Tech review: Creative Sxfi Air for iPhone users to enjoy surround sound

Whether it is listening to music or watching movies, the audio experience is up several notches.
Whether it is listening to music or watching movies, the audio experience is up several notches.PHOTO: CREATIVE TECHNOLOGY

Creative's Sxfi Air is the local audio firm's first Bluetooth headphones to feature the company's critically acclaimed Super X-Fi (Sxfi) headphone holography technology.

Sxfi replicates the 3D audio you get from a finely tuned surround-sound set-up in a room with just a pair of headphones.

It uses the Sxfi app (available only on Android at press time) to map the ears and face of the user and store a profile to provide the best surround-sound experience.

Available in white and black (version tested), the Air looks like any pair of headphones. It has a faux leather-covered metallic headband that connects the ear cups.

Each ear cup has a replaceable memory foam with a ring of RGB lighting (choose from 16.7 million colours) on its exterior. By default, it is lit in blue when powered on.

The right ear cup has no buttons, while the left one has plenty of them, including a power button, a Bluetooth/Source button, an Sxfi button, a microSD card slot, a 3.5mm audio jack, a microphone and a USB-C port for charging and PC connection.

Pressing the Bluetooth/Source button toggles the audio source through Bluetooth, microSD and USB-C.

The left ear cup supports touch gestures. Swiping up and down on its surface increases and decreases the volume respectively, while swiping left goes to the previous track and swiping right goes to the next track.

The Air works with Windows and macOS computers as well as the PlayStation 4 gaming console and both Android and Apple smartphones. For this review, I use it primarily with an Apple iPhone XS Max.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $219, available Feb 28

    FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 20Hz to 20kHz

    IMPEDANCE: 32ohms

    DRIVERS: 50mm neodymium magnet

    CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C, 3.5mm headphone jack, microSD slot

    WEIGHT: 338g

    RATING

    FEATURES: 3/5

    DESIGN: 3/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

In fact, the Air is designed specifically for iPhone users.

The first Sxfi product - the Amp - is a USB-C dongle that is not compatible with iPhone's Lightning port. The Air is Creative's solution for iPhone users to enjoy - wirelessly - the benefits of Sxfi.

For this review, a beta version of the Sxfi iOS app is used as it is not yet available on the Apple App Store.

Since I already have an Sxfi account, I can log in with the iOS app to find my Sxfi personalised profile and do not need to re-do the head-mapping procedure.

The only thing I need to do is to pair the Air with the app to load the personalised profile. To do so, press and hold the Bluetooth/Source button for two seconds for the app to connect to the Air.

Once the profile has been loaded into the Air, I can use the headphones with any device to enjoy the surround sound.

With the Air, I hear the same excellent surround sound I had experienced with the Amp. Whether it is listening to music or watching movies, the audio experience is up several notches. For instance, when watching the 2018 movie Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I am able to sense where the balls of lava are landing just by listening.

Perhaps the most useful feature about the Air is when one is playing games. Playing the PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile battle royale shooter on the iPhone XS Max, I can discern where the bullets are coming from and run to safety, thus increasing my chances of survival in the game.

But while the sound output is excellent, the build of the Air is less so.

The plastic ear cups feel cheap, with the texture of the memory foam a bit rough. Plus, I find my ears getting warm after wearing the Air for an hour.

There is also no dedicated light or voice prompt to indicate if Sxfi is activated. Instead, you have to remove the headphones, press the Sxfi button and wait for the RGB lighting to light up in green to indicate that Sxfi has been activated.

The Air lacks active noise- cancelling, a feature found in many headphones these days. It also lacks Near Field Communication technology for easy pairing.

Nonetheless, the best part about the Air is its affordable price tag. At $219, it is way cheaper than a lot of headphones in the market.

Verdict: The Creative Sxfi Air provides a great avenue for iPhone users who want to enjoy the stunning surround sound Super X-Fi has to offer.