Preface: The highly regarded manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins produce some of the most articulated audio solutions on the market. With a complete product range that extends from consumer earphones to stunning reference monitors, their reputation for quality in all areas is unsurpassed and often considered as the gold standard. Essentially the Bowers & Wilkins ideology is to produce an exceptional product that equally performs well in function, build quality, design and sound quality, so it is easy to understand why a pair of these C5 consumer earphones certainly make a bold statement.
Unboxing: First I do feel a real need to say that even when the slick hard black retail packaging lands itself in your hands, that you somehow revert back to a moment of great anticipation; something which I would closely liken to christmas morning. Quite typically, when purchasing a pair of earphones it is the retail packaging that is the weakest link but, as usual, Bowers & Wilkins have taken their no-holes-barred ideology to even this process and present the product just as beautifully as the C5's look and perform. So, precision opening the box to make sure that you don't damage its beauty, you will come across the securely mounted C5's themselves as well as a stylish zipped criss-cross design black clam shape box; crafted
Above: The Stunning Bowers & Wilkins C5's
crafted out of suede. This item is hidden in one of the two boxes that is not too dissimilar to how Apple packages their products and in the other, smaller box, you will find usage instructions and warranty information. Turning our attention back to the suede container, opening this premium holder will reveal a super soft brown interior and three additional buds in Small, Medium and Large which are sized sensibly to suit almost every size of consumer ear out there. Although I knew that these earphones were designed for those on the move by providing a 'concert for one' experience, I was still surprised to find an in-line control that allows the wearer to navigate all aspects of music playback. Even though it is not noticeable, there is also a high quality microphone built into this housing so the user won't be left fumbling in their pockets to quickly take out their phone and take that important call.
Visually the C5's cast an illusion which illuminates a suspicion that have been designed to cater for the fashion conscious, but this is not a simple crude reality, the beautiful materials and contours have all been matched to cater for a complex inner acoustic design. Unlike many other manufacturers, the driver housing is not a just place to put the drivers in, it is a place to sculpt the sound to form a fluid transition between beauty and function. With this considered the microporous backing is quite stylistically individual when paired with the smooth Titanium shell but it allows a flow of air help the drivers breathe whilst eliminating sound leakage. Style wise the typically earbud fitting is present and reinforced with Bowers & Wilkins own 'secure loop design' which removes the need for those ugly ear-hooks if you choose to perform any physical activity with music in your ears. This is a design which I believe is aesthetically pleasing and fits well into the stresses and strains of modern living.
Build Quality: In this particularly important area there is nothing but praise to sing for the C5's - there is nothing simple about their design. Bowers & Wilkins have rigorously developed every single feature and protected their most prominent design aspects with immediately noticeable qualities that are reinforced by numerous, seemingly insignificant, components that collectively form a highly articulated design mechanic. Turning our eyes to the driver housing, the construction is solid and is not liable to damage easily and where inside the drivers are balanced with a tungsten weighting, this is noticeably held together on the top of the drivers by two small security screws that are flawlessly machined, as is the microporous filter backplate. Noticeably the secure loop design naturally limits stress on the internal solder points and where the plastic wire overcoat meets the clench point it feels smooth and secure. If you are worried about this moving around once fixed you will have no problems here, I have personally tested this feature in many settings and not found it to distort of loosen. The 3.5mm jack is made out of the same metal on the driver housing and it connects to the drivers by a very nice clear cable design that appears to successfully rejects radio frequency interference. Although I have not found any issues with the in-line volume control and the button action feels satisfying, I do feel that it is the weakest link in the chain; first being made out of plastic and second because it can be quite hard to grip onto the smooth surface and navigate whilst on the move. If the volume up and down button markers were introverted then they would provide a clear tactile representation which requires no visual queue to differentiate. As a last note, the quality of the interchangeable earbuds appear to hold its structure well and translates into a component that will have a long lifespan.
Sound Quality: Okay, usually this would be the part where we almost completely forget about the design but with the C5's we cannot. This is not a bad thing and the reason why we can't is because if you just place the buds into your ear then yes the sound is good, but the 'secure loop design' ensures that there is a good fit between your ear cannel and the diver. During testing when you secure the fit of the loop whilst music is playing, the bass response is somewhat tidied up and maintains an practically constant resolution and reliability of injected sound - a great feature that some manufactures might have overlooked. In addition, to the above a further consideration and testing has revealed that as a result of this design the noise isolation, from and internal and external point of view, is very good and I did find that when you fit the secure loop that if you twist the housing by approximately 10 degrees anti-clockwise this is improved.
In terms of sonic performance, the C5's have an on-the-whole Hi-Fi signature that will appeal to owners of the award winning 'Zeppelin Air' speaker dock who are hunting for a seamless transition, and of course the large majority of consumers. Overall the audio quality is excellent, especially for the current market price and I personally have not encountered another pair of earphones that performs to the same standard for their current standing. Following a 40 hour burn-in process it was almost immediately that the sonic performance of these earphones would fit well with the large majority of music genres and in practice I was right to assume so - they are great all round performers. Due to their warm signature, the C5's sound great with electronic music genres (particularly ones with low heavy bass lines) and the more heavier rock genres are possibly the weakest genre - but they do sound great. Moving back to comments on the bass some might be initially confused by the rather bold bass presence. In some cases it feels as if the bass frequencies need to be tamed in so that the overall composition has a more polished and articulated focus. This is my only real criticism, and it does need to be said, is that as a regular user, you do warm to the lucid low-end composure particularly if you are in an urban environment where external low-rumbling sounds are prominent. On the upper frequencies the C5's respond musically and their balance is right on the money; tightly controlled without a harsh treble attack that leaves you with listening fatigue from all the high sibilance of drum-kits and female vocal lines. Continuing on, I cannot detect any auditory distortion in the top end which is a promising quality for any premium earphones. The mid-range is a nice place, you will be hearing a velvety rich dynamic range that is sonically well presented and is utterly mind-blowing when listening to classical music genres. Analysis of the soundstage brings a conclusion that is not too separated and proves to be quite an immersive experience.
Conclusion: It is without doubt that the Bowers & Wilkins C5's are possibly the most aesthetically pleasing pair that you will find on the market where their visual presence is well complimented with a first class build quality and the highest attention to detail. Finally, the Bowers & Wilkins C5's are a stunning display of the finest sonic order where their ability to captivate your full attention is borderline hypnotic. Consequently, The Pro Audio Web Blog awards these beautiful earphones with a full 5/5 rating and the editors choice award.