Creative Super X-Fi Air review: Surround-sound magic inside Bluetooth headphones

It's a solid experience, but it should be stellar.

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At a Glance

Earlier this year we reviewed the new Super X-Fi Amp from Creative, and since then it’s continued to amaze me and the people I demo it for. Now Creative has taken the same amazing audio processing technology and jammed it into a pair of over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones called the Super X-Fi Air. Unfortunately the headphones themselves are not as amazing as the tech they contain, but they still offer some great features for the price.

Creative SXFI Air Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Super X-Fi technology

To recap what Super X-Fi is, it’s audio software processing that simulates a surround-sound speaker setup, and accurately reflects that setup with just a pair of stereo headphones. It does this by taking scans of your ears and face and pairing it with positional audio algorithms—a special mixture that has not been done before in the consumer audio space.

Thanks to this technology, which was years in the making, Super X-Fi is easily the best implimentation of ‘virtual’ surround sound I’ve ever used. Not only does the positional audio work great with PC gaming and movies, it works wonders for simple mono and stereo sound sources that contain depth information in the recordings. Under the right circumstances it can bring out the best of whatever you are listening to and present it to you in a beautiful and realistic way, like listening to high-end speakers.

Creative SXFI Air Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The original way to use Super X-Fi was with a USB-C based dongle that plugged into a device on one side, and to any headphones featuring a 3.5mm headphone jack on the other (officially supported headphones worked best). The SXFI Air headphones are the first wireless option to come from Creative.

SXFI Air hardware

While the Super X-Fi technology contained within the SXFI Air headphones is a ground-breaking feature, the headphones themselves are not as impressive. They do have some great features like thick earpads, customizable RGB lighting rings, and an option to play music off a built-in SD card slot, a feature I particularly like. Battery life is pretty great as well, and the overall build quality feels sturdy. But the headphones are a bit heavier than I would've liked, and there is very little padding at the top of the head, resulting in quicker fatigue.

Creative SXFI Air Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The SXFI Air also doesn’t have the same fit and finish as the SXFI Amp, which had a premium look and feel with its dongle design. I actually think the Sony WH-1000XM3 noise-cancelling headphones have more design language in common than these two Creative products. And while style isn’t the only important factor when considering buying headphones, it does matter, especially when people wear them while out and about. 

Luckily the large, flat plastic sides were very conducive to using swipe and tap controls, a function I don’t use all the time but is nice to have. Besides the basic power and pairing buttons, the SXFI Air also has a dedicated button for turning on and off the Super X-Fi processing quickly, similar to the SXFI Amp.

Creative SXFI Air Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Bluetooth functionality is primarily used for phones and tablets and syncs up with the same Super X-Fi app as the dongle. There you can swap profiles, adjust EQ, and turn off processing easily. Unfortunately, there's a whole separate SXFI Air app that needs to be loaded in order to change the lighting—I wish that feature were included in the main app.

In order to use the full functionality of the SXFI Air with your PC, console, or Mac, you’ll have to plug in via the USB-C cable located on the left ear cup. That USB-C port is also where the headphones charge.

SXFI Air audio quality

With all that said, the most important part of any pair of headphones is the audio quality, and this is where the SXFI Air is a bit of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong—there are no glaring issues with the sound coming out of these headphones, they are perfectly average for their price point. That should be a good thing, right? It should be, but when Creative releases amazing tech inside a ‘just-OK’ set of headphones, that puts a bit of a damper on the experience. The Super X-Fi processing is revolutionary itself and really shines the best when paired with nicer headphones.

Another part of the letdown stems from the headphones' design, which falls into a weird spot between closed and open-backed. There's not enough isolation to make them comfortable in loud environments, and without noise suppression places like trains and planes aren’t ideal either. In most situations I actually prefer open-backed headphones, especially when using the Super X-Fi.

More importantly, I was let down by the bass reproduction from the drivers. These solid-performing headphones offer clear highlights and plenty of volume, but there's a disappointing lack of low-end punch and rumble, things I'd normally expect from drivers of this size. Whether using the headphones with Super X-Fi on or off, I was craving more from the bass in games and music. In the music I was listening to, kick drums in particular were off, having that nice initial thump but lacking a rumbled follow-through in the mix—something EQ can fix only slightly.

Remember, for the price you're getting a solid headphone experience. It just didn’t blow me away like its Amp cousin did. I don’t have insight into Creative’s thinking with this product, but I wish the company had aimed for a higher-end experience, especially considering how other pricey headphones, like the $300 Bose QC 35 II, are already popular. 

Super X-Fi Amp vs Air

So which version of Super X-Fi would I rather have? Unlike my colleague Gordon Mah Ung, who uses his Super X-Fi Amp to listen to music, I use Super X-Fi mainly when I’m gaming at home on my PC or Nintendo Switch. I will admit it's very nice to have a cordless experience when listening to music on my phone, but I primarliy use earbuds for that.

While I dislike having cables cluttering my desk, I’ve already invested in a couple of nice pairs of headphones that I love and have worn for many many years. I would have to say I prefer the SXFI Amp because of its flexiblity in headphone selection, and its small form factor. 

Creative SXFI Air Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Conclusion

Despite its shortcomings, for just $10 more than the SXFI Amp itself the SXFI Air headphones can actually be viewed as a tremendous deal. It’s a great way to get the Super X-Fi technology in your ears if you don’t already have a ton of money invested in nicer headphones. 

But if you do own wired headphones that suit your style or audio tastes, then the SXFI Air isn’t going to pull you in—you’d probably better off buying the SXFI Amp instead. It’s actually worth getting Super X-Fi in either form it to experience the audio magic that I love. It’s just a shame I didn’t love the headphones as much.

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At a Glance
  • The Creative Super X-Fi audio technology contained in the SXFI Air headphones is amazing. The headphones themselves? Not so much.

    Pros

    • Super X-Fi audio technology built in
    • Solid build and plenty of features
    • Can be used with a wide variety of devices

    Cons

    • A bit heavy and not enough padding
    • Ho-hum sound quality
  
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