First it was iPod docks. Then it was computer speakers and over-the-ear headphones. Now, Bowers & Wilkins, a brand once known for expensive high-end speakers, expands its product offering into the mainstream with the $179.95 C5 in-ear headphones.
Along with touting the C5s' "pristine, natural audio," B&W is highlighting its signature Secure Loop, "an ingenious innovation where a cushioned loop fixes quickly and comfortably in the inner ridge of the user's ear." The company adds that the Loop is "infinitely adjustable, so it works perfectly with anyone's ears."
That part about it being "perfect" for everyone's ears is open to debate, but what's not is that if you can achieve a snug fit, these earphones offer excellent, well-balanced sound, and perform as well as any earphones we've tested in this price class.
Design and features
Kudos to the designers behind the C5s. The earphones exude a high-end quality of design with an artful tungsten/aluminum finish and feature a seemingly sturdy build quality, though we prefer an L-shaped plug to the standard slim one found at the end of the C5s, as the slim nature of the plug makes it easy to use with smartphones covered by a protective case.
The first thing you think when you look at that Secure Loop design is "Wow, that's pretty cool." What makes it cool? Well, it looks so simple that if it indeed works, you wonder why someone didn't think of it sooner.
As the company says, you can adjust the loop, adding or taking away from its size by simply pulling or pushing on the cord.
With most earbuds, you simply pick a tip (most earphones come with a few different sized tips) and jam it into your ear until you get a tight seal. It works a little differently with the Secure Loop--first, you get the Loop to tuck properly into your ear, then you have to get the tip jammed inside.
The issue is that because of the way the Loop fits into your ear, it actually restrains the tip from entering your ear canal. As a result, we found ourselves forgoing the medium silicon tip that usually fits with other headphones for the largest size that Bowers & Wilkins offers. Still, we're thankful that B&W ships them with small, medium, and large silicon tips along with a stiff "quilted" protective pouch. Luckily, the large tip allowed us a tight seal, which is crucial for sound quality and deep bass tones.
Other CNET editors in our anecdotal fit testing complained about the lower part of the loop pressing uncomfortably against the ridge on the lower, inside portion of the ear (the anti-tragus, for all you "Gray's Anatomy" readers). However, this reviewer didn't experience this, and found that the earphones live up to their billing as being comfortable, with an appropriately secure fit.