Review of Bowers & Wilkins B&W C5 Series 2 in-ear premium headphones w/lots of pics!


Android Expert
This is a review of Bowers & Wilkins B&W C5 Series 2 (new 2014 version) in-ear premium headphones with in-line remote. Bowers & Wilkins C5 Headphones, C5 In-ear headphones, C5 earphones - Bowers & Wilkins | B&W

Often after reviewing full size headphones people ask me if I can recommend something with a similar sound signature in a scaled down in-ear design. Some look at over-ear headphones as more appropriate for indoor listening, while on-ear makes a nice transition into a portable world, but you still have to deal with a headband and associated clamping force. That's where in-ear comes in, but in a lot of the cases they can't recapture the same sound magic of a larger full size driver tuning unless you are dealing with expensive multi-driver IEMs to tackle different parts of the spectrum separated by crossover. And even with those, including hybrids with a mix of dynamic and BA drivers, it's still a hit or a miss. With a new B&W C5 Series 2 in-ear headphones release - it's a HIT that captures the essence of P5 and P7 tuning and puts a number of other headphones that cost 2x-3x as much to shame. Here is what I found.

After reviewing B&W P5 and P7 headphones, you are no longer surprised by high quality of "formal attire" packaging C5 arrived in, but nevertheless - it's still a rewarding unboxing experience. Just like with any of their other models, you are presented with a high res image on the front and a comprehensive description on the back, including design details of the internal components. Opening magnetic flap cover reveals C5 under the plastic display with a description of "secure loop" functionality inside of the flap cover (more about it later). Out of the box, you get a product manual including a separate instruction card for the "secure loop" fitment. Also, you get 4 sets of custom eartips and a very unique suede half-moon shaped headphone case. B&W always tries to stand out from the crowd with their unique headphone cases, some of which are a bit over the top. This particular case is actually not bad.

Design of the earpiece shell is all metal, and has a nice weight to it though doesn't feel too heavy. Actually the design is quite unique. First of all, the back of the shell has what appears to be a very fine mesh cover with a solid feel without any flex. Underneath of it is a micro-porous filter responsible for a wide airy sound with a very impressive soundstage - definitely among the best I heard from in-ear design. But unlike "open back" headphones, there is no sound leakage. As a matter of fact, with a right selection of eartips, these have an excellent passive noise isolation. I'm still scratching my head how they were able to accomplish this with such a one-way filter. Still, this is not a true star of this design, but "secure loop" is!

The cable which comes out of the shell goes into a pre-shaped "memory" loop which wraps around and goes through a groove on the side of the shell. By pulling/pushing on the loop you can change its diameter to adjust for a comfortable fitment around ear's inner rim. B&W refers to this as infinite loop adjustment since there is no click action, it just slides and stays in place. It's sort of an alternative to a wing stabilizers used in sports IEMs. This "secure loop" is very effective and quite comfortable, but I would NOT recommend adjusting with headphones inside of your ear because you will get your skin pinched! There is also a way to release a small tab at the end of memory wire which allows for the loop to come out of the groove, thus being able to use C5 without loop-stabilizer. You can actually use it with a "memory wire" behind the ear but have to swap L/R sides; and speaking of which you do get a clear L/R marking on each earpiece.

With memory wire shielding being an extended strain relief, next is the actual cable which is round and soft. It is a little bit thinner prior to a short y-splitter and becomes thicker going down to a straight slim gold plated headphone jack connector with a great strain relief. The left side of the wire also has an in-line remote/mic. Though meant to be used with iOS devices, multi-function button in the middle is fully compatible with most of the common Android phones from Samsung, HTC, LG, and Sony. With a single click you can Play/Pause/Call (to control music playback as well as to pick up phone calls), with a double click you skip next, with a triple click you skip prev, and long press starts Google NOW. Volume control is specific to iOS devices only.

I started my review with a bold statement about C5 capturing the essence of P5 and P7 headphones, so you can definitely prepare yourself for a bass enhanced sound signature. C5 Series 2 definitely has a resemblance to P5 Series 2, which is rare for IEM, but C5 takes it a step further with a more balanced sound and a more upfront upper mids and a wider soundstage and a better treble extension, pushing it closer into P7 territory. As a matter of fact, I found C5 upper mids/treble to sound more natural and less colored in comparison to P7. One thing I still can't get over is how much C5 feels like a dual dynamic driver due to it's fine-tuning and a balance between the bass and the high frequency, something that is not easy to accomplish with a single dynamic driver design used in C5.

The sound signature of C5 Series 2 is definitely balanced with an enhanced bass. The sound itself is very dynamic and has great layering and separation. Low end has an analog quality bass with a deep smooth sub-bass texture and punchy fast mid-bass. Bass is tight and very well controlled without spilling into lower mids; it only comes to play when being called for. Upper mids are very clear and detailed, have a perfect balance between brightness and warmth, very lush, organic, and with a relatively (to my ears) accurate vocal tonality. Treble is well extended, very smooth, and without a hint of sibilance or harshness. Soundstage is wide and deep with a feeling of airiness and nearly a 3D imaging. I also found these to be quite forgiving with lower quality recording, and in general very efficient without a need for amping. Furthermore, I didn't sense any microphonics/cable noise.

Overall, I'm probably starting to sound like a broken record with every review saying "this is a best pair of headphones I heard so far". There is a factor of new-toy-syndrome which sometime clouds our judgment, or a brain burn-in when you listen for awhile to the same pair of headphones until they grow on you. After a free-air burn in for about 20-25 hrs (strongly recommend for any dynamic driver), I already knew I'm looking at something special, and I took my time to listen and to compare C5 Series 2 (don't have any previous experience with original C5) to my other headphones with enhanced bass signatures. And every time I was coming back to C5 where it had the most dynamic sound, the most analog quality of low end, and among the most detailed and organic upper mids/treble for a dynamic driver. In all seriousness, if B&W will tune down their bass closer to neutral level - you will be looking at one fine pair of smooth reference IEMs. Yes, it has a big fun bass, but it's done very tastefully and tuned to stay in balance with the rest of the spectrum. These definitely get my high recommendation!

Here are the pictures.