Excellent noise-cancelling, great sound and MP3 enhancement make these headphones ideal for travellers who can afford them.
The Creative Aurvana X-Fi Noise Cancelling Headphones are designed for travellers who want excellent sound quality on the move, or people who want to enjoy their movies either on their laptops or home theatre systems free of annoying background noise.
The headphones come packaged in their own microfibre carry case, along with a set of AAA batteries, 6.3mm stereo adaptor and travel adaptor that works with many (but not all) airline sound systems. Weighing in at 245gm, the headphones are not portable enough to tuck into your pocket but will fit in a briefcase or notebook bag.
The headphones are comfortable to wear and feature large circumaural pads which totally cover the ears to provide the best quality sound possible. The design of the headphones themselves tend to block out much of the background noise, but for further testing we took them into our office server room and enjoyed the constant humming of our servers being reduced to a barely audible whisper. Virtually all of the bass noise was cut, leaving just the tiniest amount of hiss. With noise reduction turned off the noise was muffled but present. Unfortunately, the noise reduction only seems to work against constant droning, as our tests found it ineffective against transient noise such as ringing phones, screaming kids or that passenger next to you who won’t shut up.
While we could hear some slight artefacts as a result of the noise reduction, they were minor, especially compared to the constant drone of our servers or an engine during a long flight. It is possible to by-pass all processing (if you don’t have a spare set of batteries) and the headphones will work, but bass response and overall volume is reduced by what we would estimate to be about 8dB.
Of course, cutting out noise is only good if the sound from the headphones is up to scratch, otherwise you might as well invest in a pair of earmuffs. Creative claims a frequency response of 20–20kHz via their 40mm neodymium magnet drivers, so for some in-depth testing we connected them to our Pioneer D6 audiophile SACD player to listen to an SACD recording of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”.
The sound quality was one of the best we have heard from headphones in this price range. Treble was bright, without obvious distortion or sibilance, mid-range was well defined, making it easy to hear vocals, and bass was clean and powerful without being muddy, distorted or over emphasised. If you like doof, doof or DJ headphones with booming bass, this unit is probably not for you.
We thought the treble may have been slightly exaggerated, but this is by design since the headphones are specifically for listening to lossy compressed sound from portable media players and crappy in-built laptop sound cards. The headphones have three settings which can be activated simultaneously: noise reduction; X-Fi Crystalizer, which attempts to restore frequencies lost as a result of compression or poor CD mastering; and X-Fi CMSS-3D, which attempts to create a spatial pseudo surround field.
The X-Fi Crystalizer appears to boost bass and treble while maintaining mid-range, so it does a reasonable job of sharpening otherwise flat-sounding MP3 recordings. If your MP3 player already has enhancement (as many do), then turn this feature off on either the player or headphones, otherwise the sound will be annoyingly bright and tinny. The CMSS-3D effect is nice, but not a substitute for true surround sound.
We found the headphones comfortable to wear, but because they are snug they could be irritating if you wear earrings. A vent on the side ensures airflow so your ears don’t heat up, but they also allow sound to leak out, which can be annoying for fellow passengers, especially if you have the volume up.
Overall these headphones are great for travellers who want to listen to music or watch videos during long flights. However, at just under $400, they are more for the business class end than the majority who fly economy.