The Creative Zen Hybrid are ear-enclosing closed wireless headphones that score points with their compact design and active noise cancellation.
With the Zen Hybrid, Creative have expanded their headphone portfolio with a pair of closed, circumaural Bluetooth headphones that offer several interesting features. In addition to active noise cancellation (ANC: Active Noise Cancellation), an ambient mode is also included. And in combination with the manufacturer’s SXFI app, the Zen Hybrid should enable a listening experience with a virtual multi-speaker system. We checked whether the Zen Hybrid is rightly named “Zen”
As befits lifestyle headphones, the Creative Zen Hybrid come in an unpretentious box that contains all the important information about the headphones for those interested. A glance at the enclosed quick start guide is therefore only necessary for Bluetooth pairing of these wireless headphones. The technical details are already explained in detail on the outer packaging. The box also contains an 80 cm long USB charging cable and an audio cable with two 3.5 mm jack plugs. This 120 cm long cable is used to connect audio sources to the headphones’ aux-in jack. A carrying pouch with a drawstring completes the package. Its fabric is velvet on the outside and smooth on the inside. The Zen Hybrid can therefore be protected from dust and transported without being damaged.
Material, construction and technology of the Creative Zen Hybrid
Although the Creative Zen Hybrid only take up a small amount of space, they are a full-fledged pair of ear-enclosing headphones with a closed design. The basic elements are made of plastic, but the head brace is made of steel for great durability. The steel brace is surrounded by synthetic leather. The headband is softly padded. The Zen Hybrid’s swivel and tilt ear cups feature synthetic leather ear cushions that are filled with memory foam. And the ear pads are interchangeable thanks to clipped-in support frames.
The Creative Zen Hybrid feature 40 mm dynamically driven transducers with powerful neodymium magnets. They provide a maximum sound pressure level of up to 117 dBSPL and reproduce audio in the frequency range across the entire human hearing spectrum between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Their impedance of 32 ohms makes them consumer headphones whose aux-in input can also be fed by headphone outputs that have a low output voltage. The headphones connect to playback devices via Bluetooth 5.0 up to a distance of 10m and use the higher-quality AAC codec in addition to SBC. Incidentally, according to the manufacturer, the runtime of the replaceable batteries is an immense 27 hours, even with ANC activated. In addition, recharging for five hours of use takes just five minutes. Hats off!
Creative calls the Zen Hybrid’s active noise cancellation “hybrid ANC” (Hybrid Active Noise Cancellation). Four integrated microphones are used for this. They are mounted on the inside and outside of both ear cups and ensure the best possible elimination of ambient noise. In addition to the suppression of ambient noise through phase cancellation, an ambient mode is also available. It ensures that information such as announcements on railway platforms, conversations in your vicinity and such like can be heard despite the headphone ear cups’ excellent isolation. And, of course, the Zen Hybrid’s push-button controls and microphones also allow you to answer and make phone calls.
The Super X-Fi sound offered by the Hybrid Zen is said to recreate a sound experience reminiscent of multiple speaker listening. To enjoy this feature, it is necessary to install the “SXFI” app. It is available for iOS and Android devices in the official app stores. However, Creative points out that this technology cannot be used with the music from popular streaming services, such as Spotify, Tidal, YouTube and similar providers.
Creative has really succeeded with the Zen Hybrid’s handling. The ear cups can be rotated and swivelled so that the headphones can be stored in a space-saving way. But this flexibility also means they adapt very well to different head shapes. The head size adjustment, the ear pads’ memory foam and the soft headband padding all contribute to the successful handling and comfortable fit of these headphones. If you have large ears, however, you might have trouble fitting into the Hybrid Zen’s rather small and narrow ear cups. However, if they fit, these Creative headphones can easily be worn for hours. The contact pressure of the Zen Hybrid, which weighs only 271 grams, is wonderfully pleasant without compromising the security of the fit. This makes them suitable for everyday use.
The Creative Zen Hybrid’s technical operation is also extremely pleasant. All controls are located on the right earcup and provide sufficient haptic feedback. Bluetooth pairing is accompanied by voice response, and the active Bluetooth connection and ANC mode are indicated by LEDs. Operation of these headphones is straightforward, intuitive and understandable without any learning curve.
The sound of the Creative Zen Hybrid
When you put these headphones on, you immediately notice that the attenuation of external noise is good. Likewise, even at higher volumes, very little audio leaks out of the ear cups. Accordingly, the Zen Hybrid can be used in public without disturbing bystanders with your favourite music. The active noise cancellation also worked flawlessly and only caused a slight hiss. The ambient mode is activated by double-clicking the ANC button. Due to the microphone configuration, this mode reproduces the picked-up and amplified ambient sounds in a stereo impression. This is incredibly practical.
Creative advertises the Zen Hybrid as providing contoured bass and clear highs. At the same time, its sound is supposed to be warm and clearly outline transients. That these headphones live up to this promise becomes clear from the very first sounds that the Zen Hybrid reproduces. The sound of these headphones is characterised by differentiated mids with high speech intelligibility. Even guitar music does not seem too harsh. So these headphones are just as suitable for pop and rock music as for listening to audiobooks and radio plays or for watching films. These compact headphones are surprisingly well-positioned in the bass range. The bass is not fat but clearly contoured, as promised by the manufacturer. And even with sub-basses, these everyday headphones have nothing to fear from the high-quality competition. The Zen Hybrid’s treble reproduction is clear all the way into the super high frequency range and comes across without sibilance. The perception of tonal depth is therefore excellent. And they are also convincing in terms of stereo impression.
With some competitor headphones, activating the ANC feature affects the sound of their reproduction. Not so with the Creative Zen Hybrid. They offer a consistent sound profile with and without ANC mode. The same is true for the Ambient mode. Unfortunately, the voice feedback interrupts the audio enjoyment every time you switch between the different operating modes. This is a pity. If the Zen Hybrid is passively supplied with audio via cable, its sound profile, unfortunately, becomes much more bassy and seems distinctly compressed. This was also a shame because these headphones sound really great when connected wirelessly.
Registration is required to use the Super X-Fi sound. Once this is done, a personalised profile can be created. This includes “head mapping”, where photos of the user’s face and both ears are taken and measured and analysed by the app. However, a second person is required, at least for the ear scan. Music can then be played within the SXFI app. The playback actually helps the audio signal to have significantly more spatial depth and yet it does not seem unnatural. This sound feature is definitely addictive. It is a pity that the app is not connected to popular music streaming services.
With the Zen Hybrid, Creative present a stylish pair of headphones with easy operation, comfortable fit and practical features like ANC and Ambient Mode. Passive and active noise cancellation is so strongly positioned in these headphones that they provide comfortable silence and shielding from the outside world. The Zen Hybrid, therefore, rightly bears its meditative Buddhist name. Thanks to the rich and detailed sound, the sound quality can easily compete with that of many well-known hi-fi brands. And in combination with the SXFI app, the Zen Hybrid even offers a virtualised sound experience that, with its vivid sound experience, has addictive potential.
If you are looking for wireless headphones suitable for everyday use with long battery life, active noise cancellation and excellent sound on the go, then you will definitely find what you are looking for with the Creative Zen Hybrid. The only downsides are the sometimes annoying voice feedback and the inconsistent sound profile in wired mode. Even if the purchase price (RRP €109.99) of these closed, portable headphones is higher than that of many other wireless consumer models, we still recommend them!
- Ear couplingOver-ear
- Transducer principledynamic
- Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
- Impedance32 ohms
- Sound pressure level (SPL)117 dB
- Weight without cable271 g
- Cable length120 cm
What's in the box
- Aux-in cable 3.5mm jack plug (120cm)
- USB charging cable (80cm)
- Carrying pouch
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC, aptX
- BT version: 5.0
- BT profiles: HFP, A2DP, AVRCP
- Where to buy: www.creative.com/creative-zen-hybrid