I’ve been an Apple devotee for quite a few years now, with far more iDevices in my tech gadget collection than any rational person should have. But as much as I love Apple, the one thing that has constantly plagued me with their mobile devices is their headphones. I’ve never liked them, and in the event I’m actively doing something (running, biking, etc.), I absolutely hate them. Their fit is horrible, so any time I’m moving, they’re constantly falling out of place. This, of course, is not only exceptionally annoying, it’s extremely detrimental to sound quality. And they look terrible.
This led me on a mission: find a pair of headphones whose design and function is on par with the iPhone and iPad themselves. Enter Bowers & Wilkins. They offer a range gorgeous, highly acclaimed home audio and theater solutions, and when I found their C5 headphones, it was love at first site. They’re beautifully engineered, and while they offer exceptional sound quality, they also take an incredibly unique approach to the fit. In short, no matter what I’m doing, they stay in place. Compared to other in-ear headphones I’ve tried, there’s no comparison. The C5’s rock.
I loved them so much, in fact, that when I wanted a pair of over the ear headphones, I went back to Bowers & Wilkins and picked up a pair of their P3s. As is the case with the C5s, they’re beautifully crafted and note superb sound quality across the board. They’re also incredibly comfortable, which makes them a pleasure to wear. In short, I absolutely love them.
Because this is part of Gift Guide 2012, I’ll make it simple: if you’re looking for a pair of headphones for someone active, get them the C5s. For those that take a more leisurely approach to listening (i.e. at home, on the subway/airplane, etc.), the P3 fits the bill perfectly.
Read on for a more detailed look at both.
Bowers & Wilkins P3 ($199)
As the newest member of the Bowers & Wilkins family, the P3 headphones build on technology found in their more expensive counterpart: the P5. With the P3, B&W notes the goal was to combine pristine, natural audio quality with maximum wearability. And when you try the P3 headphones, you know instantly they’ve succeeded in doing exactly that.
From a design and build standpoint, the B&W P3s are just beautiful. Available in either black or white variants, the P3 headphones are gorgeous, with brushed aluminum accents on the outer ear pads as well as a selected chrome accents. For the inner headband and ear pads, a bespoke acoustic fabric is used, while the outer headband and ear pads utilize a rubber that pairs beautifully with the fabric and metal. In grading the P3’s appearance, they look stunning.
Functionally, the P3 headphones are made to move. Unlike their bigger sibling (the P5), the P3 boasts a folding design, allowing you fold in both ear pads – significantly reducing its footprint in your bag, purse, coat pocket, etc. The P3’s also include a folding clamshell case, which keeps your P3 headphones looking pristine when you’re on the go. For iPhone users, the P3 includes two cords – one standard and one with a remote/mic (like the one included with the iPhone). To replace the cord, simply remove the P3’s magnetically attached ear pads, switch the cords, and you’re done.
In terms of the fit, I love the P3’s. Bowers & Wilkins did a great job finding the perfect amount of snugness – they’re not to too tight, but they’re tight enough to form the perfect seal for listening. I’ve worn them for hours at a time on various flights, and they’re incredibly comfortable. In louder environments, such as in the city, the P3’s also do a good job keeping unwanted noise out. While there are certainly headphones more effective at noise canceling, when you’re commuting, it’s important to be somewhat aware of what’s going on around you. And in that respect, the P3’s excel. They let enough in to keep you connected to your environment, but not to the point it deteriorates your listening experience.
And speaking of listening, you’re probably wondering how the P3’s sound. The answer: they sound fantastic. While sound is subjective based on personal tastes and the music you’re listening to, I’m a huge fan of the P3’s. Bass is deep and powerful, without being overwhelming. Unlike at home where you want perfect tonal reproduction across the board, when I’m on the go in louder environments, I prefer slightly stronger bass, and the P3 delivers. Not too much, but enough to hold up in louder environments.
Overall, I would describe the sound as natural and warm – not as bright as other headphones I’ve tried, which I personally prefer. Tonal balance is superb and there’s no annoying distortion, while on the whole, I find the listening experience quite detailed, vibrant and exciting. While there’s certainly no substitute for listening to the P3’s for yourself, I’m a huge fan of my P3’s, and in the event you’re looking for pair of commuter headphones, I think you too are going to love them.
To learn more about Bowers & Wilkins P3 headphones or to purchase a pair for yourself, head over to the official Bowers & Wilkins website.
Bowers & Wilkins C5
Take everything great about B+W’s P3 over-the-ear headphones – their design, sound and fit – apply it to in-ear headphones, and you’ve got the Bowers & Wilkins C5.
With the C5s, and any in-ear headphones for that matter, the most important element is the fit. If you’re using in-ear headphones, chances are you’re moving, so you want a pair of in-ear headphones that stay in place. And the C5’s do. It doesn’t matter if you’re running, biking or doing the 100m hurdles, the B&W C5s stay put, better than any other in-ear headphones I’ve used.
Making the magic happen, B&W has invented what they call the Secure Loop design, and while it seems simple, it’ really quite brilliant. As opposed to other in-ear headphones with traditional cords, the cords of the C5s extend up and around, forming an adjustable loop that applies a small amount of pressure against the inner ridge of your ear. This loop, while comfortable, does a remarkable job keeping the C5s in place, irregardless of how active things may get. As if this wasn’t enough, the C5’s also note a tungsten balanced sound tube, which weights the headphones toward your ear, as well as a total of four different sized tips, ensuring a perfect fit in your ear canal.
All of this equates to fantastic sound, because unlike other in-ear headphones that shift during use (deteriorating sound quality), the C5s stay ideally positioned during listening, meaning the sound is exactly as B&W intended it to be. In addition, while not offering active noise canceling, the C5s do a great job eliminating unwanted outside sound, further enhancing the listening experience in louder environments.
So how do the C5s perform? As is the case with the P3 headphones, I’m a huge fan of my C5s. They provide deep, booming bass, but again, not at the expense of being overpowering. While not a prerequisite for classical listening by the fireplace, when you’re at the gym hitting the treadmill for a 5 mile run, you gotta have it. And like the P3s, I would say the overall sound is one that’s warm, natural and quite lush. Comparing the two, the C5s are brighter, but the overall sound is one that’s exceptionally clear, rich and very, very enjoyable.
Part of this is undoubtedly due the C5’s micro porous filter, which acts as a diffuser to deliver a more spacious sound than other in-ear headphones. And part of it comes from the fit, which is an area unrivaled by other in-ear headphones. Put them together, and the sound produced by the C5s is incredible, easily rivaling significantly more expensive in-ear headphones and making them well worth the $180 retail price.
So whether you’re looking for a pair in-ear or over-the-ear headphones, you have to check out the offerings from Bowers & Wilkins. After owning both, I can tell you they’re both well worth the price of admission.
To learn more about the Bowers & Wilkins C5 in-ear headphones or to pick up a pair for yourself, head over to the official Bowers & Wilkins website.