This is apparent with music played through Creative’s own Zen MX player or an iPod touch, but you can also hear it with a stronger source, like an iBasso D2 operating as a USB DAC/headphone amp. On the plus side, the lightweight signature gives pop tracks like Justin Timberlake’s LoveStoned or Take That’s Greatest Day some real punch and energy, and there’s plenty of scope to appreciate the detail in glossy, high-end productions.
Listen to Rilo Kiley’s Under the Blacklight, and there’s lots of nuance and tone in the vocals, and the guitars chime and shimmer, but when the bassline dives low, it gets slightly lost in the mix. The synth and vocal textures in the Prefuse 73 remix of Via Tania’s Drift Away are pristine and beautiful, but without a thick bass the sound loses its warmth.
Forget about anything that needs a powerful bass to work. Help Somebody, from Maxwell’s new R&B opus, BLACKSummer’s night, sounds just too thin to be funky, While DJ Shadow’s Fixed Income is – bluntly – a bit of a battering for the eardrums, the snare drums a bit too dominant in the mix. Nor are the AAs ideal for rock. Mastodon’s Divinations fell pretty much flat, and the rolling bar-room rock of The Hold Steady’s Stay Positive is all detail, no raucous presence.
The AAs fare better with more acoustic or folky music, lighter classical music and small group jazz, where that lovely crystalline high-end gets a chance to shine and basslines don’t have such a crowded mix to get lost in, but as all-rounders the AAs aren’t the best headphones I’ve heard. Nor is the soundstage as expansive as you’d expect from, say, a half-decent pair of over-the-ear headphones.
And this is all serious stuff, because at £169.95 (exclusive to Creative’s online store), you’ve got a right to expect exceptional audio as well as exceptional design. As it is, at this price point Creative is going up against such big hitters as the Klipsch Custom 3s and Image X10s, not to mention Sennheiser’s IE7s and IE8s and the Shure SE420s. Of course, not everyone finds an IEM comfortable, while full-sized ‘phones aren’t so ideal for active use. Given that, the AAs might find some takers, but I’d personally be tempted to buy a cheaper pair of sports earphones for exercise and, say, a pair of Grado SR80s or Audio Technica ATH-AD500s for home.
It’s a shame. I want to love the Aurvana Airs, and I’m even willing to ignore the fact that they don’t provide any noise isolation to speak of (making use on public transport a bit of a no-no). They’re gorgeous looking, comfortable and well constructed, and I can’t say enough how good they are for crisp, clear detail. Were the Aurvana Airs £100 or less, I’d probably be more willing to big them up. However, at the price they are, they really needed to deliver a more convincing all-round performance, sonically. If only they were as beautiful to listen to as they are to look at… oh well. I guess that’s asking a bit too much.
Stunning looks and superb engineering, but the sound isn’t quite in the same league. Given the high price you could do better.
Score in detail
Sound Quality 7