Creative was once a huge name in audio. It made the best soundcards, one of the best early MP3 players and some cracking PC speakers. In recent years, it has fallen off the mainstream radar a bit. Can the Creative HN-900 noise cancelling headphones win the brand back some cred? In two words - probably not. But they're not all bad.
The Creative HN-900 headphones are some of the cheaper noise cancelling cans around. They look a bit like the Bose QuietComfort 15, but cost less than half the price. Like the Goldring NS1000 or similar BlackBox M10, these headphones are here to offer a way to get hold of high-quality headphones offering genuine noise cancellation without decimating your wallet
Noise cancellation uses microphones to monitor ambient noise and remove it from the sound waves heading into your ear before they reach your eardrum. How? An inverse wave of the unwanted noise is piped-through, cancelling it out. It's not new, but it is still clever.
With in-ear headphones, noise cancelling results in an ugly, annoying control housing hanging on the cable. But with over-ear headphones like the Creative HN-900, you'd barely know the tech was in there from a quick glance.
The clues take a bit longer to reveal themselves. There are little recessed metal grills on the back of each earcup, under which the monitor microphones live, and there's a power switch on the left cup. This switches noise cancellation on and off, with a blue LED above telling you its status.
The power source for the Creative HN-900's cancellation is behind the right cup. Its top layer swivels around to reveal a single AAA battery. There's no means to charge-up a rechargeable unit within the headphones, so you'll have to either stock up on standard batteries or use a separate charger.
However, battery life is excellent. Creative's official numbers say an AAA will last for 40 hours, and our testing held this out. At one point, we left the Creative HN-900 on over the weekend, and it was still soldiering on come Monday morning - suggesting power consumption is lower when there's less noise to cancel. Sound continues to play when cancellation is switched off too.
The performance of the noise cancellation is less impressive. While it successfully removes hums and a fair bit of low-end noise, it's not as good as Sennheiser's Noisegard 2.0 and not a patch on the quite eerie silence the Bose QC3 and QuietComfort 15 can maintain. As such, in practical terms it's not all that much better than a good set of isolating IEMs or closed back over-ears headphones in many conditions. In situations where low-end noise dominates, such as an airplane cabin, they're still preferable to other types, though.