Creative SXFI TRIO hands-on - Triple-driver USB-C in-ears that get the job done and then some
When it comes to Super X-Fi-powered surround sound for smartphone users, Creative has only two options that are easy to carry around, namely the Outlier Gold TWS and the SXFI AMP headphone amplifier. The SXFI TRIO does not simply bring together the SXFI AMP and the Aurvana TRIO, although its name suggests it. The headphone amplifier used in the Creative SXFI TRIO is a compact version of the standalone SXFI AMP that has been tuned for the in-ear buds that complete this hardware assembly. However, the headphones are not identical to the Aurvana TRIO either but are a slightly different version. We will talk more about the differences between the SXFI AMP — Aurvana TRIO pair and the SXFI TRIO a bit later. Sadly, there is no way to use the amplifier separately with other headsets.
To sum up the above, what we have in the Creative SXFI TRIO is a US$139.99 combo that is US$10 cheaper than the SXFI AMP alone. The Aurvana TRIO is usually priced at US$149.99 as well, but at this time there is a promotion that has pushed the price down to US$89.99. In theory, everything sounds great about the Creative SXFI TRIO's value, so let’s move to the practical part and take a closer look at all there is to know about this attractive audio accessory.
Packaging and looks
Although the retail box seems rather simple at first sight, as soon as you open it you realize that this is a premium product. For example, the retail box is quite sturdy and has a magnetic closure system so it can be easily labeled as one of those that should not be thrown away after the unboxing process is over.
Inside the box, there is everything you need — maybe except a good-looking poly-carbonate/textile carrying case/pouch instead of the flimsy and unattractive silicone one provided by Creative — along with the documentation and the SXFI TRIO, there are no less than five pairs of ear tips with sizes between 10 mm and 16 mm, a USB-A to USB-C adapter for those who want to use it with a computer, as well as a detachable clip.
The SXFI TRIO itself looks great, not to mention how solid it feels handling it thanks to the custom-made Kevlar cable. The earbuds house the triple-driver system inside a flattened cone body that features a reflective metal golden plating at the back and an angled nozzle for the ear tips. The black and gold combination looks great and makes it very easy to wear the SXFI TRIO with most outfits possible without seeming out of place.
As I mentioned earlier, there is no way to remove the headphones and use the amplifier in the same manner as the standalone SXFI AMP. This is the trade-off for having the amplifier and the headphones in a single package. Sadly, if anything should malfunction, then the whole unit has to be replaced or sent for repairs.
Specs and features
The Creative SXFI TRIO uses three drivers, each with a clear purpose. The two balanced armature drivers handle the middle and high area of the audio spectrum, while the 10 mm bio-cellulose dynamic drive comes in to pump up the bass.
The essential technical specs of the SXFI TRIO below are next to the ones of the standalone SXFI AMP (Aurvana TRIO for the frequency response) to get a better picture of the minor differences between the two solutions:
- Inter-modulation distortion: 0.008% vs. 0.0022%
- SXFI amplifier module size: 40% smaller
- Signal-to-noise ratio: 100 dB vs. 120 dB
- Frequency response: 8 Hz – 30 kHz vs. 5 Hz – 40 kHz
In addition to the above, I should also add the inline microphone that gets the job done wonderfully in both phone calls and voice-chat services and voice-recording scenarios that take place on a computer. However, using the SXFI TRIO with a PC placed on the floor next to the desk is almost impossible, even when connecting the cable — which is roughly 1.2 meters long — to a front-facing USB port that is located on top of the case.
Before moving on, I should also add that the Creative SXFI TRIO can deliver 24-bit 96 kHz audio in 2.0, 5.1, and 7.1 formats. Obviously, the whole audio experience revolves around the SXFI surround sound, but I found the pure stereo sound provided by the SXFI TRIO to be impressive as well.
Real-life usage: ergonomics, software, and sound quality
Although it felt strange when I put the SXFI TRIO on for the first time, the proprietary AuraSeal noise isolation ear tips helped me seal the deal properly, providing both a good level of protection from external sounds and also a solid fit that helps if you're head-banging or just dancing around while enjoying your music. The only minor nuisance is that, sometimes, the Kevlar cable generates cable rubbing sounds when it touches the wearer's clothes, so at least one or two more detachable clips would be a welcome — and very cheap — addition to the retail package.
When used on a PC, the Creative SXFI TRIO is a plug and play device that needs no additional software. However, a smartphone is also needed to create custom SXFI presets by running the SXFI App and scanning the user's head and ears. We are talking about the same piece of code that is used to connect to the Sound Blaster X3 and load SXFI presets — nothing new or different.
Sometimes, when I review audio hardware, I lend it to a friend of mine who also happens to be an audiophile and Creative fan. However, his opinion was always spot-on and in line with my thoughts, since we both like to take the honest approach every time. In this case, it is enough to mention him saying that the Creative SXFI TRIO managed to cause him an “audiogasm” while listening to the Doom 2016 soundtrack and that he noticed absolutely no sound distortion, even at maximum level where all the other headsets failed to deliver such accuracy.
For me, the Creative SXFI TRIO gets the job done wonderfully in all scenarios, although I sometimes feel like there's a bit too much treble. The best part is that — as my friend says — there is no noticeable sound distortion even when pushing the volume to the maximum. The signal-to-noise ratio of 100 dB might not seem that much to some audiophiles, but to me it is more than enough and I found that a volume level of roughly 70% was the sweet spot where all areas of the audio spectrum get the best representation possible.
The Super X-Fi experience provided by the Creative SXFI TRIO comes, as usual with this innovative technology, with highs and lows. Simply moving to it back and forth does not help, because most listeners notice that the direct stereo sound is more detailed. However, enabling the SXFI effects makes everything better straight away in scenarios like making calls or listening to music for longer periods, since the audio that is projected out of the head is less fatiguing.
The good, the bad, and the truth
Almost everything about the Creative SXFI TRIO is top-notch: the design, the materials used and the build quality, not to mention the overall sound experience. Being able to keep the earbuds together when placed back to back is a nice touch, but the magnetic force holding them in place is not always strong enough. The custom-designed Kevlar cable is excellent and the retail package contains ear tips for virtually any ear size.
Unfortunately, what ruins the perfection of the retail package for me is the protective silicone case. The material used feels flimsy, gets dirty too fast and too easy, and it is also prone to failure in the long run. I also think that it would be nice to see Creative SXFI TRIO added as a supported device to the Sound Blaster Command software for Windows so more adjustments could be done to the audio output. Strangely enough, I simply was not able to use the Creative SXFI TRIO with the FiiO M3 Pro, although many other USB-C headphones work with it like a charm. I cannot tell yet if it is Creative or FiiO that is to blame here, so I am waiting for one of the next firmware updates from both companies to take care of this problem. When using the headset, the amplifier gets warm, but since it does not get too warm in my opinion, nobody should worry about this part as long as they are not in a very hot tropical area (the SXFI TRIO is supposed to work between 0 and 45 °C — or 32 and 113 °F).
For US$139.99, the Creative SXFI TRIO is a great deal that should make many users happy, no matter if they are using a phone — no iPhone support, unfortunately — or a computer.
Disclaimer: The author of this review received the Creative SXFI TRIO from Creative Labs free of charge for the purpose of testing.