Creative SXFI Air; expensive room-filling sound on affordable headphones

Review Category


4 Stars


I'm back ladies and gentlemen, slapping you upside the dome with yet another headphone review. Today I want to talk a little bit about the Creative SXFI Air, a very new headset that had it's debut at CES 2019. For the last several months I've had an interest in 3d audio. I'm not talking about the fake 7.1-channel surround sound in say, some of the Logitech gaming headsets. I'm talking about typical stereo audio, but with a little bit of reverb and other effects that make it sound as if your audio is being played through a high-dollar audio system in your living room. Last October I got my Audeze Mobius, which was a nice start and a headset that I will write a review on, however there were some things I didn't like about that headset. First of all, the 3d room emulation just doesn't sound that good to me. Others may hear differently, but it sounded as if the speakers were in a long echoey corridor instead of a living room or den and the other distraction was that that headset actually has a jyroscope that tracks your head movements and adjusts the audio accordingly. I don't know about any of you, but if I'm trying to center a target to shoot and my head moves a couple of inches, I get a little thrown off. Even at a fraction of the cost of the Mobius, the SXFI does the room emulation bit a lot better and without the madness of the sound moving around your head which is neat at first but for me got a little bit old.
Now onto the physical description of the headset. First, I'll tell you, this headset is made out of hard plastic. I don't get the same feeling with this set of cans that I do when wearing say, my Nuraphone or even the Skullcandy Crusher 360. While these headphones don't feel cheap, I just don't get the same premium feeling when I'm holding them in my hand. Without the 3d effects made possible by the SXFI chip, they don't sound that great, but with it on, it's a different story. As with most headsets the controls are on the left. There is actually a touchpad to control the volume of your music, as well as to skip and reverse tracks. You can tap twice to start and stop playback of songs, answer and end calls. You swipe up or down on the touchpad to control the volume and left to right to skip and reverse songs. There's a nano boom mic as Creative calls it that can easily be attached and detached and because it's so small you can easily lay in bed with the microphone attached and still be able to enjoy your media. Other boom mics I've seen on headsets are so long that if you have the mic attached you have to sit up because if you try to lie on your stomach the microphone's going to be in your way constantly. There are also some buttons on the headset which I'll discuss. There's the SXFI button which feels oval-shaped kind of off by itself. Pressing this disables/enables the 3d room emulation for the SXFI chip. This is what gives the headset it's superpower and makes it sound like you're enjoying your music in your living room with a nice set of expensive speakers. Below the SXFI button is a micro SD card slot, which we'll discuss in greater detail later. Below the micro SD card slot is another button which switches between your available input sources which are Bluetooth, USB/aux and SD card. Also on the left earcup are the nano boom mic and the power button.
The right earcup isn't that interesting--it's just an earcup.
Now, on to the sound of this headset. Without the SXFI processing, the sound isn't that great. I wouldn't say that it's the worst headset that I've heard, but I've definitely heard better without other auditory effects, however with the SXFI effects on the headset transforms, in my opinion anyway. Imagine that you're listening to a song on headphones, and then you press the button and within a couple of seconds the sound transforms and suddenly you're listening to the song on a pair of speakers in your den. You're sitting right in the middle and the whole sound stage is open to you. The highs are crispy and delicious, the mid-range is very good and the lower/bass frequencies are there, but they're slightly underwhelming. Other than that, audio quality's on point. Even mono recordings from the yester year get a boost in quality. The battery life, at 10 hours play time approximately, is a little disappointing, but the audio quality is still decent enough that I'd use the headset anyway. For this being a brand-new headset I'm a little disappointed that it uses Bluetooth 4.2 and not 5.0, but I wonder if this is to keep the cost down. I picked up this pair of headphones for $159 and given the way it sounds with the SXFI processing on I'd say it's definitely worth it and you get what you pay for. You can also connect to a computer with a USB port to both listen and charge the headphones or an analog cable. Even with the analog cable connected the SXFI effects work when the cans are powered on, and even if you run down the battery you can still connect the 3.5 aux cable for listening till you get to a place where you can charge them again, without all the neat SXFI processing of course. You can also load songs onto a micro SD card for listening if you'd rather not use your phone or computer's Bluetooth. It supports up to 32 GB on the micro SD, and file formats mp3, wma, wav or flac, which I'd say is excellent.
Overall, would I buy this headset again, and do I recommend this set to the community? I'd say yes. While there are some things I don't like, for example when listening through the micro SD if you're listening to an album with songs that mix into each other there's a slight break in the audio for a couple of seconds, I wouldn't call that a deal breaker. The battery life, while not the greatest, is at least understandable given the fact that while you're using the headset you're most likely going to be using the SXFI processing to add that extra depth to your audio. Even though the cans don't come with a carrying case, you can just throw them in a bag and head out. They don't fold, but the headband's nice and thick so I wouldn't say there's a need to be concerned about them breaking while they're being transported. Also, believe it or not, the app you use to control the headset is, for the most part accessible. There has been a history with products from that company either not being accessible or their software apps not being accessible, but in this headset that doesn't seem to be a factor. The few buttons that there are seem to stand out from one another and after a little bit of practice swiping on the touchpad becomes almost like second nature.

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