Pros: Genuinely impressive sound quality for under $100, Cozy comfy, Lightweight & secure fit, Nice looks, Includes accessories
Cons: Earpads would benefit from being more spacious, Build quality could be improved, Isolation is similar to Denon D2000
A legendary value performer
The Creative Aurvana Live! (CAL! for short) has a strong reputation for being an excellent choice for beginning headphone hobbyists and an amazingly good sounding headphone for under $100. I found myself with some spare cash, and was after some new headphones after selling my Denon D2000, and thought it would be fun to try the CALs, since they are a reincarnation of the Denon D1000. People have described them as a little brother of the D2000, and I think they are to some extent. Certainly for the better in the sound department, for the worse in other areas. So, I bought a pair directly from Creative, and 4 days later they arrived (Quick shipping seeing as it came from Singapore). Here was my experience:
Well you guys are certainly right about one thing
And that is that these headphones sound excellent, especially for under $100. I really want to talk about this first, because it's where the CAL! is just amazing. Honestly, these headphones are an audiophile's wet-dream to use in arguments against Beats users when you want examples of headphones at less than half the price that blow the doctor away. This is the area where they really do sound like a smaller, cheaper Denon D2000. It's definitely less refined all around, but it does a very similar thing, and at a stupendous level of quality for under a big green note.
The bass on the CAL! is less pronounced than the Denon, placing it very slightly north of neutral, but close enough that I think you could call it well balanced, but slightly warm. The roll off begins much earlier than on the D2000, but the extension is very respectable, but again, not as much. It's certainly controlled well, staying in it's place with very minimal encroachment on the midrange. Definitely a mud-free presentation. Definition is good, and authority isn't lacking when called upon. The bass is a great reason it's great sounding for beginners, it will teach them that you don't need grossly overblown, bloated, unnatural bass for music (including 'bass culture' music) to be enjoyable and properly represented. Neutral-to-warm is where the real cool kids are at! I've read about the bass being a tad loose, but it sounds fairly tight to me. Overall, a commendable bass response from the CAL!, definitely a sign of it's Denon lineage.
Much as with the D2000, the CAL! doesn't put you in a chokehold and demand you swear allegiance to either bass or midrange, you get both! I must say, that vocals struck me very quickly as being very, very good on the CAL!. I think this is a result of not only placement and separation (They seem very distinctly separated from everything else) but just how realistically three dimensional they sound. If you've ever experienced a headphone that seems to swallow vocals up in the sound, and you want something better, then these will do it. I find the midrange to be well detailed and resolving, bringing out the texture of the sound more than you might expect
The treble on the CAL! really fits the part for these cans. To my tastes I couldn't quite call it dark or bright, it's fairly neutral sounding to me, which I think is beneficial for a slightly warm headphone. If you have warmth (or an outright bassy response) coupled with bright treble then you get a V shaped signature, which I don't have high levels of tolerance for (depending on extreme the V is). A left out midrange is no fun. These headphones definitely avoid harshness and sibilance, but I would say they're actually quite energetic and "active" sounding in the treble, but without any sense of being artificially boosted or forward. I really think they sound very surprisingly clean up high for a cheap, sealed can like this.
Imaging is also really good (for a headphone of it's type and class)! Much like the big sister D2000, the CAL! seems to benefit most noticeably from it's poor isolation with the trait the open headphones are best known for: soundstaging. To compare these to the HFI-580 (a sealed circumaural that can go for twice the price of the CAL!), I'd say these knocked their socks off in the imaging department (Well, I find the CAL! much more enjoyable as a whole, too). The Ultrasone is supposed to have S-Logic to help it out, but it sounds downright unnatural and cramped compared to the CAL!. Layering is great on this headphone, with pretty respectable instrument separation. It is, of course, bested by the D2000 but I'd say the imagine was about 80% as good. Really impressive!
In short, the worst thing I can say about the sound of the CAL! is that it will be outdone by headphones in the $200+ range, but I think not only do they kick ass and take names under $100, but they continue to be super competitive up around $150 and approaching the $200 mark. These are some of the best value for performance out there!
Looks & Build
I think that for the money, the CAL! are decent in their presentation and their build, though I wouldn't say that they were outstanding in any way.
Compared to the Denon D1000, the CAL! wins my preference in aesthetics due to it's colour scheme. I quite like the dark, black finish on the headband arms, as well as the contrast between the chrome and reflective black finish of the the cups. The creative logo is in raised plastic with chrome finish, which I really like. I also appreciate the size of the logo, it's not too uncommon for logos to be placed and designed to be as attention seeking as possible. It's good to see visual design that appreciates subtlety.
In the build department, I find that the CAL! could be a bit better, though I want to make it clear that these headphones are not poorly built. I would say they are overall superior to the Sennheiser HD448 which lacked metal in it's internal structure. The CAL! uses prominently plastic in it's build, from the cups through to the headband shell. I think the cups feel pretty solid, but I think the arms of the headband are a bit less convincing of that solid feeling you want from a headphone. The gimbals are slightly cheap looking in their plastic design, and if you apply pressure to the inner plastic of the arms, there's a little bit of give and a small creaking sound. Compare that to the Sennheiser PX100ii, and no such feeling or noise is present, they feel solid as a rock. That headphone also has more visible metal in it's construction, and just feels better finished and re-enforced than the CAL!. This is one of the big reasons I think the CAL! could be more impressive in the build department. Both headphones are the same price, and despite the PX100ii being much smaller and seemingly flimsier in physical size, it's just more solid feeling and I wouldn't hesitate to put more faith in it standing up to abuse than the CAL!, or at the very least it feels a little more premium.
One thing I must say the CAL! does possess that impresses me is good quality pleather. Most headphones under $100 have quite poor imitation leather indeed, though the CAL! went all out and opted for the good stuff. The earpads are extremely soft, more-so than any other headphone I've personally experienced. I was genuinely surprised when I first felt them, and I think this property really contributes to the comfort factor of these headphones.
With everything taken into account, I would say that the CAL! is a decently build headphone which you shouldn't worry about it falling apart on you, though don't expect it last through the ages or give you any sense of getting more than what you paid for.
This is an area that the headphones seem to be almost equally famous for along side their sound, and I have to be honest, I don't think that's really justified. I do not think these are uncomfortable headphones, but a number of people seem to find their comfort more impressive than their sound quality, which is a mildly baffling idea to me. I've also seen one reviewer here on Head-Fi describe the comfort as being 'unbeatable'. Whilst I would normally say that comfort (much like sound) is a very subjective element of the headphone hobby, I can only think that if you consider the CAL! to possess the best comfort out there, you probably haven't experienced a great deal of headphones. They're comfy enough, but they simply are not a headphone that you can wear all day without irritation, and they're no where near the best.
When I first got the CAL! I found them quite uncomfortable. Luckily this changed, but I still do have some remaining bones to pick with the comfort. My first issue was that the headband padding felt quite stiff, to the point of being an under-padded feeling headband. This isn't a big problem now, the CAL! is very light so the headband doesn't need to provide a high level of support in the first place, but I found that the padding of the headband softened up noticeably after a day or two of use. I have noticed that I have to wear it quite forward on my head for it to feel right, and I'm not sure why. Normally it's the opposite for me. I like the headband of this headphone, though I would say that optimally, a wider and even softer headband would be preferable.
The real issue of the CAL!'s comfort is the ear-pads. As mentioned, the ear-pads are very soft. However, considering it's a supposedly circumaural headphone, the amount of space given for your ear is rather conservative. There is just over 2 inches of height, and about 1.75 inches of width (at the widest point). My ears are fairly average, so I imagine those with large ears will note rather quickly that there is an insufficient amount of space. I don't find that the depth is a problem for me, but these are also not the deepest earpads around. This lack of space will irritate some people's ears due to the touch alone, but the other issue is that such a confined space that is encased in non-breathing pleather leads to a bit of extra heat. This is pretty unbearable for me if it's a hot day, it just feels disgusting.
As a rule of thumb, I would say that if you don't have large ears and don't live in a hot area, you should be OK. Don't expect game changing comfort, but it should be cosy. The fit is quite secure and lightweight, though, which goes a long way in my books.
Not bad, but I think it gets way more credit than it deserves.
I must say, despite having issues with it at first, I've really grown to love this headphone! For under $100, this is a must-have for beginners, it's such a good introduction as to what good sound is. Some people are going to take issue with it's comfort, but I'd say for a lot of people this will indeed be comfy. Just don't expect DT880 levels or anything.
Great for home use for anyone looking to get into quality headphones!