When it comes to the active noise cancelling, the Aurvana X-Fi headphones are light years ahead of the HN-700s that I reviewed back in 2005, as I'd expect them to be. Creative gave me this particular set while I was out at CES last week, which meant that I had a nine hour flight home from Las Vegas to audition them, and I have to say that they performed admirably during the entire journey. The noise cancelling is very effective, dispelling the vast majority of ambient engine noise on a plane, while achieving similar results in an office environment with air conditioners and loud PCs. Unlike many active noise cancelling headphones I've used, the Aurvana X-Fis don't leave the sound noticeably muffled. There is a slight flattening to music, but the CMSS-3D counteracts this convincingly.
Watching movies on a plane is never going to result in the kind of atmosphere that the director was shooting for, but it's not just the small screen that's the problem, the poor audio also makes it a far less immersive experience than it should be. I watched 30 Days of Night, which is a surprisingly fresh take on the vampire genre, not unlike the excellent Near Dark from yesteryear. A movie like this really needs the viewer to be immersed in the proceedings and sound plays a big part in that equation. Here the Aurvana X-Fi headphones excelled, dispelling all the distracting ambient noise, while the CMSS-3D gave far more depth to the soundtrack, even creating a sense of spatial awareness to each scene.
When it came to listening to music, the Aurvana X-Fis gave a very good account of themselves. With the active noise cancelling enabled, there was no need to push the volume up too high, and as already mentioned, the sound quality didn't suffer too much from the muffling effect that afflicts some noise cancelling headphones. For absolute clarity and fidelity I'd probably still be tempted to plug my Shure E500s in, which also do a great job of shutting out the ambient noise in a plane. Arguably the Creative Aurvana's are more comfortable to wear for hours on end, and I'll admit to being literally deafened on a plane when I had my Shures plugged into the sound system and the stewardess made an announcement, although I really should have been using an attenuator! It's also worth remembering that the Shure E500s are about twice the price of the Aurvana X-Fis.