Bowers & Wilkins C5: As Good As They Look?


A while ago we added the Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphone to the recommendations list for portable and semi portable headphones. Now B&W is back with the C5 earphone and not only is it their first earphone, it is also one with an innovative concept using the Tungsten Balanced Design and a unique Secure Loop. So is it as good as the original P5?

Out of the box it was clear this in-ear phone needed a good burn in as it was sounding very forward but that nicely settled after about 10 hours. Describing an earphone with one word has never been as easy as with this set, that word would be “Airy”. Never ever have I heard such an airy and spacious sounding headphone before, the Micro Porous Filter does a great job. You can’t really compare it to listening to an open headphone, it’s just different and really spacious. In the beginning this actually is quite weird as your ears need to get used to this kind of sound, yet they quickly do. The overall sound, besides being airy in all sectors, focuses on the bass and the highs while the mids are being slightly left behind. Bass is punchy/good but at the same time it is not that tight and the highs are crispy but not too precise. I didn’t find the C5’s soundstage particularly huge but it’s very open and pretty well balanced. There is a bit of cable noise as well but it isn’t that noticeable to be honest. For in-ear phones these leak quite a bit, but that is of course a side effect from the open filter required to get the specific sound.

I really liked listening to bands such as Run DMC, Rihanna, Katy Perry, The Subs, Melody Gardot and The Black Eyed Peas. I didn’t really appreciate the way they portray rock music like Metallica and The Foo Fighters. So in general I would say these are good for bass heavy music, which practically is most of the popular music nowadays anyway…  a perfect example for this is Maroon 5 with Moves like Jagger.

I can’t come up with one specific area in which the Bowers & Wilkins C5 really excels (except for the airiness), yet it’s a very fun earphone to listen to and you very quickly get used to the open sound. I found myself moving to the music all the time during public transport, which surely must be good, right?

I’ve mostly been listening to the C5 with my iPod, laptop and iPad and even while they’re all very well capable of driving them (impedance 32Ω sensitivity is 118db), I did use them continuously with the JustAudio µHa-120, which made it just that extra tad better. (You will soon be able to read more on the µHa-120 in its upcoming review). The only minor issue I have with the C5 is that I can’t plug them completely in to the JustAudio. I have to pull the plug out about 1mm not to get distorted sound. Quit weird…

The Secure Loop system that Bowers & Wilkins introduced with this earphone is pretty unique. I found it very easy to use and found the plugs to be very comfortable, contrary of what is being written and said in some reviews . Having small ears, I often have to struggle not to have IEMs falling out of them and with this nice invention and the Tungsten weighting, they kept nicely in place even if they are heavier as most IEMs.

B&W wanted to make an open and spacious sounding earphone that at the same time looks great and they have succeeded in that, it’s that easy. Don’t forget it can be used with your iPhone for hands free calling, which is a nice extra together with the velour hard-shell case, airplane and right angle adapters, and a couple of extra tips.

Unfortunately at the moment we don’t have a P5 on hand to compare it to, but we will try to do that later.

So if you’re looking for a fun sounding, well isolating, comfortable earphone with great design, then this one is for you. On the other hand I honestly can’t say this is an audiophile grade earphone, if you’re looking for big soundstage and lots of detail in everything, you might find a better set in this price range.

Thank you  B&W Belgium and C&C Advertising for sending us a review sample. A list of dealers can as usual be found on the B&W website.



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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650.

  • Anonymous

    So this is the first article by Lieven. Looking forward to his JustAudio, Violectric, and Beyer T70 reviews. 

    Hopefully he doesn’t make as many typos as I do. 😉

    • madriz

      Definitely can’t wait for T70 review.

    • Dont forget the iQube V3…

      • Anonymous

        You got a lot of nice things heading your way for sure… 


  • Welcome to the site Lieven. Looking forward to reading more from you.

  • jendol

    good review lieven, I have owned p5 for sometimes and occasionally brought them with me on traveling trip. do you think this earphone will benefit greatly from the addition of good portable amp?

    • Thank you Jendol. It sure does benefit from a good portable amp but of course you can’t change the sound signature. As said in the review I used it almost at all times with the JustAudio µha-120 and it does makes the bass a bit rounder and the mids more enjoyable. But it doesn’t “need” a portable amp no. Hope that answers your question

  • Guest

    hey  lol what happened to that nice picture?  haha I was digging the nice pics 🙂

  • Massimiliano Federici

    Nice review mate, off you go with a new career!

  • USCdeacon

    Glad to know Mike’s not trying to juggle everything on his own now.  Welcome Lieven!  Great review.

  • Sofus

    The distorsion issue with the plug all the way in sounds exactly like what happens when you plug an iphone headset cable (which this is) all the way into a stereo extension cable or audio device…

  • Guest

    any chance for a Vsonic gr-07 review?

  • I don’t think that’s planned for the moment, sorry

    • Guest

      that’s a fair answer, btw, any first impressions on the schiit bifrost that you ordered ? thanks 🙂

      • We are trying to get a Bitfrost, but no luck so far. It’s on the wanted list tho 😉

  • Simonatwork

    A tiny O-ring works wonders to ensure the plug stays at the correct height to stop one contact fouling the other in the socket- frankly though it’s inexcusably bad design specification.

  • I brought for my dad who turns out loves it. I tried it for some 50 hours with ipod+RSA shadow and my ears loved it so much that I got one pair of C5 for myself as well. lol