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The Creative SX-FI Air headphones for ... everything

16-Feb-2019

I spend a lot of time in front of the computer and much of that time with my headphones on - listening to music or watching movies. I never cared much for surround sound but lately I've been wondering if perhaps I'm loosing out on something.

The Creative SX-FI headphones are supposed to bring surround sound to headphones. This is nothing new - even the open source VLC video player software has support for spatial audio output for any ordinary type of headphones - and it works to some degree. The idea is that since we only have two ears and still can hear from what direction sound is coming, headphones with two speakers should also be able to generate sound in such a manner that it sound directional.

These headphones are supposed to do this better than the others and without the need for a dongle since the DSP processing takes part inside the headphones. You need to install an app in your phone and take a photo of your face and your ears so that the phone can generate a map of your outer ear that is then uploaded to the processor in the headphones and used to create excellent immersive surround sound specifically for your ears. I have no idea if those images makes any difference or if it is just for show. What I do know is that they kind of work.

In order to listen to surround sound you need to plug the headphones to your computer using a USB cable - and the USB plug on the headphone side is a futureproof USB C and I salute Creative for this. When you connect the headphones using USB they show up as an 8 channel audio device in your computer (at least on a Mac). This is how you can output the 5.1 or 7.1 sound to the headphones and let them turn it into directional sound using two speakers. This also means you don't need to do anything special on your computer to listen to surround sound - your computer will simply believe that your headphones are a surround sound speaker system and output surround sound accordingly.

While testing these headphones I watched a scene from Game of Thrones where a large wall collapsed and I was truly impressed. Compared to the stereo sound the surround sound truly sounded immersive. It really sounded as if I was standing in the open with a large stone wall collapsing in the distance in front of me.

In the beginning I also often found myself taking of my headphones to check that the sound wasn't coming from the loudspeakers since the sound seemed to come from all around me from further away - as if from loudspeakers and not headphones.

The surround feature of these headphones does make movie watching more enjoyable. It's not amazing and it's not magical but it's nice.

I also use these headphones for listening to music in normal stereo mode and I think they are great for that too. The 50mm drivers can do everything from a strong base to clear highs.

Nor is there much to complain about when it comes to ergonomics either. They are a bit on the heavy side but they have to most massive soft earcups I have tried so they grab your head in a lovely way. Unfortunately the headband has very little padding and it starts feeling unpleasant against the top of the head quite soon.

I only use these headphones for two things: movies and music in front of the computer using a USB cable. But these are very versatile headphones. They also have a 3.5mm jack if you want to use that. And they have Bluetooth (only the Air model) if you want to use them as wireless headphones. And yes, they have built a built in battery so you can use them wirelessly on the go. You can even use them without a Bluetooth source on the go since they have a micro-SD card slot so you can store your favourite music in your headphones and listen without any other devices. And they have a mic with a mini boom so you can use them as gaming headphones or business headphones for those hangout meetings with your colleagues. And they got RGB led lights all around the cups for looking cool (your mileage may vary on that one, though).

But they do have one really, really annoying feature. They take 12 seconds to boot up. Serously. You press the power button and wait for 12 seconds while a female voice sais "powering up" and a while later "USB source" (or whatever source you have selected) and THEN they start outputting audio. And if you leave them for even a while without anything playing, they will automatically shut down - requiring a new boot up.