Creative Aurvana In-Ear 3 Plus Review
I had for a while been wanting to get a listen at these, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to purchase them without hesitation. You see, where I come from buying and then returning is really frowned upon. While it doesn’t bother me in the least, I have gotten into disputes with my own family over the issue. Over this past year the tensions we’ve had over this issue have settled down, yet they were still not willing to let me continue with buying, then returning. I was lucky enough to have been selected by Creative to review this pair of earphones, so finally I got my chance at a formal listen.
All listening on this review was done on an iPhone 5s with a mix of lossy and lossless files. The lossy files are from itunes downloads while the lossless ones come from ALAC music rips as well as lossless streaming from Tidal. I’ll indicate which types of files I used in the sound section of the review.
Presentation/AccessoriesWhen I received the earphones I was left very impressed with the box in which they came. I’ve owned other earphones around the same price such as the Sennheiser Momentum in-ear and the Apple In-Ear Headphones and the presentation on the Aurvana 3 simply blows that of the other two away. For a $150 pair of earphones, these sure do look a lot more like the packaging that a $500 pair would come in. Even the $300 Shure se425 don’t come in a presentation this spectacular. Once you get over how nice the outside of the box looks, you’ll want to get into the goodies that come inside. Inside the plastic box you’ll find a semi-hard carrying pouch, four different pairs of eartips (three silicone and one pair of foam), a cleaning tool, an airplane adapter, and the usual pieces of documentation such as the manual. The case is nice and small so it isn’t obtrusive, but at the same time it’s large enough to store both the earphones and all the eartips. Both the silicone and foam tips are amazing as they all do a spectacular job at blocking out external noise. The included cleaning tool is great for all you folks who have tons of earwax and refuse to clean it with your hands. Not sure why Creative decided to throw in an airplane adapter, I mean who really uses these nowadays. It would have been nice if Creative had offered something like quarter inch adapter instead as the use of those is much more common. But overall, what comes in the box and the box itself, are all very nice and Creative deserves some type of recognition for this, I say best packaging of the year.
Design/Ergonomics/IsolationWhen looking at these it’s clear that they aren't the usual earphone design which is worn down the ear. These are the type that must be worn over the ear and then down again through the back of the ear. If this sounds complicated don’t worry, it’s actually much easier than it sounds. The aesthetic part of the design is one of my favorite aspects about the earphone. They come in this dark, metallic brown that makes them look as if they were designed to be worn by an affluent gentleman. But wait, the handsome looks don’t stop there. Even when going down the cable, it’s obvious that Creative put some thought into making this an attractive set of monitors. It follows the same dark brown color scheme, but what's interesting about the cable on this set of earphones is that it comes with a fabric cover rather than a rubber or plastic one commonly used among cheaper earphones. At the other end of the cable is a 90 degree gold plated jack which fits into even the thickest smartphone case I’ve put it through. So this design of this earphone looks nice and feels equally nice, does that mean it’s without fault? Actually, no; the microphone and smartphone controls are probably the one part about the design that I really had to criticize. Most earphone that feature these features have them as one part, but for some reason Creative decided to split these into two different parts. This means that the mic is on one part of the cable while the controls are further down the cable. I understand that Creative may have wanted to get the mic closer to the mouth for better speech during phone calls, but they could have just moved both together. The control also has some issues. Unlike other earphones, the control on these doesn’t click up or down to change the volume. Instead it uses a slider to adjust the volume. Some might ask why this would be an issue at all, but it’s easy to see why. With a traditional volume controller the user has more control over how much he or she raises the volume. With this volume control however, the volume is harder to control as the control just slides around. What this means is accidental increments in the volume are more prone to happen. This can be especially dangerous when listening to louder music genres. And mind you, unlike other controllers, the volume on these earphones doesn’t control the volume of the device you're listening to. So if the volume on your smartphone is up all the way and the volume on the earphones is down all the way, accidentally sliding the volume rocker up all the way will trigger some serious ear pain. Moving onto isolation, all I can say is wow! I’ve always been a person in favor of in-ear monitors, so I know what good isolation feels like. Using these with both the small eartips and the foam ones, I can’t just stop and awe at how well these isolate. I’ve used Etymotics and I can easily say that these beat these when it comes to isolation. With no music playing it becomes very hard to hear any people around you. Once you start to play music through the earphones, you can easily start to forget that people are even around you. Well if you close your eyes you really will feel as though there are no people around you. The chatter of people is something that most earphone are capable of blocking out, but the real test of isolation comes to when you use these out on the busy streets of town. Even when walking down the busiest street in my city during rush hour, hearing any noise other than my music was something difficult to do. I was pleased as to how I was able to walk down these busy streets and not have to worry about raising the volume. Don’t worry though, this isolation doesn’t interfere with the comfort of the earphones. I found myself being able to wear them for hours at a time without even noticing that I had them on. In the end these turned out to be an ergonomic champ as they’re attractive to look at, feature amazing isolation, and can last comfortably for hours. The only part about the design I had to complain about would be the in-line control/mic.
Sound Now we get into the sound which is the most interesting part of this review, as well as the hardest part for me to do. In the past about 95% of the earphones I’ve used have been the dynamic driver type, so I was used to the type of sound that they produced. Up until last year I had never tried any balanced armature earphones. The first pair of balanced armature phones that I tried were the Apple In-ear headphones which I was left somewhat disappointed with. At the time I thought of myself as a treble head, and even though the sound of the Apple earphones was bright, it wasn’t the usual type of bright sound that I was used to. It was odd to me that even though they sounded bright they lacked micro detail and equally lacked low bass. Initially I thought they were mid-centric, but to call an earphone that lacks both high treble and low bass mid centric is misleading. It’s not that the mids were highly elevated, but it was just about the only part of the sound spectrum that actually sounded decent. Since then I’ve heard much more high end armature sets like the Shure se846 and the Campfire Audio Jupiter and those two, especially the Jupiter, left me with my mouth open. Those two impressed me very much and now use them as my reference when evaluating other earphones, and even full-sized headphones. So my two favorite earphones are armature based, does that mean that I now suddenly have a preference for armature phones. My answer to that question is a big NO, as I still prefer the sound of a dynamic driver earphone, especially when it comes to cheaper sets. I do use the Campfire Audio Jupiter as my reference for sound/build quality, but that’s a $1300 earphone so a comparison between that and the Aurvana 3 would be a stupid one. The only earphone I’ve listened to that’s close to the price of $150 for which the Aurvana lists for, is the Sennheiser Momentum In-ear, which sadly left me disappointed. I’m more compelled to do a comparison with the TTpod T-1 as I feel those earphones have a much more competitive sound, especially for the price. Yes the TTpods are about $120 cheaper, but price is sometimes irrelevant as it makes people think that expensive always means better. Ok so finally now I’ll get on with the sound, but let me say that for the price, I was not impressed.
- General Sound Impression: The way I’d generalize the sound with one word is “weak”. When I say this I mean to say that the sound, upon a short first listen, won’t grab your attention. Most people nowadays are either impressed when hearing elevated bass or treble. Even I who prefers a neutral sound, would be more impressed to hear elevated bass that I would mids. For most of the music I listen to I found myself wanting to not use these earphones as they make most of my music sound dull. Not all is bad, when it came to listening to male vocals, cello, and some older rock songs, I was left pleased with what I heard.
- Bass: To most people there is only bass, but to many audiophiles, bass is often separated into two parts. This being sub-bass and mid-bass. After having the great chance of being able to hear planar headphones like the Audeze LCD-X and the Mr. Speakers Ether, I now realize what quality sub-bass sounds like. After hearing those headphones, I was able to find earphones like the Sennheiser ie800 and the TTpod T-1 that were able to satisfy my expectations of sub-bass. The Aurvana come equipped with two drivers, one being for treble and mids, and one being dedicated to bass. I knew that this being an armature set wasn’t going to reach as low as the dynamic earphones I’ve heard. I did expect these however to throw some good punch when it came to the bass. Well this didn’t happen. As usual the first track I tested was Doin’ it Right by Daft Punk(ALAC lossless). This song has some of the cleanest sub-bass I’ve ever heard so which is why I always is it as my first test track. Once the bass kicked in I knew that the Aurvana were clearly struggling to reproduce not only mid-bass, but also sub-bass. To add to the disappointment that I was already feeling, I heard the treble as equally rolled off. So overall most of the song did sound pretty anemic with no excitement. The only part that did sound good was the vocal part of the song, but to me this song is more about the sound tune than the singer, so I was left disappointed, but other may not. Next up I tried another bass track, this one more intense and from a rap album. The track I used for this next test was Don’t Hate the Playa, by Tyga (itunes download lossy). What I feel is that most people who review headphones on Head-fi generally skip out on genres like rap or hip/hop just because they don’t like them. Well I think that reviewers are making a big mistake by doing this. In my experience no other genre, not even electronic, can compare when it comes to heavy bass. In fact the bassiest tracks I often see get used during reviews is The Knife Silent Shout, but even this track is eclipsed by the sheer rumble that is presented with Don’t Hate the Playa. Ok, so how do the Aurvana fair when it comes to this? They honestly do very poorly on this track. On a typical dynamic driver earphone like the TTpod T-1 or the Soundmagic ES18, the bass actually sounds the way it was intended to be played. Unlike most other songs from different genres, this song wasn’t meant to be played at either normal listening levels or bass levels. No, this song was meant to rumble you out of your seat when listening to it at higher volumes. So in some ways I can understand why earphones might struggle to reproduce this song faithfully, but that’s actually not the case. Other earphones like the Sony XBA-Z5, Sennheiser ie800, TTpod T-1, and even the Apple In-ear headphones did a much better job at portraying the low bass notes with this track. Really, with the Aurvana earphones it literally feels as though half of the song is missing. So far I’ve tested the type of bass that rumbles and is known for being slow. Most people who know armature earphones know that slow visceral bass is something that balanced armatures just aren't good at. So when put up against a track that features fast bass hits, how does it perform? Unsurprisingly it still performs poorly. For this test I used the track Countdown by Hardwell (itunes download, lossy). The opening of the tracks sounded alright, but once the bass started to hit, everything just fell apart. The bass hits through the Aurvana just sounded slow and dull with very little in terms of bass slam. With all the tracks I’ve used I can firmly say that these earphones just weren’t mad with bass in mind. I used tracks that tested both the sub-bass and the mid-bass and in the end I came out very disappointed with what I heard. Before moving onto the mids and treble portion of the review I wanted to assert that I’m not a bass head who’s been brainwashed by Beats. My preference for sound is neutral, but warm. The two headphones that really sound the way I want them to are the Stax SR-007 and the Mr. Speakers Ether, and if you read any review on those you’ll see that neither one of those is noted for being bass-heavy. In fact some long time Head-fiers have even said that those two headphones lack bass. So if you think I’m being too hard on these about the bass I’m not as I’m in preference for neutral bass. Overall if bass is your thing, you might want to steer clear of these.
- Mids: This is the one part of the sound that kept surprising me, but in a good way. Normally I’m not someone who gets excited when it comes to the mids, but this earphone changed some of that. The first track I used to check out this mids was Touch by Daft Punk (ALAC lossless). In my opinion this track has got to have some of the most enchanting male vocals I’ve ever heard. Every time I hear the vocal part of the song I just melt away. Now is the Aurvana capable of melting my ears the way other earphones have when it comes to this song? That would be a definite yes, and I’ll even say that these portray the vocals better than I’ve heard on other earphones of around the same price. With these I can feel more of the emotion the singer is putting out while he performs his verse. Overall his voice sounds buttery and more dominant in the mix, a good thing. Up next I tried The Stable Song by Gregory Alan (Tidal Hifi lossless). I know how this type of song is actually supposed to sound like as I’ve heard performances like these live in person. While I really do admire how Gregory’s voice sounds like through these phones, the rest of the song sounds off. The strings especially sounds splashy and washed out. It’s not just that the strings themselves can’t be easily distinguished from one another, but they sound overall like a hot mess. I thought that male vocals sounded special on these phones, so naturally I thought female vocals would receive the same grace, but no. Most headphones that are noted for their female vocals have one thing in common; they all have an elevated lower treble. These earphones however, don’t which lends female vocals to have a slight veil over them. On the track My Heart will go on by Celine (ALAC lossless), her voice doesn’t sound as brilliant as I had hoped for. I’m not saying I wanted a bright sound to make this track sound good, but I was slightly let down. I mean even on other no-bright sounding earphones like the Sennheiser Momentum In-ear, her voice still sounds more engaging. My last test came out as a surprise for me as I was neither planning on doing it or being as impressed as I was. I was listening to some Bach on Tidal late at night and decided that it was best I should use earphones instead of my speakers. I had lended all my other phones so the only ones I had with me were the Aurvana. Boy was I glad to be having those that night. I had sorted a mix of Cello tracks by Bach into a playlist and listened to that until I had to go sleep. Before using the Aurvana with this playlist I had prefered to listen to these tracks on my speakers as they gave the tracks a more open presentation. Well, when it came to hearing these tracks through the Aurvana earphones I came out very pleased indeed. It’s this type of buttery warmth from the earphones that made the cellos all the more addictive to listening to. On other earphones like the TTpod T-1, cello's sound too sharp, but with the Aurvana they’re just right. If I had to choose a segment of the audio of these earphones, it would definitely be the mids. Basically if you like the sound of lower mids rather than upper mids, then this earphone would be a very good option.
- Treble: Ahh, we get on with the treble, the part of the sound that usually makes it or breaks it when it comes to deciding on whether to buy a headphone or not. It’s usually the brightness of a headphone that turns people off, but luckily the Aurvana don’t fall into this category. The treble on this earphone is easy on the ears, but does lack micro detail. Being 16 years old and always have taken care of my hearing I prefer treble like this, but I do still think it lacks upper treble, this is the treble that lets you hear things you’ve never heard before. It’s the lower treble that can get annoying. The first track I had to try out when testing the treble was Within by Daft Punk (ALAC lossless). Currently this song is in my top ten for two reasons; it just sounds majestic and it the detail in the song is outstanding. From the cymbals clashing to the sparkle, I just cant get over about how amazing this song sounds. Often times if a headphone can’t reproduce this song correctly, I can usually assume it’s not a very good headphone. Ok, so how did it go for the Aurvana when playing this track through them? Umm, well, not too good. I’ve already stated that this earphone is A-shaped meaning that it emphasizes the mids and lacks in both bass and treble. This track just sounds really washed out on the Aurvana, and I’m someone who’s sensitive to treble, I mean come on I thought the HD600 had too much lower treble. One track isn’t enough however to really test the treble on an earphone so I fired up Tidal and listened to the remastered version of Hotel California (Tidal lossless). WOW! Results were very different this time, I mean very different. The strings, electric guitar, and cymbals sounded perfectly clear. This was surprising, but then again this track is bright, too bright for me in fact that when I listen to it I reduce the treble. But nonetheless I was quite astonished at the result that I decided to try another bright recording. The next one I tried was We Three Kings (Tidal lossless), one that I still regard as the brightest recording I’ve ever heard. Having heard this track through headphones and earphones like the Audio Technica AD700x, TTpod T-1, and the Sennheiser hd280 pro, I was pleased with what I heard. Even though two of those headphones were on the brighter side of neutral and made this track sound overall brighter, I didn’t feel that I was missing out on anything while listening through the Aurvana. I guess if you listen predominantly to bright recordings and don’t have any hearing loss then I guess the treble wouldn’t be an issue. For most other recordings I do think that people will sense a general lack of air. Many earphones have either a low or high treble emphasis, but the Aurvana has neither of the two which lends it to sound dull. The lack of air doesn’t affect it as much as you would think when it comes to sound stage size, though it does when speaking in terms of positioning. In conclusion, like the bass, these weren’t made to deliver detail. But like I said if you listen to brighter recordings and have very little hearing loss, then you may actually be satisfied with the amount of treble there is. I would be to, but unfortunately when you listen to the Stax sr-009 on a $8000 custom made tube amp (cough, Frank, cough), you’ll never think anything else sounds detailed; just kidding.
- Sound stage and Dynamics: Being that this is a balanced armature set I was almost dead certain that the sound stage on these would be very poor. I was surprised to hear that these had a fairly open sound for an earphone. With the track Tales from the Vienna Woods (ALAC lossless), I never felt like the music was being closed in my head by a wall. It sounded as free as it would on speakers. So it did sound open, but was this necessarily a good thing? On that I’d like to mention that while the sound of these is quite open for an earphone, the actual quality of the sound stage isn’t all that great. When listening to the track Touch by Daft Punk (ALAC lossless), everything sounds mushed together with no clear sense of separation. It’s like trying to hear one person talk with 5 other people trying to talk to you all at the same time. It’s maddening, especially with more complex passages like these. As you can tell by reading the review, it’s obvious that what these earphones really lack the most as far as sound is dynamics as they handle most things poorly. The only two genres that it performs adequately on is acoustic and classic rock. Anything else and these just fall apart.
Final Thoughts and Conclusion When I was first selected to do this review I was very excited to get to listening to the earphones and giving them a listen. For I while I had my eyes on them as almost every review described them as warm, but detailed. Since my listen to both the Stax sr-007 and the Mrspeakers Ether I had come to the conclusion that my true preferred sound signature was warm, yet neutral. Having heard these headphones and a number of other earphones I’ve gotten a pretty good idea at what’s neutral and what’s not. I’ve been able to identify too bassy, from warm, and too lean as bright. That being said the sound of the Aurvana was quite different to anything I’ve ever heard. Upon my first listen nothing really hit me, yet I was easily able to tell that the sound of these was by no means neutral. This was the first time where I had to sit down and analyse the sound to be able to distinguish where Creative was going with these earphones. It took me almost 2 days of listening to be able to understand what I was listening to, and in the end I came to the conclusion that these weren’t for me. Whole writing this review however I rarely thought of what my own personal wants were, rather I tried to write this review from the perspective of other people. I know various people who have different tastes in sound than I and I’ve also heard headphones with signatures that appeal to people other than I. So I would consider this review to be a universal one rather than a personal one, at least for the sonic portion of this review. In my opinion everything else about these earphones was great. I liked the design, found these to be very comfortable, and just couldn’t get over how nice of a package these came in. But ultimately when buying a pair of headphones or earphones, it’s the sound that determines whether keeping them is worth it. To me the sound of these didn’t convince me. That’s not to say that these are bad earphones, but I listen to different genres of music, mostly bassier ones, and frankly with these I just couldn’t enjoy 2 thirds the music I listen to. I’m sure people who listen predominantly to acoustic or classic rock. or just bright recordings in general, these would be great earphones as far as sound goes. Your ear will tell if a pair of earphones is right for you and mine tells me that these aren't for me.