These days, everybody wants a piece of Bose's noise-canceling headphone business—and Creative's new iPhone-friendly Aurvana X-Fi cans are a very worthy contender.
Unlike other Bose competitors such as Sony, Panasonic and JVC, who have gone with discounted pricing, Creative decided to attack Bose at the QuietComfort 2 pricepoint of $299. It's apt, since they are about the same size (yes, bulky), and run on AAA batteries (two as opposed to the Bose's one). They are as comfortable, with large cushioned earcups, and when they ship, they will come with a connector that works with iPhone, no adapter required. (I do not know yet if these will officially be designated "Works with iPhone" but they will "work with iPhone."
Though I haven't done a side-by-side comparison with Bose, or tested Creative solo in the requisite airplane environment, Creative's noise-cancelation technology sounds like it will do the trick. Overall, the sound quality is terrific, with rich, clear bass and if anything a too-bright high end. Clarity is not a problem here.
When I asked Creative reps how they could compete without lowering the price, they mentioned X-Fi, the company's proprietary audio DSP technology. One component is the Crystalizer, intended specifically to flesh out overly compressed MP3 files. The Crystalizer makes extra sense in the intimacy of headphones, and I could definitely hear an improvement when I toggled the feature on.
The final X-Fi feature is the CMSS (Creative Multi-Speaker Surround) processor, intended to spread out the audio and create a virtual surround environment. This is one of those things that depends on the taste of the listener. It changes the mix of the music significantly, but some would argue that by simulating a natural listening environment it is actually doing the track justice. If you can't tell, I am still on the fence about CMSS.
All in all, it's a great product. I still think Creative should have priced it at $250, if only to send a message to Bose that high quality doesn't have to mean exorbitant profit margins. Then again, it's fascinating to watch Creative fighting hard to maintain a premium brand in the ultra-discounted world of knock-offs.