Details: First in-ear earphone from British hi-fi boutique B&W
MSRP: $179 (manufacturer’s page)
Current Price: $180 from amazon.com / $180 from Apple.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 32Ω | Sens: 118 dB/V | Freq: 10-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ I-plug w/mic & 3-button remote
Nozzle Size: 5mm | Preferred tips: generic bi-flanges
Wear Style: Straight down
Accessories (3.5/5) – Single-flange silicone tips (4 sizes), right-angle adapter, airline adapter, and zippered velour carrying pouch
Build Quality (4/5) – The C5 shells are quite large and made entirely out of metal, which gives them an impressive heft. The angled housings and porous filter have the look and feel of quality but unfortunately the same cannot be said for the cable, which has a bit of memory and doesn’t feel all that upmarket. The caps on the end of the ‘memory wire’ section are not glued in place and came off on my pair after a day. Mild driver flex presents itself as well
Isolation (3.5/5) – Surprisingly good despite the ‘porous filter’ at the rear. Can be made better with aftermarket bi-flanges
Microphonics (4/5) – The earphones have to be worn cord-down but the earloop keeps the microphonics low
Comfort (3.5/5) – Though comfort is a major marketing push for the C5, the earloop design simply won’t work for some ears. The wire is pretty stiff at the top and pushes unpleasantly on the inside of the ear after a couple of hours and the earphones being large and heavy doesn’t help matters. Wearing the C5 over-the-ear is made impossible by the earloop and putting the earphones on correctly – annoyingly – often requires the use of both hands
Sound (7.6/10) – The C5 is Bowers & Wilkins’ second iPhone headset, following in the footsteps of last year’s supraaural P5. Like the P5, the C5 attempts to balance a relatively mainstream sound signature with audio quality that won’t offend the discerning listener. Most noticeable is the emphasized mid-bass – the C5 is a decidedly bass-heavy earphone and offers up tons of power and impact. The low end is not the tightest or the most controlled, lagging behind competitors such as the Sennhesier IE6, nor is it as deep and extended as that of the Future Sonics Atrios. It is a touch slower and thicker than I would have liked, too, giving the C5 a full and fleshed-out sound even next to similarly bass-heavy sets such as the Beyerdynamic DTX 101. Interestingly, both the sound signature and sound quality of the C5 bear remarkable similarity to Beyer’s flagship – the manufacturers clearly did their research on the type of sound consumers find appealing.
The midrange of the C5 is recessed next to the heavy bass – more so than that of the DTX 101, for example – and the low end seems to bleed up more noticeably as a result. The note thickness carries over as well, causing the C5 to sound a bit less clean and open than the DTX 101 and borderline muddy next to the HiFiMan RE-ZERO and VSonic GR07. Clarity and detail retrieval are decent but not on-level with some of the truly hi-fi sets in the price range. The overall tone is slightly warm and the sound remains smooth well into the treble. Harshness and sibilance are nowhere to be found and the overall treble curve is quite inoffensive, dipping off gently at the top. The top end is smooth and relaxed but again lacks the clarity and sparkle of earphones found near the top of the <$100 price bracket. As a result, much like the P5, the C5 falls just a touch on the darker side of neutral for me and lacks some air and transparency.
Also like the P5, the C5 has an average-sized soundstage with good imaging and decent instrument separation. It’s a well-rounded presentation that nevertheless doesn’t offer anything extraordinary among the more high-performing dynamic-driver earphones. The sound is not as open as I would like and positioning precision is not pinpoint-accurate. The somewhat constrained dynamics – an issue with the P5 headphone as well – is one of the limitations to be faulted. One upside of both the signature and presentation of the C5 is how forgiving it is of the contents of an average listener’s iPod. Audiophile-oriented sets such as the HiFiMan RE-ZERO do not take kindly to 128 kbps mp3s but the C5 chugs along just fine. Still, while the B&Ws do perform better than other fashion-forward high-end in-ears such as the Beats by Dre Tour and Munitio Teknines, next to Head-Fi favorites such as the Sony EX600, HiFiMan RE262, and VSonic GR07 their warm and mid-bassy antics leave me quite cold.
Value (6.5/10) – Despite its hefty price tag, the older P5 headphone is a reasonably good value in my book because – sound aside – very few sets can match its combination of portability, build quality, comfort, and isolation. The in-ear market, however, is flooded with sets that can compete with the B&W C5 in every way for a lot less money. Like the P5, the in-ear model treads no new ground whatsoever with its signature, either, sounding dry, colored, and a touch thick. The sound is clearly more consumer than audiophile and while the C5 does surpass mainstream models such as the Beats by Dre Tour and Klipsch Image S4 in fidelity, it seems content with stopping there. I have other complaints as well – the adjustable earloop, while able to provide a secure fit, can be time-consuming to put on and isn’t necessarily comfortable in the long run; the cylindrical remote unit is difficult to operate blindly; and the velour carrying case is monumentally frustrating to use. On the whole, the earphones are beautifully packaged, nice to look at, and surprisingly well-isolating but simply don’t perform as well as I’d have liked for the asking price.
Pros: 2 year warranty; secure fit; fairly inoffensive sound signature
Cons: Would be more comfortable without earloop; frustrating carrying case; sound quality on par with cheaper sets