of the ear and pull upwards while inserting the earbud.
Ahh, finally we can get to the main event–Sound: The C5s stand out from the competition by producing an incredibly large stage of sound using something called a micro porous filter–a type of sound diffuser. Sound diffusers are usually used with larger speakers to scatter sound waves and reduce echo, resulting in a bigger sound from a small space. B&W created a tiny sound diffuser–the micro porous filter–that is made out of hundreds of microscopic steel balls and stuck one on the back of each headphone, to give the biggest sound to the smallest space–the ear.
Like other B&W speakers, the C5s do a fantastic job reproducing a wide range of sound, but the bass is limited due to the headphone form factor. Let me try and explain: #1 because of the size of the overall package, in-ear headphones are limited to smaller drivers (smaller cones push less air, creating weaker bass vibrations); #2 no one wants to risk their hearing by creating such strong vibrations so close to the eardrum; #3. the bass is delivered directly and only to the ear, so it is impossible to create the effect of body shaking bass. Those limitations being mentioned, the C5s produce the best range of sound compared to any other in-ear headphone I have tested–including Beats. The vocals and high notes are crisp and the lows are deep and clear, without a thumping boom.
Wrapup: In-ear headphones aren’t for everyone, but for those who are in the market and who really care about audio the B&W C5s are simply the best out there right now. And at a $30 premium over the standard $150 Beats by Dr. Dre, the $180 price tag seems pretty reasonable to get in on some B&W quality.
Disclaimer: A demo unit was sent for this review.