Product: C5 In-Ear Headphones

Company: Bowers & Wilkins

Retail Price: $179.99

Review By: Bill Jones

The technological advancement of mp3 players has made listening to our favorite music on the go easier than ever, but at what cost? The mp3 files we play are essentially compressed music files, so we lose a bit of quality in the playback. And those white earbuds that come with Apple products are actually pretty decent, but they’re far from perfect. So companies have offered their own solutions for audiophiles looking for something more from their portable tunes.

Bowers & Wilkins is the latest in the line of manufacturers to offer its take on the solution to that very problem. The company has made a name for itself over the course of more than four decades with its hi-fi audio designs, catering to natural studio sounds. But the company has only previously offered one headset, in the noise-isolating P5s. So the in-ear design of B&W’s latest, the C5, is a first for the company. Luckily, the company was nice enough to send a pair of headphones our way to give them a try.

Upon even the quickest of glances, it is clear that the C5 headphones are a B&W product. They’ve got that sleek, piano black design that speaks both to their price point and quality, and is a hallmark of B&W products. The headphones come with interchangeable eartips, for people of different sizes, while the other end of the aluminum tube features a micro-porous filter, which in terms of sound is designed give the sound more of an open-air feel, and in terms of design has a nice chrome shine to the ends. But how do the C5s stack up? Let’s get to it.

Things I Love About the C5 In-Ear Headphones

The sound. The sound of the C5 in-ear headphones is of very high-quality. A large part of that is owed to the snug fit of the noise-isolating eartips, which don’t completely cancel out the world around the listener, but do a fantastic job of isolating the sound of the music and getting rid of much of ambient noises in the environment. I wore them to the office a few times, and most of chatter that I usually hear was not heard when I had these in.

The micro porous filter also does its job to a great degree. Hundreds of microscopic steel balls act collectively as a diffuser, making the music sound as though it has a lot of room, a lot of space, while it actually has very little in the form of earbuds. It all adds up to a quality sound where I admittedly heard some things in Nine Inch Nails tracks I don’t think I’d ever noticed before. And that’s also considering the fact that these were primarily tested on an iPod Touch — these are being marketing for mobile devices, so I figured we’d get the most accurate reading of them in that setting — primarily with mp3s more than FLAC files.

I’m also a huge fan of the secure loop, which ingeniously makes the simple move of looping the coated cord though a notch on the sides of each bud, forming loops that can easily be expanded or reduced. Those loops fit into the inner ridge of the ear, so once the headphones are snuggly inserted in-ear, it’s unlikely that they’ll come back on when it is not intended, even with vigorous movements. It works so well, and it’s so simple.

Things I Strongly Dislike About the C5 In-Ear Headphones

The discussion of dislikes of the C5 headphones has to start with size. They’re rather large, in terms of length and girth, for in-ear earbuds. It’s not a total detriment, but some people will find them a little unwieldy, and everyone should be prepared for a few comments from onlookers — “Wow, those are really big!” — which does kill some of the sleek appearance.

The bigger offense, though, is that the earphones seem to be very sensitive to movement. Even the slightest tap on that micro porous filter creates a boom with the in-ear construction, and most movements of the cord create some kind of interference sounds. This problem might be more excusable if these weren’t designed for the portable market, where shuffling of the cord and the potential for movement is not just common, it’s almost guaranteed. And the disturbances go a long way in killing the momentum of the otherwise stellar sound.

Another drawback is the case. It looks like a little change purse, slightly hardened to protect the C5s from being smashed, with an insert of sorts with holes to place the headphones and a rack on which to wrap the cord. It’s all a bit cumbersome, though, making it difficult to store the headphones. After extended storage, the cord also comes back out with noticeable kinks, and I’m not a fan of the stiff cord or its volume control to begin with.

The Conclusion

Ultimately, the B&W C5 In-Ear Headphones deliver in terms of sound. There are genius elements to its design, such as the ear loops and micro porous filter. But they’ve also got their drawbacks, such as size, noise interference and case. Major audiophiles may enjoy the sound design, but at a $179.99 retail price, B&W is asking a bit much for a set of headphones with its fair share of problems. And ultimately the improvements over the standard white Apple buds don’t seem enough to justify the purchase.

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Pads & Panels received a set of the headphones courtesy of the company for review purposes.