The Creative SXFI Air is the latest set of headphones to come out of audio gaming maestros Creative and an attempt to change the way we think about gaming audio. Join us as we take these headphones for a test flight.
The SXFi Air isn’t exactly Creative’s first foray into the audio industry. For those of you old enough to remember, Creative components used to be the only way to get anything more than a 4 channel crunching sound out of early IBM compatible rigs. Their range of Sound Blaster sound cards still lives on today as a top tier audiophile interface. While many of us have peripherals from the likes of Hyper X, Corsair, and Snakebyte crammed around our heads Creative has seemed something of an afterthought until you make it to the pc plug. Last year we got our hands on the Creative SXFi Amp, an attempt to take the sub-par audio experience of integrated sound systems or barely adequate virtual sound processing and blow it away with a tiny USB dongle and some very fancy audio processing techniques. Now, the long standing tech manufacturer has crammed this tech into a wireless set of headphones that hold a whole lot of promise.
For those of you that didn’t catch our hands on with the stand alone SXFi, Creative’s external post amp bundled in two distinct features that should interest gamers. Taking over control of the audio experience, this dedicated processor eliminated the low grade integrated sound circuits present on many motherboards and replaced it with a dedicated DAC post amp capable of handling up to 7.1 channel, 24 bit/96 kHz audio. I also introduced Creative’s very own holographic audio system. Much like the Drown audio earphones, holographic audio takes the idea of immersive audio and configures it for your own ear. The Creative approach uses a range of hardware, and processing systems, all configured to your own ear and bone structure. Now, the SXFi Air crams that all into a pair of high quality wireless earphones to give gamers immersive directional audio without being hamstrung by cabling.
The Creative SXFi Air is clearly a device we’re going to be using for movies and gaming but the box certainly doesn’t set that expectation. The external graphics are devoid of the usual red and black gamer aesthetic and when the Creative SXFi Air escapes its carboard shackles it is similarly unexpected. These headphones might be getting their game on but they could easily get by on the tube without too much attention. The matt black plastic ear housings aren’t much chunkier than a pair of Sony WF-1000XM3 or Sennheiser GSP 600 but they do have a fair heft to them. Coming in at around 338 grams, you will not forget that the headphones are clamped around your head. Thankfully, the generous memory foam ear attachments on both ear cups, which are adorned with a breathable fabric mesh, are obviously designed to sit for protracted periods without causing any irritation to the owner. While the SXFi Air might not be the first choice for a long raid, they grip the head well and strike a balance that will see you through several hours before you need to take a break. This balance is further reflected in the SXFi Air’s detailing. The subtle Creative logo across the top, the measurement marks etched onto the inner aluminum core of the headband, and the patent plastic additions just above either ear all make a refined statement that you wouldn’t expect from a gaming headset.
No Wires, Infinite Possibilities
Before even getting the headphones on, the arsenal of options is evident very quickly. The left hand ear houses a power button, the Bluetooth button, the SXFi feature control, a 3.5mm line in, and a USB C connection. We aren’t even going to address the micro SD card slot because it just seems so utterly out of place, but be aware you can play music from the pre baked micro SD card slot. The subtle styling of the Creative SXFi makes another appearance with the RGB lighting that circles the rim of each ear. These customizable decorations provide a massive 16.7 million color variations and can be controlled via the SXFi Air app on a smartphone or PC desktop. They also managed to match my pink hair marvelously, so I was easily sold without too much effort.
Joining this functionality are the device’s touch controls, allowing owners to swap tracks and adjust volume with a single swipe. Touch controls are all housed on the surface of the left ear cup, along with most of the Air’s other functionality. These gestures make are simple enough to produce and require a long stroke across the back housing of the Air’s left ear to either navigate tracks or change volume. You’ll be able to change modes, pause playback, or call your smart assistant using a series of taps, but given the inclusion of most controls on the SXFi Air app, I found these were a well-executed, if unnecessary, added extra.
Before even setting up the SXFi headphones, it is worth checking the specs to see if they do live up to the overall aesthetic and find out what they can do with all their options.
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz ~ 20 kHz
- Impedance: 32 ohms
- Driver: 50 mm (1.97 inches) Neodymium magnet
- Weight: 338g (11.9 oz)
- Interface: USB, Bluetooth, 3.5mm Stereo Input, microSD Card: up to 32GB, FAT32 file system
- Wireless Connection: Bluetooth 4.2
- Operating Range: Up to 10m / 33 ft
- Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery(Up to 10 hours battery life)
- RGB Lighting: 16.7 million colors
- Microphone: Detachable nano boom
- Mic Frequency Response: 100Hz ~ 8KHz
The Creative SXFi Airs are built around a pair of 50 mm Neodymium drivers which seem to come with a fairly flat tuning. While many gaming headsets tend to include an aggressive bass attack, these cans provide a well rounded sound, precise reproduction, and a good foundation for Creative’s post-processing magic. Embedded within the Sxfi Air is Creative’s SXFi DSP chipset that allows these unassuming headphones to turn the signals coming from any game, movie, or audio source into a fully immersive audio experience. To make use of this holographic audio feature, you will need to configure these headphones, and that is no small feat. This virtual surround sound system takes a personalized approach to directional audio and means that there are a few steps to set up the SXFi Air. With the help of a compatible smartphone and the Creative SXFi app, owners of these headphones can expect to take photos of their ear and facial structure. It undoubtedly helps the SXFi to tune incoming audio to each person but you won’t be performing this action solo. In addition to an extra pair of hands, an extra pair of eyes doesn’t go amiss with the SXFi setup.
Compared to the configuration of the SXFi Amp that we have already tried out, the SXFi has a very specific series of setup steps that could feel a little daunting if you aren’t prepared to sit down and work through the first time config.
Every single moment of the initial setup feels worth the wait when the Creative SXFi blares to life. It’s like Creative knew that the end result was so good that they could build a buyer’s anticipation. When the equalizer kicks in, you’ll be impressed enough by the very obvious change to tuning. A single press on the associated app or on the physical SXFi button and things are launched into another world. I cannot understate how good the creative holographic tech is. The DSP leveraged by Creative doesn’t just give audio the direction that I’ve come to expect from 7.1 surround sound implementations but gives the audio a real depth. Rather than feel like an enemy fighter is swanning past from back to front, SXFi swoops in wrapping the sound around your world. The sense of depth is palpable and while I almost miss the tactile element from the Drown earphones we tried out recently, the SXFi stands apart from competitors. The SXFi Air, like the SXFi Amp, is best utilized for classical music, movies, and gaming. This is evident from the pre set equalizer options available in the app and more direct pop and metal tracks will not benefit from the SXFi experience.
Gaming with the Creative SXFi Air is actually great. These headphones work best when connected via the included USBC cable and do more than just point players in the right direction. The depth I spoke of makes identifying incoming ordinance and players far easier during combat. The overall clarity also makes picking out reloading or careful footsteps as easy as you would want from a top end headset. The detachable nano boom microphone that protrudes out of the left hand ear cup does a very acceptable job of picking up audio and canceling out extraneous background commentators when required. It can find people sounding a bit hollow and lacks the warmth of a fully fledged desktop mic but it manages to do a very acceptable job. You can check out a control sample on this link
A Week In
With so much to write about and a ton of functionality, we gave the Creative Air SXFi a week to warm up and after a stuttering start, I love them. These headphones are akin to something that might cost twice the price with even more functionality with a sound that blows my world away. As much as the SXFi system is stunning, these headphones also look great. The Bluetooth functions free them to go mobile once you’re finished in the front room and the customizable lighting means they easily pass the test on the morning commute or in front of a Twitch audience. The battery life is impressive. It might not manage 4 months of playback but it will not give until somewhere around 6 hours running all the various bells and whistles at full volume. The mic continues to impress me and the multitude of connections means it is comfortable working across any PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, or Xbox One.
Where the SXFi loses marks is its complexity. This set of headphones comes with an SXFi app and a dedicated SXFI Air control app. The holographic audio setup of the SXFi Amp is augmented with a very precise setup process for the Airs that makes them relatively unintuitive to get going. Relying on the SXFi app alone is technically possible but we found that without the second Air app, the headphones had a habit of continuously reconfiguring themselves, dropping connecting, redirecting audio and generally behaving like it is Halloween.
With the Air app in control or a wired USB C connection, these niggles vanish. The Airs store user specific configuration locally allowing the SXFI Air headphones to turn into a portable powerhouse that can change the way you game. For around £139.99 this advanced set of headphones is well worth the price. The SXFI Air is available now. Check out the Creative website for more information now.