Bowers and Wilkins C5 Page 2
Ergonomics Continued: the Secure Loop
The C5 features a unique method for securing the earpieces in the ear. When I first saw it I thought, "That's cool, and smart as hell." Unfortunately it's not quite so cool in practice.
The first section of wire coming from the earpiece is covered with about four inches of clear, pliable plastic tube. This section loops around and is captive in a slot in the body of the headphone. The slot is slightly larger than the tube and can be slid in and out so as to form a variable sized loop, which can be adjusted to fit within the concha ridge of the ear. In terms of securing the earpiece in the ear, this mechanism works very well.
The problem is that, while it works, the wires against the ear can be quite painful. Have you ever worn a pair of glasses with improperly adjusted earpieces that press on the back side of your ear and create a remarkably painful spot? Sometimes people also have this problem if they sleep on their side and their ear folds while on the pillow. I searched the web for a term for this pain to no avail, so I emailed Mead Killion of Etymotic who asked a couple of ear doctor buddies what this pain was called. One responded with the term, "otodynia," which simply means "earpain."
The plastic covered wire loop is quite stiff, much stiffer than the outer ear and its cartilage, and therefore doesn't change shape to conform to the shape of the ear, but rather forces the ear to conform to it's shape. This creates spots of significant pressure within the concha where the loop is securing the earpiece to your ear, and potential for significant discomfort.
Also, where the wire exits the body of the earpiece through the little notch at the bottom of your ear (the intertragic incisure) the cable can press hard on various parts depending on the exact position of the headphone. This is where I experienced the most discomfort.
It's becoming apparent to me that B&W likes their audio with big bass, neutral mids, and a bit of sparkle in the highs. Fundamentally, I like neutral to slightly laid back sound, but I'm trying to learn how to evaluate other EQ curves that some folks may like with a fair and even hand. I spent a good bit of time with the very nice B&W P5 supra-aural headset that is significantly colored, and after a while I came to enjoy it quite a bit.
Unfortunately, the C5 didn't hit a sweet spot for me. The bass was overly emphasized, and while the highest treble octave was too rolled-off, the low treble was too forward. The P5 has a similar response, but has less low frequency energy, and more treble above 10kHz. The P5 works for me, the C5 just goes too far.
Bass response was huge. It seemed tight and well resolved, but it was just overpowering. The highs seemed a bit edgy on one hand, and lacked fine resolution on the other. It's a rather unusual combination. The mid-range response was good, but it kept getting pushed to the curb by the bass weight or treble edge. I don't want to give the impression that these flaws were outragiously bad, but when you are shooting for an enjoyable but colored sound signature and miss, things can go awry in a hurry.
Frequency response shows VERY strong 20dB elevation in low bass. From 500Hz to 10kHz the FR is very flat; this is a good result and because of it I had expected better sound than I experienced in listening tests. The dip at 1300Hz followed by a bump in the top octave looks better than it sounded to me. Technically, this is a pretty good response. Usually a peak at around 10kHz exists with most headphones and the C5 didn't have it. I re-did my listening tests numerous times as what I heard didn't sound as good as the measurements looked. Unfortunately, I always heard the same thing.
30Hz square wave shows the BIG bass response, significantly elevated in the lows and much higher in amplitude than the high frequency rising edge of the waveform.
The 300Hz square wave shows a significant ring in the rising edge of the waveform. This is the only indicator of the moderatly sharp sound heard during listening. Rising top of the waveform indicates low notes stronger than the highs.
The impulse response shows a headphone that settles down quickly, which usually makes for an uncluttered sound. But also indicates the headphones are a little slow by the lack of speed and detail of the impulse.
Distortion measurements are fairly good, and 100dB curves below 90dB curves indicates good power handling characteristics.
Isolation is about middle of the pack for IEMs, these will isolate well, and should make perfectly good traveling headphones.
A substantially flat impedance curve centered at 35 Ohms, and the 48mVrms to reach 90dBSPL efficiency means these headphone will be driven by portable devices fairly well.
Man, I really wanted to like these cans, they're so cool looking and innovative. But it's kinda like motorcycle racing: when you're pushing the envelope and go into a corner a little hot, you can end up out of shape and wadded into a hay bale pretty quick.
The bass was overwhelming for me, and the treble both slightly strident and under resolved. Worse however, was the "secure loop" which was too painful for any extended listening at all.
I think B&W missed the mark in a valiant attempt to find a unique and special position in this category, and failed harder than they otherwise might have. I applaud their inginuity, but think they'll need to go back to the drawing board on this one. Not recommended.