Creative Aurvana Live! Headphones Review
Throwing off my value curve one exclamation mark at a time.
UPDATE(12/15/17): Well. Some glue in the plug of my unit failed. I don’t think it’s a common problem and I still recommend this headphone, but I’ve added a note and a photo to build quality below!
Creative’s Aurvana Live! headphones are very popular, and they have an exclamation mark at the end of their name.
I finally bought some.
I should have probably done this years ago. There’s a lot to like here beyond that delightful exclamation mark.
Creative’s Aurvana Live! headphones are actually a re-branded OEM headphone that’s been around for a long time.
They started life as the Fostex/Foster 443701, which is either the coolest or most generic headphone name in the world. Several other companies have made variants of these over the years, but they all use the same basic drivers and design…just with different style touches and tweaks layered on top.
Creative’s model goes for around $60 most of the time, with an MSRP of $99. It’s the easiest version of these headphones to find. It’s a closed back design, with just barely over-ear pads, non-removable 4 foot cable, and included extension cable and bag.
It’s great for either portable or home use.
The E-mu Walnut and E-mu Purpleheart are also designed by Creative, and are wooden-cupped variants of this pair of headphones with a small increase in bass response… and higher prices.
This is a warm-leaning, generally wonderful-sounding pair of headphones… with a narrow soundstage. They achieve their surprising sound quality using Bio Cellulose drivers which are easy to drive with just about any gear.
Bio Cellulose is a weird fiber that’s made out of microbes.
So that’s neat!
The bass is well-extended, and pretty darn creamy. The mid range is surprisingly natural and pleasant, and highs are just a little bit prickly.
The prickly highs and solid mids help keep this pair from descending into a slightly-muddled pile of smooth bass. These are less fatiguing than something like the Sony MDR-7506 on the high end…but still much more detailed than most bass-focused consumer headphones, and honestly much more detailed than I was expecting for the price.
I love the way these sound. They have the right level of oomph, vocals sound natural, and highs ring out without destroying my ears.
Any deficiencies in how they sound will come down to your personal taste in sound signatures, and not any particular lack of quality here. They are one of the best-sounding budget-priced headphones I’ve heard. Their bass is less aggressive and warm than the Koss Porta Pros, while still being present, and their highs are a little easier to listen to in long sessions than the detailed RIG 400’s.
It’s not all “perfect”, of course.
The one big letdown here, depending on your tastes, is soundstage. These sound rather close to your head, and intimate. The center image sits pretty directly in the middle of your head, and the side image is only a little outside your ears. That’s not surprising for such a small, non-angled-driver headphone design. But it’s not something you can talk yourself out of either.
Fortunately, imaging/separation between channels is exceptional, thanks to their impressive sound rendering. So that helps preserve a slight sense of space. If you’re used to larger closed-back pairs, or open-backed pairs…you’ll immediately notice the relative lack of soundstage here, but the rest of the sound is pretty darn amazing for my tastes.
The comfy and light fit of the Aurvana Live! reminds me a lot of the original Bose Tri-Port headphones. In fact, I’m wondering if Bose borrowed some of the design hallmarks of that pair from these.
The headband is very thin and light, and padded just the right amount to not create any discomfort.
I was worried that the ear pad openings would be too small for me to comfortably use, but fortunately those fears were unfounded. These just barely fit all the way over my slightly bigger-than-average ears, to the point where I’d consider them “over- ear” by a hair.
Fortunately, the pads are nice and soft, and even with their almost on-ear fit, they didn’t exert any unwelcome pressure on my face or my glasses even after sessions lasting a couple of hours.
I also have two extra clicks of adjustment on each side of the headband (it goes out ten total clicks), which is impressive! It’s not the largest headband, and I usually have to extend smaller headphones out all the way.
This is a deceptively comfy pair of headphones, with enough comfort designed into it to just clear the “Good” hurdle.
Like the soundstage…the level of isolation is unremarkable. It works fine in the loud coffee shop I usually test this stuff in, but doesn’t isolate as well as most other closed-back headphones I’ve tried. The leatherette helps it to beat certain cloth-covered models I’ve used recently like the RIG 400, but isolation is not at all its strong suit. If you’re in an office, a home, or a coffee shop, it’ll work fine. If you’re next to something louder, you might be disappointed.
The wooden versions seem to isolate slightly better in certain measurements I’ve seen around online, but are still on the lower side of average.
The Aurvana Live! looks like it’ll feel really cheap…and yet it doesn’t!
It has a pretty classic headphone design, with ear cups that are slightly canted, minimal branding, and a permanently attached cable running to both cups. The ear cup forks angle out just slightly before coming back in to your head, to help create even clamping pressure.
They don’t look silly on the head at all, and are in fact rather discreet…save for the shiny chrome material around the ear cups. That material and the gloss plastic on the backs of the cups both attract fingerprints very easily. A lot of people won’t like this since they’ll never look totally new once you unpack them… but I think I can live with this.
Build quality is fine for this price, and right in line with what I’d want. The headband is metal-reinforced, as are the adjustment mechanisms. The adjustments are really nice and clicky. You might not care about this, but the feel of the adjustments is the very first thing I check on every single pair of headphones. Because I’m weird.
The ear cups are easy to rotate, and articulate nicely to help you dial in the fit.
The plastics used are okay, but nothing special. They don’t feel thin but they don’t feel high-grade. I wouldn’t throw this pair at things or step on them, but I have no fear about putting them in my bag and hauling them around. These feel much better built than the XPT 100’s and CB-1’s I checked out recently.
BUILD QUALITY FOOTNOTE
I’ve never had this particular thing happen to me before!
Apparently the plug on these headphones is a two-piece affair that’s held together with glue. I’m not sure how common this sort of assembly is. On most of the headphones I’ve used, the plug end seems to be one piece of molded rubber or plastic that’s connected to the metal 3.5mm plug.
But here, the rubber part is actually two parts glued together. And after about two weeks of gentle use, the plug came apart right in my hand. Without so much as a pop or a crinkle.
On closer examination, it looks like the glue in my unit was haphazardly applied and pretty dried out. Looking around online, I’ve not seen any other instances of this particular problem, so it was probably a one-off. I have seen reports of people having issues with the ear cups snapping off the forks, but they seem pretty uncommon and in all cases it was after heavy use.
So. A random bit of bad luck! I still like these, just wanted to mention it.
These actually have some extras! Neat!
Creative includes an extension cable, a 6.3mm adapter, and a carrying bag in the box. The extension cable is nice for those of you listening on a desktop computer or audio gear that’s not right in front of you, and it takes the 4 foot cable out to 9 feet.
Hilariously, the Walnut version of these, which costs almost twice as much, doesn’t come with any of the extras. That’s uh. That’s certainly something!
The carrying bag is fine. It’s a decently soft cloth and should protect the headphones from other things in your bag, but not from drops. The rubber on the cable is a nice soft-touch material.
Would I like it more if these had a removable cable? You bet I would! But it’s not a deal breaker at this price point. These also don’t have the in-line remote and mic that many portable headphones at this price point now include for phone use. But I admire the old-school “audio first” mentality on display here.
The Aurvana Live! is an affordably-priced, wonderful-sounding, comfy, decently-built pair of headphones with an exclamation mark in their name. It comes with a surprisingly complete number of extra goodies in the box.
It does have issues in the soundstage and isolation departments, and those of you that don’t like the feel of things touching your ears might loathe the “just big enough” ear pads…but man. The amount of sound quality you get here for the price is truly special and rare, even in today’s crowded market.
If you want a great cheap entry into what high-end headphone sound is all about, you’d be hard pressed to do better than this. These will work just fine for just about any audio application. There’s better stuff out there of course…but you’ll have to pay much more for it.
I don’t need to buy either wooden-cupped version of these. But now I really want to!