If someone offered you a pair of $150 headphones that sounded better than the same company’s $300 alternative, you’d probably consider the lower-priced pair a steal. But when it comes to noise-canceling headphones, that logic isn’t applicable: headphones with active noise cancellation routinely cost at least twice as much as comparable headphones without that feature, delivering lower fidelity with the benefit of circuitry that lets you tune out ambient sounds. That’s the story with Creative’s relatively recent Aurvana Live! Headphones ($150) and its earlier $300 Aurvana X-Fi Noise-Canceling Headphones. Both are very good headphones, but require added physical space that iPod owners may or may not be able to allocate.
Of the two headphones, Aurvana Live! is unquestionably the better-sounding. Using bio cellulose diaphragm drivers to deliver what Creative claims is “revolutionary performance” for the price, the Live! headphones are surprisingly light by earcup-style headphone standards, but deliver sound that’s pleasing to the ear, if not stunning. Tested without reference to another pair of headphones, Live! produces audio that is relatively clean and reasonably balanced, without dramatic overexaggeration of any portion of the audio spectrum. Creative’s sound signature here uses a little midrange and mid-bass boost, with a correspondingly small elevation of the treble, for a balance that keeps you focused on the highs and mids most of the time, except for when there’s a significant bass presence in a song; Live! lets you hear all but the lowest bass, and then, without boominess, and with only slight mid-bass distortion. Again, we’d categorize the sound as “very good” when compared with peers that don’t have any extra features, such as active noise cancellation, and they sound better than same-priced headphones with that feature, such as Logitech’s Noise Canceling Headphones.
Live! is also a fuller-frequency headphone than the more expensive X-Fi. Highs are a little higher, and lows are a little lower, with a slight uptick in clarity as well. Live! also benefits from a little more efficiency than the X-Fis, such that a lower iPod volume level can be maintained in the less expensive earphones, with equivalent apparent amplitude of your music. Physically, Live!‘s earcups are also smaller than X-Fi’s, but use a size we consider to be nearly ideal: just big enough for all but the largest ears, and comfortably padded, too.
The thing about Live!, as with many other headphones—not earphones—we’ve tested, is that it’s not particularly stunning in any way as an iPod accessory. To Creative’s credit, Live! has been designed attractively with glossy black and gunmetal ear shells, a fairly standard plastic, metal, and padded leather headband, and a neutral black cable for connection to your iPod. By full-sized earcup standards, these look sharp and won’t have people laughing at you in the subways or on the streets. They passively block out some ambient noise—not as much as X-Fi, other active noise-cancellers, or a pair of good in-canal earphones, yet enough to let you hear your music over your surroundings without turning the volume up to dangerous levels.
But they’re not especially convenient to actually carry around. They don’t fold up in any way, and you’re supposed to carry them around in a relatively large but simple soft carrying bag. Additionally, though they include both a standard headphone plug and an extension cord, both male plugs are too large for the iPhone; Creative instead includes a 1/4” adapter for use with high-end stereo receivers. While X-Fi has larger earcups, they fold flat to make the headset easier to toss into a briefcase; absent a flattening feature, headphones like Live! often use hinges to ball up, occupying less space in a bag. But Live! doesn’t. For these reasons, Live! is the sort of headphone that is better suited to at-home listening than portable listening, the latter obviously any iPod’s forte.
Overall, Aurvana Live! is a nice-looking, very good-sounding, and reasonably priced pair of headphones that we’d recommend to readers interested in earcups for at-home listening, but as with most headphones, Live!‘s suitability for portable use is limited by comparison with most earbuds and in-canal earphones. Hinges and a more packable shape would make the same audio hardware a better pick for iPod users.
Company and Price
Model: Aurvana Live!
Compatible: All iPods