If you are searching for budget ANC headphones, the Creative Zen are a decent option. They don’t have the performance of Sony’s ANC solutions, nor are they as comfortable after long listening hours, but you will pay half the price to get the Zen headphones.
This review is about the Creative Zen headphones, but I must share my pain. I have been using Blackview’s AirBuds 5 Pro Bluetooth in-ear hands-free with ANC for the past months, and I was content until I started feeling weird after using them a full 6-hour time, having some muscle ear pains. For the story, Blackview’s AirBuds 5 Pro Bluetooth are affordable and resemble the Airpods from Apple, with a vast price gap between them of more than 100€!
After my painful experience with the earbuds, the time had come to search for over-ear headphones, to refrain from problems after many hours of use. The Zen Hybrid, with both wireless via Bluetooth 5.0 and wired options through a 3.5 mm analog jack, are the headphones that fell into my hands. At the time of the review, their price from the Creative’s official website is 66€ for both colors because of a promo offer. The original price is 110€. At this point, it’s fair to point out that this is an ANC set of headphones with hybrid technology. Dare to say that with a short online search, I found only a single pair of headphones with ANC and a lesser price than the ones reviewed, the Tronsmart Apollo Q10, at 40€.
Box & Bundle
A fabric-carrying pouch is included in the box, along with a 3.5mm audio cable for a wired connection, a USB-C port charging cable, and a quick start guide.
If you want a better carry case than the one provided, you will have to spend a notable amount (40 dollars) to get one from Creative.
A Closer Look
My set is one white color which, to be honest, I am fonder of since most high-end headphones tend to be of black paint. White color distinguishes you from the crowd even though it tends to get messier often. Comfort matters before the sound quality for most, as it should; therefore, Zen Hybrid’s headband is padded with a synthetic leather cushion and reinforced with steel, providing such a rigid frame. The headset is light which plays a significant part if you keep them on for a prolonged time.
Moreover, the earpads have memory foam padding for extra comfort. The earcups swivel 90 degrees, making them extra compact; thus, you may store them in more than a couple of ways so that you don’t always wear them around your neck. Yet, mind in summer times or while training cause, this headset cannot tolerate sweat or water.
A nickel-white gold lettering is imprinted on both earpads with the model’s most important features, such as the ANC tech. Zen Hybrid headset operates over Bluetooth 5.0 with an operating frequency between 2402-2480 MHz and supports the SBC and AAC audio codecs, not the AptX. AAC and AptX are both steps up from SBC. Different devices might support both codecs; AAC is most common on Apple devices, while AptX is usually preferred for Android devices. AptX codec is basically for latency, or sync delay, and can stream much more quickly than SBC. Even so, a user might hear a slight difference only with the aptX HD codec.
Powering On / Off
The right earcup has all the physical controls, a power/pairing button, the ANC button, and the volume rocker. As depicted in the pictures above, Creative has assigned multiple functions to each control that differentiate according to how many times or for how long you press each button. This, of course, means that an end-user needs to get accustomed to each button’s functions. LED indicators will assist you while engaging with the headphone’s functions. Additionally, a female voice announces most of the adjustments selected, which is a clever and helpful detail since the buttons and LED indicators are not visible to the user once put over the head.
The power button activates Google or Siri, the voice assistants, but is only supported when the headphones are connected via Bluetooth and can pause/play audio. Besides adjusting the playback volume, the rocker can be held down to go back to the previous track or pushed up to skip to the next one. The controls are responsive and easily traceable by one’s fingers.
The ANC button is the only one with a singular purpose. By pressing it once, you enable the active noise cancellation, and with a double press, it turns to ambient mode. The imprinted “L,” which stands for left, and “R,” which stands for right, on each earcup are printed on the inside, thus not visible enough. I still mess with the correct orientation.
Audio is delivered internally via 40mm neodymium drivers, which provide a frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz with an impedance of 32 ohms. I did not get distortion to any noticeable degree with quality audio tracks or most YouTube soundtracks. Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the Zen Hybrid’s balanced audio performance, which clearly reproduces individual elements of a soundtrack.
Active Noise Canceling
This is not the first headset with ANC technology I have used, so I have an impression of what I expect to hear from an ANC headset. The ZEN Hybrid’s earcups provide a decent level of passive noise cancellation, with the company claiming they can cut out up to 95% of background sounds. The ANC mode proves capable of handling low-frequency rumble. But the ANC struggles against higher frequencies and sudden sounds, and as such, it can’t completely eradicate the rumble of a busy road or a loud nearby voice, which is optimal if you are joking close to a busy highway. Moreover, this mode adds a bit of a masking hiss to the signal. Passive listening, or the ambient way, serves its purpose, filtering most of the external sound into the audio to increase your awareness of your surroundings.
The 3.5mm jack for passive listening sits on the right cup between the ANC and the power button. The left earcup houses the USB-C port for the included charging cable. The mic array works fine. I didn’t have trouble understanding every word from a test recording, and my friend on the other side of the line could hear me loud and clear. While in range of Bluetooth, the calls were unobstructed and clear, and so were the audio tracks.
Wireless Battery Life
Battery life is set to last roughly 27 hours with ANC turned on. Still, several factors, such as the volume intensity, affect how quickly the battery will deplete. For the best outcome, it is advised to use the wireless mode while outside and the wired one for when the power is running low or when you sit down at your desk. With the provided USB-C cable, the battery takes around an hour and a half to fully charge.
Super X-Fi app APP for Mobile Devices
The Zen Hybrid headphones support the brand’s proprietary Super X-Fi holographic audio technology. The Creative Super X-Fi app (available for Android and iOS devices), like many other apps, forces you to create an account and, optionally, a head mapping that will enable you to have a personalized audio profile trying to emulate a multi-speaker system, expanding the sense of space within and improving instrument separation. However, you need to remember that by the time you’ve mapped your head for the Creative’s App, the Singaporean company will own your email and access your camera and mic like many other software apps! This is just a bit of food for thought! We didn’t see any settings in the app for automatically powering down the headphones, so you should turn them off when you aren’t using them manually.
The sample music in the app unravels an impressive sound, and the equalizer makes a recognizable difference in the changes. Unfortunately, its application is restricted. The EQ works only when listening to locally stored music files. While most people tend to use streaming services like Spotify or YouTube, this sadly needs to use the perspective’s app capabilities.
Creative has launched reliable products through the years, and the Zen Hybrid headphones fit the profile. One of the most important factors is the price tag when purchasing a product, and this one has a good value for money. The Zen Hybrid headphones have well-balanced audio and decent noise cancellation that’s effective in most environments. ANC mode doesn’t affect the sound signature, and no distortion from the increasing volume was depicted. The female voice, which announces the adjustment, makes life easier. The same goes for the cushioning for extra support without adding weight to the headphones. With the 3.5mm audio cable, you can have extended battery life to enjoy your listening sessions carefree. I shall keep using them till they wear off since they fit everywhere, and their white color makes them hard to get lost. However, on the downside, I wish the EQ could be further used in streaming platforms and if you want them for training sessions, think again before opting for these because they are not sweat-free. Finally, there should be an option to use the app without signing in.