Creative SXFI Theater full review
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When you think of wireless headphones, you probably imagine Bluetooth, with the option of reverting to a wired connection when you want to connect to a non-Bluetooth device or if the battery runs out.
The SXFI Theater is not that. No, these are wireless USB headphones, designed for movie lovers who watch films or listen to music on their PCs and games consoles (and also play games, but note that there’s the SXFI Gamer headphones which are cheaper, but aren’t wireless).
So, a pretty niche product. You can’t use them wirelessly with your phone on the tube, train or bus. For that, you’ll want the SXFI Air. You could use the bundled 3.5mm cable, but most modern phones lack that connection and if you’re considering these headphones you probably only want to use them wirelessly.
Creative wanted a wireless connection with lower latency than Bluetooth, and so went with its own proprietary protocol. That’s why this setup requires the bundled USB dongle that plugs into your PC, Mac, laptop, PS4 or Nintendo Switch. There’s no Xbox support, unfortunately.
You get a 1.2m extension ‘dock’ in the box in case the transmitter ends up in the wrong place or is just too big to plug in directly.
Features & Design
The key feature is Super X-Fi or SXFI for short. It’s ‘audio holography’ which, in plainer language, is virtual surround sound. That doesn’t quite do it justice, though, as the sound is personalised to your ears, and it’s meant to be the same listening experience as if you weren’t wearing headphones at all.
The process is a little involved, but it means asking someone to use the SXFI app on your phone to take three photos: one of each ear and one of your face. (It’s almost impossible to do this yourself.)
A sound profile is created and uploaded to the cloud, which can then be downloaded to your PC or another device where you’ve installed the SXFI Control app.
Simply watch any video, listen to a music track or play a game and you can press the Super X-Fi button to enable the magic.
We’ll get to whether it works in a second, but for now, let’s quickly cover the other features.
These are over-ear headphones with comfy ‘protein’ leather covers and 50mm Neodymium drivers. The battery is good for 30 hours, so you won’t be forever reaching for a USB-C cable to recharge them.
Controls are all on the left side and include a volume control, mic mute button and that SXFI button on the rear, with power at the front. There’s a rubber cover you have to remove the plug in the mic.
The outside of the cups have an integral LED band encircling them: the colour and brightness is managed from the SXFI Control app, but as the wearer, you won’t see the lightshow.
The app also enables firmware updates and allows you to adjust the EQ.
Battery life is as good as the claim: in my testing I only had to recharge once. The wireless connection is also as advertised: super-low latency ensures that there’s none of those annoying lip sync or dropout issues you get with Bluetooth. Range isn’t endless though. While within about five meters of the transmitter the connection was rock-solid, it did become flakey further away, but it’s unlikely you’ll be over five metres from your TV or computer monitor.
Sound quality is also very good: not the best for this price, but certain very acceptable with plenty of bass.
What about Super X-Fi? Initially I had a relatively poor experience, either due to attempting to take the photos myself or having an out-of-date firmware (or a combination of both), but getting someone else to take the pictures and using the latest firmware certainly improved things.
Some people find the effect life-changing, but I wasn’t blown away. Effects in films – mainly action films such as The Matrix – are the most impressive with bullets flying past you and explosions booming.
In games, the effect varies from genre to genre. You may find the positioning off-putting if you’re used to stereo sound in first-person shooters. I rarely play them these days but certainly liked the stereo version better than SXFI. For sim racing, the effect proved great - if not all that realistic - but it did add more ambience and depth to the in-car sound.
Disappointingly, the mic isn't that great: while friends could hear me, they said I didn't sound particularly clear. This was verified by recording using the mic in Audacity and listening to it.
Music was where I’d hoped the Theater would really shine. The theory is that it should sound like you’re not wearing headphones – as if you were in a room with big speakers or even at a live concert. But to me even after the firmware and profile updates, it sounded more like I was outside of that room and the door was shut. Others have put it differently, in that music lacks clarity even if the soundstage is a lot wider and there’s better instrument separation (which it is).
Price & availability
In the US, you can’t get them from Amazon, and there’s no discount from Creative: they’ll cost you $199.99.
For a bit less money you can get the Sennheiser HD 450BT with active noise cancelling (around £150/$160 from Amazon, but being Bluetooth headphones that’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison.
You’ll find a range of options in our roundup of the best wireless headphones.
As I said at the start, the SXFI Theater is aimed at a very specific audience, which immediately limits its mass appeal. If you regularly watch movies where surround sound is prominent and you watch them on your PC, PS4 or Switch, then these cans should be right up your street. If you also play games, even better.
While you can hook them up to other devices using a traditional 3.5mm cable, the Super X-Fi is lost, as is the wireless benefit.
At this price, you can get better stereo sound and also active noise cancelling, but if a stable, low-latency connection is also a priority and you want great battery life, then you should be very happy with the SXFI Theater.
Creative SXFI Theater: Specs
- Weight: 346g (12.2 oz) with mic, 339g (12.0 oz) without mic
- Color: Black
- Wireless Transmission: Proprietary Digital 2.4 GHz
- Frequency Response: 20–20,000 Hz
- Driver: 50 mm (1.97 inches) Neodymium magnet
- Operating Range: Up to 10m / 33 ft
- Wearing Style: Over-ear
- RGB Ear-Cup Rings: Choose from 16 million colors
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