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Mad Lust Envy's Headphone Gaming Guide: (12/10/2019: Schiit Gaming Dac/Amps 'Hel' and 'Fulla 3' added)

Discussion in 'Video Games Discussion' started by mad lust envy, Jan 17, 2011.
  1. motorwayne
    Hey there,

    Gamer: (Mostly ARMA) I have some AKG 712's..I'm getting bored. I run them through a Sennheiser 1000, it sound good, still bored though.

    What to do? Beyerdynamic MMX300 Gen. 2 for a change, wait for just announced Sennheiser wireless thingy?

    I need help, save me.

    Cheers
     
  2. Deders
    I don't think the GX has surround built in, but you could run Dolby atmos etc through them.
     
  3. Trancefreak
    mm, yes you're right.
    But If I changed away from the mobius, it would be including a headphone upgrade.
    I was dead set on a LCD-2F, but with the announcement of the GX I'm no longer sure...
    Mixed usage Gaming/Music ofc.
     
  4. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    The wait shouldn't be too long for the Creative Air and SXFI review.

    Let's just say that may very well be my biggest review. It's freaking huge. :fearful:

    Still working out some writing kinks. PLEASE HAVE PATIENCE, MY GOOD PEOPLE. It's coming.
     
    mbyrnes likes this.
  5. motorwayne
    Argh..sheesh, might have to go buy them and the Blaster AX-9 too!
     
  6. motorwayne
    Hmmm, just can't get my head around non-fabric cups.
     
  7. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    Trust me, I get it. I'm generally the same.
     
  8. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    In case anyone is wondering why I'm taking so long with the Creative Air review:

    1. The headphone has 3 programs to use. I initally wrote LONG pretty much reviews on EACH within this review. I found it makes the review way too cluttered and deleted it all and simplified those sections, as the focus here is the headphone, not the softwares/apps.
    2. Testing with two sets of pads (and I haven't even started on impressions with the leather pads yet!)
    3. Testing both stereo as well as SXFI sound differences
    4. Testing the headphone through the main USC PC method, then Bluetooth, SD Card (surprisingly my fave in terms of music testing), THEN passively with the Aux input (which works with the headphone turned off meaning you can use your own gear), and accounting for whatever noticeable differences there are here.
    5. Personal reasons, such as I'm in a recovery phase from a surgery done last week, so my mind hasn't been 100% focused on writing. Along with taking two weeks staycation from work to recover, which has allowed me to really get into E3 week, and other fun things. Who wants to 'work' during vacation? Writing may not earn me anything (anyone wanna change this? Lol), and I do it mainly for you guys, but it is quite stressful at times.

    So yes, these are my excuses, take it or leave it. :p

    The Creative Air review is probably gonna be the biggest due to all it offers. The Mobius review was similar, but only had one program to deal with, only one set of pads at the time, and I didn't care to test the Aux input as it still needed to go through the internal processing which is not ideal.

    The Air is probably the most versatile headphone I have ever used. For the price it's going for, I think it really deserves attention.

    I didn't expect my review to be like this, because I only looked at the headphone due to the pads and the SXFI. It turned out to have many more reasons to check out.

    edit: Outside of some bluetooth, sd card, microphone, and synthetic ear pad sections, as well as pictures, I'm almost complete. After that comes pictures, formatting, editing, and finally posting. :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2019
    Chainreakkt likes this.
  9. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    Today I'll be doing microphone checks and testing, taking pictures, and probably formatting for head-fi posting. This means It should HOPEFULLY be posted here tomorrow, if I have the time. I'm essentially done with the writing (except the microphone impressions).

    I'm gonna need a writing break after that one.

    Thankfully, Bloodstained releases tomorrow, so I'm gonna have a great time gaming for the next few days, though I'm back to work Wednesday (noooooooo)



    BUY THIS GAME EVERYONE.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 17, 2019
  10. stavros.m
    @MadLustEnvy hey i am just curious what is your go to setup which you personally use when your not reviewing and testing

    thanks
     
  11. kevikev
    I doubt Bluetooth will be their primary connection protocol. Bluetooth absolutely sucks if you use as your only connection protocol for gaming since if you have a voice call going at the same time (e.g., Discord, Skype, etc), game sounds get downsampled to mono.

    I hope their proprietary dongle will be the primary connection while a built-in Bluetooth receiver in the headset will enable supplementary mobile connectivity.
     
  12. WhiteHartMart
    Yea - think I meant to put the emphasis on 'USB' not the transmission method really - don't think the Xbox supports audio via USB was the point I was trying to make (at least not without some extra licensing??)
     
  13. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    ----------
    ----------

    Creative SXFI Air
    [​IMG]
    $159.99 Air as of June 2019
    Where To Buy: Creative

    Review First Posted HERE.

    Disclaimer: A special thanks to Creative for sending the Air out to me for impressions and review. I received the SXFI Air, and I fully expect the Air C to be nearly the same as the Air in terms of audio quality. The Air has more features than the Air C so even if you don't care too much about using the Air wirelessly, the price difference is small enough where it may still be better to opt for the Air over the Air C.

    As always, whether products are sent to me or not, I do my best in being 100% honest with my views and opinions. If I don't like a product, I will refuse to write a review of it or at least mention what I don't like about them, though I like to focus on products that people would like or at the very least are interested in. The only bias I have is to my readers and making sure they know about good products.




    Intro

    Before I begin, I want to make something clear to a large selection of people here. If you are someone that absolutely can't stand or won't even attempt to understand the need for virtual surround dsps and their benefits, and think everything through headphones should be untouched stereo, no processes being applied, then you can stop reading here. This product is not for you, so don't waste your time in saying things like "this sound fake" or "unnatural", etc. We've heard all the same arguments for years now. Move on. To everyone else that are a little more open-minded, the Creative SXFI Air may be something worth checking out, so please read on.

    The Creative Air was something of a curiosity for me. I happened upon it online and was immediately interested in getting a chance to give it a go, for a few somewhat simple reasons. As someone who regularly uses virtual surround processing when using headphones, I wanted to see what Creative's newer Super X-FI brought to the table compared to more standardized DSPs like Creative's own SBX. Creative has their own SXFI AMP to use with any headphone, but as someone with a collection of other dac/amps that have to be constantly connected/disconnected, I didn't want to add to that growing problem. 1st world problem, I know.

    I was also very interested in finding out how comfortable the fabric ear pads were. I'm a huge sucker for fabric ear pads, constantly on the hunt for that 'perfect' ear pad comfort. The fully fabric pads on the Air were an immediately "must try" for me.

    That's really it. Somewhat unconventional reasons to be interested in a headphone, but sometimes, it's the smallest things that make or break a product. Despite the simple reasons to try the Air, I found that there are far, FAR more reasons why it's a must try, as it is a fully featured product that warrants much deeper investigation.

    I'll initially spare you the intimate details about what makes the Air stand out from other headphones here, but here's an excerpt by Creative found on the product page:

    "This Bluetooth and USB headphone has built-in Super X-Fi technology that provides holographic audio personalized to your own ears for an unbelievable headphone experience that's as good as the real thing."

    Bold claim. Is it true? Well, the answer and my findings may surprise you!



    Build Quality

    [​IMG]

    Aesthetically, the Air doesn't stand out among the general crowd of bluetooth headsets. It has a simplistic design language, with the only stand out visual feature being the thin, but tasteful RGB illumination ring that surrounds the outer cups. When the RGB rings are off, there's little to identify the headphone from other visually similar headphones. It's a tried and tested design, but can come across as a bit boring, in terms of shape and silhouette. Thankfully, the RGB breaks the monotony. Just that added detail really gives the Air its own key visual aesthetic. I'm far from a fan of RGB, but it really does look nice here, not garish or gaudy.


    Headband:

    The Air's headband is of a very basic design, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There's no overdesigned shenanigans. A basic leatherette wrapped headband with very little padding underneath. The padding is quite thin, but I have long said that padding is more or less inconsequential if the headband wraps over the head evenly without hotspots. The top side of the headband is the only area on the headphone with the Creative logo which is the color of the headband and only the shine of each letter lets it stand out. I hadn't noticed the logo in my dimly lit room, and initially thought there wasn't one.

    The ends of the headband have the shiny plastic pieces with the Super X-fi logo on them. That is all the Air has in terms of identification. Very subtle.

    [​IMG]

    The size extension is the only place of real contrast from the all black design. Silver with numbered lines (odd numbers) up to 11 makes it incredibly simple to adjust the size to your personal preference. The adjustment travels up and down with very little force on your part. I've come from some really hard to adjust headphones, so this is a breath of fresh air.


    Cups:

    The plastic cups are the most prominent area of the headphone, and aside from the RGB rings on each cup, are completely black and devoid of detail. At a distance, you'd mistake the Air for any manner of generic headphones. It is simply very, very understated in design. If you're someone who likes to show off your accessories, the Air won't do much for you, outside of personal RGB ring color choice. If you like your headphones to stand out, I think the white variant looks more visually engaging. Even so, I tend to lean towards understated and black, so the black variant suits me just fine. Looks aren't all that important to me, especially since I don't use full sized headphones in public spaces. The RGB rings give the Air their own personal flair, so they at least stand out from other headphones in that regard.

    Functionally speaking, the left cup houses all the functions of the Air:

    Power button

    "Nanoboom" microphone - detachable with 3.5mm TRRS plug. Functions like a boom microphone but in a small form factor.

    [​IMG]

    LED power indicator

    USB type C input - Per Creative: "USB connectivity for PC and MAC. Same functionality available on PS4 and Nintendo Switch". This also, is how you charge the Air.

    Aux/3.5mm line input - allows you to use the Air with a variety of standard, analog devices. You can use the Air even when it is turned off with the line input, or leave it on to have access to the Super X-FI dsp, as well as volume control. Note: the line input is always active regardless of which other source you're using, so if (for example), you have the line in connected to a device, and USB connected to another device, both will play at the same time until you mute one. I'll go more in depth in the Amplification section.

    Source/Bluetooth button - This button changes between your sources. USB, Bluetooth, SD Card sources. Holding it down enables bluetooth pairing mode.

    SD card slot - This is a very interesting addition that I have never personally seen on any other headphone. If you simply want to hear music without a device, this is the way to go. It supports MP3, WMA, WAV, and FLAC file formats. I'll go into details about SD Card performance in a later section.

    Super X-FI - This button enables/disables the SXFI dsp. When using the SXFI Control software on PC, you can use either this button or the toggle on the software itself to turn it on/off. SXFI does not work if the headphone is connected via line in if the Air is turned off, but does if turned on.

    The placement of these buttons and inputs are easy to remember given a few days of use. I have a tougher time with the Audeze Mobius's functions even though I've had the headset on hand for a long time now. The placement of the Air's functions are quite intuitive for the most part.

    On the left outer cup are the touch controls. "Users can answer a call, skip the song, or turn up the volume". I mainly used the cups for volume control which while intuitive, I found sporadically inconsistent in granularity, especially in bluetooth mode. At times I feel the volume adjusted very quickly, and other times I felt I was furiously swiping a bit longer than I believe normal. It works well enough, though I feel a volume wheel placed along all the other functions would have been more ideal. Perhaps where the SD card slot is, and relocate the SD card slot elsewhere, perhaps above the SXFI button. Just a suggestion for the future. A good volume wheel or buttons may be more simplistic, but offer more tactility and responsiveness. Sometimes function over form is best. There are other gestures, like swiping forward to skip to next track, or tapping twice to play/pause. Within a few attempts, it all becomes easy to remember, though I'd still rather just do those types of commands on my phone or computer.

    The right cup is barren of any buttons, inputs or functions.

    Each cup has a small amount of give in swivel and pivoting, just enough allow them to rest on various head shapes without issues. They don't collapse or fold inward, so portability is sacrificed a bit for more structural integrity.

    As for driver exposure, they are each well protected by plastic, with an array of small round openings allow sound to pass through. The plastic is thick enough to keep most potential punctures from happening.


    Pads:

    [​IMG]


    The pads, as previously stated, were one of the biggest reasons I wanted to try the Air. The pads are removable with a simply rotation to the left. They are oval in shape, with tall synthetic leather inner walls (for better seal), with decently sized ear cavities. The fabric used is breathable, and neoprene-like (if not neoprene itself). They are porous and coarse in texture, though the inner memory foam likely keeps any sound from moving through the pads. The memory foam keeps the pads from bottoming out or compressing easily. Each pad's driver covers have an L/R indicator, though there's nothing physically keeping you from using the pads on the wrong side. It's still a nice touch for those who aren't used to the left side of headsets typically being the side with the functions and cable inputs.

    Creative sells synthetic leather pads for the Air if you prefer those types of pads instead. Creative sent me a pair of the synthetic leather pads as well, which I'll discuss later on.

    [​IMG]


    Cables:

    The Air comes with two cables. A 2m USB type C cable, and a 1.8m TRRS 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable. The cables get the job done and have a good length. My only complaint being that both cables have the type of rubberized finish that tends to grip or snag onto whatever it drags across, so personally, I'd replace them immediately with my own, less grippy cables.


    Final Build Quality Impressions:

    The Creative Air at first glance looks like so many other headphones aesthetically. Outside of the RGB ring and small, glossy piano black accents at the ends of the headband, it simply doesn't stand out any other way, visually. The build quality isn't special in any meaningful way, but feels sturdy and rugged enough to toss around in a bag without much of an issue (though I'd be careful in not scratching the piano black pieces). It's not collapsible, so there's less points of build failure compared to other headphones. The headphone may not feel tanky or super durable, but in its simplicity and basic build, it inspires some level of abandon. It looks durable enough for normal, everyday abuse. I wouldn't go around trying to test its limits, however.

    There's little in the way of identifying the Air as a premium product or not. It simply exists as it is, take that as you will. I personally don't have a problem with understated designs as stated before. The Air is as good as I'd need it to be visually, durably, and functionally.



    Accessories

    [​IMG]

    Outside of the two cables and some booklets, the Air doesn't come with much else in the box. While I appreciate the option to buy spare pads, I think Creative should consider including the optional pads in the box, even if at a slight premium. It's nice to have options, but it's even nicer to have those options included. I don't normally care for non-essential goodies tacked on to a product, but spare pads are the welcome exception. There may be people that are the opposite of me in that they may dislike fabric pads and would rather use synthetic leather. With the Air, that's something they'll have to seek out, instead of having them in the box waiting to be easily installed.



    Comfort:

    Having been so interested in the pads prior to receiving the Air, comfort was of utmost importance, and an aspect of the Air that needed to be an undeniable success. Due to this, I knew ahead of time that I was going to take a somewhat critical approach in gauging the Air's comfort levels. Thankfully, there wasn't much about the Air's comfort that I could be overly critical of.


    Weight:

    At 338g, the Air is a welcome change from the 400+g headphone I have been using as of late. The Air's weight is in the realm that I consider good. Light enough to consider the weight an absolute non-issue, but hefty enough to feel like the Air isn't going to disintegrate in my hands.


    Headband:

    While there's nothing that sticks out on the headband in terms of designs to make it more comfortable compared to other similarly designed headphones, it is still a design that works relatively well. The underside of the headband doesn't have much in the way of padding, but considering that most of the weight is offset by clamping force, and not the downforce of the headphone's weight on the head, you really can't feel much of the headband. The small amount of padding is really all that is necessary in terms of headband comfort with the Air.


    Ear pads:

    Considering all the hubbub I've made about the pads, you'd think they'd better deliver in comfort. So did they? While I expected more comfort, they did deliver in most aspects. The breathable fabric keeps my ears relatively cool compared to...well, most headphones I've used. The ear cavities have just enough space for my ears with zero discomfort.

    The only minor complaint, is that the pads (like so many fabric pads, which take getting used to for this very reason) are on the itchy side. The coarse surface just doesn't sit on the skin as comfortably as other, softer fabrics. It takes some minor getting used to, and the feeling does more or less go away with time. I'll take the initially itchy nature of these pads over the sweat inducing heat of synthetic leather any day of the week. In the end, they ceased to cause any form of discomfort, itch or otherwise. Creative has some good pads here.


    Clamp:

    The Air has moderate clamp. Not a clampy headphone by any means, though with enough force to keep the Air secure on the head, and also force the weight of the headphone to land more on the extremes, and less on the headband itself. This is around the ideal amount of clamping force for me, personally. Not loose, not too tight. Ideally, it could stand to be a hint more loose, but it's really just personal preference at that point.


    Final Comfort Impressions:

    The Creative Air is one of those headphones I can wear all day, with some periodic adjustment due to the pads. The pads themselves are quite breathable and don't trap heat all too much, thankfully. The weight is never a concern, nor is the clamp, though perhaps a slight reduction in force would be perfect for my head.

    In the end, I can say the Air's comfort is great overall. Slightly less clamp in my favor, and a softer fabric on the pads would make the Air borderline excellent in comfort.



    Noise Control

    The Air has pretty good noise control inside and out. It attenuates external noise well enough for my needs, and keeps its own sound from leaking out without too much of an issue. Both mesh and synthetic leather pads give the Air good noise isolation. Someone in the same room may hear a very small amount of leakage, though not enough to be disturbing. A room away, even with the door open shouldn't pose a problem whatsoever. It gets an easy passing grade from me.



    Software

    The Air has three main software/apps that are needed in order to get full functionality. SXFI App, SXFI AIR Control, and SXFI Control (for PC).


    SXFI App (mobile app):

    The SFXI mobile app is needed to personalize your own head mapping, by going to the Personalize section. This consists of taking pictures of your head and ears so that the SFXI related functions work according to your own physical traits. I recommend having someone take the pictures for you, or if alone, standing in front of a mirror and using that to look at your mobile device taking the pictures at the correct angle. This section shows recent head maps by date and time. Before you connect the Air to your PC, personalization must be completed first.

    The SFXI App may not be an app specific to the Air, but it gives you all the necessary functions, and goes well beyond the scope of the Air headset itself. Things like a music player, equalizer, among a bevy of other options. Check it out, even if you don't own a Creative product. It works with other headphones too, and allows you to test out SXFI with your own music, on your own headphones. That being said, for the specific use of the Creative SXFI Air, they should've just imported the required head mapping functions to the Air Control app, so as to not necessitate the use of this app. It's one app too many.


    SXFI Air Control (Air specific mobile app):

    This app comes a much smaller selection of functions, but I'll only be highlighting one: Lighting. You'll find a lighting toggle to turn ther RGB rings on/off. Below that you'll find a full color wheel, brightness slider, RGB numerical values, hex number for colors selected, and finally 7 solid color presets: Blue, Purple, Red, Orange, Green, Cyan, White.

    The other functions are mostly the same as ones in the main SXFI app as well as the PC app. That, and digital versions of the functions found directly on the headset like the source selection, and Super X-fi toggle. You can more or less decide whether you want to use the features on the main app, or similar features (like eq) on this app. Personally, I recommend just using the main app, and not even bothering with this app, outside of lighting. It'll save you some potential headaches in the future. The reason I would use the other one is mainly due to the fact it has the required head mapping function. This one doesn't have any truly necessary functions, just redundancies. If Creative ever decides to import head mapping functions to this app, then, and only then will I recommend this app over the other one.


    SXFI Control (PC software):

    The PC software is intuitive and effective for the purpose of PC use. You get similar Super X-FI, EQ, Lighting, like the Air Control mobile app, except this one is more useful in that you'll need it to make changes on PC. Setup is also where you can change the amount of speakers between Stereo, 5.1, 7.1. You'll definitely want to use 7.1 for best SXFI performance (virtual surround dsp).

    One thing not mentioned is that the Air on PC can accept 24bit/96khz playback, which you'll want to enable through windows sound control panel.


    Final Software/App impressions:

    All three programs are intuitive and easy to use on their own. Nice, clean interfaces, and useful features. Unfortunately, the absurdity in the fact you need three programs isn't lost on me. Three decent programs alone are fine, but become an undesirable mess when they're all (somewhat) necessary to use in some way.

    No one should have to download three programs for one product. I completely understand the need for one mobile app, and one PC program, but to split functions and features on mobile to two programs is a baffling decision. At the very least, the core necessities found on the main SXFI app should just be added to the Air Control app directly, so that people don't need both at once. Creative, you absolutely must rethink about doing this in the future. If you add the head mapping aspect of the main app to Air Control, it will drastically simplify the process, as well as eliminate the clutter of programs.

    I'm not even going into detail in how the redundant functions shared between apps can cause conflicts and other bugs. Things like app unresponsiveness, broken music players, or the two equalizers that overwrite one another as you mess with one over the other. It's these minor issues that lead to a frustrating user experience. It's a shame too, because it detracts from an otherwise solid product.

    Don't get me wrong. If you're someone like me who tends to "set it and forget it", and doesn't use superfluous options like Equalizers or app specific music players (I'm sure you already have your own preferred EQ and music programs), you won't have to deal with these apps much outside of initial uses. The SXFI app can be used just to personalize your head mapping. The Air Control app can be used to mess with the RGB lighting. How often are you really going to be changing that anyways? The PC app can be used on a more regular basis, but at least it won't have another program sharing similar features. The initial experiences with these apps lone are absolutely fine. The problem arises with prolonged, extensive uses of the mobile apps.

    It's hard to say whether the user experience is good or bad, because it will drastically vary depending on how you use the programs. For the easiest, most painless user experiences, my recommendation is: Personalize your head mapping on the SXFI app. DON'T download SXFI Air Control (You don't need it, seriously). Do all the other stuff on the SXFI Control PC app. Finally, do all headset related functions directly on the headset itself (source changes, SXFI on/off, SD card playback). That will make the user experience much, MUCH better.

    Summing it up, Creative, you can and should do better in terms of user experience. Each app's lone experience = good, having to use so many, and the minor quirks that happen when doing so = not good.



    Sound

    (Note: All of my testing was done with the mesh/fabric ear pads. The synthetic leather pads may alter the sound, so don't expect a full 1:1 similarity in impressions. Also, all my main testing has been done through the USB and SD card inputs, as those have the cleanest sound compared to Bluetooth, which while fine, isn't the best in extracting the best potential out of the Air. The Aux input when can go from being the worst sounding of the inputs while the Air is turned on, or arguably the best sounding when the Air is turned off, and an amp/dac is used. I didn't focus my testing in this manner, as it's not the main use case for the Air.)

    Ok, the Air's sound is something I'm excited to talk about. The Air is quite versatile even in terms of its own sound. How do I approach it? Stereo, raw, unprocessed? Sure, that's the easiest way to find if the Air's sound quality is any good, but then, it really doesn't make sense to get the SXFI Air for the purpose of using it completely raw and untouched. Its supposed killer feature is the SXFI 'holographic' sound, as well as the Air's specific additions of Bluetooth and SD card playback compared to the Air C which lacks those two latter features.

    As the key feature on the Air, I feel SXFI should be the defining tech and sound that drives people into getting it in the first place. I'll still talk about the Air's less defining features, like basic stereo use, or how it sounds passively through my own gear, but unlike most of my reviews, it will not be my main focus. I'll include the Air's passive sound impressions in the Amplification/Passive section. The biggest problem in terms of sound impressions I can see occurring is that due to the personalized head mapping, it may alter the level of presence in each frequency compared to the untouched, stereo form of the Air's sound.

    I ultimately decided to focus on likely the most intended use case for the Air: USB PC use. I'll mention any key differences through Bluetooth and SD card use in their own sections.



    Bass (Stereo):

    The Air's bass section is what I could at best describe as taut, if a bit reigned in. Frequency tests show it goes down to an audible 30hz, with a moderate amount of impact. It's well controlled and tight. I'd essentially would describe it as neutrally toned, if a little on the dry side. Decay is snappy, not bloomy or sluggish. It's clearly not tilted towards bass, making it more an audible affair than physical sentation. Low notes have little weight, certainly not enough to bring attention to itself. Body is on the light side. It's not lacking in musicality, but it could stand to gain a little bit of warmth in the extreme low end. For bass influenced tracks, the mid bass in particular is decent, never overwhelming or lost in the background. It is with regular, non-bass content that it may sound less than moderate. Just don't expect a lot of low frequency notes in the sub sections.

    In the end, I actually like this amount for a headset, as it's well balanced, and allows general details to shine through, instead of stealing the spotlight. Musically, yes, I would prefer some more emphasis, but it's not like the bass is missing. Just dialed down in energy.


    Bass (SXFI)

    To say the bass becomes the complete opposite of the bass in stereo mode is an understatement. With SXFI, the Air packs a massive, incredibly deep and potent amount of low end. Not boomy for the sake of boominess, but a lethal injection of low end, carnal instinct. It is strong, but not in the obnoxious way. There is no way SXFI would work well if the bass detracted and smothered the rest of the sound. It does not. It releases all the low end anger that was contained when SXFI is turned off.

    During frequency tests, all that information that was more or less inaudible in stereo below 30hz is rumbly and atmospheric. Whereas bass on the Air is more or less heard, not felt in stereo, there is a definite sensation of rumble and texture when SXFI is on. Bass leans towards the lower sub spectrum. Mid bass is good, not decadent. There is a huge dip at around 75hz that acts as a sort of clear line between everything below and everything above it, as just past 80hz, the bass comes back alive.

    I personally prefer stronger sub bass over mid bass any day of the week, so it suits my preferences nicely. The bass really brings the theater sound of SXFI to an impressive level, making it much more immersive than if the bass had remained simply neutral and indistinct. There is commanding presence that when paired with the absolutely stellar virtual soundstage, makes for a sound that has to simply be experienced to be believed. It's a harmonious, immersive, atmospheric combination. As for bleeding into the rest of the sound, there is a slight creep into the midrange with bass heavy tracks, but I feel it's more energy below adding warmth, ambience, and atmosphere, and not the one note thump of mid bass overeagerness. It could stand to have more control and less bloominess when SXFI is on, but I feel it's not a big factor overall, as sounds are so separated in the gigantic SXFI soundstaging, it doesn't come across as intrusive.

    One problem I have in terms of bass (at least on the pair I have on hand), is that when SXFI is on, there is a sort of distortion/noise floor below 70hz, as well as the area around 100hz up to 200hz (this one is more audible). As soon as you hit 70hz and above, it disappears, until you hit around 100hz to 200hz, and then disappears entirely above that. The changes is actually obvious when doing frequency tests. However, I do have to note that this is something I only pick up during frequency tests, and I don't even notice it during regular use, whether because so many things are happening with regular content, or my mind just ignores it. It's really not something to be worried about, but it has to be said. It's likely artifacts of the bass interacting with the SXFI processing. It may just be this pair. It may be something else entirely. Whatever it may be, I wouldn't be concerned about it. Picky people would likely skip using SXFI to begin with. The Air is a sub-optimal choice for the utter purist that think audio should be kept within headspace on a headphone. I'm not such a person.

    It's a bummer that the bass isn't as clean as its stereo incarnation, but its mainly an objective shortcoming, not a subjective one. I have been using the Air exclusively for awhile now (in SXFI mode), and not once did I feel the bass was detrimental to the undeniably special experiences I've had with the Air. The immersion, and emotional impact of its presence is far and above the more significant aspects of its bass.



    Midrange to treble (stereo):

    I'll start off with the frequency tests. Low midrange to about 1.4khz is nice and balanced, after then it dips quite a bit 1.4khz until around 3khz. 3khz up to 4khz has good presence. Slight dip at 4.5khz, and potential hot spot at 5khz. Another drop off past 5.5khz to a possible hot spot at 6.5khz which has a ringing in my ears. Moving the frequency slider up and down the subtle ringing always exists in a small section between 6.5khz and 7khz. It's quite subtle, and may not be a factor with regular content. Past 7khz is a nicely balanced presence all the way up to 14khz without piercing hotness, or veil.

    So aside from the dip at 1.4khz or so, and peaks around 3.5khz, 5khz, and 7khz, there's nothing that stands out as being too subdued or too prominent. The general spectrum of audible sound despite the low sub bass, and dip at 1.4khz is all very present and generally balanced, making it a good headphone for linear detail. 5khz is a little on the hot side in particular, but isn't overly zingy. 8khz up to 10khz is a bit zesty sounding (despite not being particularly over emphasized), so if you prefer warm, smooth treble, the Air is not that. There is plenty presence here to aid in detail retrieval.

    There's nothing particularly distinct or special about the mid to treble ranges on the Air. It's just a nicely presented area of sound without leaning too far in any direction. The 6.5-7khz 'noise' is audible in testing and may present and less than clean section in that range, but again it's not noticeable under normal use cases. The zesty sting of the 8-10khz range may not be the most ideal for people who love warmth and smoothness.

    All in all, I'm happy with the mid and treble ranges here, though nothing stands out as worth mentioning as a strength or utter deficiency. It's not the most detail I've heard in these ranges, nor the most musical. It's just there, and for the sake of providing a good template for SXFI to do its thing, the Air's midrange to treble is all that it needs to be. Again, people should place the most importance in performance with SXFI to begin with. There's other headphones better suited for basic stereo use. The Air gets the job done, which is all I'd need it to here.


    Midrange to Treble (SXFI):

    This section is going to be harder to dial down as SXFI dramatically alters the sound in various ways, in which I also have to take the ridiculous soundstage expansion into account. It's simply impossible to do an A/B comparison against its stereo incarnation, because it all would sound recessed and spaced back by typical stereo contraints. Not that I ever recommend anyone ever compare stereo aspects of headphones to headphones utilizing any form of virtual surround. It's night and day, and should be looked at as their own separate entities. Its akin to comparing a headphone to a theater's speaker array. You just can't and/or shouldn't.

    Let me start off with what's most simple. Or so I thought. Frequency testing reveals that the presentation of SXFI is so weird, it's hard to do a traditional frequency check. To my ears, the sound sort of 'wobbles' between both my ears as I change the frequency slider. It's almost an uncomfortable experience attempting a frequency "by the ears", test. I won't go into details here due to that odd sensation, making it hard to pinpoint areas of emphasis or deficiencies. I'll say that aside from that clear dipped line at 75hz in the bass section, the only other area of blunted lack of presence is just below 6khz, and it's such a small range, it may as well not be worth mentioning. There is a big jump in volume as you start going up past 3khz or so, and the detail retrieval extends well into 14khz, making the Air quite detail oriented in SXFI mode. This is noteworthy, as I used the Air for SXFI gaming and found it really, really good at picking up all but the most minute of details. Spoilers: The Air makes an excellent detail oriented gaming headset. No surprise here.



    Soundstage and Imaging (stereo):

    Without SXFI enabled, I can at best sum up the soundstage and imaging as pretty standard fare for a closed back, dynamic headphone. Nothing stands out as particularly special to my ears, though it's rare for any headphone to stand out for me in terms of stereo soundstage and imaging. The Air is not particularly restrictive or closed sounding. On the contrary, there is a decent amount of width and depth, despite its closed nature. Despite that, I rarely see any true standouts, as it basically comes down to headphones that keep everything around your headspace, to headphones that keep everything around your headspace but extend out an inch or two more. It's still a headphone presentation which I'm not generally fond of in this regard. The Air doesn't falter, nor does it succeed in making me think any different. However, we're not here to microanalyze the Air in stereo form.


    Soundstage and Imaging (SXFI):

    Oh boy, here is where Creative has provided the Air with its delicious magic sauce. As someone highly accustomed to virtual surround digital sound processing of many makes and models, I didn't expect much of a revelation out of SXFI. I mean, compared to Creative's own, (and still excellent) SBX surround, to other dsps from other makers like Dolby and Sennheiser, how could SXFI hope to stand out? I mean once you've heard and become accustomed to the strengths and shortcomings of virtual surround, you would think SXFI can't bring anything unique to the table. Audeze has an effective virtual surround with head tracking, not unique to Audeze, they managed to bring it to the masses at a lower price of entry. Creative's head mapping personalization is unique, sure, but doesn't have the feature of head tracking, so surely it's not going to stand out, right? Is head mapping personalization truly that important? I'm not the one to ask. However, I can say, and this may come as a surprise, SXFI is arguably the BEST virtual surround processing I have experienced. By that I mean no other surround dsp has so utterly tricked my mind into thinking the sound is coming from my room and my external gear like SXFI. Rarely do I ever feel like "Oh yeah, I have headphones on."

    To compare, you can have things like Dolby Headphone in room 3, or Sennheiser's GSX with the higher room ambience settings which sound utterly reverberous and horribly artifical. They become echo chambers that ruin any audio they touch. Yes, the soundstage becomes massive and far beyond the scope of stereo headphone sound, but it just doesn't sound any good in those modes. Its understandable why they tend to stick with more moderate room size settings. The difference here is that SXFI throws out such an amazingly large sense of space in all directions without the catastrophic destruction of sound quality that usually happens on other dsps. Don't get me wrong, the presentation is still detrimental in terms of complete and utter audio purity (we are talking about altering the raw signal and applying a process which will always tend to distort the original in some ways), but these are the kinds of tradeoffs that need to be made in orfder to gain so much more in other areas. For instance, you can have an amazing OLED 8K display in front of you which looks absolutely amazing, but it's still limited to a 2D image. But then you have VR displays which may not be as high resolution, and is only viewable by the person using the VR headset, but drastically alter how you view content, to the point where you may feel as if you're inside the VR space itself. It's a transformative experience.

    SXFI is like that. It becomes a transportation vehicle between your headphone, and a virtual theater. You're no longer listening to a pair of headphones. You're in a virtual space where sound is everywhere, and it feels 'natural'. A headphone can't generally make you feel like you're not listening to headphones. At least not without some surround dsp applied, or pre-recorded binaural audio.

    This isn't unique to SXFI, as generally all the other surround dsps we know and love all emulate a room full of surround speakers. The difference here is that SXFI truly, TRULY succeeds in fooling even someone like me into feeling like this isnt just a dsp applied to a headphone. It really DOES sound like I'm listening to something other than my headphones with a dsp applied. Creative calls it holographic. I'm in total agreement. Even as I type this, I still sthink to myself "I'm sure my speakers aren't on?" I get that feeling much more with the Air and SXFI than any other dsp, period. No questions about it.

    The soundstage and imaging the Air provides through SXFI is the key defining feature, and the main reason you should even consider buying this headphone. If you're not interested in SXFI or anything related to this type of technology, you're looking at the wrong headphone. Simple as that. It is magic, it is awe-inspiring, and it is a once in a lifetime, must try, kind of feature.

    Before I move on, I need to clarify some things. Like a surround setup, this will cause music to mainly from the set of virtual front speakers in front of you. In order to get the rear spatial audio information, just must feed the Air's SXFI a 5.1 or 7.1 signal through the PC.

    Note: PS4 and other consoles will be limited to stereo upconversions, not 5.1 or 7.1, even through their usb ports. This makes Creative's claim that it works through those consoles a bit misleading. Sure, it technically supports them, but not to their best abilities, where one would think it can replace console friendly headsets that take advantage of full surround support. Creative, if you're seeing this, you need a disclaimer like on to the product page: "5.1/7.1 modes only supported through PC. All Consoles limited to 2.0 support." It's only right.


    Clarity (stereo):

    The Air is a generally clear sounding headphone in most aspects of sound. The dip between 1.4khz or so up to 3khz is more like a general softening in this area, and not a complete loss of presence. It is lesser in volume compared to most of the sound, so there is some softness there that may cause of lack of clarity compared to the rest of the sound. Low treble all the way up to essentially human limits is exceptionally present, keeping the Air from being anything but a detailed closed back headphone. It's not a detail monster, and quality could manage to improve for next iteration, but it is very respectable here, and I doubt most but the most discerning would have an issue with the Air's general clarity.


    Clarity (SXFI):

    The Air's changes in tonal balance due to a noticeable highlighting of sub 70hz bass really adds a layer of body and warmth into the mix.

    The drastic change in soundstage and overall presentation puts sound placement at a noticeable distance, so details aren't as 'easy' to pick up as when SXFI is off. The area in frequencies around 3khz are the loudest part of the sound, so there is still plenty of detail to find, though more of the overall sound is considerably smoother, and softer. There is presence in everything past that 3khz except a dip at 6khz which is small in range, and doesn't detract from the rest of the sound being well extended to 14khz, as stated before.

    Clarity will be up to how you process the sounds being spaced quite some distance from your position, compared to the regular stereo presentation which makes the much closer sound placement easier to dissect.

    The one aspect that I'm sure will be a point of contention is how SXFI affects voices. Yes, as a specialized dsp, there will be some reverb added to the sound, which will cause vocals to not sound as perfect and ideal as they do compared to a stereo headphone presentation. Again, it would do everyone a world of good to not directly compare the typical headphone's tonal quality and presence, as this isn't exactly a fair comparison. SXFI should at this point be compared to a nicely setup home theater, if anything. That should give you more of an idea how voices come across. Not as pristine, obviously, but presentation will be similar.



    Sound Signature:

    In stereo, the Air has a neutral balancing with smoothness in 1.4khz up to around 3khz. After that, despite a few peaks, the rest of the sound is quite well balanced and mostly linear with good extension. It's not sleepy sounding, nor immediately engaging. Just a generally well behaved headphone, if not particularly noteworthy in performance. Not super articulate, but balancing is good. There is some zestiness to the treble which isn't as clean sounding as higher tiered headphones, but these are things that won't be immediately identifiable with normal use. The Air's soundstage and imaging isn't particularly excellent or with obvious flaws. It's respectable here as well.

    With SXFI, the Air takes on a warmer character, with smoothness in a lot of its sound, despite some prominence after 3khz. Nothing is overly smooth, despite an obvious dip at 6khz. Less upper range sizzle than stereo, though with more extension. It seems SXFI adds a moderate v shaped curve to the sound considering the obvious ultra low end bass boost and treble extension well past 10khz. That being said, this could definitely be limited to my customized head mapping, so your experience may be far different from mine. I'm unsure what the head mapping changes in terms of frequencies, if anything. Moving on, the Air soundstage with SXFI can't be understated. The easiest description I can write is: You will no longer be listening to a headphone's soundstage. You will be listening to a very convincing rendition of a virtual theater. Soundstage is absolutely massive. No headphone in stereo, no matter how costly, no matter how huge the soundstage will compare to something that no longer sounds like a headphone. You're no linger limited to that presentation. The best headphone's soundstage in stereo wouldn't be able to compare to this. I promise you.



    Amplification/Passive Use

    The Air through the Aux input is very, very interesting.

    Like Audeze's Mobius which has to run all signals through the internal DAC, the Air has a similar process to run it's Aux input through an ADC and then the internal DAC so you can take advantage of SXFI (limited to 2 channels converted to SXFI), as well as being able to utilize the volume control. Unlike the Mobius, you can use the Air in a completely passive manner. This means you can turn the Air off, connect an aux cable to your favorite sources, and you'll be able to use the Air like any other headphone, no internal power required. That means attaching it to your own DAC and amplifier if you wish. The Air is 32ohm and quite sensitive, so it doesn't require a ton of power. I recommend focus to be aimed towards a clean source more than how much power is being fed to it.

    I don't know why anyone would look into the Air if they're not planning on utlizing SXFI on a regular basis. That being said, if you're like me who more or less prefers to listen to music unprocessed, but watch visual media with SXFI or other virtual surround dsps, I actually found that it sounds best when using your own gear. Of course, that means losing the ability to use SXFI, embedded volume control, or the internal sound dac/amp subtleties.

    Having tested that briefly through my Schiit Modi 3 and Magni 3, I found the sound to have some noteworthy changes.

    Running frequency tests, the restraint in the bass has been replaced by a subtle injection of warmth and musicality down low. Bass is no longer so reserved and a little light. It's not a drastic change, more like making the sound more fluid and bigger bodied. Bass is more impactful, whereas it was more audible than physical through USB. Midrange comes across a little more forward as well, whereas it seemed just a hint cooler/more neutrally toned before. There is still the same general curve of linearity, and peaks/hot spots as the USB signal. So don't expect night and day in terms of overall characteristics. It's just more fleshed out. More tangible and organic than before.

    This could all be an effect of my Schiit Modi 3/Magni 3 stack which may be slightly leaning towards being neutral with a hint of warmth, but it at the very least gives me enough to go on in saying that your own gear may be beneficial to overall sound quality compared to the built in dac and amp. I wholeheartedly recommend giving the aux input a chance if you're curious. I do believe it gives the Air the highest quality stereo sound it is capable of.

    Testing the Aux input while the Air is turned on is a different story. There is an audible noise floor (though it's really not a huge factor in overall enjoyment), but it immediately makes the aux input while the Air powered a poor choice in terms of pristine audio quality. It's fun to try out for devices without bluetooth capabilities or USB inputs, but it would definitely be the last resort. It does allow for the use of SXFI on those devices, while passive use doesn't, giving the feature some merit.

    The one truly worthwhile function the powered aux input allowed, was being able to directly compare SXFI's effects on stereo content vs other virtual surround dsps directly. Plugging the Air to my Creative G6, or Astro Mixamp 5.8 allowed me to see just how drastic a difference SXFI was to typical virtual surround dsps. For example, turning off SBX and then toggling on SXFI on the headset directly allowed quick moment to moment changes. Same with the Mixamp.

    Both SBX and Dolby Headphone just could not compare to SXFI's sense of space. SXFI's soundstage showcases more verticality than the other dsps, which was essentially a limiting factor in many dsps. It's really unique and effective. Depth was also a significant difference, where SXFI really stuck out as placing cues at a more realistic distance. That being said, SBX is still the least likely to offend the typical audio purist as it affects sound quality less than any other dsp I've heard. It just doesn't impress in terms of virtual surround characteristics as much as SXFI.

    Long story short, don't dismiss the Air's 3.5mm/Aux input. It's a surprisingly effect, raw stereo performer here in passive mode. Whereas I would've said the Air isn't a particularly amazing headphone in stereo mode before, it absolutely levels up when paired with decent external gear. It turns the Air from a decent headphone for stereo use, to a very good headphone for stereo use.



    Bluetooth

    The SXFI Air's bluetooth capabilities are a mixed bag. The downsides being that it's limited to the SBC codec, so it makes a poor choice for wireless gaming due to high latency, as well as it being the worst codec for audio quality, at least on paper.

    In terms of sound quality through bluetooth, it still very much sounds like its other inputs, though with some detriments. Running frequency tests, there is some audible ringing from 15hz all the way to about 150hz, so essentially the entire bass section has some noise. It's not something noticed while under normal listening conditions, but running these tests makes the noise fairly obvious. It seems to be tied to volume, as it is inaudible at lower volumes, and quite noticeable with moderate to high volumes. Again, don't expect to hear it normally.

    In frequency areas around 400hz there is another zone of ringing as well. In the lower treble up to high treble, there are certain areas that seem to also have some moderate noise from a lower frequency mixed in. For example, around 4.2khz seems to have a faint bit of 1.2khz mixed into the background. It's quite odd, but it's quite faint. Again, these are things you're not going to pick up under normal use cases, so I wouldn't worry about it.

    Running tests with SXFI enabled, the same frequencies with noise persist. The one major change is that the 50hz area seems to have a dip in bass volume though it picks back up and normalizes at 60hz.

    Overall, this isn't the best implementation of bluetooth I've heard, but as someone not super picky with my wireless audio (my Astro Mixamp 5.8 has some obvious hiss particularly at high levels, and I've been used to it for years), the Air's bluetooth sound quality is more than passable, especially when all these quirks aren't really audible outside of long frequency test. The Air doesn't exhibit any noticeable hiss either, which is even better than the Audeze Mobius in terms of background noise.

    Unless you're expecting a wired level sound quality, I doubt you'll have much of a problem with the Air's wireless performance. It could definitely stand to be better, but overall, it's an enjoyable experience outside of testing.



    SD Card

    The Air has the quite unique ability to allow for SD card playback. Micro SD cards to be more precise. Simply load up an SD card with your favorite music tracks, and you're good to go. The files will playback in a random/shuffled manner, and it accepts folders, so no need to just throw raw tracks. I had a spare micro SD card which I loaded up with a very old, small catalog of music files (especially a lot of free OC Remix video game tracks). Playback was near instant, and probably the cleanest sounding, digitally. I would argue that the audio files coming from the SD card sounded just as good as the ones I played through the USB input, all while being wireless. It's a wonderful feature on the Air. As for what files it can read: MP3, WMA, WAV, and FLAC formats are supported. You can also use touch controls to pause or skip tracks.

    I quite enjoy this inclusion, and wish other wireless headphone had this ability.



    Gaming

    It should come of no surprise by now, that SXFI is an absolute marvel when gaming. The ridiculously large soundstaging, incredible positional accuracy within that space, and sense of immersion are all an ideal combination for gaming. There's not much for me to say that I haven't already stated in the soundstage section. Critically speaking, SXFI's injection of bass and treble may not be the most ideal in terms of hardcore, competitive consistency, but as someone who has used the Air for gaming for weeks on end, I found so little to complain about, I can't give it anything but high marks for gaming purposes. The Air isn't the ultimate detail oriented headphone, nor is it of the highest fidelity, but when you're so immersed into the action, you tend to focus on all the things it does right, which to me, is a lot.

    The Creative SXFI Air is fantastic for gaming. That's all I really need to say.

    To repeat what I said in the soundstage section, this is a reminder that the full surround experience can only be had through PC use. Consoles only get stereo upconversions with SXFI.



    Microphone



    As you can hear, it's a bit low end heavy/bassy/boomy. I think it could stand to be leaning more toward midrange and treble, but it's passable. I'm not too worried about my microphone quality as long as it's not a terrible mess. The Air's mic is fine for my limited/casual purposes.



    Optional Synthetic Leather Ear Pads

    [​IMG]

    The Synthetic ear pads have a similar shape and size to the mesh ear pads. They also seem to have the same internal memory foam, at similar density.

    [​IMG]

    As stated previously, removing and replacing the pads is a very simple affair. You simply grab hold of the pads and turn the pads counter-clockwise (I recommend holding the rim near where the pads meet the plastic). They easily come off at that point. To place the pads back on, simply do the opposite by orienting the top side of the pads (12 o clock on the pad) to 10 o'clock on the surface of the driver enclosure. The notches will line up, and all you have to do is turn the pads clockwise to lock them in place. The pads each have an L/R indicator placed on the driver mesh screen.

    To my surprise, I didn't find almost any sound quality difference between the pads. It's hard to do a true A/B comparison, and the leather pads may be ever so slightly darker sounding, with a deeper, and warmer bass section, and slightly longer decay (likely due to slightly better seal). However, the differences are too small for me to be confident in saying this. It's close enough for me to not feel the need to write a whole section on sound differences. I even tried to use one mesh pad on one side and one synthetic leather pad on the other, having noticed during frequency checks that the balance remained mostly neutral between the pads. No significant changes going from one pad to the other. It essentially makes the choice between pads down to personal preference.

    I would expect some people to be put off by the default pad's mesh fabric, as it is initially itchy. On the opposite side of the spectrum are people like me that just don't normally care for the feeling of synthetic leather as it rests on the skin, as it can trap heat and cause discomfort.

    I find that the synthetic ear pads are actually very comfortable, not unlike the mesh pads once you the itchy feeling goes away. The difference being that the buildup of heat is worse on these pads compared to the cooler feel of the mesh pads. Still, had the Air come with with the synthetic leather pads by default, I wouldn't have been offended. I do think that Creative should consider adding these pads to the packaging, even if it added to the cost by a slight amount. Giving people the choice to pick which pads suit their preference. Both should be included.



    Personal Recommendations

    Media:

    As a stereo headphone, the neutrally toned, balanced sound makes it a chameleon for most purposes. It's not a headphone that highlights anything in any significant way, but should suit most media well unless you like particularly bombastic bass, and fluid, engaging musicality.

    With SXFI, it becomes a whole other monster entirely, where its bass and humongous sense of space makes any content immediately immersive and surreal. It is a gaming beast, a fantastic movie headphone, and great for relaxing to podcasts and whatnot, as it puts those voice in front of you as if they're sitting a few feet ahead. It's quite an experience, and I find very little that I wouldn't use with SXFI, music included.


    Practicality:

    The Air is so versatile, I think it makes more sense to talk about what I wouldn't recommend with the Air. And what may that be? Not much. Of course, this isn't a high end headphone, and you can likely find better audio purist level headphones without SXFI that make a more logical choice for people who hate anything touching the most basic, raw form of audio piped through headphones.

    For everyone else, the Air just does so much, so well. As a PC usb headphone/headset, you get all the goods. Up to 7.1 SXFI so it makes a perfect PC gaming headset. Very clean audio that supports up to 24bit/96khz as well.

    As SD Card player, you can just add a bunch of music files of various formats to the card, insert it to the Air's micro SD card reader, and enjoy as the headset shuffles all the music. The audio quality is exceptionally clean here, and like Bluetooth, you're untethered, without the sound quality hit associated with Bluetooth.

    As a Bluetooth headphone, you are free to use the Air anywhere for any reason, not just limited to music. Perhaps not the best codec, but it still sound quite good.

    I nearly forgot to mention, but the Air has a rated 10 hours of battery life. I wasn't able to personally test this, so your mileage may vary.

    As a regular headphone through the aux/3.5mm input with a standard cable, no power, fully passive, no gimmicks, and no features, the Air is a potent audio beast. In terms of raw, unprocessed stereo fed through a quality dac and amplifier, the Air is musical, engaging, and deceptively high fidelity. It won't unseat any bang for back standard headphones in its price range, but it is no slouch whatsoever. It's really good here.

    If you want to pipe any audio and give it the magical SXFI touch, you can use the aux input while the Air is turned on. In terms of utter audio clarity, it isn't the ideal choice, but the tradeoff may be worth it, to get that theater-esque frontal projection.

    As for portability, the Air is a full sized headphone, but isn't particularly huge, so if you're ok wearing full sized headphones in public, the Air is a great choice. In terms of portability, it doesn't collapse into a smaller footprint, so it's a headphone you'll have to leave around the neck unless you have a large bag to toss it in. The matte plastic exterior gives enough confidence that it won't show much wear and tear, though the glossy pieces may exhibit some scratches if not careful.



    Likes and Dislikes
    Likes:
    • Comfort
    • Versatility
    • Robust Features
    • SXFI is a game changer
    • Price to performance
    • Price to features
    • SD card playback
    • Passive playback (powered off, aux input use)

    Dislikes:
    • Too many apps/software for one device
    • Software nitpicks, redundancies, bugs, glitches
    • AptX support would've been ideal for Bluetooth
    • Slow response from Power/Source selection button
    • Volume wheel would've been preferable due to touch control inconsistencies, especially in bluetooth mode
    • No full console compatibility



    Final Impressions

    I'll simply state right now that upon first listening to the Air, my initial reaction was quite negative. I wasn't impressed. I was actually close to declining a review of the Air. I almost jumped the gun, which I always preach NOT to do with headphones. As always, all things take their time when it comes to our ears. That's why I'll never believe someone's negative take on headphones based off a short few minute demo session. It sometimes take days or even a week to really get acclimated with a sound your ears aren't accustomed to.

    I gave it a few more head mapping passes, and tried again. And again. As time passed and my brain and ears became accustomed to the drastic difference it makes to all sound, well, I found myself wanting to use SXFI more and more. Let me tell you guys a simple, perhaps harsh truth about me. Have a seat.

    I don't really do much headphone listening outside of work/portable use (Koss PortaPro wireless without the headband, attached with KSC75 clips instead). I hardly game with headphones anymore, nor do I sit at home listening to music or any other general media. I basically use headphones at home nowadays when I use my Koss KSC75X in bed late at night so as not to wake anyone else. That, and when I do my reviews. Full sized headphones don't normally get any use. What does any of this have to do with the Creative SXFI Air? I'm getting there.

    While I greatly attribute my lack of headphone use to just not being a fan of wearing a device on my head for prolonged periods (hence why I really love my portable clip ons, which I can even use while laying down), the Air has provided me with one great truth. It has revealed to me that I don't particularly like the presentation of sound as emitted by headphones in general. I know, this is absolute blasphemy coming from a supposed audiophile. Please don't misunderstand. Music listening through headphones is a beautiful experience. That is not my implication. I'm talking about things outside of music. Within the confines of strict stereo sound through headphones, I find that I don't like other content. Things like general TV, podcasts, Youtube, and movies.

    It sounds internalized, and smaller than life most of the time. Yes, we can talk about large soundstages and great imaging on headphones, but we're still talking about confining sound to a small area very close to the head. It doesn't sound real. It sounds like, well, sound through headphones. Your brain knows when it's listening to headphones. That distinction causes a subconscious discomfort for me, where I would rather just listen to my bad TV speakers most of the time. Of course, TV speakers aren't real life, but my ears know I'm listening to sounds coming from a source in front of me...through both ears at the same time. That is a very important distinction. Why this isn't an issue with music is likely because music to me doesn't have something tangible attached to it. Music is more or less something without a 'body'. It simply exists as sounds for me, so my brain doesn't find discomfort in the stereo rendition of it. That being said, even with music, I'm now finding myself preferring the more virtualized, theater sound SXFI places music in more and more.

    People talk about how virtual surround or any other digital sound processing is unnatural, yet the questions is...how? A headphone's rendition of sound by default is unnatural to our ears. We aren't supposed to hear all manner of objects and things inside our head. Yes, tonality of the sound can be natural and correct through headphones, but the soundscape, and the manner our ears pick up sound through headphones is the definition of unnatural. We have two drivers strapped to our ears injecting two different sources of sound to each ear. Virtual surround may have some artifacts and other problems that lead us to believe they don't sound as natural, but in terms of presenting sound to our ears, they attempt and succeed in emulating how our ears naturally pick up sounds. With a good virtualized surround, we can hear things behind us properly, or as if they're coming from across the room, as opposed to some compact area around our head.

    The Creative SXFI Air has caused me to listen and enjoy all the content I used to dislike through headphones in stereo form. Perhaps this is one other reason why I greatly prefer playing video games with virtual surround. Not only because it's effective in locating sounds around me, but because it sounds more natural in presentation. Creative's SXFI tech has allowed me to truly understand this truth about myself more so than any other virtual surround technologies I've used to date. SXFI is an experience anyone with an open mind needs to have.

    As for everything about the Creative Air itself, I'll start by being critical. Yes, it's not the greatest headphone ever made. Take away all of its features, and its a pretty run of the mill type of headphone. A good one, mind you (especially and surprisingly, when it is turned off and attached to audio gear), but nothing about that truly stands out. The sea of software bloat and quirks in them were a real pain to wade through as a whole. The Bluetooth codec should've supported AptX. The touch controls are intuitive, but need some response adjustments (especially in bluetooth mode). PS4 and other console capabilities are limited. Despite those nitpicks and issues, there is a lot of great things abut the SXFI Air that need mention. Especially the fact that the SXFI Air is anything BUT a run of the mill headphone.

    The Creative SXFI Air has some seriously appealing and specific features that make it far more than the sum of its least favorable traits. The Air has a toolbox of versatility. You can use it practically in any and every way imaginable for a headphone. PC use, wirelessly, turned off, or even as a music player and headphone packed in one. You name it, the Air is likely able to find its use in anyone's home or office. Want to alter its sound, use the various equalizers at its disposal. Want to chat? The miniature mic is not only effective, it's unobtrusive unlike other headsets that may jam the mic next to your face, seen through your peripheral vision. Need to feel like you're not listening to headphone, but rather a well designed home theater? SXFI immediately changes the soundscape into something big and exciting. All of this while being comfortable to wear, as well as affordable, considering all it has, and all it can do.

    The Creative SXFI Air may have entered my sights for truly basic reasons, but I leave this review with an enormous amount of respect for Creative and what they managed to do with not only offering such a resourceful headphone, but bringing SXFI to the world, even when they already had the fantastic SBX processing prior to SXFI. I can only imagine what Creative has in store for the future.
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2019
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  14. Mad Lust Envy Contributor
    Koss KSC75 or Koss PortaPro/SportaPro drivers with KSC75 clips attached to my Mixamp 5.8. That's it.

    If I feel like having a better experience, I'll bring out my (the still at home) Massdrop Edition XX hooked up via this chain: Creative G6 (for SBX) - Optical out - Modi 3 - Magni 3 - Headphones.

    At work or on the go I have a Koss PortaPro wireless (attached to KSC75 clips) which gets the most use out of any headphone I own.

    The Audeze Mobius and HE-400 are stored under my bed.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2019
  15. silverthornne
    No aptX support on the SXFi Air? At this stage in the game I'd expect something even better than aptX, such as aptx HD or LDAC. I am surprised since I own the Creative Outlier Air True Wireless and those tiny buds support aptX, which made me expect more from the SXFi Air. Would a setup that goes X7 > AXFi Air make sense? I own the SXFi dongle and really like it, but I find it a pain to be switching headphone profiles on it so I thought these would be a good option to keep that SXFi fun sound.
     

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