We’ve never liked headphones that use active noise cancellation because they simply mask environmental noise by generating background hiss. But Creative’s Aurvana X-Fi headphones are almost good enough to win us over.
Donning the headphones and activating their noise-cancellation circuit instantly silenced the background cacophony created by our building’s HVAC system and myriad nearby computers—and we could barely detect the circuitry used to accomplish the feat.
That’s impressive, but Creative has also taken two features from its X-Fi soundcards and embedded them in these phones. We’re big fans of Creative’s X-Fi Crystalizer because it adds a natural and pleasant sonic presence to both compressed music (e.g., MP3s and WMAs) and songs played straight from CD. We’re not so impressed, however, with Creative’s X-Fi CMSS-3D, an algorithm that taps the onboard DSP to widen the stereo sound field.
Audio purists, of course, will cringe at the thought of using any of these features because this processing alters what the artist has wrought. And as much as we like the noise-canceling feature’s ability to isolate us from the outside world, we did turn it off while listening to music because it adds a harsh edge to midrange frequencies. We found this phenomenon particularly noticeable while listening to the guitar and Linda Thompson’s plaintive vocals on “Walking on a Wire” (from her collaboration with former husband Richard Thompson, Shoot out the Lights).
These headphones are clearly not designed for mission-critical applications such as monitoring mix downs. They also consume batteries at an alarming rate: Having neglected to turn them off before leaving for the day, we came in the next morning to find their two AAA batteries completely drained (they behave like normal headphones without power, so the lack of batteries doesn’t render them useless).
As much as we like Creative’s X-Fi Crystalizer technology, as great as the Aurvana X-Fi headphone’s sound, and as nonintrusive as their noise-cancellation circuitry is, we still prefer the passive noise-blocking technology offered by in-ear phones such as Shure’s SE530.
Active noise-cancellation works well; good sound.
Active noise-cancellation still detectable; harshes midrange tones; drains batteries.