Like an onion, and indeed ogres, there are many layers to a successful gaming headset. The packaging – the skin if we want to continue this particular food-based metaphor – is your gateway to the product, and even getting this wrong could hurt your chances on the high-street. Peel that wrapper back and you’re into the flesh of the thing; build quality and comfort reign supreme, a tactile exchange you’ll have with them every time you pick them up. Finally, you’re onto the headset’s reason for existing; serving sound – is this the flavour? – down into your ears.
Creative, known widely for their soundcards and DACs, are swiftly becoming master chefs of headset culinary arts, and with the Creative SXFI Gamer, they’ve just served up their finest dish.
As we all know, you can’t go wrong with black, and the SXFI Gamer is an all-black gaming headset. They look, and feel, every inch a premium headset, and sit happily alongside the Sony and Bose in the maturity of their modern headphone craft. The headband is covered with sumptuous-feeling leatherette, and boasts the Creative logo embossed subtly across it, while each earpiece is constructed of sturdy, matte-black plastic, making way to incredibly soft, leatherette-covered memory foam earpads.
The SXFI Gamer is a wired headset, and you have the option of both a traditional 3.5mm connection, or a nice and modern USB-C one, while there’s a USB-C to USB-A adaptor for those of us with big old chonky sockets. Beside these ports you’ll find a number of different controls on the left earpiece, from your pre-requisite volume wheel and mic mute, to a toggle for the headset’s SXFI processing and a button for turning the RGB lighting on and off.
Ah yes. RGB. The luminescent signal that you, and your headset, are ostensibly for G4MeRs. The way PC rigs are these days, you could probably live without yet another light source, and generally speaking I’ll play around with a headset’s different colours before turning the whole thing off.
The thing is, the SXFI Gamer looks pretty damn cool when it’s all lit up, with each earpiece featuring a clock-like wheel that can shine with pretty much any colour the human mind can think of. Like hoverboards on water, it only works when you have power, so if you’re rocking the 3.5mm connection you’ll have to make peace with the darkness enveloping your head, but if you’ve gone for a flavour of USB, whether via PC, Mac, PS4 or Switch, then you can make a start on your Tron cosplay in style.
In the hand, there’s a pleasing amount of heft to the SXFI Gamer, and at 320g, they are heavier than some of the other headsets in this class. That’s offset by the excellent level of comfort that Creative have built into them though, with the weight distributed evenly across your head and ears. You just won’t forget you’re wearing them.
They look and feel fantastic, but what about the main thing you want them to do? At the most basic level the SXFI Gamer is a fantastic sounding headset. Plugged in via 3.5mm with no additional internal processing, the 50mm drivers perform wonders delivering audio to you, no matter the source material. There’s a rewardingly wide soundstage, and the top end cuts through while the bass rumbles beneath. If you’re looking to plug them into a PS4 or Xbox controller be assured that there are fewer better choices in terms of audio quality.
The SXFI Gamer is capable of quite a lot more than just that though, but you’ll need a mobile phone and a PC or Mac to get the full effect. Via the SXFI app, available on iOS and Android, you can create your own personal audio map, which personalises the Gamer’s output by taking pictures of your ears and head – get used to this, because it sounds like we might be doing the same for PS5 audio in the near future.
You can then head into the SXFI Control app on your desktop where it’ll upload everything to the Gamer, tuning its already impressive audio a notch further. I’ve grown to enjoy, and seek out, audio enhancements that actually enhance the sound you’re consuming. Dolby Atmos has been my go-to for a number of years when it comes to lifting music up a notch, or for good quality virtual surround sound. SXFI is, to my ears, a superior offering. Capable of standard stereo, as well as virtual 5.1 and 7.1, it broadens, lifts and expands whatever content you’re taking in. From the new Biffy Clyro album to the streets of Marvel’s Spider Man, if it’s possible to feel “like you’re there”, the SXFI Gamer transports you a good portion of the way.
Besides this central SXFI setting, there’s a Battle mode that enhances footsteps and gunfire, making it perfect for the Call of Duty specialist, as well as a full range of other EQ options. The small number of presets are made up for by being able to create your own. You can dig into the nitty-gritty of each frequency, altering the waveform, or just tweak the Bass and Treble settings until it sounds right. Across all of the platforms – mobile, PC and Mac – the SXFI software was a resounding success, offering rock solid performance and meaningful, moment to moment changes. It’s all you could ask for.
With gaming as the SXFI Gamer’s reason for existence, the microphone is the remaining integral ingredient – I’ve run out of onion parlance, so let’s call it the accompanying garlic? – and Creative haven’t left this one to chance. The menacingly titled CommanderMic also looks like it means business, with a rock solid positional arm, classic grille and built in pop-shield. It’s clear as a bell, offering performance that’s right up there with the Logitech G Pro X and it’s good enough for recording or streaming, even if it won’t quite match a dedicated microphone setup.
The SXFI Gamer is a fantastic piece of audio technology, and it’s jumped straight to the top of our mid-range recommendations. If you were looking at other offerings in the same price bracket, the Turtle Beach Atlas Aero brings excellent audio and comfort to the table alongside wireless connectivity, but certainly can’t match the SXFI Gamer’s sleek design. The Steelseries Arctis 5 meanwhile also ticks a number of the same boxes, but its audio simply isn’t in the same league.