on September 4, 2011
I travel a lot, and I count on high-end sound-isolating earphones to shut off the unpleasant sonic environment of air travel. I've tried several earphones and settled on the Shure SE530s a couple of years ago. I have a lot of respect for Bowers and Wilkins, and I ordered the C5s as soon as them became available. Unboxing the C5 was an interesting experience. B&W designers must have taken hints from Apple (including a smart magnetic lid), although it's not as easy or obvious to figure out how to take the earphones out of the package without damaging the cord.
My first experience with the C5s was on a cross-country flight with the default tips on. While I enjoyed the sound, I could not get a tight, soundproof fit with the standard tips and took the earphones off after an hour into the flight. Back at home, I swapped the default tips (midsize narrow) for the midsize-wide tips and immediately found sonic nirvana. With the wide tips, the earphones fit perfectly and I get incredible sound isolation. Once you establish a tight fit, the earphones are comfortable enough to wear for hours. The sound quality is excellent. Compared to the Shure SE530 (which costs twice as much), I find the C5 slightly warmer in the midrange, especially for vocals. This is not a bad thing, since the SE530s are rather dull in the midrange. The soundstage is very wide and the instruments separate nicely, especially with well-produced, uncompressed music. Bass reproduction is excellent - possibly the most realistic, well-balanced bass I've experienced in high-end sound-isolating earphones.
Beyond music, I used the C5s for one phone call and I was impressed with the sound quality. The remote seems to work as intended, but I don't have much experience with it yet. I agree with the other reviewer who commented on the rather small carrying case, which requires careful planning to tuck the cables in without pinching them. Other negatives include the cable which is rather flimsy and not likely to withstand the rigors of air travel for long.
Overall, the C5 is likely to become my standard air travel companion from now on. At half the price of the Shure SE530 (or SE535), with an equally comfortable fit and better sound quality, it's a no brainer. The C5 is well suited for musical material that B&W home speakers are designed for - music that demands accurate reproduction such as vocals, classical, jazz, and rock. However, there's no need to waste your money if you're going to treat these earphones to compressed MP3 files or if your listening preferences tend toward roof-shaking bass or ear-piercing highs.
Update October 4, 2011: I compared the noise isolation of the C5 and the Shure SE530 during a long cross-country flight. Both sets were driven by an iPad, with Apple Lossless source material and EQ initially set to "flat". Here are my findings:
Sensitivity: The SE530s have slightly lower sensitivity than the C5 (~2 dB lower), requiring a slight boost in volume to match the C5. Also, the SE530 has noticeably weaker bass compared to the C5, which I compensated for by changing the EQ to "rock" or "bass booster" while listening to the SE530.
Noise isolation: These earphones are fairly similar in their noise isolation characteristics. As usual, you need a snug fit in your ear canal in order to get the best results. One noticable difference was in the high end: the SE530 does a better job blocking the high-frequency whine of the aircraft air conditioning system. With the C5, there's some residual air conditioning hiss when the music is muted or played at a low volume. If you're old enough to remember cassette tapes, this hiss is fairly similar to tape hiss. Midrange attenuation (e.g., passenger chitchat or PA announcements) is about the same, with perhaps a slight edge for the SE530 (although no ANC headset or earphone blocks out conversation completely). The C5 does a slightly better job blocking the low-frequency engine rumble than the SE530, although no passive set does as well as active noise canceling headsets in that regard.
Comfort: Once you find the right tips, the C5s are incredibly comfortable. Despite their odd shape and relative heft, you hardly notice they are on, even after hours of wearing them. The SE530s are never that comfortable - I usually take them off every couple of hours in order to relieve the pressure on the ear canals. Another advantage of the C5 is for side sleepers. You can rest your head on a pillow and they won't hurt your ears like the SE530s do.
Bottom line: If you don't care about faithful music reproduction, the best bet for noise isolation on airplanes is an ANC headset (I do have a pair but I don't use them to listen to music). If you are looking for great sound with decent noise isolation, the C5 is hard to beat at half the cost of the Shure.
on October 20, 2011
I recently bought a pair of B&W C5 in-ear earphones, based largely on reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. I picked up a pair today, and have to say they're the best earphones I've tried, which is most of them. However, I had the same issue with changing the earbuds as I read elsewhere in these reviews....they're very difficult to remove without tearing, and in fact I tore the as-delivered buds....or at least one of them....before discovering a better method to remove.
So I called (or attempted to call) B&W to arrange replacement buds....but their website doesn't support the C5 earphones AT ALL, and their phone support line is geared to PREVENT humans from reaching other humans. I know...I tried SEVEN times. You CAN get a receptionist, but nobody will actually answer any of their support lines. You just get voice mail telling you to leave a message for callback or an email address.
Now correct me if I'm naive, but I expected that a company with such an elite, high-falutin' image like B&W would take better care of their customers than this. What they've pushed me to do is to return the whole set of earphones to where I bought them, just because one earbud is torn. I'll do it, and get a replacement pair, but that' just plain STUPID business, if you ask me.
For what it's worth, the best way to remove C5 earbuds without tearing them is to PINCH them from the top...HARD....which opens up the base under the very sharp shoulder that holds them on, and allows tear-free removal. Trying to just pull (or 'rotate') them off, or trying to get a fingernail underneath the base to help it along, fails every time. They really ought to round off that sharp square flange that holds them in place just a bit, so they don't have this issue.
Not to mention B&W should offer a way - on their own website - to buy or order replacement earbud covers. I mean, for almost $200 I don't consider these things 'disposable'......
Let the buyer beware.
p.s. Edited to upgrade overall to 4*. The sound really is terrific, and once I replace the ones I bought I'll be very happy. That B&W themselves make it so difficult to deal with them personally is a 1* experience at best. And let's face it.....we'll all need to contact a manufacturer for support sooner or later. I do REPEAT business with the OEM's who support their own products speedily and respectfully. B&W does not.
on November 16, 2011
Bowers & Wilkins C5
In my quest for a great set of earphones that will fit in my pocket, the Bowers & Wilkins C5s easily made the cut on my list to sample. There has been much hype surrounding these interesting earphones, both positive and negative. Therefore, as with any piece of passionately controversial audio equipment, I began my sample of the C5s with a neutral attitude, open mind and a little excitement.
After opening the packaging, the first thing that any user will notice is the memory-wire security-loop that fits to the inside of the earlobe. It is a selling point from B&W, but appears a bit gimmicky to the layman. I was a bit skeptical that it would be comfortable or easily fitted, but I was pleasantly surprised when all I had to do was draw the line to the smallest loop, put it in my ear, and "push-up" until it fit. The connection is rock-solid and makes the earphones virtually weightless in your ear. I wouldn't be surprised to see other manufactures copy this concept in the future.
The metal cylinders of the earphones connect to your noggin with air-right rubber boots that inserts into your ear canals. The initial fit of the factory-standard rubber ear-canal boots appeared to be very good for me. Not too tight or loose, I felt they were just fine for my ears and began my sample. My sample tracks, "Rolling in the Deep" by Adele, "Drown in the Now" by The Crystal Method and "Beautiful Decline" by Abney Park, have a wide range of sounds and all host more subtle audio undercurrents that really stress a speaker. Sampling any of these tracks with the default boots left me feeling underwhelmed. The sound stage was all wrong; the vocals were far too wide and non-specific, lacking full definition. It simply left an airy void in the center. The audio was clear and the bass response was slightly better than many other earphones in the price range from the likes of Klipsch, Shure and Sennheiser. However, those attributes alone made the C5s sonically mediocre at best and no better than the other offerings in this price range. When coupled with the staging problems, it seemed that the C5s were simply another piece of over-hyped audio gear.
I was about to call it a day and proclaim the C5s subpar, but I decided to see if the supplied ear canal boots made a better seal and a difference. I selected the largest of the lot and installed them carefully. The fit was tight, yet comfortable. I started my second round of sampling and within the first few seconds I realized that the little drivers that were mediocre on the first try had evolved into quite possibly the best set of in-ear-earphones under a thousand dollars. The airy void of the center stage filled with tightly defined vocals and the soundstage went from way-too-wide to unbelievably perfect. Closing my eyes, I felt as if I were listening to a nice pair of reference loudspeakers, positioned correctly in front of me. The detail was remarkable, clean, crisp and spatially accurate. Audio fidelity was so high in fact, the source material was 3D in scope and presentation, as it should be. The bass response was equally as impressive, distortion free and with enough impact to impersonate a small subwoofer. The entire frequency range was reproduced as well as a reference driver.
That was it! It was all in the seal of the boot! The bass-filled tracks of The Crystal Method were dutifully reproduced and came alive in a way that none of the other earphones I had tested ever did. The wider soundstage gave new life to Adele's tracks and added a layer of separation to the vocals of the backup-singers that I had missed on all of the other pairs. Abney Park's multi-layered steam-punk style took on a new brilliance, with the sounds of violins and electric guitars separating out beautifully. In fact, the representation was so good, I found myself dusting off old tracks that I hadn't played in years to see if I could nuance some added detail that I had missed. My sampling session turned from listening to music to audition the equipment to the equipment pushing me to audition more music!
In closing, these little reference earphones go toe to toe with, and perhaps beats, drivers costing many times more. The real trick is finding the right rubber boots that fit as tightly as possible and getting a good ear-canal insertion. Overall, the C5s are a marvel of modern engineering and are well deserving of the budding-premium price. These are now my daily go-to earphones.
on November 19, 2011
I have been on a quest for the perfect headphones to go with my iPhone when I travel - and I think I found it in the C5.
Background - I am a 45 year old male and my hearing is good - but I am sure that my high's are compromised. I am a musician (was professional in my youth) and have reference stereos and headphones that are top of the line audiophile stuff. I do also have some B&W speakers (I consider them mid-range - but they are very good for the money). I also DJ - so I like bass, but I also listen to Jazz & Classical - which are ruined by overblown bass in speakers.
I have been researching many headphones to find the best pair to take with me on my never ending business trips. I have bought and / or tried nearly all of the usual suspects (beats, skull candy, klipsch, bose, v-moda, sennheiser, etymotics, etc.). My goal was to get over ear headphones that I could carry - I was sick of canal earphones. I tried the Beats Studio - returned in 48 hours (and their customer service is horrible). Have used some skull candy in ears - but knew the sound was compromised. Get v-moda cross fades, sound was not bad, but bulky (they do not fold flat). Have several Etymotics, Grado, etc.
What I wanted:
- Great sound (did not have to be audiophile)
- Comfort (ideally soft and cushy over ear)
- Portability (foldable)
- Extended bass - but not muddy
- Decent phone mic
- Noise isolation or active noise cancellation
Why these are great:
- Even though they are in ear canal cans, they are super comfortable
- With a large enough ear fitting and a properly adjusted wire, the bass is awesome
- The mids and highs are elegant
- Overall sound is like a great set of studio monitors with a well matched small sub-woofer
- Sound isolation is very good
- Mic is good
- In-line control works very well (unlike the beats)
Bottom line - I have some full sized stereo reference speakers that, with the right song and equipment, can bring tears to your eyes. These $200 headphones can be a similar experience. So I have given up my quest for over ear headphones (unless I attach a mic to HiFiMan HE-500's) - and happily have these C5's.
If you are looking for great $200 headphones with mic for your iPhone (or Droid) - BUY THESE!
on October 27, 2011
These things will simply blow you away. I first bought Dr. Dre Tours, and they sound good, but only for about 10 seconds and then they slip half way out and they sound like $5 earphones, even with the over the ear hooks provided to keep them in they still slip out, and they are very unconfortable, they go way to far into your ear. I then tried Bose MIE2, and they fit on the outside of your ear canal, and they sound great when you are in a room with no noise, but as soon as you get in a car and have any outside noise, you can barely hear the music or someone talking to you over your cell phone. Then I got these B & W C5s and not only do they fit great, but once I put the larger silicone buds and it completely and sealed into my ear (while still being extremely comfortable) the sound literally floored me. The bass blew away Dr. Dre Tours and every other level came in clear and crisp as well, I can't believe such amazing sound comes out of these little things. My music sounds so amazing through these things, I have fallen in love with my music collection all over again. Once you get a proper fit and seal on your ear, the sound is literally so much better then anything I have heard before its like I just discovered a 4th deminsion of sound.
One thing to be aware of when changing the silicone buds, twist them off instead of pulling them off. Pulling them will tear them apart, so just twist instead and you'll be fine.
If you are looking for in ear buds then buy these, there is nothing better.
on October 10, 2013
I was worried about the fragile chord but could not have been more pleased with the sound quality of these headphones after I purchased them. Unfortunately, within 6 months of ordinary use they stopped working--if the chord shifted at all, the sound would cut out. So I returned them under warranty and B&W sent me a new pair. Within 6 months of very limited use and even more careful care, they once again stopped working--the sound would cut out in the right speaker after 15 minutes use. B&W refuses to give refunds, so I am stuck in an endless cycle of using and returning these now...a huge hassle. Too bad.
on December 13, 2012
I really tried with these to make them work. Kept them longer than the 2 week return window you get from the Apple Store thinking that after some adjustments and time I'd get used to these. But sadly not. They sound frikkin amazing which is why I tried to stick it out, but they are a royal pain in the proverbial ... they just don't fit well. And I've tried every earpiece and combination thereof - but to no avail. They will sound great for 2 mins then you swallow or open your mouth and suddenly all the bass disappears. You readjust and they're great for a minute till you tilt your head and wink at a pretty girl:) Bass gone again. If I could return these I would but now I'm just stuck with them.
These are by far the best in ear headphones I have ever owned. They are almost the best headphone I have ever used.
These are almost perfectly balanced headphones. The bass is warm; vibrations from drums, cello, and bass are perfection. Most in ear headphones have trouble with low frequencies; they tend to get very muddy. Not so with these C5's, I could almost feel each individual vibration. If I had to guess, the lower end frequency response has to be down in the 30Hz area. The other ill that shows up if the bass works well, it tends to be overboosted and blows away the midrange. Midrange and highs are equally clear, well balanced with the bass.
I listened to a lot of different music and material with these headphones. Once I applied the proper silicone insert and figured out how to use the loop, the sound came alive. With purchase and registration of these headphones, Bowers and Wilkins offers a free three month trial of their sound store. These are lossless, incredibly beautifully recorded albums that demonstrate the qualities of their speakers and headphones. It's a nice perk; I've downloaded some interesting albums. Although I don't listen to a lot of classical music, Peter Gabriel's album had a full orchestra backing him. Each instrument was well isolated, with beautiful warm sound. It was a pleasure to critically listen to this album.
The headphones are perfection for classical music. They do a great job with other genres. In particular folk / rock music sounded great (Dawes, Middle Brother, and Suzanne Vega). Hip Hop, not so much, the bass is not overboosted like that genre requires. Best to stick with the Dr. Dres for that music.
The fit and finish of these headphones is impressive. The big marketing deal is the sintered metal ends, and that effect is nice; not sure how much it affects the sound. The circular body is high gloss black, and they feel just fine in my ear. The box is a little crazy; it weighs a ton from all the thick plastic inside the cardboard box. They tried hard to be somewhat Apple-esqe with an understated box and plain black small boxes inside.
As with all in ear headphones, it is critical to get exactly the right size silicone insert. The insert must seal tight inside the ear to produce good clear bass. Too small and the sound leaks out, leading to weak bass; too large and the headphone hurts the ear. B&W includes five different diameters of inserts. It is almost impossible to remove the insert; the fit on the driver is super tight. It is not hard to tear the silicone inserts while trying to remove them.
With a good fitting insert, outside noise is almost eliminated. Sound is just as isolated as any other in ear headphone.
The loop takes a few minutes to understand. Start by pulling the headphone wire and make the loop really small. Insert the headphone deeply in the ear. Then push the wire up until the loop is snug in the ear. If the loop is too small, the headphone could fall out easily. If too big, it will hurt after wearing them for a while. Once they are adjusted just right, they never have to be touched again, so it's easy to pop the headphones in and out.
The wires are beautifully finished, a clear plastic with a silver wire inside. The wires are just thick enough that they feel solid, but thin and flexible enough that the go where I want them. All the connectors are rock solid.
For iDevices, there is a thin black plastic switch and microphone on the left headphone wire. The buttons were just fine. It takes a little getting used to how many presses to do what. A press in the middle pauses the music player.
The carrying case is interesting. It's about the size and shape of a Pierogi or Wonton. The zipper handle is stupid; it keeps getting stuck in a strange position making it hard to work the zipper. I had no trouble at all putting these headphones inside the case. There is an insert in the center of the case with two holes. Press the left and right headphones into the holes, and then gently wrap the wire around the insert. Yes the headphones are a little snug in the case, but the case is about the most perfect size for a pocket.
I really love these headphones. Music and movies sound absolutely spectacular. My gold standard has been Shure E3c's that were twice as expensive as these B&W C5's. The B&W's blow away my Shure headphones. The highs and midrange are very similar in both; the huge difference is in the lows. B&W just delivers some of the best bass I've ever heard. The C5's are a significant upgrade from my other in ear headphones - Sennheiser CX-500, JLab Jbuds, Woodees, Beats Tour, and Skullcandy Titan. It's almost not fair to compare these to full size cans (over ear headphones), but they really defend themselves well. The soundstage on B&W's P5's and V-Moda Crossfade LP's are much more detailed and wider. But that is more a function of the larger speaker and the over ear design.
As an everyday headphone, I prefer these in ear headphones to over ear cans. They travel very well, are light weight, and will never make my ears sweat.
B&W has built a real winner at a great price.
on September 25, 2012
I love these ear buds. They sound great. They sound like the other B&W speakers my family owns, which is pretty amazing. Compared to other ear buds I have owned - two pairs from Etymotic Research - they have a fuller sound. The Etymotics were more precise but less balanced. Bass on these is substantial. They are also noticeably better than the comparable Bose ear buds with the microphone. Fit was fine.
My only gripe is that the left ear bud stopped working after six months. I do not workout in these headphones; they sit protected in my briefcase most of the time. My average usage was about 3-4 hours per week. A co-worker had the same problem with three consecutive pairs, which is why he advised to buy them from the Apple Store. I came on Amazon to see if others have had a similar problem and how they resolved it. Sounds like my co-worker provided some good advise; it will be interesting if this review will stay up for a while.
I love these headphones. I am a bit annoyed that I need to bring them in and get them replaced. I would buy them again, but I would be sure that my vendor would be willing to replace them.
*Revision: After 30 days all vendors repairs do need to go through B&W. So far my experience is similar to other reviews, where B&W is not very responsive.
** Update: After a year and a half, I have had the same issue where the left earbud driver went out. The warranty period is 2 years. I would really advise against these headphones if you use them heavily (i.e., during weekly travel).
on January 20, 2012
Up until now, the only pair of "ear" phones that worked for me were the stock Apple ones. They'd dangle in my ear and not being tight, they sounded pretty crappy, But they stayed in there. I tried a few other in-ear models from Bose and Thinksound but nothing seemed to work - no matter how hard I tried, the buds would slowly make their way loose and pop out.
Then I saw the C5 from Bowers & Wilkins. At first, they popped out just like the rest but then the salesperson showed how to adjust the wire loops. Once I did that, the phones stayed in. What an ingenious design. The wire is looped at the bud and is adjustable so it presses against your earlobe from the inside and it really doesn't move. Once you make the adjustment, you should be able to remove and wear them without touching the loops again but you may need to fine tune from time to time.
Another big advantage for me with the loop design is I don't have anything OVER my earlobe (as you see with a lot of "sport" ear buds). I wear glasses and to have two things over my earlobes was too uncomfortable.
As for sound, I'm no audiophile but the C5 sounds amazing. I do listen to classical and easier listening tunes but am also into metal and 90's Alternative (the "Seattle" sound). The heavier stuff, I can't tell too much but with classical you can hear everything.
The bass doesn't feel very sharp but that may be due to the type of music I listen to. I haven't swapped out the cushions so I can't speak for how difficult it is to remove. Others seem to have a tough time with it. I defer to them. The carry case is pretty difficult to close but it will suffice. No major complaints there.
The C5 also has a microphone so you can use it with your smartphone for phone calls. That comes in VERY handy. The volume rocker doesn't feel solid though and that was a slight disappointment but overall, these phones are great.
Not cheap at $179 but if you can find them at your local store, try a pair. I think you'll like them.
UPDATE: One quick note on using these phones as a hands free headset for your smartphone. Since the ear canal is completely blocked, it will feel a bit odd talking to someone and not being able to hear yourself. I usually remove one earpiece to get around that. If that "occlusion effect" doesn't bother you, disregard.