To see what the C5 could do with vigorous yet well recorded material rich in dynamic and textural details, I put one of my favorite live records: Long John Hunter’s “Let’s Set the Time” from the Untapped Blues Festival 2004 [Bluestopia]. The track leverages the sound of Hunter’s smokin’ band, whose rhythm section sounds fantastic on this track. For about the first minute and a half, the band establishes a rock-solid, propulsive groove anchored by the effortless lithe sound of a bass guitar, a lovely minimalist percussion figure carried by the snare drum, cymbals and a cowbell, billowing chords from a Hammond organ, and sharp, piquant accent chords strummed on an electric guitar. Instrumental separation is just terrific through the C5’s and is made even more engaging by the earphone’s ability to capture the distinctive dynamic envelopes of each of the instruments. In particular, the C5’s offer more than enough detail to hear sounds from onstage reverberating within the performance venue, giving the song even more of a “you are there” live feel.
But when Hunter’s vocals begin, the song really takes off, in large part because the C5 lets you hear and feel Hunter’s masterful control of inflections and other points of vocal emphasis, such as words or phrase punctuated by deliciously prolonged howls, which the C5 takes right in stride. Through the B&W’s, it is immediately apparent that Hunter and his band have worked together for a long time and know each others moves perfectly. You can hear the band, for example, subtly throttling back its output to make space for Hunter’s vocal lines, then throttling back up again during pauses between verses or phrases, almost as if to add commentary. It’s a masterful performance, but one that can easily be dragged down by earphones that lack sufficient dynamic moxie and subtlety to show the crafty back-and-forth interplay between the instrumentalist and the singer. Happily, the C5 has no such problems—it gets the textural details and the dynamic shadings right.
Small but powerful details abound, and the C5 really does them justice. One of my personal favorites, for example, occurs about six and a half minutes into the song, just before the final vamp begins, as the guitarist strums a meaty chord that momentarily saturates—and then overdrives—his obviously tube-powered guitar amp. Even though this small detail erupts and then disappears within a split second, it sounds so real that you just can help but be pulled into the moment and thus into the song. Many headphones inadvertently quash details like these (or underplay them), but the C5 gives them their full due and brings them alive.
For any C5 listener, a choice will have to be made between going with ear tips that have the sort of traditionally tight fit one might expect to use with most other earphones, or to opt for ear tips that have a less tight fit while still providing a good in-ear seal; this choice will have sonic consequences. I listened to “Lets Set the Time” several times in a row, using different sizes of ear tips and found that with tight-fitting tips the C5 gave the song’s bass guitar licks and kick drum thwacks greater weight and drive, while at the same time taming some of the “bark” of the rhythm guitar. With less tight-fitting tips, the C5 exhibited lighter bass balance (though providing a bass sound that still had plenty of “pop” and “snap”), while the guitar (and vocals) opened up a bit and thus sounded more real. My point is that the C5 gives listeners tuning options, though it may take some time and experimentation to choose among them.
Consider this product if: you want one of the better performing mid-priced earphone/headsets on today’s market, and one whose core sound centers around a midrange that is unusually expressive and dynamically alive. Also consider the C5 if you like the idea of an earphone whose clever Secure Loop design helps hold earpieces in place, so that the rubber ear tips don’t have to shoulder the workload all by themselves. Fit and finish are exquisite, too.
Look further if: You favor plug’n’play earphones that don’t require much if any tweaking. The C5 can be pretty sensitive both to overall fit and (especially) to ear tip sizing, so a bit of judicious fine-tuning of fit can potentially yield big sonic dividends. Note, too, that the C5 offers good but not great noise isolation (a deliberate design choice so that you can still hear some ambient sounds).