A couple of years ago I reviewed the Creative HN-700 noise cancelling headphones, which proved to be revolutionary. It wasn't the active noise cancelling that was revolutionary, rather the fact that Creative had brought the technology to market at a fraction of the price asked by its competitors. The sound quality wasn't outstanding, but these headphones did a great job of blocking out the drone of the engines on a plane, or the rumble of a train without costing the earth. This time Creative isn't going for the value market, and its Aurvana X-Fi noise cancelling headphones are up against some stiff competition from the likes of the Panasonic RP-HC500E-S and the Sennheiser PXC 450 sets.
Creative is obviously aware of the increased competition in the noise cancelling headphone market, which is why the Aurvana X-Fi headphones offer much more than just noise cancelling. Anyone who's familiar with Creative's soundcards will be well aware of the X-Fi or Xtreme Fidelity branding, and these headphones carry some of the features that those soundcards pioneered.
When Creative first told me about its X-Fi Crystalizer technology I was sceptical to say the least. When the X-Fi soundcards first hit the streets Creative made some bold claims that MP3 files could sound better than the original CD thanks to X-Fi Crystalizer technology. This is, of course, nonsense. A compressed audio file using a lossy codec is never going to sound better than the original CD that it was ripped from, simple as that. However, what the X-Fi Crystaliser did do was try to smooth out digital music that had been encoded at less than generous bit rates.
Obviously Crystalizer can't actually replace data that has been removed during compression, but there's no denying that it creates a fuller sound from poorly encoded files. At its most basic level, Crystalizer emphasises the low frequencies to give the music more weight and coherence, which should appeal to the average listener who tends to value bass over clarity. And anyone who is looking for ultimate clarity and fidelity probably wouldn't consider active noise cancelling headphones anyway. So, having the Crystaliser technology built into these headphones adds a real benefit, and if you don't like the effect, you can simply turn it off.
The second X-Fi technology to find itself integrated into these headphones is CMSS-3D, which creates a virtual 3D soundstage. I'm not the biggest fan of virtual surround sound systems, but even I'll admit that it's handy to have it built into headphones, especially when you're watching movies on a plane. There's no denying that the CMSS-3D creates a wider sound stage that works well when watching movies, and even to a certain degree when listening to music. I found that some music benefited from CMSS-3D and its wider placement of instruments and effects, but some music lost its sense of cohesion as a result, almost like various members of the band were positioned in different rooms rather than together. Once again though, CMSS-3D can be activated or deactivated at the touch of a button, so it's up to the listener whether they want to use it.