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Sunday
Dec252011

Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones Review

Bowers & Wilkins has a tendency to make the most incredibly unique audio products in the world. First we took a look at Bowers & Wilkins' highly regarded P5 headphones early this year and liked them so much that we've given them our Editors' Choice award. Since then Bowers & Wilkins has introduced the C5, the in-ear headphones so differently designed that you would naturally think the $180 price tag is all about the looks. Exactly how good these are? Will they be worth your hard earned cash? Check out the full review to find out!

The usual suspects when it comes to in-ear headphones are included with the C5 like three additional pairs of various sized silicone ear tips to what is already fitted on the pair as well as one of the more elegant storage cases I've seen so far included with in-ear headphones. Then again, you are spending a pretty penny. It's got a semi-hard shell and a soft, velvety interior with a specially designed inner organizer to help better protect the C5 and wrap the cable in a neat way. While the storage case is a nice addition, it's also not the easiest to use and can get frustrating at first as there are no instructions on how to properly store the C5.

It wouldn't hurt to see some foam tips included for better noise-isolation like the Comply tips. Comply's T-400 series will perfectly fit the C5 in case you're wondering.

Jumping straight into business, the C5 are equipped with an inline 3-button remote with microphone functionality so you can control your music, volume and answer calls. It's compatible with all iOS devices, Macs and the microphone's audio quality is superb. But, like many other mics we've tested, this one also tends to pick up noisy backgrounds as well as winds. As far as actually using the remote itself, I never hated an inline remote such as this one before. It's downright horrible to use. Because the rounded design, you'll have trouble knowing where exactly you need to press in order to change the volume. By the time you've found the correct orientation, pressing the button is still difficult compared to all others. Apart from the concave indentation for the middle multi-function button, the rest of the remote is a recipe for bad user experience.

The C5, although look fragile at first glance, are as tough as tough can be. Built using lightweight metal housings with a black glossy finish and durable, tangle-free transparent cable with twisted audio wires inside. The 3.5mm plug is gold plated and has a slim, iPhone case-friendly profile. 

By now you would be definitely curious as to what exactly that silvery part of the C5 is. What might look like tiny, glistening jewelry made from platinum is actually part of the C5's exquisite design and what Bowers & Wilkins calls the Micro Porous Filter. It's made up from hundreds of micro metal balls that act as a sonic diffuser which is what helps make the C5 sound as good as it sounds. More on that later though.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the silicone ear tips. You need to be very careful when removing these as they are very fragile and have a thin, delicate layer in proportion to their thick stem that slips onto the metal tip. Make sure to grab the tip entirely when removing unless you want yours to look like mine. This has never happened to me before with other silicone tips but I should have been more gentle in the first place.

Bowers & Wilkins has the design part down, but sadly form and function is in need of improvement. Comfort is far more important the good design. You'd think good design measures in how well the product fits and feels, but that isn't always the case. The C5 are so intelligent in their unique design that they aren't the easiest to to use as most in-ears are. With the being said, one can't ignore the C5's brilliant Secure Loop feature that secured the fit inside your ears for when your most active or just have trouble with in-ear headphones staying inside your ears. The Secure Loop works by fitting inside the rim of your ear in order to keep the C5 from falling out. You can easily adjust the loop size to your ear shape, however I found that the level of position you set the Secure Loop in doesn't always stay put and tends to slide out of position more freely than it should.

In any case, the Secure Loop design works really well in keeping a secure fit no matter how hard you try to shake you head around. While the concept is very different than typical secure fit solutions, it isn't the most comfortable. I feel like the aggressive sharp edges of the metal housing of the C5 in conjunction with the Secure Loop is over complicated and not as comfortable to wear as most in-ear headphones are. I think others would agree when I say this.

Very rarely do we come across headphones that actually turn out to sound exactly as they were described by their maker. In this case, the C5 will make you forget all the negatives with their outstanding sound performance that delivers a balanced, natural sound quality. And as most of you guys know, natural is way better than artificial, pun intended. All ridiculousness aside, the C5 have just the right amount of clean and tightly packed bass response, mids that are detailed enough to distinguish between every single instrument topped off with life-like clear highs. Many in-ear headphones sound good, but none of the ones we've reviewed in a similar price range have sounded this balanced and incredibly wide opened as the C5. It's due to that Micro Porous Filter that enables for such a spacious sound.

JAYS' dual micro armature packing q-Jays ($180) come very close but lack in richness of bass that the C5 are able to deliver while sounding as opened as the q-Jays. 

Wearing the C5 is more like wearing well crafted jewelry. You've got that beautiful Micro Porous Filter glistening like micro diamonds in light. Granted these aren't the most low profiled pair of in-ears I've tested, but they look very cool fitted in your ears to say the least. 

Whether you're an audiophile or not, there's no doubt that the C5 will blow you away with their performance. The C5 are a one-of-a-kind, industrial designed work of art only Bowers & Wilkins can bring to the table. Not every person will find these comfortable but one thing is for certain, they sound absolutely fantastic. The C5 were really close to receiving our Editors' Choice award if it hadn't been for the less than mediocre 3-button remote and variable comfort.

Bowers-wilkins.com

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