Soundblaster EVO ZxR review
Mon 28th Apr 2014 - 5:21pm: Creative
The Soundblaster EVO ZxR is Creative Soundblaster's headline product. This headset is a top-the-range product, being packed with special features, excellent sound quality, and almost perfect ergonomics. This review will guide you through the ins and outs of the product to make sure you're making the right decision when purchasing the Soundblaster EVO ZxR headset.
A high quality luxury product
Right from the get go, you can see the production quality Creative has put into this product. Even the packaging is pristine and eye-catching. When you open up the outer packaging, you'll be greeted by a small fabric pouch containing your brand new EVO ZxR headset - a nice touch that demonstrates the sheer luxury of this high-end product.
As per usual you'll find all the necessary cords and wires, but the ZxR comes with a few more than you'd expect. You should find a USB-Micro USB cable, a double ended 3.5mm audio jack, as well as two female - male 3.5mm audio splitters, one cable and one adaptor version. You'll also notice a mains plug adaptor with a USB port. The USB cable is for charging the headset, and can be plugged into your computer or into the mains adaptor. If plugged into the computer, the USB cable will also carry the audio signal (although with a slight loss in audio quality), meaning you can still use all of the headline features of the ZxR headset even while it's charging. If plugged into the mains adaptor, you can still connect your headset via bluetooth or by 3.5mm jack if you want to keep using it while it charges.
I've only been using the product for a little over a month, and though the array of cables was confusing at first, I have used every single one of them in one configuration or another to satisfy any situation I might want to use the headset in. I haven't even started to talk about the features of the headset itself while turned on, and I'm sure you can already see that this is a unique headset, to say the least.
Excellent form factor
So, by now you'd be trying your brand new ZxR headset on, and as soon as you do, I guarantee any worries about discomfort will instantly dissipate. The interior of each earmuff is lined with a velvet-like material to protect your ears from the hard plastic. The headrest and ear muffs are made of a very soft and comfortable foam, are covered with pleasantly textured faux leather, and stitched together with stylish red thread. Ok, perhaps I'm being a bit too specific about the thread, but it's surprising how much a simple thing like a coloured thread can add to the overall aesthetics and style of the product itself, but back to the form.
I used to use a much cheaper headset that had a much lower quality headrest and earmuffs. I would wear them for hours at a time, and after a while I started to get a sore spot on the top of my head, and my ears would ache from being squashed, making them incredibly uncomfortable, but with the ZxRs I haven't had that problem. The only problem I did have was when I improperly adjusted the headset, and the heavy earmuffs would push down on my ears, making wearing the headset a bit painful. However, once I realised my mistake and correctly set the earpieces, I was more than happy with the headset. Though they are quite heavy, you will likely forget you're wearing them, especially when using the wireless features.
Incredible sound quality and software-based sound customisation
The sound quality on the ZxR is amazing. With an on-board sound processor the headset can really enhance your listening experience. Whether it's bass-heavy music, or the soft whimper of the atmostphere in a horror game, you'll be able to hear every nuance of sound. Coupled with the fact that you can barely feel the headset while wearing it, and the incredible depth of the sound produced by them, it's incredibly easy to get lost in the world of one of the more immersive games, like Bioshock, or Fallout.
I mentioned software-based customisation, this comes in the form of the driver software that you download from the Soundblaster Drivers website. This software contains a host of options. So many, in fact, that I'm not even going to attempt to talk about every single one of them, otherwise you'll be reading until next week. Instead I'll just talk about some of the main features.
When you open up the management software for your headset, you'll be greeted with four main options. SBX Profile, CrystalVoice, Headphones, and Mixer.
The SBX Profile lets you choose between three customisable profiles, Music, Movies, and Gaming. Each of these has a whole bunch of those customisation options I mentioned earlier, too many to list. Suffice it to say that you can customise your experience to optimise for your activity. Need to hear quiet footsteps, but not get blown away by the sound of an explosion while gaming? Well you can customise for that. Want to really feel the beat while listening to your favourite dubstep? Well, you can customise for that. Want to hear clear dialogue without blasting in-scene music in a movie? You get where I'm going with this.
CrystalVoice lets you fine-tune your microphone to your environment, as well as add one of an interesting selection of voice mods to your microphone output. You can also toy with your noise cancellation and echo reduction settings.
The Headphones tab does little more than allow you to test how cool the surround sound on the headset is, while the Mixer tab allows you to set the exact volumes of the various parts of your headset, including setting the left and right earpiece volume separately. This is incredibly useful for people who are hard of hearing in one ear.
A plethora of hardware-based features
Now for the best part, the features that truly set the ZxR headset apart from other headsets. The headset features Active Noise Cancellation, SBX Settings (which are all controlled by the SBX profile tab in the software, but processed by the on-board sound card), Echo Cancellation, Talkthrough (which is a uniqely interesting feature), Media Control buttons, and Bluetooth Wireless Functionality.
The ANC (Active Noise Cancellation) is brilliant. It's really not intended for use in a quiet environment (go figure), so you will notice that it actually adds noise in an otherwise quiet room, but in a noisy setting, like a LAN event, the noise cancellation really comes into its own. With the ANC on, games suddenly become playable without having the volume set deafeningly loud, and you can actually hear your friends on comms. The Echo Cancellation is pretty much included in this, preventing your own voice from echoing through your headset.
Talkthrough is an interesting feature I haven't seen anywhere else. Basically, when you push the Talkthrough button on the right earpiece of the headset, the headset will mute any sound coming from your PC and wire the microphone input directly to the speakers in the headset, allowing you to hear what your friend sitting next to you is trying to tell you, without having the take the headset off.
Now for the best feature (in my opinion), the Bluetooth capabilities. Provided your computer has a Bluetooth adaptor, your headset can mimic all of its usual functions, but through a bluetooth connection. The range was roughly 15 metres when I tested it, though that was through a couple of walls, so it might be a bit further in a large empty space. Although it feels a bit odd listening to my friends talking on Teamspeak while using the toilet facilities, it's certainly nice to be able to do so.
As it happens, the Bluetooth functionality also allows you to connect the headset to your phone as if it were a regular bluetooth headset, but with the epic clarity a top-end gaming headset provides. And yes, this includes using the headset as speakers and a microphone during phone calls. The buttons on the headset also allow you to pick up and hang up on calls, as well as control music etc.
The only let down of the entire headset is the microphone. The quality in terms of gaming comms is not the best. Though the firmware upgrades from Soundblaster and fine-tuning the settings can make the microphone just about good enough to use for comms, it's still not ideal. However, I'm convinced that the microphone is designed with ANC and Talk Through in mind rather than in-game comms. In reality, if you're after clarity and quality in a microphone, you likely already have a condenser microphone and won't need the on-board microphone from the headset.
A genuinely excellent piece of hardware
So in conclusion, this headset is absolutely brilliant. The best thing I've found is how good it is for immersing you in whatever you're doing. It can completely cut you off from the outside world and allow you to truly enjoy and appreciate whatever game you're playing, or music you're listening to, or movie you're watching. And what's more, it can do all that while allowing for both complete comfort with the luxurious padding, and total freedom of movement thanks to the Bluetooth capablilities.