Headphone Review: Bowers & Wilkins C5

A concert for one, that is the slogan, and thought, behind the Bowers and Wilkins C5 IEMs which were designed for the iPod and iPhone. Bowers & Wilkins (B&W, Bowers and Wilkins) has been a long time contender in the audio business with their long line of speakers. Recently, they began designing iPod and iPhone docking stations that also integrated the B&W sound into them. After that, they took their first steps into the headphone market with the P5 headphones. Just a few weeks ago, they released the new C5 headset. This would be their first steps into the IEM business, and a big one at that. IEMs differ greatly from headphones and floor speakers, so this first step is a huge one. The B&W C5s have a dazzling design, good audio, average build, great comfort, and an overall decent bang for your buck.

Specifications

  • Drivers: 9mm Dynamic
  • Impedance: 32 ohm
  • Frequency Response: 10 – 20000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 118 dB

In the Box

  • B&W C5 Headset
  • 4 sets of ear tips
  • Carrying case
  • Airplane adapter
  • TRRS to TRS adapter
  • Manuals


The C5s are overloaded with accessories, everything from a TRRS to TRS adapter to the carrying case are included.

Design

From the outside, the C5s are designed from the outside in. This starts with the box. Even the box has a sexy design to it. The front flips open, the box is extremely large and the headphones are displayed in a luxurious fashion. It really gives the impression that the headphones are million dollar headphones. The box has some heft to it, but it doesn’t end there.

The design of the actual headset is in grayscale. There is no coloring to it at all. However, it’s still a beautiful looking product, and even that would be an understatement. The C5s have a black gloss finish that is shiny and just eye catching. There are interesting looking EarLoops on the headphones that are meant to keep the headphones in place. Bowers and Wilkins is printed gracefully across the headphones. On the bottom side of each earpiece are the left and right markers. The headphones as a whole just look stunning and eye-pleasing, just like most B&W products.


The C5s have a unique design that just turns heads.

On the exterior of each earpiece are the microporous filters on the headset. These are said to improve bass response, but they also add a load of detail to the headphones and really work with the design as a whole. The overall design of these headphones looks fun and stunning.

Design: ★★★★★

Audio

When I first got the C5s and put them on, I noticed one thing; the blaring bass. This bass was way too much in quantity and lacked quality. Those microporous filters really weren’t doing their job. The mids were lost, and so were the treble, nothing sounded right. Of course, this changed drastically after letting the headphones burn in for a few hours.

Bass

The bass on these headphones is really powerful and does dig in quite deeply. They are actually really well controlled nonetheless not bleeding into anything too often. The bass is well above neutral throughout the low spectrum, but does have more of a mid-bass emphasis, which adds a nice warmness and dark sound to them. This bump can become much at times when the bass does overpower and become sloppy. The deep lows have decent punch as well. The impact the C5s give is extremely large and powerful; it is definitely the main story of these headphones.


The microporous filters are said to aid bass response, they definitely work well at doing that.

Bass: ★★★★

Mids

The mids on these headphones aren’t entirely forgotten. The mids do take time to come in correctly, but once they are, the details are ample; they do miss one or two here and there though, so don’t expect perfect detail out of these. The clarity is really great on these headphones though, what you can hear is pretty close to crystal clear. The vocals lacked some of the sweetness I enjoyed. The mids as a whole seemed more boring than anything due to some missing dynamics. The overall mids are good, but could definitely use a little more refinement.

Mids: ★★★★

Highs

The highs on the headphones are not forgotten, but do take some time to come in. When they do, they are actually pretty good. There is a smeared sense to them in more complex songs, otherwise, they do have some great clarity to them. Like the mids, they do miss a detail or two, but nothing too much. The highs also have some decent sparkle to them, especially for being a bass heavy headset. The treble does ride a little louder than the mids forming more of a V-shaped signature to them, but does add some life to the missing mids. Overall, the highs were enjoyable, but like the mids, missing some details.

Highs: ★★★★

Noise Isolation

The noise isolation on the C5 is actually quite decent. They aren’t the best, but definitely aren’t the worst. They are similar to the isolation the NUForce NE700s give. They won’t be able to entirely tune out your screaming mother, but will cover her up pretty nicely with some music*. The isolation on these headphones is quite decent actually.

Microphonics

Here goes, the worst part of these headphones thus far. Due to their unique earloops, these beauties can only be worn down. This is especially bad if you don’t like cable thump. So expect some of that. Wearing them over the ear is extremely difficult even if you switch ears do to the earloops’ length. No clip is included, so alleviating them can only be done by… Well, that’s the thing, you can’t. Even though all of this sounds bad, the microphonics on these are definitely livable. I do wish they included, at minimum a clip to help out with this.


To ensure that you can get the most bass response, as well as the best quality throughout the rest of the spectrum, it’s recommended that you select the right ear tips to get the best seal. The C5s come with 4 pairs.

The overall sound signature on these is actually quite comparable to both the DUNU Hephaes and NUForce NE700s. The bass is blaringly powerful, but becomes well controlled. The clarity in these is better than the DUNUs, but worse than the NE700s. The signature on these would be good for any bass-head looking for some powerful bass that will make your head shake.

Audio: ★★★★

Build

Great looks and good audio quality keeps these headphones rolling along, however, we come to the build quality where things become hit or miss. Let’s start with the worst and work our way up, the headphone jack feels very cheap and does scare me a bit. The straight jack just doesn’t seem as strong as the housings, and the build on them seem very questionable to me. The gold plating does help, but the overall build of the headphone jacks aren’t that great.


The headphone jack on these feels really cheap and doesn’t look durable at all.

The cable is a translucent white color allowing you to see the silverish color that lies within. The cable looks really nice, but feels cheap. Although it does seem decently strong, the cable has a mind of its own and really enjoys tangling itself up. The rest of the cable is great though.

Each housing is really durable and strong, it also has some heft to them so it makes them appear stronger that way as well. The strain reliefs coming out of each earpiece is actually the earloop itself, so this will protect the cable from getting damaged here. The housings are well protected; too well protected, although that isn’t possible.

These headphones do come with a case. The case is similar in shape to a taco shell. It’s actually really strong and has a really nice design to it that screams luxury. Either way, I do recommend using the case as it will definitely extend the life of your headphones while not in use.


There is a case included with these; it isn’t just for looks either, it’s a strong hardcase.

Build: ★★★½

Comfort

The C5s offer users great comfort due to the earloops. Earlier, I mentioned that these earloops stopped me from wearing them over the ear to reduce microphonics, however, they do serve the purpose of keeping the headset in place and would be great for active people. The earpieces barely move when I have them in. The headphones don’t use deep insertion, so that is also going to make it more on the comfortable side. The headphones don’t hurt to insert, nor do they fatigue after you put them in. The only downside is that they can’t be worn up, which is my preference for wearing them.


The earloops on the headphones may look whacky, but they make the C5 really comfortable.

Comfort: ★★★★½

Value

These luxurious looking headphones also do have sort of a luxurious price to them. The C5s will retail at 180 dollars, which seems a little overpriced for what you actually get. The design is the main thing selling here while the audio quality does sort of take the back seat at this price point since there are headphones that cost almost half the price with similar audio quality. If you look at audio quality only, the value of these headphones is quite bad as for the audio you get, the price should be about half of what it sells for. The design does kick in a little, and so does the comfort, but they still seem overpriced a little at this price point, especially looking at the build of the cables and headphone jack. Even with the included accessories, and the useful remote control, I still don’t see these headphones being worth the 180 B&W are asking for.


The remote and mic does add some value to these headphones, especially for smartphone (and iDevice) users, but it won’t make up for the extremely high price point.

Value: ★★★★

Final Thoughts

Bowers and Wilkins really took these headphones to the next level with the amount of craftsmanship they put into the C5. It definitely is a good step forward for them. The headphones however, didn’t hit the mark for me value. The build is great if you only look at the earpieces, but the cable and headphone jack don’t look the best for me. The audio quality was good, but still didn’t stack up to headphones in this price range. If you are looking for a luxurious pair of headphones with good sound quality, but don’t mind spending that extra dime (well more than just a dime), these headphones will suit you well. B&W took a good step into the IEM business, but they do have to remember, beauty is more than meets the eye.

I’d like to thank John for the product sample

Overall Score

† All prices are in US currency.
This review was written by the iFans.com Review Team. Cumulative scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
This accessory, product, or app was received as a sample. Thanks John for the product sample.
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