Bowers & Wilkins C5 Review

2012.05.01

Eat your heart out, Dr. Dre.

After about a couple of months of back and forth to the Apple Store and Best Buy in search of the ‘perfect’ earphones, I’d bought and returned quite a few sets. First the Beats Tour in-ear headphones, then I settled on a pair of Sonys for a while after my Bose in-ears shorted out (and I threw them away, completely forgetting about the damn warranty) and they were the best sounding earphones I’ve owned, especially for $80. They killed any and all subway noise and were REALLY comfortable. But they began to short out and were coming apart (I wore them A LOT). So the search continued.

First, I picked up a pair of Ultimate Ears 600vi IEMs from the Apple store, after reading a few good reviews on them. Well, too bad I didn’t agree. I couldn’t get a good fit, and they were way more flat then the reviews said they were. I ended up taking them back to give the Tours a second chance. The sound was amazing, but they just could not stay in my ears. I used every one of the 7 included ear tips, and nothing worked. And of course, a good fit and seal are key to great sound.

So, I eventually bring them back. I stop by the Apple store for a fourth time in a week’s period, and stare at the headphone display. I look at the C5s with hesitation, mainly because they were the only pair that I wanted. But the thing is, I bought them a couple of weeks prior and I returned them, because they just didn’t work for me. I kept thinking that perhaps I didn’t give them a fair shake. I ripped them out of the box and just jammed them in my ears on a train ride to New Jersey, and they were kind of uncomfortable and sounded weird. I never even thought twice about the other sizes of ear tips, or about using the ear fitting mechanism to get the best fit and seal.

So, I eventually take them down to checkout, where I was helped by a girl who said she loved her C5s, and thought the Tours were really bass-heavy, which was weird because these pack more of a punch. I felt a little better about my resolve to give them a second shot.

When it comes to tech, I’m not one for giving second chances, but these earphones were worth it. I stared at them on my desk for about 20 minutes until I decided to (gently) rip them open and try again. I was worried that I’d end up hating them like the countless others and would be back at the Apple store after work, feeling defeated. Totally not the case. I first switched out the ear tips that were already on, to a pair that weren’t as tall. I put them in, gave a good sigh and pressed play. The first song for the test was ‘The Time Machine’ by Soundprank. The bass jumped up and gave me a good shake as the rest of the song shuffled in. Like I said before, the C5s have plenty of bass. Almost too much but just almost. The great thing is, the bass never seems to blanket the rest of the music. I don’t get the same balance with the Beats, where the bass comes clamoring in like a drunk uncle. It all comes shining through with stellar quality.

So, fast forward to day three. I finally get some quality time with my neglected Macbook, and I decide to plug the C5s in and listen to some Spotify.  Initially, I was listening to Spotify on my iPhone 4, with the music synced at a lower bitrate  (~96kbps) to save space. And on my laptop, the playback is in it’s full ~320kbps glory. The music sounds six times better. Even the questionable quality of the unreleased demos I played were polished up and came through crystal clear on the C5s. The bump in quality rounds out the bass, so that it sounds more… ‘scientific’, and not just thumping in your head. You can hear notes resonate to completion, and the overall listening experience is just crisper.  It’s like a full size THX sound system was crammed in your ears. I bought a new iPhone with more space, just to sync my music at the max 320kbps.

Needless to say, I love these earphones. The fit takes some finagling, but once you get it right, there’s not much you won’t like about these. With a good seal, you hear nothing but the music. No subway noise, no traffic, no coworkers, sometimes, not even your own thoughts. They also include an inline remote for volume/track control on iPhones, iPods and iPads. And at $179, I’ll definitely say you get what you pay for.

Bowers & Wilkins C5 In-Ear Headphones With Secure Loop Design

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