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Creative SXFI Air review: Phenomenal surround sound

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : 150
incl VAT

Creative’s SXFI Air takes over-ear headphone listening to a new level

Pros

  • Unique sound presentation
  • Impressive number of inputs
  • Comfortable

Cons

  • Bulky design
  • Uninspiring sound with Super X-Fi disabled
  • Setup requires a smartphone

Creative’s latest wireless headphones house the company’s brand-new technology, “Super X-Fi”, which aims to change the way you listen to music. Instead of settling for a regular two-channel stereo signal, the technology uses acoustic modelling to simulate a multi-speaker surround-sound experience by using just two 50mm neodymium drivers.

It’s quite a claim, but with some clever technical wizardry, Creative makes it work astonishingly well – you can even experience the phenomenon through a thumb-sized amplifier that works with Android phones and tablets.

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Creative SXFI Air review: What you need to know

The Creative SXFI Air are a set of wireless headphones that use Creative’s Super X-Fi technology to simulate multi-speaker surround sound. They offer a good set of physical and wireless inputs, plus a removable microphone, and for a bit of visual pizzazz, they feature customisable RGB lights.

Creative SXFI Air review: Price and competition

The SXFI Air headphones cost £150, and frankly there’s nothing that directly compares to them at any price. A few alternatives are worth considering, however: the Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT offer exceptional stereo sound and wireless connectivity for £178, while the wired variant will set you back £109. If active noise-cancelling is important, it’s also worth considering the Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2 at £160.

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Creative SXFI Air review: Build quality and features

As we’ve mentioned, these headphones aren’t the only way to experience Creative’s Super X-Fi technology. Android users can also get it in the form of a pocket-sized all-metal amplifier, into which you can plug your own headphones. Indeed, the SXFI Air are the less portable option: they weigh 338g and their bulky all-plastic design is a little clunky, with no option to fold or swivel the sizeable earcups. Still, the large ear pads are breathable and have plenty of padding, meaning they’re not unpleasant to wear.

Design-wise, the headphones come in either black or white, with a circular RGB light strip on the driver housing, which can be customised through the SXFI AIR Control app. This is simple, but it would have been neater to integrate this into the main SXFI app, which is used to set up the Super X-Fi technology.

Built-in touch controls on the left earcup let you control media and answer calls; I found the touchpad a tad unresponsive, and had to forcefully move one or two fingers across the plastic pane to activate a command. Along the left edge, there’s a protruding “NanoBoom” microphone, which can optionally be removed and replaced with a plastic cover. There’s also a Bluetooth pairing button and a dedicated Super X-Fi toggle.

You get plenty of connectivity options, too. The USB Type-C charging port can also be connected to a PC, Mac, PS4 or Nintendo Switch, while a 3.5mm jack socket lets you listen to analogue sound sources, and a microSD slot enables standalone music playback. Needless to say, there’s also Bluetooth for wireless streaming, but it’s disappointing that this is limited to the lowest-quality SBC codec – especially since Creative offers cheaper headphones that support both AAC and aptX. When using Bluetooth, you can expect around ten hours of playback on a single battery charge.

Creative SXFI Air review: Super X-Fi & audio quality

Creative’s Super X-Fi Holographic technology is the key selling point of these headphones, but it’s not exactly plug-and-play. Once you’ve downloaded the SXFI app, created an account and paired the headphones, you’ll need to take three photos of your head, so the headphones can process and model the sound appropriately. The best results are achieved if you can get someone else to take the pictures of your head. If you wish to share your headphones with another person, you’ll need to set them up with a separate profile and their own head map.

Having completed this process, I fired up one of my favourite Carlos Santana songs, “Africa Bamba” – and was shocked straight away. I’m used to hearing Santana’s guitar at the centre of a virtual soundstage but, through the SXFI Air, it sounded exactly as if he were playing in front of me. It’s a mind-blowing effect, unlike anything I’ve heard before.

Indeed, the song as a whole became far more spacious than I’ve experienced with any regular stereo headphones – and that includes electrostatic and audiophile-grade open-back models. To understand what I mean, imagine 7.1 or Dolby surround sound on a gaming headset, but without any perceptible loss of quality or frequency response. Somehow, Creative pulls this off.

It must be said that the effect doesn’t work in all scenarios. When I tuned into the WAN Show, the odd reverb and echo didn’t match the presenters’ voices, and there were also some lip-sync issues, where the audio wasn’t perfectly in time with the video.

If you come across such a problem, you can always switch back to a standard stereo presentation at the press of a button. However, in this mode, the SXFI Air aren’t particularly impressive. All the space is instantly sucked out of Santana’s lively song, with recessed vocals and a bloated low end. 21 Savage’s vocal track “A lot” similarly experiences a dip in the upper mids. For regular stereo listening, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT – by no stretch of the imagination a flawless pair of headphones – do a far better job.

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Creative SXFI Air review: Verdict

No doubt about it, Creative’s Super X-Fi processing is something special. As to whether these headphones are worth £150, that’s up to you. If you’re looking for general-purpose stereo performance, there are far better options out there, such as the fun-sounding Audio-Technica ATH-M50XBT or the noise-cancelling Plantronics BackBeat Pro 2. But if you want to broaden your horizons and experience music in a whole new way, the Creative SXFI Air provide a unique, sometimes jaw-dropping, experience that you won’t get from any other headphones.

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