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  • Cheryl Tan

Creative Zen Hybrid Review: Super Value For Money ANC Headphones at $100

Maybe you want a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. But maybe you don’t need the best ANC performance out there, and you don’t want to spend five hundred bucks on headphones either. Well, that’s where these headphones come in. We have the Creative Zen Hybrid headphones with us today, and they’re definitely quite decent, as you would expect from Creative.

So let’s talk design first. These come in two colours, black and white, and both actually look quite decent. We have the white one with us here, but personally, I think the bronze-ish words on the earcups actually look much nicer with the black version, although if you prefer a more subtle look, the words don’t stand out as much on the white, so yeah. I’m actually not a big fan of putting the brand name and technologies on the earcups, makes it look a bit too much to me, but if you’re looking at it from afar, it kind of just looks like a ring around the earcup, so that’s not too bad.

The entire headphone is pretty much made with plastic, although you’ll notice a steel band that shows up when you’re adjusting the headband. It’s a notched adjustment, which is nice and allows for pretty precise adjusting. Despite the use of plastic, it does feel relatively solid, although I did hear some plastic creaking noises when I was twisting the headband. Put simply, the headphones should hold up fine to regular use, but try not to put them through the wringer.

There’s some padding on the headband, but the padding on the earcups is pretty odd in terms of hand feel. It’s kind of like a pebbled, textured leather that you don’t really see very often with earpads. These are over-ear headphones, but the earcups aren’t really all that big nor that deep. My ears actually are touching the inner mesh cover over the drivers, while the back of my ears is grazing against the earpads. People with larger ears will most likely have an issue here. Here’s a comparison against the earpads of the Apple AirPods Max, you’ll notice the difference immediately.

If your ears aren’t on the larger side though, these will probably fit fine. I wore them for a few hours with my glasses and the clamping force was pretty much just right. No real wearing fatigue to speak of, and no pinching at the crown of my head either. The headphones fold up very compactly, which I love. Most headphones nowadays are turning to just swivelling the earcups and calling it a day. This results in bigger case footprints which aren’t the best for when you want to travel light.

On the left earcup, you get a single USB-C port for charging, while on the right, you get volume buttons, the power on button, a 3.5mm port for wired use and a button to toggle ANC and ambient sound. The power button also doubles as a play/pause button when pressed once, and it turns the headphones on or off when held down. For ambient sound, you’ll have to double press the ANC button. The volume buttons also double up for track skipping. Long press on the volume up button to skip to the next track, and long press on the volume down button to skip tracks backwards. Something that I’m not very fond of is that every time you press a button, you hear a pretty plastic “ping” resonating through the earcup, which isn’t very pleasant.

There are two 40mm neodymium drivers inside, and these headphones support Creative’s Super X-Fi technology, although it’s only Super X-Fi ready, which means that the effect can only be used with local music tracks that you have downloaded on your device and not with Spotify, Tidal or other music streaming services. This is a major downside because most people are using streaming services nowadays, and it really doesn’t have all that much value for consumers if we’re restricted to having the effect only on downloaded songs.

You’ll have to use the SXFI app to activate the effect, and as usual, you get that soundstage-widening effect that makes it feel as if you’re listening to music in a concert hall. If you haven’t done your ear scan, that’s where you get it done as well. Oddly enough, the Creative app doesn’t support these headphones for whatever reason, which means you can’t really adjust many settings or change the EQ.

There’s no wear detection either, so if you don’t want your headphones to run out of battery too quickly, you’ll have to pay attention and remember to pause your music whenever you take the headphones off.

These run on Bluetooth 5.0 and support both SBC and AAC. At this price point, it’s almost impossible for me to ask for Bluetooth 5.2 and aptX, so I’ll cut Creative some slack here.

Battery life is pretty good though, at 37 hours with ANC off and 27 hours with ANC on. I’ll take Creative’s word for it, but I did go a full week without having to charge it once, so yeah.

ANC is actually surprisingly decent. I wasn’t expecting much out of these headphones seeing that they were so affordable, but the whir of a fan or lower-pitched rumbles are pretty nicely removed, although if you’re standing by a busy road, you’ll still hear the roar of the cars. Ambient sound is okay as well, but it does sound rather overly processed. If you just need to have a quick word with it on though, it works perfectly fine.

The sound quality isn’t too bad either, it’s generally well-balanced and clean. The bass does feel a bit subdued though, and you won’t get that thumpy, rumbly bass, which does affect immersion a little. Mids are detailed and nicely separated with plenty of layering for instruments. Vocals get their chance to shine as well, with a pleasant warmth and a good amount of emotion. Listening to Brendon Urie and his falsetto was a very pleasant experience and there wasn’t any sibilance or harshness in the upper registers.

The soundstage is also decently wide, and you get accurate imaging, which is great.

S$149 isn’t expensive at all, for a pair of headphones at this calibre, and right now, there’s even a sale dropping the price down to S$99, which is crazy good value.

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