In May, Creative introduced the Zen Hybrid, a new over-ear headphone with ANC which, in our opinion, already had some visual parallels to Bose’s QuietComfort series. After the successful Creative Outlier Pro (our review), will the manufacturer manage the next stroke of genius? That’s the question we’ll answer in our Creative Zen Hybrid review.
|Headphone type||Over-ear (closed)|
|Bluetooth codecs||SBC, AAC|
|Maximum operating range||15m (without obstacle)|
|Battery life||Up to 36 hrs|
|Weight||271g (without cable)|
|Connectors||USB Type-C; 3.5mm jack|
|Scope of delivery||Creative Zen Hybrid, USB-C charging cable, 3.5mm jack cable, instructions, carrying pouch|
|Price||€ 59.99 *|
Creative Zen Hybrid review: what’s included
The over-ear model Creative Zen Hybrid also comes in a manufacturer-typical rather plain white cardboard box, which surprisingly turns out hardly larger than that of the in-ear model Outlier Pro.
To say it right away: This is due to the fact that the Zen Hybrid can be folded inside, which makes it surprisingly small. The headphones don’t just lie in a cardboard box, however, but are presented in a gray cloth bag, which is great for on the go.
The headphones are complemented by a USB-C to USB-A cable for charging (80 cm in length), as well as an additional 3.5 mm jack cable (angled at one end, 1.2 meters in length) for wired use. Instructions, safety information, and a 6-month extended warranty round out the package.
Design and workmanship
The first look is pleasing. So does the second. Yes, the Creative Zen Hybrid is a really pretty over-ear headphone. In a matte white color, it comes along. The ear pads are set off in light gray and provide a harmonious contrast. The lettering on the outer sides, in the ear cups and the ANC button is in a shiny gold tone. That already looks very chic.
Great value has also been placed on a space-saving design. Both ear cups can be folded inwards, which means that the headphones are only 130 mm high, and they can be turned in.
We already know this in a similar form from Bose, such as the QuietComfort 45 (our review), which obviously served as inspiration for the new Creative model. From the ear pads to the shape of the shells to the buttons: much is reminiscent of Bose (but not the workmanship, but more on that in a moment).
On the outer sides of the ear cups and inside at the transition to the headband we find the microphones that are responsible for external noise. The USB-C port, which is used to charge the headphones, is located on the bottom left. Next to it is a status LED that informs about the charging process.
The controls are all found on the left ear cup. On the inside, it starts at the top with the ANC button, followed by a status LED and the 3.5 mm jack input. Next is the comparatively tiny on/off switch, which can at least be felt quite well due to a raised point. The volume rocker, which also has a tactile point at the plus symbol, forms the conclusion.
Processing with room for improvement
In terms of build quality, the Creative Zen Hybrid shares its fate with the manufacturer’s current in-ear model. This is simply the point where you notice the low price most clearly. Which is by no means to say that the headphones feel cheap. However… we are simply used to better. Even in this price range.
That doesn’t even apply to the headband, which certainly feels sturdy. However, it is a bit wobbly on closer inspection and has too much play for my taste. The mechanism for twisting in the ear cups is also too smooth, which is why they never stay in a completely straight position, but always remain slightly angled.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice that the seams aren’t 100% accurate and the buttons feel a bit wobbly to press. You don’t really notice any of this in a negative way in practice, that has to be said quite clearly. That’s all good, but it could be better.
Wearing comfort of the Creative Zen Hybrid
The wearing comfort then again pleases me extremely well. This is ensured by the very soft and around 1.5 cm thick ear pads and the equally comfortable headband made of artificial leather. The weight of 271 grams is also pleasant.
However, the Zen Hybrid are aimed more at smaller and medium-sized ears. Inside, there is 62 mm x 37 mm of space available for your eavesdroppers. Although the material is nice and soft and stretchy, it could be quite tight for large ears. By comparison, the Bose offers significantly more space here with 75 mm x 55 mm and weighs minimally less.
Otherwise, though, the Creative model is absolutely on par here, at least if your ears have enough room. The passive shielding in particular is outstanding and blocks out most of the ambient noise even when turned off, without the headphones feeling uncomfortably pinchy. For my ears, anyway, the wearing comfort is at an excellent level.
Features and battery life
Although the Creative Zen Hybrid transmits wirelessly only via Bluetooth 5.0, the range is impressive. I was able to get around 15 meters away from the audio source in the form of my smartphone during the test without any sound dropouts or disconnections.
Apart from that, the headphones have rather rudimentary features. They do not offer IP certification and are therefore not waterproof. Multipoint, for the connection with two audio sources, is also not available. The audio codecs only offer standard fare with SBC and AAC. Unfortunately, you will not find any aptX variants or high-resolution codecs. But that would not have been expected at this price.
Not even the more expensive competition gets that right. Isn’t that right, Bose? At least there’s an optional voice control. Depending on the system, with Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. That fits.
Battery life of the Creative Zen Hybrid
When it comes to battery life, however, Creative once again blows the frontal attack on the competition. Here, the Outlier Pro could already set an impressive scent mark. The in-ear model lasts a whopping 60 hours. However, the Zen does not last quite that long, but it does not have a charging case.
And yet: 27 hours with ANC are recorded. If you deactivate the active noise suppression, you get around 36 hours. This secures a place among the endurance artists in the over-ear range.
But not only the running time but also the charging time knows how to please. With only five minutes on the mains, you supply the headphones with energy again for five hours of music playback. Excellent. The completely discharged battery is fully charged in about one and a half hours.
Operation: A concept with clear weaknesses
The Creative Zen Hybrid over-ear headphones are not operated via touch control, but rather quite classically with buttons. Personally, I prefer this if the operating concept is well thought out and works precisely. This is only partly the case here.
It starts with Bluetooth pairing, which is triggered by pressing and holding the on/off button for 5 seconds. Well. It’s just a shame that pressing and holding the button for 4 seconds turns the headphones off. Which works much more often in practice than the pairing mode. But be careful: 2 seconds starts the voice assistant, one second starts or pauses the playback. This could have been solved better.
Otherwise, the operation works flawlessly. We activate or deactivate the noise suppression by pressing the ANC button. A double tap switches to the transparency mode (Ambient Mode). However, you must not tap too fast or the command will not be implemented. Has to be figured out first, then it actually works out very well.
Media controls are handled, somewhat cluttered, via the volume rocker. Once you have internalized the concept, the operation is largely flawless. Only the completely overloaded power button is annoying in the long run.
Audio Quality, ANC and Microphones
The Creative Zen Hybrid realizes its sound via 40 mm neodymium drivers, which cover a frequency response of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Thereby, the over-ear headphones are supposed to score with pleasing and rich basses, as well as clear trebles. This quickly makes it clear that no one should expect a neutral sound.
What you can expect, however, is a really successful and well-rounded sound compared to the price. With surprisingly precise and rich basses, even in the sub-bass range. Basically, the sound seems a bit tight, albeit warm, and doesn’t seem to be able to fully unfold.
The mids are still on a broad stage and reproduce voices and instrumentation clearly and pleasantly. However, voices can get a bit shrill and unpleasant at high volumes. However, we are talking about values from 90 percent upwards here.
It’s the same with the treble. They quickly become scratchy and unpleasant at full volume. But you can easily counteract that by limiting the volume to 90 percent.
ANC and transparency mode
I was really impressed with the Creative Zen Hybrid’s active noise cancellation. With the headphones already providing excellent passive sealing, the ANC almost completely blocks out ambient noise. Sure: We are not talking about Sony level here, but the ANC works impressively effectively and not only with monotonous noises. Even conversations in the office or the sound from the PC speakers are muffled satisfyingly clearly.
What’s also excellent is that the ANC mode has no effect on the sound image. What is merely okay, on the other hand, is the transparency mode. Although it amplifies voices and ambient sounds nicely, it doesn’t really have much in common with a realistic image anymore and distorts all sounds quite strongly. But hey. It serves its purpose, sort of.
The Zen can’t fully convince with the microphones either. In quiet environments, the voice recording and transmission is still clear, warm and dynamic. But as soon as it gets a bit louder around you, you can’t really use the microphones anymore.
Noise, choppy syllables and a generally much too low volume are the result.
App Connection: SXFI App
With the manufacturer’s Outlier Pro, I still praised the good Creative App. Well: you can’t use it with the Zen Hybrid. No equalizers, no updates, no battery level indicator, nothing. You can use the SXFI app, at least after registering with the manufacturer and taking a picture of your ears, but you don’t really get much out of it.
Yes, in principle the sound image is minimally wider and clearer after calibration. But this works only for local audio files. If you’re just streaming your music or audio content, the app will do you zero good.
Creative Zen Hybrid review: conclusion
For the suggested retail price of around 110 euros, the Creative Zen Hybrid does quite a bit right. I really like the design, the wearing comfort is convincing (at least with medium-sized ears) across the board, and the over-ear headphones also do quite a bit right in terms of sound. At least, if you do not overdo it with the volume.
The headphones also live up to the Zen name thanks to the excellent ANC mode. On the other hand, there are a few points that I do not like. Not even the build quality, which is really okay.
The scratchy mids and trebles in the sound are exhausting. The transparency mode sounds unnatural. The controls seem slightly cluttered and the microphones are useless. I also miss a companion app with which I could at least influence the sound. But there isn’t.
What remains in the end is a really comfortable, largely good-sounding over-ear headphone with effective ANC and a really good price-performance ratio.