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Get to know the Bowers & Wilkins C5s.

HATS-Front Image
HATS-Side Image

Gaze longingly at the speaker element, guarded by a somewhat porous mesh. Though wide, it should fit into most ear canals, but its girth may cause some people issues.

Speaker Image

Here we can admire the backs of the rather stylish s, with its metal finish and sleek molding.

The cable of the s is a common 3.93 foot long cord, punctuated by a rather slick-looking remote and mic. Because the head of the cable also doubles as a concha-fin, it's made with a rather robust insulation to shield it from friction damage when adjusting it in-ear.

At the end of this hardy cable is a standard but slim 1.8th inch plug.

Plug Image

Aside from the guard around the plug, the 's cable guards are virtually nonexistent, as they enter the body of the ear buds without much additional protection.

Included are three sets of additional sleeve sizes in case one or more cause you pain or frustration.

Additional Features 1 Image

Inside the clean-cut packaging is assorted documentation, a carrying case, additional sleeves, and of course, the s.

In the Box Image

In-ears are typically not all that durable, and the s are no different: they cannot have their cables replaced in the event of breakage, though they have sturdy insulation. Treat these with tender loving care, lest you hurt the headphones you love.

Wow. In-ear headphones are typically not very visible or sexy, but these things are so well-designed it's ludicrous. Anyone who notices the metal accents will immediately wonder what they are and if they can find a set. These are very slick headphones without being too gaudy.

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Aesthetics Image

Just looking at the frequency response curve tells us that these headphones were made for walkin'. While they do stay within our ideal limits very well, they do emphasize bass frequencies quite a bit. What does this mean for you? Well, in addition to making bass-heavy music have a bit more punch, your tympanic membrane (AKA your eardrum) will tighten up, allowing you to hear high-end sounds at what will seem to you like a higher volume.

Frequency Response Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Frequency_Response) There's a teeny-tiny bit of distortion from the s, but nothing even close to approaching what would be audible.
Distortion Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Distortion) Another stellar response: you'll hear no channel preference errors. The little blip towards the high end is largely academic.
Tracking Graph
[Click here for more information on our frequency response test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Tracking) In-ears typically block out a bunch of noise from the outside world, and the s are no different, but with a twist: they block out high-frequency noise poorly. While it is more important to block out low and mid frequencies, the s seem to have very strange ranges of attenuation indeed. If a bus goes by, you'll hear it, but a modern car will pass you virtually unnoticed.
Isolation Graph
[Click here for more information on our isolation test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Isolation) The s do not leak much noise at all, making them ideal to listen to whatever you want in public. You won't annoy those around you. [Click here for more information on our leakage test.](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Leakage) If you like to listen to your tunes loudly, the s can crank the volume up to 115.62dB before reaching the dreaded 3% distortion level that becomes annoying. Still, we advise all of our readers to keep an eye on volume levels, as it's possible to [permanently damage your hearing](https://www.reviewed.com/headphones/News/Noise-Induced-Hearing-Loss-and-You.htm) if you test this sound pressure level out for yourself. Don't do it: it's what we have the robots for! [Click here for more on our maximum usable volume test](/content/How-We-Test-149.htm#Maximum Usable Volume) Despite all of the great performance points, in-ear headphones will always cause some discomfort, as you're essentially jamming tiny bits of plastic and neodymium into your ear canal, which shouldn't really have anything in there to begin with. The s don't do much to skirt this issue, but they do use some of their wire to put pressure on your [concha](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinna_%28anatomy%29) to alleviate some of the force on your ear canal. There are several reports of people finding this very uncomfortable.
Short-Term Use Image

Over a period of 6 hours, the fit doesn't really change much, so the s net the same marks here.

Aside from stuffing your s into the included case, there really isn't a lot you can do to customize your s. There are no included adapters, but there are different sizes of sleeve to fit your ear.

Because in-ears are made to work best with mobile devices, it's not surprising that they almost exclusively use 1/8th inch plugs. The s in particular also do not include any adapters for use with other systems.

The included case for the s is actually fairly pretty, yet understated, as its design comes from a diamond stitch pattern on black velour. You can easily stow your headphone case in your pocket to go anywhere.

Portability Image

Aside from having the ability to remove the sleeves and wipe down the nozzle guards with rubbing alcohol, there's not a whole lot you can do to maintain your cans. We also suggest using a form of cable control in order to keep your cord from suffering an early death.

Remote & Mic

Along the cable is a jet-black remote, complete with volume control and microphone. It's understated enough to blend in, but attractive enough to fit the overall aesthetic of the headphones.


If there’s one thing that Bowers & Wilkins does well, it’s make mobile headsets with style. Both headphones are very attractive, but the P5-MFIs are far more durable by design. In-ears aren’t for everyone, and neither are on-ears, but if you like the Bowers & Wilkins headphones, they’ve got you covered either way; just be prepared to shell out a lot of cash.

Frequency Response

Both headphones perform very well here, but if you’re a bass lover, we’d stick with the C5s, as they emphasize the lower frequencies quite heavily.


Both sets of cans have extremely minor issues with distortion, but the C5s technically have less.


The C5s are nearly perfect here, while the P5-MFIs have tiny issues here and there.


Due to the very nature of each headphone’s design, the C5s attenuate much more sound.


Because the P5-MFIs are on-ears, and don’t jam into any orifice, they are consequently much more comfortable than the C5s.


This one comes down to two things: how much money you’re willing to spend, and how important comfort is to you. If you’re not on a budget, the P5-MFIs offer greater comfort, but the C5s offer a lower price point with comparable performance, but less comfort. In the end, the decision is up to you in order to determine which is the better buy.


The Klipsch image S4is certainly aren’t as flashy or cool-looking as the Bowers & Wilkins C5s, but they get the job done at a lower price point. Very popular entry-level in-ears, they’re prized for their audio quality in spite of their minimalist design. Both can be used as headsets, but the Klipsch headphones were recently updated to work not only with iPhones, but now come with an app for Android phones as well.

Frequency Response

Both frequency responses are remarkably similar, and you can’t go wrong with either here.


Neither has many issues with distortion, but the Klipsch headphones have an odd peak in the high mids.


Two stellar responses here; you shouldn’t notice any errors in channel preference.


Both attenuate noise well, but the Bowers & Wilkins C5s block out sound from a much wider range of frequencies.


Because the S4is are much lighter, and put less pressure on the ear canal, they will be more likely to be comfortable for you.


The Klipsch S4is are extremely popular for a reason, and that’s because they offer performance for a low price point. They certainly don’t offer the same aesthetic as do the Bowers & Wilkins C5s, but if money is your sticking point, you can’t go wrong with the S4is for a mobile device.


While the Bowers & Wilkins C5s are certainly flashier than the V-Moda in-ears, the Vibrato Remotes are far more durable. Boasting an all-metal construction and a kevlar weave protecting the cables, those in-ears can take an extreme amount of abuse.

Frequency Response

The frequency responses of each set of headphones is fantastic, though the V-Modas have longer ranges of flat response.


While neither set of headphones has a high level of distortion, the V-Moda Vibrato Remotes have less.


Two stellar responses here. Near perfect tracking for both.


Both sets of headphones boast similarly high levels of attenuation, but the V-Moda in-ears block out more of the high end.


Because the V-Moda in-ears are much lighter, and offer better over-the-ear wear than the Bowers & Wilkins C5s do, they are less likely to cause ear canal discomfort.


This comparison exists to illustrate the fact that you don’t have to shell out a huge amount of cash for the performance offered by the Bowers & Wilkins C5s. While they are polished at every level, there are other headphones that are much more affordable than the Bowers & Wilkins C5s. Ultimately, what matters in a pair of headphones is up to you, but finding what’s going to make you happy takes a bit of research.

Packing performance and prettiness in a tiny package, the s are the best of both worlds, though at a premium. You will get what you pay for, however, as these headphones are a good buy

The price point will dissuade many buyers, however, as it is possible to grab in-ears with comparable performance at just about any price point, so potential buyers will have to weigh exactly how much they want to spend on fashion. Given the trends with Beats headphones and others, this may be quite a bit.

If you've got money to blow, and you're in the market for a new set of in-ears, picking up the s will give you music on the go with style. With specs to accommodate a smartphone, the will give you fashion and top-flight performance on the go.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging


A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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