Where some headphones choose luminous colours, aggressive lines or crazy materials, Creative’s SXFI Theater is a deeply restrained, smart looking headset. We’re talking black leather headband embossed with the Creative logo, black leather ear cushions, and matte black plastics for the earpieces. Barring two silver metal tags at the base of the headband, everything is in Batman’s favourite colour, and they feel solid and well-made, putting up with plenty of pulling and twisting during our testing. They look and feel the epitome of a premium piece of kit, and given their RRP of £189.99 that’s a good thing.
The Theater’s main feature is Super X-Fi holography. That might sound like some macguffin from an Avengers film, but what it’s trying to get at is that thanks to some very clever engineering, the SXFI Theater is capable of producing an audio experience akin to actually being in a cinema, recreating a multi-speaker system in your headphones.
It does this in a number of ways, but one is by personalising the headset’s output to your particular noggin. Firstly you’ll need to download the SXFI App to your phone, and from there you can begin to personalise your experience by taking pictures of your face and ears. It’s probably worth getting someone else to do this for you, as trying to take selfies of your ears on your own is a long and idiotic-looking endeavour.
Once you’re done getting your best side – it’s my left – the app will tailor the Theater’s output to your ears and you can get started. There’s a few more annoying wrinkles here, as in order to actually control the Theater you need a second separate app. There’s about as much sense to it as there is to JJ Abrams storytelling, and it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t immediately set the right tone. Hopefully someone at Creative will see sense and amalgamate the two. The next wrinkle comes in connecting your headset to the app, as it’s about as clear as mud that the CONNECT button is on the USB dongle and not on the headset itself. I’ve just saved you forty minutes of teeth-gnashing annoyance. You can thank me later.
With the second app downloaded you can mess with various EQ settings or create your own, as well as turn the onboard lighting on and off. They’re definitely aiming for the gaming market with the odd choice to include RGB. The SXFI is one of the slickest-looking headsets you’ll probably come across this year, and I don’t really understand why each earpiece has a glowing ring round it, other than to help you find them if you’ve put them down in the dark. Still, if you feel more discreet than 1337, turning the feature off renders the rings nigh-on invisible and nobody will be any the wiser.
That SXFI Theater tag should give you a clear indication of where this pair of headphones’ strengths lie. Watching movies with the Super X-Fi holography enabled gives you a fantastic viewing and listening experience, widening the soundstage, deepening the bass and giving clarity to audio features that would otherwise be lost. Whether watching a crazy action flick like John Wick 3 or enjoying something a little more subdued like Kevin Costner’s Draft Day – look, I won’t comment on what you like, OK? – the SXFI Theater puts you right at the centre of everything.
When it comes to music, the Theater’s advertising blurb offers an experience akin to being at a live concert, and though it fails to spill someone else’s beer on your shoes, the results are deeply impressive across my entire library of music. Super X-Fi’s wider soundstage and additional reverb works wonders on the alt-rock of Foals tracks, while bringing out the vocals of Gunship’s slicker synthwave production. The bass of Avicii’s dance-folk sounds incredible, while you can imagine the Deftone’s grind of guitar is in the same room as you. Largely – though results may vary depending on what your listening habits are like – the Theater sounds utterly remarkable.
They’re great for gaming too. While Super X-Fi doesn’t sell itself as a virtual 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound offering, that’s exactly what it is equivalent to. Journey to the Savage Planet’s alien world was brought to life with Super X-Fi enabled, and where some surround sound options can muddy the overall impact of a game’s audio, the Theater manages to retain each distinct element while adding to it. There’s a PC and Mac version of the app too, which gives you full control of everything outside the ear-selfies and streamlines the experience greatly, avoiding any of the connection faff that the mobile app has.
There’s a detachable mic arm as well for all of your game chat needs, and it slots neatly into place in the left earcup. It boasts a flexible metal build so it’ll stay exactly where you want it to, with clear and consistent audio output the order of the day. It’s a little run-of-the-mill, but it does exactly what it needs to.
You can use the Theater wirelessly on PC, Mac, PS4 and Switch via its low-latency USB dongle and during testing the rock-solid connection showed no signs of audio lag. Oddly, considering the need to connect to the mobile app, the Theater itself has no onboard Bluetooth, with the dongle the thing that hooks up to the app to control everything. You can opt to connect via a 3.5mm connection too (so you can use it with an Xbox One or phone), but disappointingly none of the SXFI features function in this mode.
Still the Theater is a perfectly decent pair of headphones passively, with the 50mm drivers giving plenty to work with, and audio is clear and coherent. Thanks to their decent comfort levels – the headband could have done with an extra few millimetres of foam – and their smart looks I happily took them out and about with me, and you’ll have few complaints hooking them up to your phone. That said, the difference between their passive and Super X-Fi output is considerable, and you might find yourself wishing you were back at home in order to hear them at their best.