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Creative Zen Hybrid Review

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Tech Specs

Driver40 mm Neodymium Driver x 2
Ear PadsHigh-quality, soft protein leather
Frequency Response20–20,000 Hz
Connector TypeBluetooth 5.0, 3.5 mm Stereo Input
Bluetooth Operating Frequency2402-2480 MHz

Feeling Zen

I’m one of those people who can’t do anything without having some sort of media in my ear drums. Eating food? I need a YouTube video to watch of course. Doing some artwork? Why not stick an episode on? And perhaps most importantly, music. I simply can’t go on a walk by myself without having my tunes on, or while writing reviews.

So, after being very pleased with the Creative products I’d recently reviewed, I was excited to review their Zen Hybrid. As a music nut, a great pair of headphones is essential; but did I find my zen with these over-ear headphones, or was my experience anything but peaceful?

Songs in Style

A side view of the Zen Hybrid on a white background.
A clean aesthetic can be important.

Firstly, the design; I absolutely love the clean white look with the rose gold Creative logo. I do think the text around the outside of the cups is a little too much and takes away from the aesthetic. However, it can be easily overlooked since its purpose is to play music! That being said, the design overall is very nice, fitting in perfectly with my white setup. Perhaps this is me being materialistic, but they also worked better with some of my outfits than my black headphones do; without meaning to, they do become a style piece as well. I’m sure for some people out there, this aspect is quite important and they may prefer this colour scheme.

The padded ear cushions and headband are comfy, both the adjustable headband and 90-degree swivel ear cups fit securely on any head. I have a small head and they fit snugly without moving. I did find that the headband hurt my head a little after a couple of hours, but I suffer from this with any headphones. Adjusting the headband so it wasn’t sitting directly on top of my head helped greatly, so find a positioning that works for you. Though quite light, the reinforced steel core made the Zen Hybrid feel very sturdy too.

The velvet carry pouch included in the box is also very handy for travelling and keeping your headphones in good shape. The ability to fold them in three different ways means they can tuck away nicely into bags. Since I rarely leave the house without a pair of headphones, this was ideal for me without sacrificing space in my bag!

Music to my Ears

The first time you try a pair of headphones is like the moment of truth; as soon as you press play on a song to test them out, you know whether the sound quality is good or bad. Well, with the Zen Hybrid, the amazing sound quality was instantly apparent. They’re very bassy, which I absolutely love since I listen to a lot of rock music, and there’s clarity to every detail of the song even at high volumes. It’s exactly the level I expect from headphones at a price point of £99.99, which audiophiles will very much enjoy!

What’s better, the Zen Hybrid come with Active Noise Cancellation to really shut out the rest of the world, which personally helps get me in the zone or offer some escapism. This is very easy to activate by clicking the ANC button on the right ear cup, which lights up blue when it is on. Creative claims that it cancels up to 95% of ambient noise, interestingly using a feedforward mic and a feedback mic, “working in tandem to pick up your background noise and cancelling them.”

The Zen Hybrid lie on a stool with a green background.
All you need to find your zen…

Sounds were definitely more muted with ANC on, though without it on the music did a pretty good job of drowning out some noise anyway. I have to say though, I could not hear my partner at all when they were talking right in front of me! This may seem sort of dangerous if you’re wearing them while out and about, but not to worry. By clicking the same button twice, Ambient Mode turns on. You can definitely hear more sound this way, which is ideal when travelling to hear traffic or announcements. I was very impressed with this flexibility to suit any situation.

The SXFI Experience

The Zen Hybrid also come with a technology I have never heard of before; Super X-Fi, which replicates a cinematic multi-speaker system. Intrigued, I downloaded the SXFI app to get started, where you begin by mapping your head and both your ears. I’m not sure exactly how this works technically, but it felt very futuristic nonetheless! I then tried listening to some of the pre-downloaded songs on the app, where you can find music downloaded on your phone too. From this player, you can turn SXFI on or off.

Comparing SXFI on and off, there’s such a noticeable difference which is hard to put into words. It’s almost like with it off, the sound is directly in your ears, then with it on, it becomes all around you. Like it’s inside your head, with even more bass too. It’s a very bizarre experience, but innovative too! The Creative site explains with SXFI “you can hear sounds naturally like how it’s meant to be heard” which is such an accurate description. The sound is less artificial almost. It’s difficult to explain, the best way to understand is to try it out for yourself.

The SXFI player, showing you how to select your headphones, turn SXFI on and off and adjust levels.
A whole new audio experience!

Unfortunately, this technology only works on local music files, rather than streaming content such as Spotify and Netflix. This is a shame since I solely use Spotify for my music, and I’m sure many out there are in the same boat. Purchasing music or having it directly on your phone is a thing of the past, but perhaps having this technology may convince some to do so. Regardless, it’s a nice feature to have that justifies the Zen Hybrid being a premium product.

Flexible Listening

You can use both wireless and wired connections, choosing between Bluetooth 5.0 or the 3.5mm analog jack. It’s good to be able to have a wired connection if your power is running low. Thankfully though, the Zen Hybrid has a battery life of up to 27 hours with ANC on, and 37 hours with ANC off. This is more than enough for me, but of course, it depends on how often you use them. Even if you have, say, 2 hours of commuting a day which you only use the headphones for, that’s a good few weeks’ worth of juice in them. We’ve all been in situations where we’ve realised our headphones haven’t got a charge in them before leaving the house too, but the Zen Hybrid offers 5 hours with just a 5-minute charge.

The Zen Hybrid also has a noise-cancelling microphone. This is not something I’ve used very often, since I use it for music on my phone and I already have a mic for my PC. However, it offers another incentive to people who call often for work, so your voice is clear for your colleagues.

A woman riding a bus carries a coffee cup, wearing the Zen Hybrid
Headphones are the perfect travel companion!

Overall, the Zen Hybrid truly lives up to its name. Shutting out the world and focusing on the tiny details in the music is something I look for in headphones; the ANC and the excellent quality satisfied this perfectly. However, it’s also nice to have Ambient Mode for those situations, for example when I need to hear train announcements when travelling or in traffic. They’re also compact and easy to use once you’ve familiarized yourself with the quick start guide. At around £100, it’s quite a large investment. But trust me, they are worth it if you’re someone looking to enjoy audio at its very best!

Rapid Reviews Rating

4 out of 5

4

You can purchase the Zen Hybrid from the Creative store here.

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