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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. Unfortunately, in-ears are typically not all that durable, and the Bowers & Wilkins C5s 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.

In-ear headphones are typically not very visible or sexy, but these things are so well-designed it’s ludicrous.

Said cable of the Bowers & Wilkins C5s 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 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.

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 Bowers & Wilkins C5s don’t do much to skirt this issue, but they do use some of their wire to put pressure on your concha to alleviate some of the force on your ear canal. There are several reports of people finding this very uncomfortable.

Great audio for smartphone users.

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 also 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.

Strangely enough, though, they block out high-frequency noise poorly.

Unlike most headphones, there are no errors in channel preference that you'll be able to hear no matter how intently you listen. Similarly, distortion is low, and as the C5s are in-ears, they block out a bunch of noise from the outside world. Strangely enough, though, they block out high-frequency noise poorly. While it is more important to block out low and mid frequencies, the Bowers & Wilkins C5s 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.

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Stellar in-ears, work great with smartphones.

Packing performance and prettiness in a tiny package, the Bowers & Wilkins C5s 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 Bowers & Wilkins C5s will give you music on the go with style. With specs to accommodate a smartphone, the Bowers & Wilkins C5 will give you fashion and top-flight performance on the go.

Slick on the outside and in, users not looking to equalize their music will enjoy emphasized bass and relatively even mids, though the high end of harmonic frequencies isn't well-maintained.

Looks pretty good to us.

Headphones that aren't designed to be studio cans or audiophile grade will often try to emulate what is called an equal loudness curve to appeal to a general audience, as what our ears think is a flat response is quite different than what a flat response (i.e. all frequencies at the same volume) actually is.

The response of the C5s looks somewhat like the graph in the article I just linked: there's a heavy bass emphasis, some fluctuation in the mids, though there's a bit of a lack of uptick in emphasis in the high notes. To your ears, most sounds will appear like they're the same volume, even though they're not.

Low level of distortion, and a high maximum usable volume.

There’s a teeny-tiny bit of distortion from the Bowers & Wilkins C5s, but nothing even close to approaching what would be audible. If you like to listen to your tunes loudly, the Bowers & Wilkins C5s 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 if you test this sound pressure level out for yourself. Don’t do it: it’s what we have the robots for!

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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