Creative SXFI Air

Creative SXFI Air: Audio so you’ve never heard it literally!

In promoting its Super X-Fi technology, which will be the focus of this review, Creative talks about the reality of magical audio and holographic audio.

But before we talk about the magic of Super X-FI technology, let’s also see what’s in the box and how it looks.

Package

Inside the sales package, in addition to the headphones, we find some (useful) manuals, an audio cable and a very long USB-C – USB cable: the Creative SXFI Air, in fact, can be connected via Bluetooth, via audio input or with USB connectivity.

Unlike other models, in this case there is no case in the box to carry them around: as we will see later, these headphones are clearly designed to be used at home.

Construction and comfort

The first word that comes to mind when looking at Creative SFXI Air is cumbersome. The headphones, in fact, have rather generous dimensions and shapes, especially in the pavilions. This is reflected in the weight, equal to 338 grams: I think they are the heaviest headphones I’ve ever tried. Precisely for this reason, I would have appreciated a little more padding in the bow, which ends up weighing a little on the head, especially after hours of listening.

While the right pavilion is clean, the left is a true concentration of input systems. The outermost surface houses the touch controls, which are completely invisible: there is no indicator on the panel. Along the perimeter, starting from the front, we find: power button, microphone (let’s go back in a moment), USB-C input, audio jack, button to select the source, microSD slot and Super X-Fi button. This last button, well highlighted by a knurled texture, is used to activate or deactivate the Super X-FI effect, which, as we will see later, significantly changes the user experience. The microphone looks like a small protuberance that, when not needed, can be removed and replaced with the rubber included in the package.

The pavilions are slightly flexible and adapt well to the head. The headphone covers are in memory foam and are covered in a breathable fabric that prevents the ear from sweating. Moreover, they are easily replaceable and, for those who prefer them, they can be replaced with leatherette earmuffs, sold separately.

Dulcis in fundo, a beautiful LED with customizable colors surrounds the pavilions. I like it very much: it is discreet and not excessively tamarro and, if desired, can be completely turned off.

Overall, except for the relatively high weight, the headphones are very comfortable to wear: thanks to the memory foam, the pavilions wrap around the ears and the fabric is preferable to imitation leather on many occasions.

Note that the headphones are not foldable: as already mentioned, this is obviously a model designed for home use, which therefore does not offer the possibility of being folded to be stored in the backpack.

Audio features and quality

Let’s pretend for a moment that these Creative SXFI Air are normal headphones: let’s forget about Super X-Fi technology for a few minutes, switch it off from the appropriate button and see how it goes.

Well, even leaving aside the wow effect of the Super X-Fi, these headphones can defend themselves. The large 50 mm drivers offer excellent sound quality, which looks good compared to competitors in the same price range. The sound is very balanced overall, with a practically flat profile: full bodied and vibrant but not exaggerated, clean and clear mids and sufficiently bright highs. In addition, Creative’s companion app includes an equalizer with which to customize the sound.

On the audio front, we can only see two small moles: the maximum volume is not very high and there is not much sound insulation.

A potential big problem, on the contrary, is on the connectivity front: Bluetooth 4.2 and SBC codec. No 5.0 and no support for aptX codecs: consequently, we need to consider a potential delay between audio and video signal when using it via Bluetooth. Personally, it has never happened to me on MacBook, iPhone or iPad, but audio latency is a potential problem to consider.

Fortunately, you can use the headphones by connecting them via audio jack and, above all, via USB, thanks to the long cable of about 2 meters included in the package. Also very appreciated is the slot for the microSD, from which it is possible to read songs in the mp3, wma, wav and flac formats.

The autonomy is rather mediocre: 10 hours are not many, even considering that the headphones take about 2 and a half hours to fully recharge.

I’m not a fan of touch controls at all, but those in these Creative SXFI Air work pretty well: double tap in the center for Play / Pause, extended tap to call up voice assistants, swipe up or down to adjust volume and swipe to the right or left to change songs.

An aspect that pleasantly amazed me, on the other hand, is the quality of the microphone: I used it mainly at home, but I happened to answer calls even outside and my interlocutors always heard me clearly. Furthermore, a good microphone is essential if you play online and, as we will see, these headphones are particularly suitable for playing.

The magic: Super X-Fi

As I wrote from the beginning, the real strength of these headphones is the Super X-Fi mode: it is a technology developed by Creative that aims to emulate the listening experience of a 7.1 surround system.

Imagine then sitting in the center of a room, surrounded by seven speakers (plus a subwoofer, to be precise): the sound comes from every direction and, watching an action movie that supports multi-channel audio, the audio of the explosion comes exactly from the place where you see the bomb detonate.

The Super X-Fi technology, which required Creative Labs several years of development, simulates this effect: to do so, it uses the so-called UltraDSP (Digital Signal Processor), a chip specially made by the company, which includes a DAC and simultaneously manages up to 8 high-resolution audio channels (24 bit / 96KHz).

Furthermore, to maximize the results, it is necessary to map the shape of head and ears : yes, you have understood correctly, from the SXFI app (available for Android and iOS ), the initial configuration will lead you to frame auricles and face to achieve a sort a virtual “cast” with which to customize the sound reproduction.

The result is felt, without any doubt.

It is difficult to put into words how the sound experience changes by activating the SXFI technology: what I can say is that the sound does not seem to come from the headphones, but from the surrounding environment.

Making an On / Off comparison, when the effect is off the sound appears circumscribed, “closed”, shot directly into the ears. When I press the SXFI button, instead, the audio opens , envelops you, it no longer seems confined by the headphone pavilions but also arrives in front, behind, up, down. In short, we understood each other.

A practical example: listening to David Bowie’s beautiful Space Oddity with normal stereo headphones, the countdown (which starts at about 0:50) comes clearly from the left earphone. He is far away and whispered, but evidently, he can only be heard with his left ear. Activating the SFXI effect all this becomes more nuanced and it almost seems to be in the control tower that guides our Major Tom: the countdown comes from a loudspeaker, somewhere high in the room. Yes, probably on the left, but it’s all more labile, suffused, almost an environmental sound.

Mind you: this does not always improve listening to music, indeed. There are songs that make better if you listen in headphones rather than a surround sound system. I am thinking, for example, of some hip-hop pieces marked by bass strokes: I find that a song like Feel Good Inc by Gorillaz sounds less good with SXFI effect activated, because a wider and airy sound does not do justice to the pressing tone of the piece. Moreover, with some tracks I had the perception that the audio lost details by activating the SXFI, but it could be an impression, normal contraindication of this technology.

In general, however, the SXFI effect works well with songs with extended and evocative sounds, but is less good with rhythmic and driven songs. Furthermore, it is a pleasant surprise how he succeeds in giving new life to old tracks recorded in mono: take these jazz pieces by Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, activated SXFI and you will suddenly find yourself in a 1930s American venue.

But music, of course, is only the minor aspect of the experience offered by these headphones: the Super X-Fi technology gives its best with movies and video games.

Watching a movie that supports Dolby audio standards (or any other type of multichannel audio), the listening experience is completely different than when using simple stereo headphones. The impact is cinematic: every sound is in the right place, the explosions and sounds of the spaceships have a depth and a spatial precision. And in short, it has never been so nice to be concerned about Star Wars.

Speaking of movies, the biggest drawback is the potential audio delay : as already mentioned, personally I have not found lag using these headphones via Bluetooth with macOS, iPhone and iPad, but it is undeniable that it could occur, especially if you connect them to computers that don’t they do not even have Bluetooth 4.2 (which, although not 5.0, still guarantees a very low latency). In the event of such problems, the only solution is to connect the headphones via cable (which, fortunately, is quite long).

Even in video games you can feel the difference: I personally tested it with Overwatch and Borderlands 2 , but it’s important to make some clarifications. The same PR I spoke to, expressly told me that the SXFI effect is suitable for film titles , but that it might be less suitable for competitive games . Indeed, I must admit that I appreciated SXFI more with Borderlands than with Overwatch. Mind you, not that I have encountered problems with the latter, but the surround effect is appreciated more with large worlds to explore, rather than with shooters in which audio is an element that potentially brings with it useful information about enemies.

Dulcis in fundo, a few words on the application – indeed, on the applications. Yes, in the plural: both on iOS when on Android, macOS and Windows, there are two applications, called SXFI App and SXFI Control. The first is the fundamental one, especially on smartphones: it allows you to map the ears and the head and create the personalized profile, it includes an equalizer and a player to play music locally. SXFI Control, on the other hand, is an app related to the specific control of this model of headphones: here too there is an equalizer, but also the possibility to customize the color of the LEDs and to select the source of the music (if the physical key on the headphones were not enough). Finally, from the desktop app for macOS, you can also choose whether to have 7.1 surround, 5.1 surround or stereo, something you can’t do as a mobile. Overall, all software is quite confusing and doesn’t do justice to these great headphones.

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