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Following up on the success it had with the P5 headphones (March/11, 5 stars) and the Zeppelin Air iPod dock (June/11, 4.5 stars), Bowers & Wilkins is bringing its considerable audio experience to bear on the iPhone. The C5 headset is a killer set of earbuds that do double duty making phone calls, too.
In-ear headphones often suffer from a closed-in feeling. B&W gets around this problem by fitting the end of the C5 with a “Micro Porous Filter.” Marketing-speak aside, it means that the outer ends of the C5 let a little bit of sound in (and out). Other in-ear ’phones go for a complete seal, but that can leave you feeling claustrophobic, like everything is coming from inside your head. B&W’s solution lends your tunes an airier feel. We liked the result, although it does lead to a small amount of sound bleeding through to the outside. Still, even when cranking our iPhone to maximum volume, the extraneous sound was far less (and less annoying) than what bleeds out of most other earbuds.
Superior sound, and signature B&W style.
But the C5’s most noticeable characteristic is the Secure Loop design, which holds the earbuds in your ear with a semi-rigid loop of cable that rests against the ridge of cartilage in your ear. While it feels a little strange at first, the loop is easily adjustable (and entirely removable). The body of the buds is also weighted toward your ear, so they naturally want to stay in. The end result is that the C5s tend to stay put. B&W ships the C5 with four sets of eartips in different sizes. It’s worth testing the various options, as sound quality depends heavily on creating a good seal in your ear canal.
A small inline remote and mic is mounted on the left channel cable. The standard button commands are all there, as well as volume controls. Unfortunately, the B&W remote is rounded at both ends, making it difficult to figure out which “side” of the cylinder to press in order to operate the buttons. The center of the remote offers a small dimple on the play/pause button, which can help you orient the remote correctly, but without using the button as a cue, we often found ourselves mashing the sides of the volume buttons to no effect.
The bottom line. B&W’s C5 offers crystal-clear audio, and deep, satisfying bass. At less than $200, it sounds like a surprisingly good value.
C5 In-Ear Headset
iPhone, iPod, or other audio source
Excellent sound reproduction. Secure Loop design and weighted body hold earbuds securely in place. Inline remote for calls and controlling music functions. Includes airline and right-angle adapters.
Secure Loop takes some getting used to. Heavier than other in-ear ’buds. Included case is too fiddly to use.