Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 Headphones Review
With a ton of bass, it's lucky the secure loop won't let these in-ears go anywhere.
Odds are, unless you’ve got some cash that’s burning a hole in your pocket, you won’t be looking for in-ears that’ll set you back quite as much as the Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 (MSRP: $179.99).
But, if you’re willing to shell out the extra dough, the C5 Series 2 boost bass to a seriously high level without sacrificing the quality of some of the higher notes. The audio is also going to be crystal clear, with distortion levels that are practically nonexistent. But it isn’t all rainbows and butterflies for the C5 Series 2, as they have their fair share of problems that keep them from being perfect.
We found that the design of the headphones keep them from being easy to find a comfortable fit, as the secure loop can easily be expanded too far. That, combined with average isolation properties and some design flaws in the in-line controller, might make the C5 Series 2 a tough sell, even for those willing to splurge.
Interesting design with a secure loop that'll hold them in place
Bowers & Wilkins has a reputation for classy designs across its product lineup, and the only in-ears they offer aren’t any different. The C5 Series 2 blend metal and plastic, wrapped up in a sliced cylinder form that’s straightforward at first glance. The distinctive qualities start at tiny steel balls that add texture to the speaker backs and continue to the adjustable plastic loops that create a secure fit inside your ears.
The secure loops are meant to expand and fit snugly into the rim of your ears, ensuring they don’t go anywhere. They weren’t designed as sports in-ears though, so if you’re looking to take these on your run be mindful they aren’t sweat-resistant. The fit is easy to adjust and doesn’t take hardly any effort to find a snug fit. You’re actually far more likely to overextend the loop than have a fit that’s too loose. Be careful though, if the fit isn’t spot on the C5 Series 2 quickly become painful to wear and it might take some fiddling to get a good, comfortable fit that’ll last longer than a few minutes. You might notice the feel of the secure loops against the rim of your ear, but the feeling fades into the background when you start listening to music.
The in-line controller is sleek and minimalistic, almost to the point that it becomes a problem. The dimple in the center is easy to find and then use, but the volume controls on either end are practically flush to the cylinder. I spent an unreasonable amount of time spinning the cylinder, just trying to find the buttons to adjust the volume.
If you spend a lot of money on in-ears, you have an expectation for how long they’ll last. In-ears take a beating as you ferry them around from place to place, often wrapped around your phone or shoved in a ball in your pocket. The C5 Series 2 almost seem like they’re ready to take this manhandling. Unfortunately, as the cable reaches the secure loop, the very thin and flexible cable transitions into the much stiffer secure loop. If enough stress is applied—like if it gets snagged while it’s in your pocket—the cable seems like it might snap and break. Luckily, all of this can be mitigated if you take the extra time to use the included clamshell carrying case, which should extend the longevity of the C5 Series 2.
All about that bass
The C5 Series 2 give a tremendous boost to sub-bass and bass that really make your music thump at a level that’s surprising for in-ears. While there is a large boost for the lower sounds, the higher frequency notes won’t be lost or muddled. There’s enough of a boost in some of the higher notes that you can expect an overall rich and detailed sound that might thump a little heavier than you’re used to.
They do a great job at roughly following an equal-loudness contour. They’ll boost the notes that are harder to hear by the human ear, and make the entire audible spectrum able to be heard equally as well.
The C5 Series 2 do a fantastic job at providing sound that isn’t plagued by the fuzzy, crackling sounds of distortion. The distortion levels are so low that they’re practically nonexistent, and only the most discerning listeners will be able to pick up anything at all. More likely, if you’re hearing those sounds, your music was probably mixed that way to begin that way.
When it comes to blocking outside sound and leaving you with nothing but your music to listen to, they perform at a level that’s only average for in-ears. The loudness of the majority of sounds you’ll encounter on a daily basis are dropped by about half. There are some that will even be dropped closer to a quarter of its original loudness.
If you’re willing to shell out the extra dough, the C5 Series 2 are worth the price of admission.
With the Bowers & Wilkins name you know you’re getting sound that packs a punch in a package that looks high-end and classy. The C5 Series 2 continue that tradition. They deliver audio that’s heavy on the bass while still producing an overall rich, detailed sound. With the included secure loop, you can rest easy knowing that they won’t be going anywhere. That is, if you can find a fit that’s both secure and comfortable.
At $180, the C5 Series 2 may be a little hard to justify for a lot of people. The JBL Synchros S200i (MSRP: $129.95) are priced a little lower and were our top-rated in-ears for 2014. They have a unique molded spoke design on the speaker backs and come with solid audio that doesn’t sacrifice quality from the lows to the highs. But, if you’re looking for a truly budget option, we’d recommend the AKG K 323XS (MSRP: $59.95). The AKGs don’t have the same high-quality materials, but they perform remarkably well for their price with plenty of emphasis on bass and better isolation from your surroundings. Both the JBLs and the AKGs were featured in our 2014 Best of Year Awards and are definitely worth your consideration.
Neither the JBLs or the AKGs can quite hit the booming lows of the C5 Series 2 though, and it’s hard to beat the simple and distinct look of the C5 Series 2. If you’ve got the cash, and are looking for a great pair of in-ears, Bowers & Wilkins won’t let you down.
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