The first time I felt the charm of earphones came from Creative about 15 years ago … I was still in high school back then. Recently, I received a pair of new headphones from Creative and was offered an opportunity to experience the Zen Hybrid. I can tell you right now that my journey with the headphones has been very smooth and filled with surprises. Hopefully, this review will help you find out whether these could be the next headphones for you.
An impressive box design
I kept scratching my head trying to figure out what it was in the parcel when it arrived a few weeks ago. I could not believe that they managed to pack the headphones and other accessories in such a small-sized package.
What’s in the box:
- Creative Zen Hybrid Wireless Headphone with ANC
- A nice pouch for storage
- A USB cable (0.8m / 2.64 ft for charging only)
- A 3.5mm AUX-in cable (1.2m / 3.94 ft)
- Quick start guides
- A friendly thank-you card
Hardware and design
The foldable design is widely used in headphones due to the space advantage it provides and the great convenience for people to carry when going out. Creative Zen Hybrid weighed 271 grams which should be considered relatively standard for wireless headphones; the storage pouch that comes with the headphone contributes little to the overall weight. This makes the Zen Hybrid easy to store and carry around.
The headphones have an excellent battery life with up to 27 hours of playtime when the Active Noise Cancellation is enabled (and 37 hours when the feature is off). This result far exceeds that of many other brands of competing products. Interestingly, it feels that almost 60% of the noise is reduced by the cushions around the ears, and the ANC will take care of another 30% of the noise. You do not really get ‘crazy good’ performance when it tries to actively reduce the noise, however, I did not experience an ‘airplane ear’ problem that I usually have when using other ANC-enabled headphones like WH-1000XM3.
When wearing the Zen Hybrid, its button layout and operation logic won my heart. Probably it’s just me, but I found it annoying to learn new methods when using headphones manufactured by different brands. Well, maybe we don’t need all brands to have one unified way of music control, but I would rather not spend time on this matter when using a new product. As we can see in the photo, Creative put four physical buttons on the right-hand side of the headphones for Vol Up/Down, Power and ANC.
I am so glad that I don’t have to learn any new methods to change volume or go to the next/previous song when wearing Zen Hybrid. The feeling of being able to get the results you want with your intuition is just amazing. Below is a partial screenshot from the user manual for ‘how to control’. In short, most features can be achieved through a single or long press on the physical button.
If we take a close look at it, there is a little ‘bump’ on Vol+ and Power buttons designed to help the user locate buttons easily without visual attention. A small change can make a big difference. Kudos to Creative!
In terms of wireless connectivity, Zen Hybrid has a Bluetooth 5.0 chip built inside which in theory supports a range of communication up to 240 metres / 800 feet. I did not encounter any problems with connectivity on daily use, except for one time when I left the phone in the bedroom and I walked to the study. Considering that this is a 60-year-old house with double-brick walls, it was totally acceptable to have occasionally interrupted communication in this case.
Creative Zen Hybrid is a pair of headphones certified to be used with Super X-Fi profile. This technology recreates the soundstage of a set of speakers for headphones and enhances the experience through the use of computational audio and complex algorithms for better immersion. Using the headphones alone works just fine, but if you want to get the most out of these headphones, I would highly recommend trying the SXFI app; it makes a huge difference in the sound to your ears.
When launching the app for the first time, it will prompt you to start a head and ear-mapping process. This is to personalise sound and create a most tailored audio holography just for you. However, keep in mind that the SXFI app only plays music from your local storage, meaning this personalised audio experience will be inactive when using any other 3rd party media players such as Spotify and Youtube.
Super X-Fi includes presets for five equalizers and an option for custom EQ. When choosing the certified device, make sure Zen Hybrid is selected, not any other devices. If the wrong device is selected, it will likely result in an unsatisfactory sound experience. Don’t ask me how I know 🙂
Sound quality meets the expectation
I have been using the recommended SXFI music app throughout the review just to experience the best sound quality of the headphones. The Zen Hybrid is powered by two 40mm Neodymium drivers, ensuring the delivery of a thick bass punch. Dynamic drivers are battery-friendly and I personally believe this is one of the reasons why Zen Hybrid can offer a long battery usage for a single charge. The powerful bass and crispy treble are best performed by turning on the SXFI effects in the app. Interestingly, the algorithm seems to tweak the vocals in an unexpected way. It overdoes when enhancing the clarity and I personally prefer to switch off the algorithm for certain genres. As a result, I am very satisfied with what Zen Hybrid brings to my ears, especially for music with more mids and bass.
- Excellent battery life
- Compact and foldable design
- Nice travel pouch
- Ease of controls
- SXFI works on local music only
- Missing codecs – aptX, aptX HD and LDAC
Should I buy it?
Currently, Creative Zen Hybrid is available at $159.95 from the official store. There is a 40% discount when you subscribe to the newsletters, which brings the total down to $95.57 delivered. The black colour costs slightly higher than the white one after the discount, which settles at $104.57. For wireless headphones with decent ANC function, exceptional battery life and crafted by a reputational brand, this is going to be a good buy in my opinion. At this price range, Zen Hybrid stands out from the crowd thanks to Creative’s efforts. I would recommend these headphones to people who have a passion for music or just want to try out a personalised audio experience with a reliable ANC at a reasonable price.