Today we are taking a look at the SXFI Gamer headset from Creative Labs. I did not actually want to review this headset until Creative emailed us with two big claims. The first was that this is the best microphone on any gamer headset – the CommanderMic microphone – so I am going to test out if it actually sounds the best versus my entire gaming headset collection.
The second claim was that it had the best surround sound gaming experience using their holographic algorithm that maps out your ear and your head size in order to give you a more personalized approach to surround sound audio. The surround sound has been specifically tuned for eSports, and that to me is kind of a bizarre element in the first place, because normally you don’t enable surround sound for CS:GO, Battlefield, or Call of Duty, because that usually mutes out all the important elements.
However, Creative claims that their new Battle Mode gives you the best directionality and the best positional awareness, and it also takes into account the distance of audio cues. Not only does it expand your environment, but it does so accurately for eSports. These claims are why I’m excited to check out the SXFI Gamer. I have been using this headset for the past week, and I’m excited to share my experience testing their claims about this being the best microphone in the class and their surround sound mode for eSports games.
Competitors & Price
First of all, it’s pretty competitively priced at $129 USD. It is going against the Sennheiser PC37X and the Logitech G Pro X, but this being a USB Type-C headset you are not relying on any sound processing based on your motherboard or your sound card, as all the processing is done on the headset. The USB Type-C cable here is reinforced Kevlar, whatever that means, but I’m guessing it’s pretty strong. However, it does send a bunch of cable noise directly into the ear cup, so you better not have this rub against your shirt or somewhere else around or move too much with yjr headset because all that movement will be audible. Since it is a USB Type-C headset we have a USB Type-A to USB Type-C dongle, which is pretty compact and most likely will be attached to the actual cable when you travel or when you need to replug it in if you don’t have a USB Type-C cable available on your machine. However, there is no way to actually store this with the headset, so I would recommend plugging it into the cable if you don’t want to lose it.
Design & Build Quality
We also have a 3.5mm line-in beside the USB Type-C, so you can use this headset in wired analog operation, but of course you lose out on that beautiful RGB illumination. I really liked the consistency and uniformity of the illumination, and they are going after the whole Spaceship X gamer-y vibed without looking kind of stupid. Build quality is fine, no rattling anywhere even once you stretch out the headset to almost its maximum.
At 349 grams it’s not exactly lightweight, and most of the padding is actually on the ear cups. They are leatherette, really thick, and feature nice soft memory foam-like material. Unfortunately, there is no padding inside the ear cup, so that means that you can feel the plastic housing of the driver right underneath. If your ear makes contact it will not be comfortable.
Headband & Ear Cups
I’m surprised at how little padding there is on the headbands. For me personally the clamping force is enough to stabilize the headset on my head without relying too much on the headband. The clamping force here is absolutely perfect, no issues wearing this thing for hours, but do keep in mind this is a closed design so heat accumulation inside does happen. There is a bit of wiggle room on the ear cups to conform to your head size and there is some plastic-on-plastic contact noises.
I find it really interesting that the ear cups are removable yet no replacement velour pads are included with the package, which normally come with a gaming headset at this price point. Overall I would say that it is pretty good pair comfort wise and build quality wise. Also given the really thick ear cushions wearing glasses with the SXFI Gamer causes absolutely no issues. Even though this is a really low profile frame there is no clamping anywhere. All of your controls are on the left side with the SXFI button to enable surround sound mode on, off, or enable Battle Mode. There is a volume wheel that has no tactility whatsoever, but volume adjustment is instantaneous, which is great. There is also a mic mute button below.
The microphone is removable and there is no attachable pop filter, but that is only because is built into the microphone itself. I do appreciate the red LED indicating when the microphone is working, and when it’s muted it does flash in red. I also appreciate this LED indicator because it has to face your mouth in order to have the best pickup, because if the microphone is facing down even the slightest bit the volume pickup will be completely different and you will sound way too distant. Lastly, you can change the illumination mode directly from the headset with the button above the microphone, giving you the preset color that you choose versus cycle and off. For a little added user experience there is an announcer voice built-in, so when you change the SXFI modes you can hear what is being enabled or disabled and the same thing with mic on or off.
As far as the CommanderMic microphone, there is built-in sidetone, which is something that is there by default and you cannot remove it. Sidetone means that you can hear yourself slightly, like it’s not completely muted, which I would say is a positive thing, but normally you have the option to adjust the sidetone volume and multiple other settings with USB headsets here. I will say that I really liked the implementation of the LED when the microphone is working, because if I position the microphone slightly down where the LED is facing my mouth the sound is a lot more distant than if I position the LED facing my lips. As for noise suppression, there is a little bit of modulation in my voice recordings because it’s trying to suppress whatever is happening in the ambient environment. If I was to start typing you can maybe hear a little bit of modulation happening.
With RTX Voice now available I think companies are trying to scramble to see who has the best solution in terms of noise suppression, but Creative is trying to do is deliver a more balanced approach that doesn’t completely isolate all the keystrokes and little noises around your environment. Overall, I think it does a good job. As for the microphone quality, I think it has nice bass pickup, good clarity without me sounding nasally nor too muddy. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is a broadcast quality microphone, but it’s definitely getting up there.
Compared to the Sennheiser PC37X, which is is my benchmark gaming microphone, the CommanderMic doesn’t quite match up. The Sennheiser’s microphone has does have a bit more pop pickup, even though it has a built-in pop filter, but it has great bass, nice clarity, and a great full body sound that is not as nasally as other gaming microphones. The Creative mic is closer in quality to that of the Logitech G Pro X. The Logitech was designed in collaboration with Blue VO!CE, the software suite is quite powerful, but the microphone is not capable of delivering what the software can do in terms of changing the different equalizer settings for the vocal pickup. Overall, good but could be better.
Finally, let’s talk about sound quality and whether or not the SXFI Gamer delivers on their initial claim of having the best FPS sound mode AKA Battle Mode. In short, what Battle Mode is it creates this virtual distance awareness that can give you an advantage in knowing exactly how far certain audio cues are coming from. I think it’s still a stereo reproduction, but there is some clever tweaking so that the highs are boosted without it sounding crunchy. While in the Super XFI or SXFI modes it creates a surround sound mode that provides a virtual personalized multi-channel multi-directional audio recreation, yes that is quite the mouthful. To be honest, I lowered my expectations when jumping into a game using Battle Mode, but then I realized how much better it is when Battle Mode is enabled for FPS games like COD, Battlefield V, CS:GO, and Escape from Tarkoff. By default, the headset is quite neutral with a lot of power, this is USB powered after all, with a little double beep when you reach maximum volume. Overall, the headset has good bass, nice clarity on the high-end, the mid-range isn’t pushed too far forward but it isn’t too too close either. I would say that it is a really good sounding pair for gaming by default.
It’s really important to have that baseline covered before introducing any of the sound modes. Let me talk about Battle Mode first, because I think it is quite game changing. In Battlefield V with it disabled the game almost sounds flat, even though it isn’t since it ha a beautiful sound engine. However, when Battle Mode is enabled it is almost like applying contrast to an image, so the highs are amplified, your directional awareness becomes so much more apparent, and like pinpointing exactly where footsteps are coming from and how far they are and on what level they are becomes much easier. Not only do we have verticality, we have very good directionality or distance measurement with Battle Mode. Jumping into CS:GO, I did not find Battle Mode as useful there as I did with the BF5, just because the sound engine in CS:GO is good already by default in terms of being able to hear things and being able to position things within the map. Therefore you don’t necessarily need to emphasize that anymore. In fact, I found it gave me less of an enjoyable audio experience than when Battle Mode was disabled.
The one place where Battle Mode is absolutely amazing is Escape from Tarkoff. In that game you have different headsets that your character can wear to amplify different frequencies of audio inside the game. The Battle Mode almost does that for you without the need to actually wear the headset on your character in-game. When Battle Mode is enabled in EFT I felt like I had an advantage because the highs were boosted, but not too sharp, and this isn’t something that I have been here able to recreate simply with EQ tweaking. I’m not sure what they are doing in their algorithm, and how they are feeding the source audio in here to recreate a really good positional audio reproduction, but it gave me full awareness of verticality and distance. On a small map like Factory I had total awareness of where enemies were coming from, and even when I went through to a larger map like Shoreline I still had perfect distance measurement when a sniper was shooting from like a kilometer away. Basically, Battle Mode kind of gives you an advantage in that sense where you don’t have to boost the volume on the headphone, simply enabling Battle Mode gives you better clarity without it sounding too harsh or like really tinny. Overall, from my experience Battle Mode is helpful in really busy audio engines like Battlefield V and Escape from Tarkov, but I didn’t particularly find it that useful in CS:GO.
SXFI Personalize Audio
Now let’s talk about the SXFI surround sound mode, and that one I’m not entirely convinced is necessary just because there are many roadblocks along the way to get you to actually enjoy it. First of all, you need to download an app on your phone, take pictures of your ear and your face, and it generates a more personalized audio experience when it comes to surround sound. You need to then install an application for the desktop, sign into your Super XFI profile, and use that for the surround sound experience. The issues began from the beginning, I encountered multiple crashes on my iPhone and that normally doesn’t happen. Also whenever I try to download the sound profile through the desktop app it sometimes just wouldn’t download it.
However, when it finally does work it does expand your audio environment, and it is one of the better surround sound modes that I’ve experienced. It is still not as good as what Sennheiser does with GSX 1000, but it is a close second. What is trying to do is recreate audio as if it was playing out of speakers in front of you. In many situations that could be an enjoyable experience, for example if you don’t feel like wearing headphones and having that almost closed sound you can turn on SXFI to give you that open sound. It’s still not perfect as many audio cues in game just completely get pushed too far out, and you don’t hear the particular audio cues that you wouldn’t stereo. For example, the dialogue in Red Dead Redemption 2 just sounded a little bit off when SXFI was enabled. In stereo mode you can still enjoy the environment and it’s massive soundstage without SXFI.
I think it’s conclusion time, and what Creative have delivered here is a headset that is super ambitious and trying to cater to the FPS and eSports market while introducing features that normally should be shunned and pushed aside when it comes to exactly that gamer style. I think they have succeeded here with Battle Mode, because I did not want to play without it in Escape from Tarkov. The microphone quality is close to broadcast quality, but not exactly there. I think they have a bit too aggressive modulation in volume, trying to make sure that you are heard regardless of how loud you speak. It is pretty impressive to hear the difference between the personalized SXFI profile versus it not being there.
I think they are onto something, but it’s going to take a lot of convincing for people because I have been discouraging surround sound for a while, and now I’m kind of flip-flopping back and forth. I still don’t recommend it for everything, but SXFI is kind of cool for a certain genre of games. I still wouldn’t necessarily buy this headset for that particular reason. I think Creative is onto something here, catering to the gaming community with something super unconventional. Maybe more gaming audio brands should follow by adding a little bit of flare to their gaming headsets, so that you can have a bit of an advantage. It is like using the digital crosshair feature that some gaming monitors support to give you an advantage in some titles. In this case it’s kind of like adding contrast to the audio environment so that things that are important are audible and things that are not so important are muted in the background.
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