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Creative Aurvana Live!2 - Affordable Hi-Fi?
Like everyone else I want my headphones to sound good and be comfortable but I also want to keep the price down to around 100-150 EUR/USD and not pay extra for a fashionable brand. I want to pay for the tech, not the logo - something I think is getting more difficult after Beats reshaped the headphone market.
I have previously looked at traditional consumer brands such as Philips and Sony but while reading up on current alternatives on discussion forums I came across an often used product nickname: "CAL2" or "CAL!2".
Creative Aurvana Live!2. Not only do they have a nickname, they also have an interesting backstory.
Some years ago Denon introduced a pair of headphones named AH-D1001 that where in turn based on a Foster design. The model was well received but eventually discontinued. Creative, of SoundBlaster fame, then introduced their own version of this product as Creative Aurvana Live but at a much lover price making them very attractive.
The new version, the Live!2, is not based on any other model but Creatives own upgrade with a new design and new 40mm neodymium drivers with bio-cellulose diaphragm. Bio-cellulose, also known as microbial cellulose, is a natural fiber manufactured using bacteria and only nanometers thin, much thinner then plant based cellulose as used in paper. The idea is that bio-cellulose diaphragms are as thin as aluminium or titanium diaphragms but with a "warmer" sound similar to that of paper ones.
The CAL2 has been around for a few years already but their price is now even lower and at Amazon here in Europe (.de) you can get them for 69€. Clearly, it was time for me to give the CAL2 a chance.
When listening to these headphones I did side by side comparisons with two other headphones: Audio-technica ATH-M50x and Denon AH-GC20 (in passive mode using a cable). As source devices I used a 2016 iMac and a OnePlus 6.
On the go, I use Bluetooth headphones but now I'm looking for home use I prefer wired headphones. The CAL2 has a 4 pole (CTIA TRRS) 3.5mm plug with an in-line microphone and slide volume control on the cable for use with phones. The cable is detachable and can be replaced if needed or you want another type of cable.
In my experience circumaural (full size, over the ear) headphones are the only ones that are comfortable to be used for hours at a time. The CAL2 (and A-T) are just barely curcumaural but my ears do fit in the earcups. The Denon headphones has notacible bigger earcups.
The earcup padding is soft and the headphones feel light without clamping onto the head too hard so there are no other ergonomic problems. In fact, I'd say they are very comfortable to wear, more comfortable than the A-T or Denon. As someone with a beard I appreciate the faux leather as it doesn't get stuck and cause any uncomfortable nipping as some other materials do.
Previously I have gone for open designs because they feel cooler as air can pass trough when using them for long periods. The CAL2 is a closed design and they do get a bit worm but that is unavoidable with closed designs.
Open designs might also give a more natural soundstage but I must admit I enjoy the punchier base you often get with a closed design and Creative advertises these headphones as bringing out the base. In some reviews I have read that these headphones boosts highs and lows somewhat while leaving the midrange untouched - a classic although modest equalizer smiley face. However, that is not how I perceive the headphones. Compared to the Audio-technica, the CAL2 feels more neutral and the A-T feels more like it had a smiley face equalizer setting although the A-T is referred to as a neutral "monitor headphone". It might be the bio-cellulose diaphragms that is throwing me off here by having an unusually warm sound and causing me to experience that as more neutral than it actually is. Whatever the reason, I think it sounds good.
When comparing directly against the Audio-technica, the CAL2 do perform very well and although they sound differently they do sound about as good but keep in mind the A-T cost twice as much. Compared with the Denon, the CAL2 sound better - the base is quite similar but the highs are clearer with the CAL2. The Denon are much more expensive but that is mainly because they also have Bluetooth and active noise reduction.
Considering the price point for the CAL2 today, they make for a very attractive buy.
Since the CAL2 headphones have been around for a few years I also had a chance to find out about typical problems. When you sell something in large quantities there are inevitably going to be some defects and problems. The headband sometimes breaks near where they are attached to the earcups. This is a problem I have seen with headphones from many manufacturers. The other, and slightly more common problem, is a connectivity problem related to the detachable cable. Since the cable is detachable, this can usually be fixed by simply replacing the cable. As I read reviews before buying, the greatest variation in opinions seemed to be regarding build quality. Having used them myself now, I think these headphones compare favourably with the competition when it comes to build quality. They might feel a bit flimsy but once you put them on you appreciate how light and comfortable they feel. They construction is also silent without any squeaking sounds from the plastic joints - something that the A-T suffers from a bit.
Interestingly enough, most problems related to this model where reported during the first year they where on sale so it is possible that Creative have reacted to user feedback and made adjustments to mitigate these problems.