Creative Aurvana Live! Review

The Creative Aurvana Live! is a closed headphone that I recently had the opportunity to try and I believe that it is definitely one of the best ” value for money” purchase as well as an excellent headphone at the sub 100 cost.

The Creative Aurvana Live! is an offering from the Aurvana range of products that Creative offers (as we’ll have it for my typing comfort sake!) is a deceptively simple looking pair of headphones. The glossy earcups are the first thing that will strike you out of the box, that also means that it is going to be a fingerprint magnet. The headphone does not boast a great build but my “guess” is that it actually is tough enough to survive as a carry-around portable or travel headphone for everyday use. The whole frame is made of plastic with a metal band bringing up the clamping area of the headphone. The box comes with a carrying bag, 6.3mm stereo adapter and a 1.5m extension cable. A special mention to Creative’s frustration free packaging, I still remember how I had to fight with the Sennheiser HD448 blister packaging! The Creative Aurvana Live! feels really light in the hands and has this ” aura of coziness” about it. The 40mm “bio-cellulose” diaphragm is held in plastic earcups covered with soft leatherette material (great for winter days). As a headphone designed for use with portable music players the CAL! has an impedance of 32 Ohms and is driven well by all almost all portable music players.

Comfort:

The CAL! reaches a level of comfort that I have not experienced even from headphone models costing 5 to 6 times its cost. The clamping force is almost non-existent and is very  similar to the HD448. I even wonder how Creative manages to keep the little isolation that it provides with such paltry clamping force (guess the leatherette earpads do that job!). The headphones disappear once the music starts playing and that’s how I like it. The upper part that sits on the head has little foam cover, but that does not deviate from the overall comfort the CAL! provides. The 1.2 meter cable is fine for my 5’10 stature but if you’re taller than the provided extension cable is a nice touch. The CAL! is really light (210 grams) and just disappears once I hang it around my neck like any portable headphone should. The earcups envelop my ears (circumaural) but I can easily see that they might not for users with larger ears (becoming supraural) resulting in even less noise isolation.

Sound:

Lovely, warm and very musical. Driven straight out of my iPod Classic the CAL! does a beautiful job of most types of music that I throw at it. The vocals are slightly recessed (or it’s just the highs creating the feeling!), clear sharp treble with decent extension, lovely midbass – bass is present, not so much sub bass and rumble, but clear tight lows. The soundstage  feels as good as the HD448s and the musicality of this headphone definitely bests both the Superlux HD661 and the Sennheiser HD448. I’m a proponent of uncompressed music and prefer using lossless files whenever possible and would recommend that music lovers need to experiment with the same. My personal experience is that the headphone or IEM that one uses can greatly affect the clarity or resolution of these lossless files and believe is one of the reasons that people often don’t notice the difference compared to an mp3 file. The Creative Aurvana Live is a headphone that will definitely help appreciate lossless and higher resolution music be it on a computer or a portable music player.

Upon connecting my Fiio E11 to the CAL! I was expecting that the bass would probably get a bit too strong but to my surprise, that never happened. There was a slight improvement in definition overall and that’s all I could experience! So there is little to almost no improvement in adding an amp to this headphone (which is good and bad!). Performance is very much similar when connected directly to a laptop so its great for movies and casual gaming as well. As Tyll’s review at Inner Fidelity and the good folks at HeadFi have shown the Aurvana Live seems to be a reincarnation of the Denon AH-D1001. The bio-cellulose based diaphragm is still used in today’s Denons like the AH-D 2000,5000 and 7000. Not long ago, I had spent a short time with the AH-D2000 and could actually feel the “Denon sound” in the CAL! The D2000 is in a completely different category than the CAL! and therefore outmatches it, but the “flavour” of the sound is very similar.

(Courtesy: http://www.innerfidelity.com)

In conclusion:

The Creative Aurvana Live! is a crowd-pleaser with its warm and mid-bass bumped detailed presentation. The sub 100 buck headphone market is one of the hottest and the Aurvana Live is a capable entry, though not a popular one. Newer arrivals like the Sennheiser HD449 face some stiff competition from the CAL! considering the price and quality delivered, lets not forget the Superlux HD661 as well with its unbelievable price point.

Creative seems to be one of the under-appreciated players in the headphones market and its offerings like the Aurvana Live! seem to be lost midst the celebrity endorsed, ridiculously colored or funky design headphones crowd out there. The CAL! is a well-rounded headphone offering that should be a very good choice for the general smart music listener looking for slightly neutral presentation and isn’t looking for a bass-head headphone. The only setback that one can associate with the Aurvana Live is the poor isolation that it offers but I have had no problems using it outdoors since that also makes it a sufficiently safe choice as well!

As a well-rounded headphone offering its not suprising that eventhough it  does not enjoying popularity it does seem to have a strong fan following. In fact there are a whole bunch of mods that these die hard fans have come up with which seems to pretty much make the Aurvana Live an awesome buy for the money.

Update: Seems like the CAL! is getting popular, CNET just published its best headphone picks for under 100 bucks and guess what’s at the top!!

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Sennheiser HD448 Review

I am a contented IEM (in-ear monitor) user and the HD 448 was an impulse buy which turned out to be AMAZING! So you now know what to expect further into the review. The Sennheiser HD 448 is a closed-back full size headphone that performs admirably well in the pool of headphones that it competes with.

I have been listening on the Sennheiser HD448s for almost 3 months,  if over-the-ear headphones are you’re thing then there just isn’t anything (in this class) under the $100 or 100€ mark that will best this beauty. Now that earlier statement may not hold true for long since there are always price cuts!

The HD448 fall into the over-the-ear class of full size headphones. These envelop the complete ear lobe (the over-the-ear) and the ear-cups are designed with sufficient space to do the job.They also fall into the closed design class which means they do not leak sound and offer some isolation (more on the isolation later). The HD 448 was designed for use with portable music players (as Sennheiser says) and their size is quite reasonable. and generally does provoke stares from people around (oh, I should say that if you do get some looks it’s probably the styling on the ear-cups ;-)).

Sound Quality

The biggest advantage that the 448 offers is the clarity/resolution that just blows away anything I’ve heard before. Clarity of sound is something that I’m not sure that I would be able to explain satisfactorily, but let me try. Every chord or beat or frequency is so clear – the best way to experience this is the first time you put on the 448 after using your regular headphone. Now if you go back to your older headphone you’ll definitely notice the muddy spectrum of sounds. An example that strikes me is with photography, you’ve shot with point & shoots and then switched to a SLR with a fast prime lens – now you suddenly notice how you’re primary subject is so sharp! That’s exactly what I’m talking about in terms of sound.If you’re a bass lover, stay clear of the 448s – there are other cans out there which will satisfy you more. Though the bass on the 448 is decent but it’s nowhere close to the oomph  that even a cheap pair of in-ears (though the bass is going to be muddy!) can deliver (Check the frequency response of the Sennheiser CX-300s in the image below). My earlier statement should not be misconstrued as “no bass”, the bass response is clean but not very deep nor is there much “attack”.  If you like balanced or neutral sound then the 448s are definitely the way to go.The HD448s were designed for midrange beauty or vocals and that’s where it shines. Its not easy switching to neutral listening styles, I started out with the CX300 and have been moving down/up ever since (Koss porta pro and the Shure SE 210). Initially, I felt that the bass was too faint but I gradually settled into the levels within a few days (though not without withdrawal effects ;-)). I can’t stress enough that these headphones are tuned for midrange response – and it really does that very well.The vocals on most pop and Indian music is fantastic and very musical. Soundstage is good after the initial burn-in period though initially it was a bit constricted (guess I am making an unfair comparison with my semi-open headphones!).

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For more detailed technical  test data check out Inner fidelity headphone data sheet.

Comfort

Wearing comfort is a primary concern when going for a full-size can, the Sennheisers are just masters at making the best fit. The longest I’ve managed to wear my 448 was about 5hrs and after which I actually fell asleep with my cans on..I had totally forgotten that they were there in the first place! The clamping force is gentle, yet the fit is firm – which provides decent noise isolation. The isolation can ofcourse not be compared to in-ears but the seal is decent enough to get you through busy streets and on flights. The isolation may not be sufficient in really noisy environments such as underground transport stations.

To amp or not to amp?

Sennheiser suggests the HD448 as a great accompaniment to portable music players, which it definitely is – but does it really flex the muscles of this headphone? Unfortunately the answer is no! A 32 ohm impedance rating on this headphones suggests that it should play very well with most of the portable music players. The reality is though the HD448 does a good job with most portable music players including mobile phones, it just seems to lack that shine which is very prominent when an amplifier is introduced. I’ve listened to the HD448 on an iPod Nano, iPod Classic and the iPhone as well and always noticed that… something was just lacking!. Throwing in a Fiio E7 or an iBasso T3 just made the HD448 outshine itself. The tonality and the attack on the base notes and the timbral response definitely seem to be enhanced by introducing an amplifier. Ofcourse that could just be a personal subjective opinion, but I would earnestly ask you to give it a try and see if your experience is the same.

Verdict

I have no second thoughts about recommending the HD448 as a worthy buy for the discerning music listener. Remember that most music lovers are inevitably addicted to inordinate amounts of Bass (with a capital B), though the HD448 has a “decent” amount of well textured low-end it might not be enough for everyone and I would therefore recommend that you try the headphone before buying it! The headphone definitely gets better with burn-in (around 20 hrs) and the bass as well gets a little better. The HD448 is on the Headroom’s Top 10 list which adds to my opinions about its value, that said if you love bass and strong bass – look elsewhere!

Update:

Sennheiser has recently come out with the follow-up to the HD448, you guessed it right! HD449 – which looks equally cool and from the specifications online seems pretty much the same. But, it’s never a good idea to judge a headphones by its looks and specification so if you’re looking into the HD448s check out the HD449 as well – unless you get a good deal on the HD448 ;-). I’ll post a review of the HD449 when I get a chance to test it out.