The Creative Zen Air buds deliver some enjoyable tones and pump out a decent amount of volume. But the appeal is lessened by weak ANC, the awkward Super X-Fi feature and unresponsive controls.
Creative is a brand that’s been around for a very long time. In fact, I can remember being impressed when Jim Martin, the editor of this site, showed me his Creative Nomad Jukebox back in the day, replete with 6GB of storage for a huge collection of MP3s.
That particular device may now be long gone, but the company keeps moving forward, as shown by the new TWS earbuds we have here. The Creative Zen Air offer active noise cancelling plus the inclusion of Super X-Fi technology to really bring your audio alive, all at a very affordable price.
But do the earbuds have the ability to impress as much as their forbear?
Design & Build
White plastic casing
Disappointing touch controls
IPX4 splash proofing
The buds come in a chunky, white case with the Creative legend emblazoned on the flip-top lid. A small light on the front lets you know when the case is charging, all of which is made possible by the USB-C port on the rear.
Opening the case reveals the buds themselves, which are also a little on the chunky side. They’re the classic design of in-ear buds with a bulbous area for the drivers and extended stems for the touch controls and microphones.
The aesthetic is reminiscent of the original Apple AirPods, although the outer edges of the stems are flat rather than round like the Huawei FreeBuds Pro 2, plus Apple’s buds didn’t feature active noise cancelling. In between where the buds sit there’s a button for pairing, which you hold down for a few seconds until the light starts to flash, then you should be good to go.
Martyn Casserly / Foundry
Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, the buds connect quickly to a variety of devices, although you won’t get the simultaneous dual connections offered by the likes of the Redmi Buds 4 Pro, but those are quite a bit more expensive. The signal remains strong for the most part, with only occasional drop outs, but these are common across most TWS earbuds, especially at the cheaper end of the price spectrum.
Touch controls are situated in the upper area of the stems and are disappointing. Double-tapping to play/pause or switch between sound modes is hit and miss, with commands often not registering or being executed slowly, so you end up trying them again and inadvertently pausing playback just after it’s started once more.
You do get used to the areas to tap after a while, but during my time with the Creative Zen Air I never really got to trusting the controls as I found them just too unreliable.
In the ear, the buds are comfortable thanks to their light 5g construction, although I did have to switch the medium size tips for the large ones as one kept falling out of my ear. This is unusual for me, as in the many other buds I’ve reviewed, I usually find the mediums suit me fine. It’s not an issue, but if you always use the large ones then I’d be curious whether these come up a little small.
Creative bestows an IPX4 waterproof rating on the Zen Air, which means they are essentially sweatproof for when you’re down the gym or able to withstand light rain when you’re out. Don’t wear them in the bath or go swimming though, as they most likely won’t survive.
Sound Quality & Features
Decent sound quality
Super X-Fi sound for downloaded songs
Sound is delivered through two 10mm Neodymium speakers and you can definitely get some good tones out of the Creative Zen Air. Songs sound full and balanced, with a healthy amount of bass for a pair of cheap earbuds.
Strong mid tones mean that audio gets pretty punchy but stays the right side of shrill unless you listen to stuff that’s mixed that way of course. They get pretty loud too, so you shouldn’t have any trouble drowning out the constant drone of life if you want a bit of audible escapism.
Martyn Casserly / Foundry
That’s a good thing, as the ANC available on the buds isn’t that impressive. You have the choice of three modes – Noise cancelling, Ambient and Off – all of which can by cycled through by double tapping the left bud.
Now, you’ll have to temper your expectations, as these are inexpensive earbuds, so the inclusion of ANC is impressive, but what you get is a kind of noise muffling rather than proper cancelling. Sitting in a coffee shop next to a few people chatting a little loudly, I found that the ANC didn’t really have what it took to remove their voices from my ears.
If anything, the mode just takes the edge off of noise in the immediate area, but you can still hear pretty much everything that’s going on. Engage the Ambient mode and you’ll hear it all a bit clearer, as the microphones are turned on to introduce a small amount of the background noise – good for when you’re waiting for a train announcement or your name to be called in a doctor’s surgery.
There’s also the Super X-Fi feature that promises immersive audio via an app that maps your ear and head shape in order to personally tailor the frequencies. This all sounds good, but in practical use, it has quite severe limitations.
Martyn Casserly / Foundry
First, you’ll need someone else to hold the camera on your phone while mapping, as it’s impossible to do it yourself. Secondly, the audio you can listen to must be downloaded to your phone (or other device). This sounds simpler than it actually is, as the SXFI app you use can’t access downloaded content from streaming services like Spotify, YouTube or Netflix.
So, if you’ve somehow managed to maintain a library of downloaded music that isn’t through a streaming app, then you’ll be good, otherwise, it’s more difficult than you think. I’ve bought several MP3 albums on Amazon, but when downloading them through the Amazon Music app they don’t appear on the list available to the SXFI app. Thankfully, there are a few demo tracks included, which do sound very good, but I don’t think this feature will prove useful to most people.
Battery Life & Charging
Up to six hours playback
Case can recharge buds three times
Creative claims a maximum of six hours playback from a single charge, although that’s with ANC off. I found the buds kept going for over four hours at a time with me switching between modes and having the volume up reasonably loud. This is a solid amount of time and you can get more if you ease off on the ANC – which isn’t actually a bad idea as I found it mostly ineffective.
Buds recharge up to 70% after only 15 minutes in the case, but the last 30% takes around an hour to achieve. Still, if you suddenly run low on power then it won’t take long to get you back up and running.
Martyn Casserly / Foundry
When the charging case is fully topped-up it can hold enough power to keep the Zen Air buds going for up to 18 hours, you can also use Qi-compatible wireless chargers to replenish the case once more. That’s a rare feature on wireless earbuds this cheap.
Some of the limitations mentioned above are no doubt due to the pricing of the Creative Zen Air buds.
You can buy these direct from Creative for $39.99/£54.99/€59.99, which is a reasonable cost for decent sounding earbuds, albeit with below-par ANC. You can also buy them from Amazon.
For around the same amount you can also pick up the Anker Soundcore Life A2 NC which also feature ANC or if you’re willing to pay a little more then the Redmi Buds 4 Pro are an excellent choice and should only set you back somewhere in the realm of $70/£80/€80.
Check out our chart of the best budget wireless earbuds for more options.
If you’re not expecting the moon, then for a decent price you can enjoy good sound quality from a comfortable pair of earbuds in the Creative Zen Air.
The ANC is not that impressive though and the Super X-Fi feature feels like something that most people will try once but then never go back to. More importantly, the touch controls can be frustrating to use due to small touch targets.
If the latter were better, then these would be solid (if limited) buds that we’d recommend. As they are, you might be better off with other options.