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Bowers & Wilkins C5 S2 review:

A classy in-ear headphone with killer clarity

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The Good Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 sound even better than the original, with improved clarity, more openness and tighter bass. They feature an Apple friendly three-button remote and microphone, and an eye-catching industrial design with an innovative adjustable Secure Loop keeps the earphones securely in your ears. The also come with a nice carrying case.

The Bad The Secure Loop design won't appeal to everyone and the in-line remote is designed to work with Apple iOS devices, not Android smartphones.

The Bottom Line The Secure Loop design may not be a perfect fit for every ear, but the Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2 sounds better than the original and is one top in-ear headphones for less than $200.

CNET Editors' Rating

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 9.0
  • Value 8.0

For 2014, Bowers & Wilkins has done something interesting with a couple of its headphones, the on-ear P5 and the in-ear C5 we're reviewing here. Instead of coming out with completely new versions of the headphones, it left their exterior designs virtually unchanged and instead tweaked the headphones' innards to improve the sound quality.

To differentiate the new from the old , the Series 2 ($179.99, £149.99, AU$249.95) has an all-black design (the original had a translucent cable cover that revealed the silver cable inside). There's also been some slight modifications to the eartips (for the better), with a "subtly different grade of rubber and slightly altered geometry," according to Bowers & Wilkins' head of engineering. And the body now has a "radius at the end rather than a sharp edge to improve comfort as in some users this area can touch the skin."

The headphone retains its signature Secure Loop, which is "infinitely" adjustable and helps secure the headphones in your ear. It should work well for most people, but it won't be everyone's cup of tea (with some ears, it may put a little too much pressure on the lower part of the ear). I (David) found it more comfortable this go round, but Steve wasn't as enamored of the design.

As I said with the original C5 model, kudos to the designers behind the headphone. It exudes a high-end quality of design with an artful tungsten/aluminum finish and features a seemingly sturdy build quality. Though we prefer an L-shaped plug to the standard slim one found at the end of the C5, its slim nature makes it easy to use with smartphones covered by a protective case.

The key to any in-ear headphones is getting a tight seal, and to that end, B&W has included a few different eartips in the box, the largest of which fit our ears best. You also get a half-moon-shaped protective carrying case, which works well, and an Apple-friendly inline remote and microphone for making cell phone calls. Not all of the remote's functions will work with Android and Windows phones, but you can use the microphone to make calls with any phone, and call quality was decent.

bowers-and-wilkins-c5-series-2-product-photos09.jpg
You can easily adjust the size of the Secure Loop. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

Before we checked out the C5 Series 2 we reacquainted ourselves with the original C5. Just as we remembered, the sound was rich and warm, but not lacking in detail until we compared them to the C5 Series 2.

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