Jan 18th, 2020 publishUpdated   Feb 13th, 2020, 1:42 pm

When it comes to audio quality, wired is king. There’s no doubt about that. However, the convenience of wireless can’t be ignored, and with headphone jacks disappearing, more and more people drop wired headphones in exchange for wireless. But Bluetooth has its issues (many many issues). A big one is latency, so if you plan to use your Bluetooth headphones for gaming, watching movies, or even swimming, you may find it to be a pretty poor experience.

Codecs like aptX help, but usually you’re stuck with a delay. Creative decided to solve this issue with the SXFI Theater, which feature virtually latency free wireless. Of course this requires a USB dongle, but you get all the benefits of wired headphones in a wireless package. This works with PC, Mac, PS4, and Nintendo Switch (sorry Xbox One owners, no USB audio support from Microsoft). And when you’re on the go, you can still use a 3.5mm cable.

Overview

  • Drivers: 50mm Neodymium
  • Distance: 30 feet
  • Battery life: 30 hours
  • Weight: 346g
  • Price: $199.00
  • Where to buy: Creative

All of the controls and ports are on the left ear cup. On the front you’ll find a power button. You have to hold this for two seconds and let go for it to beep to life; hold it for too little and nothing happens, but you don’t hear the beep until after you’ve let go so you have to count to two and let go. Underneath there’s a keyed 3.5mm jack with a rubber plug: remove this and you can insert the included gaming mic.

On the back is the SXFI button to enable or disable the software feature, a volume wheel with a smooth spin and no detents, and a mic toggle button. You can turn off your mic, but the voice prompt is a bit long and mutes your audio while it’s talking. This really shouldn’t be muting the audio, maybe turning down the volume during the prompt but the extended mute dialog is extremely annoying.

Below you’ll find a regular 3.5mm jack for wired use (it comes with an aux cable for this) and a USB-C port for charging. At this point USB-C is no longer notable and is just expected, but we’re happy to see microUSB going the way of the dodo.

What you won’t find is any form of media controls. It would be nice to have the touch interface of the SXFI Air headphones so you can pause music and switch tracks, especially when you’re in wired mode with your phone.

Build quality

The Theaters are made almost entirely out of plastic, which isn’t a bad thing. The headband is completely covered in protein leather with some padding on the inside, while the adjustment mechanism is one of the few metal pieces here. The adjustment has numbers and lines so you can find your ideal position every time, which is a nice touch. Everything else on the ear cup besides the plush protein leather pads is plastic.

All the buttons are nice and clicky, with the Super X-Fi button having texture to differentiate it. The volume dial has nice resistance though I wish it had detents. Every axis of movement these headphones has is smooth and quiet. Once they’re on your head they don’t creak whatsoever, which is something I can’t say about some higher end headphones. The build quality here is excellent.

The microphone is well made with a very flexible metal body and a keyed connector even though it’s a standard 3.5mm jack. The dongle itself is just plain plastic but it looks nice.

Sound quality

These headphones feature 50mm neodymium drivers, the same ones as in Creative’s other products in their lineup. The sound signature is fairly balanced and flat. The bass is a bit on the weak side, though there’s plenty for most people. I wish it was sharper and punchier rather than being a bit boomy.

There’s really not much to say about the sound quality. It’s pretty good but it’s not amazing. Do I wish they sounded better? Of course. But honestly the audio quality isn’t the focus here. The focus is on the SXFI holography, the comfort, the low latency, and the pure versatility of these headphones. While many headphones sound amazing with some genres or are made for movies, these can do it all fairly well. Movies, music, games, conferences; everything you throw at them they can handle. So they’re not the best sounding headphones, but that’s okay. They sound plenty good if not unremarkable.

The only issues with sound come from what might be an issue with the connection. When they’re on and idle, you can hear a slight high pitched tone at all times. And once in a while, there will be a pop in one ear. Whether it’s interference or issue I don’t know, but it’s a mild inconvenience.

The mic is of below average quality. The overall sound is pretty decent, but it does sound muted and muffled. The muffled quality isn’t unusual for lower end gaming microphones. Also it likes to clip without its pop filter. Thankfully it does include the foam pop filter and you should absolutely use it, but it does cover up the little red LED that indicates when the mic is disabled. Overall I am a little disappointed because the $30 V-MODA BoomPro sounds leagues ahead in clarity.

Comfort

When building a headset meant for long term use like movies and games, comfort is of the utmost importance. And here, Creative absolutely nailed it. These headphones are extremely comfortable to wear for as long as you want, even 12 hour stints are no problem. They weigh 339 grams, which isn’t particularly light. The headband is also not that well padded, which made me think that they wouldn’t be comfortable.

But the big protein leather ear cups save the day. They’re big and deep enough for my big ears, so unlike with many headphones, my ears don’t touch the insides and hurt after a few hours. They’re also super plush and contour to your head. The clamping force is moderate but you don’t feel it thanks to how soft the ear cups are. But this clamping force and fluffy cups both take some of the pressure off the top of your head, making for a super comfortable fit. The ear cups also rotate relative to your head, meaning you can tilt them to fit longer ears.

In terms of heat, the ear cups stay surprisingly cool. The sound isolation is also not that strong, with some noise coming through (I personally prefer this). Still, they’re closed back and will block out most noises.

Connection

One of the main selling points of these headphones is Creative’s proprietary 2.4GHz wireless connection. This uses a USB dongle for a basically latency free connection. The benefit over Bluetooth and other systems is the lag between your computer playing audio and the headphones receiving it: There is none. While most USB dongles don’t have major latency, basic Bluetooth sure does. The standard SBC Bluetooth codec has over 100ms of latency and it will absolutely mess with your head. Qualcomm aptX takes this down to 60ms, but it’s still noticeable.

The SXFI TX dongle claims up to 5 times less latency than Bluetooth, so it’s likely around the 20-30ms range. Realistically, this is just about latency free as you’ll never notice this level of delay. For comparison, aptX LL (low latency) is rated at 30ms but good luck finding headphones that support it.

The upside to this proprietary connection is both latency and quality. This 2.4GHz connection has more bandwidth than Bluetooth does and no latency is fantastic. The downside is range: the estimated range of the SXFI Theater is 10 meters or 30 feet. This is the range of older Bluetooth products, whereas Bluetooth 5.0 has a range of 100 feet. This isn’t an issue if you stay in one room, but walk out of the room and around a wall and you’ll quickly get pops and dropouts. Nonetheless, it’s plenty strong for walking around a large room.

The one thing I like about this connection method is its reliability. Turn on the headphones and they are instantly connected every time. Walk away and back and they instantly reconnect. I had zero issues with connecting, and this can not be said for Bluetooth and its jankiness.

If you don’t have a USB port in an open location, it comes with a 1.2m USB extender so you can place the dongle in an unrestricted area.

I do wish the headphones also had Bluetooth so you can use them more easily with your smartphone. Just having USB wireless and 3.5mm wired sure is restricting. The issue is that it would overlap with the Creative SXFI Air, which do have Bluetooth, but it would make these headphones so much more versatile.

Battery life

The battery life is rated at an impressive 30 hours, which rivals many high end Bluetooth headphones on the market right now. And in practice, it depends on your use case but you can stretch it that far. Using them many hours a day, they would last over a week, sometimes two. The battery life is exemplary and more than enough for a product in this price range. Even better is that the battery low prompt is quiet and not at all jarring, and you can still comfortably use the headphones for over an hour.

Charging however is not that great. I’m really happy to see a USB-C port on this product (or more accurately, I would have been dismayed to see a microUSB port) but the charging time is quite long. A full charge takes hours and it doesn’t seem like any form of quick charging is present. You can of course use the included 3.5mm cable or any aux cable to use them in wired mode, but you lose some of the benefits like SXFI mode. But with 30 hours of battery life, an overnight charge once in a blue moon is easy.

Features

One of the main selling points of these headphones is the Creative Super X-Fi system. It’s an audio holography system that aims to replicate the sound and feeling of speakers in your headphones. You have to use the SXFI app to take photos of your ears and your face for it to automatically create a custom profile based on how it assumes you hear sound. From there you enable and disable the feature from a button on the headphones.

The Gen1 tech was impressive, but with the release of Gen2 during CES, it was taken to a new level. The sound instantly becomes more open, almost like it’s filling a room. it really does sound like it’s coming from speakers rather than your headphones. It takes away the constricted feeling of two drivers pressed up against your ears. It gives the bass more strength and distance and makes the highs crisper, if not a little echoey.

Voices truly felt like they were outside of your headphones. I got on Discord and forgot I had SXFI on, and I thought my speakers were still playing. It’s pretty amazing stuff.

It works great in movies and music, and even in some games. Metro 2033 felt great with SXFI turned on. It was far more immersive and felt more real. However, competitive first person shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield suffer greatly due to the reduced stereo effect. Creative makes hearing direction more natural because sound doesn’t just hit one ear when you’re listening to speakers, but it becomes a detriment in listening for footsteps. However, a gaming profile for SXFI is in the works that will fix this. They have the 7.1 virtual surround sound tech down, they just have to implement it for gaming.

I do wish we had access to the Sound BlasterX gaming suite that’s available on their other products. Of course this is asking a lot, but it would be super helpful for gaming, something these headphones do so well.

In terms of other features, each ear cup has a light ring on the outside which can be customized via the SXFI app. It has full RGB support so you can choose any color you’d like. However the lights are relatively dim and don’t stand out at all in a well lit room. I like that they included it, but it’s too dim to really be flashy, and if it was brighter, it would just eat your precious battery life even more. After playing around with it for some time, I just turned the lights off to maximize battery life.

Conclusion

Creative SXFI Theater Rating: star_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_fullstar_25 (4.25 / 5)

The Good

  • Wireless connection works well for the most part
  • Battery life is excellent
  • Comfort is superb
  • Super X-Fi is great and getting better

The Bad

  • Weird pops once in a while
  • No Bluetooth
  • Range is short
  • Microphone is not very good
  • No media controls

Creative’s lineup spans a few different markets. They have the SXFI Air with Bluetooth, SXFI Theater with 2.4GHz latency free wireless, and the Sound BlasterX H6 which have the Sound BlasterX audio engine instead of SXFI. Oh how I wish we could combine all three. Offer both 2.4GHz wireless and Bluetooth, and both SXFI and Sound BlasterX so you can watch movies and game in perfection. Unfortunately, we do have to make a choice.

And the SXFI Theater are a fantastic pair of headphones for almost any use case. Even gaming is great thanks to the detatchable mic and long term comfort. On the go they do lack wireless but they sound good and last for a long time. if you can deal with a wire, they’re a solid set of mobile headphones. But when used with a supported device over USB and with SXFI on, they come alive. They’re now my go to headphones for PC use, even with their shortcomings.

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