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B&W C5 review: B&W C5

The Bowers & Wilkins C5 earbuds offer a distinctive, classy design and a powerful sound that will please anyone who likes plenty of bass. They're expensive, but well worth investigating.

Luke Westaway
Luke Westaway Senior editor
Luke Westaway is a senior editor at CNET and writer/ presenter of Adventures in Tech, a thrilling gadget show produced in our London office. Luke's focus is on keeping you in the loop with a mix of video, features, expert opinion and analysis.
3 min read

Hot on the heels of the amazing-sounding Zeppelin Air dock, the latest iPhone-friendly gadget from Bowers & Wilkins has arrived: the C5 in-ear headphones. They're a quirky set of earbuds with an unusual cable set-up designed to keep the C5s lodged inside your ear. But how comfy are they, and how do they sound? They're available now for around £150.


B&W C5

The Good

Powerful bass response; good sound quality overall; comfortable.

The Bad

Unusual design can be fiddly; expensive.

The Bottom Line

The Bowers & Wilkins C5 earbuds offer a distinctive, classy design and a powerful sound that will please anyone who likes plenty of bass. They're expensive, but well worth investigating.


The C5s look rather cool. Borrowing from the glossy, retro styling of the company's P5 headphones, the C5s are little black cylinders with one edge sheared off. There's a metallic, textured finish along the rear of each 'bud.

B&W C5 cable
These loops keep the C5s wedged in your ears.

The silver cabling feels reasonably sturdy. Part way up the wiring to the left earbud, there's a remote control that contains a microphone and three other buttons, so, if you're using an iPhone, you can use the C5s to take calls or adjust volume and playback. We found these features worked fine, and you'll certainly appreciate them when it means you don't have to fish your phone out of your pocket just to skip tracks.

Other iDevices also support the playback controls. We recommend checking the compatibility section of Apple's website to make sure your Apple kit will play nice with the C5s.


The C5s secure themselves to your King Lears in a rather peculiar way. Each 'bud has a groove set in the side that the cable itself is threaded into, making a loop that sticks out of the side of the earbud itself. When you don the C5s, that loop slots into the circle in your outer ear that surrounds your ear canal, wedging the buds tightly in place. You can push more cabling through the groove in the earphones to create a bigger loop, or yank it out to make a tighter coil.

We found this system to be quite comfortable, and it did a reasonable job of stopping the C5s from sliding out of our lugholes. We're sure results will vary from person to person, though. If you like, you can remove the cabling from the groove entirely, and wear the C5s like any other set of in-ear headphones.

That extra piece of cable does mean you'll probably have to fiddle around to find a comfortable fit, though, so, if you're after something you can chuck in your ears without faffing about, the C5s might not be your dream headphones.

Sound quality

We were impressed by the hearty bass response of the C5s. If you enjoy feeling like your music is being fired into your skull with a cannon, these potent 'buds should suit you down to the ground.

We did occasionally find the powerful low end a little too mighty, though. With pop tracks like Lady Gaga's Government Hooker, we really enjoyed the brain-liquefying sensation, but, with more sensitive tracks, like Razorlight's America, we found the thrumming bass line rather distracting. Many people like their headphones to deliver a serious thump, but, if you're on the fence, it's worth trying the C5s before you buy.

B&W C5 microphone
The cable is home to a microphone and a set of controls.

The high end offers an impressive degree of clarity. During Incubus' Are You In?, we were able to pick out the more delicate hi-hat hits, and the mid-range tones sounded clear to us.

Turn the volume way up and the high end will start to sound quite harsh, but, for the most part, the C5s sound pleasantly balanced. Overall, the sound quality is very good.


At around £150, the C5s are expensive. They sound good and, sonically, they're on a par with other headphones in that price range, but we wouldn't call them a bargain and we wouldn't want to part with any more cash for these 'buds.

It's also worth noting that the C5s aren't as good as high-end earphones like the Shure SE535s in terms of sound quality, although the Shure cans are far more expensive.


The Bowers & Wilkins C5s offer a distinctive, comfortable design and a bassy, powerful sound that will please anyone who likes their music delivered with a hearty thump. If you're shopping around for a new set of headphones, the C5s are definitely a set to investigate.

Edited by Charles Kloet 

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