Creative SB Inferno Gaming Headset Review

Creative Logo

Earlier in the month on GNC, I reviewed Creative’s E1 Portable Amplifier, which improved the listening experience for headphone wearers. To go with the E1, I have the Creative SB Inferno Gaming Headset, aimed squarely at gamers with a detachable flex mic and in-line controls. Priced at a penny under GB£40, the Inferno sits at the lower end of Creative’s range so expectations need to be set appropriately. With all this in mind, let’s take a look.

The Inferno headset comes inside a mainly black and red box with a transparent window on one side, showing off the goods inside, all held neatly in place with a lightweight plastic moulding.

Creative Inferno Box

Inside the box, there’s the red-infused SB Inferno headset. From the outer shells to the inner driver covers and the audio lead, it’s all red. It’s a good strong red which may not come across in the photos.

Creative SB Inferno in Red

The Inferno has a TRRS 3.5 mm jack (that’s the one with three black bands) and works out of the box with smartphones and tablets. For more old school devices with separate sockets for headphones and microphone, then there’s a splitter in the box too. Sadly, this doesn’t carry the red colouring and is boring black but on the plus side, the Inferno works with Sony’s PS4, connecting into the controllers.

Interrupting the red cable is the in-line control for adjusting the volume and turning the microphone on and off. With no controls for pause / play or FWD / RWD, it reminds us that the Inferno is primarily a headset for gaming rather than music listening.

Inferno Inline Remote

The flexible boom mic plugs into a socket on the left had ear cup and there’s a little shim to ensure correct insertion. It’s easily detached when not required – just pull.

Inferno Flexible Mic

But enough of the features….what is the Creative SB Inferno HyperX like to use? To start with, the headphones are very comfortable to wear. The headband is a little bit too plastic for my taste but it does make the Inferno lightweight and doesn’t exert too much sideways pressure on the head. The cloth padding on the band and the ear cups is good and I wore the Inferno for several extended sessions without ear soreness. The Inferno has what I would describe as “snug” closed cups, meaning that the cups fit neatly over the ears and there’s not much movement inside the cup. I like this but it obviously depends on the relative size of your ears.

Sonically, I used the headphones for gaming, music and IP telephony. Overall, I thought that the Inferno provided even, balanced sound to the extent of being unexciting but the Creative headset is a clear step up from the average junk out there. With music listening, much of the sound came through but it certainly could have been a bit richer – it simply didn’t have the “wow” factor and was too flat for real appreciation. A little bit more bass and more depth across the board would be a big improvement.

As I’ve said in reviews before, these headsets are great in office. One minute you are listening to music, the next minute you are taking a phone call with no need to fumble around taking the headset off while picking up the phone. Voices were clear and callers could hear me well.

For games playing, the headset was good with the action coming across clearly from bullets to bombs. Machinery clanked away and steel screeched against concrete. Again a bit more oomph in the bass department would have been an improvement but there’s enough clarity to hear noises off. For the gamer, this can mean the difference between fragging or being fragged.

Overall, the Creative SB Inferno is right on the money. At an RRP of £39.99, the Inferno delivers nicely to the price point giving a decent gaming headset. It’s not for audiophiles but it doesn’t set out to be sonically superior, so I think the Inferno would have a good claim to be the best entry-level gaming headset.

Thanks to Creative for providing the review headset.

Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Amplifier Review

Creative Logo

Creative products always induce a little nostalgia with me as the Creative Sound Blaster Pro was the first ever upgrade that I bought for my PC. Looking back from today and the state of digital audio, it’s hard to imagine that most PCs only went “beep” back in the late 1980s and early 90s. Once I’d installed the SB Pro, I had glorious multichannel stereo sound, and incredibly, Wing Commander II had speech. Look it up kids.

Creative E1 Box

Returning to the 21st century, on review here is the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier, a battery-powered amplifier supporting high impedance headphones, combined with a USB DAC sound card. In other words the E1 lets you used studio-quality 600 ohm headphones with smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops. Pretty much anything with a 3.5 mm socket or a USB port and it works fine with lower impedance headphones, so let’s take a look.

What’s in the box? Simply, everything that you need to get going in the scenarios outlined above. There’s the E1 amplifier itself plus two bright red cables; a 4 pole (TRRS) 3.5 mm jack audio lead and a USB to micro-USB cable. The first cable is needed for tablets and smartphone listening and the second when using the E1 as a sound card (DAC). Bring your own headphones though.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

There’s a hint of red detailing on the E1 too but you have to look pretty hard to see it. Of course, there’s assorted instructions, warranty and disposal leaflets too.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Glancing over the amplifier itself, the E1 is a lightweight plastic unit with a clothing or belt clip on the back. One end takes the music audio inputs, either digital via micro-USB or analogue through a 3.5 mm audio socket. The other end has the two 3.5 mm audio sockets, one for a set of headphones and one for a microphone or second set of ‘phones. On the side, there’s a power switch, a volume slider, a multi-function button and a small LED.

Creative Sound Blaster E1

Enough of what it looks like….what does it sound like? Pretty good actually. I used the E1 in both configurations, first taking an input from a smartphone or tablet and in this instance I was using a Nexus 9 tablet and a OnePlus One smartphone, both with high bit rate mp3s and Spotify. I’m not a total audio geek, so I don’t actually have any high impedance headphones so the testing was done using Sennheiser earbuds and recent edition 414 headphones (the ones with the yellow earpads).

Listening to the E1, there’s no dramatic difference from the source but it does tend to ameliorate the worst aspects of compressed digital audio, reducing the high frequency tinniness and giving it a slightly warmer feel. It particularly worked well with Spotify and other low-bit music sources, smoothing out the treble.

If worn conveniently, the E1 has a built-in microphone to enable hands-free calling. Call comes in, press the multi-function button, take the call. Callers reported that they could hear me well as long as the E1 was close. Clipped to my shirt was fine.

Using the E1 as a sound card is simply a case of plugging in the E1 to a spare USB port via the red cable. I tested with a Windows 8.1 Toshiba laptop, an 8.1 HP tablet via a dock and a Samsung Chromebook, and in all cases it worked out of the box. In this configuration, the presentation of the sound was good and generally superior to the audio provided by the laptop or tablet, especially when listening to Spotify.

Generally, background hiss was kept to a minimum and was only noticeable in the earbuds when I went looking for it, e.g. by putting the source volume down low and increasing the volume on the E1. With the source volume at a normal level there’s no problem and is unlikely to be noticeable with on-ear headphones.

In case anyone is wondering, it’s not possible to use the E1 as a mixer with two sources. Plugging in a 3.5 mm audio jack disconnects the micro-USB input. Sorry.

The E1 works well out of the box, but where it delivers in spades is with the full driver and app package which is downloaded from Creative’s web site. Once installed the software gives tons of extra controls over the E1, in particular allowing the audio response to be customised.

SB Studio

One of the best features is the equaliser which adjusts the frequency response. There are a bunch of presets with the usual suspects from classical to pop and rock, and its also customisable to personal preference. I liked this.

SB Studio

Overall, the E1 portable amplifier does what sets out to do, making compressed audio sound better, whether from an analogue 3.5 mm source or a digital USB connection. The extensive range of features from hands-free calling to audio equalisation is impressive and for those people who live in their headphones, it’s worth considering. The RRP is £39.95 in the UK or $49.99 in the USA.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the review unit.

Adidas and Monster Join Forces at CES

Adidas logo

Many well-known brands bring exciting new products to market during CES. And sometimes, some of those brands will team up and double the excitement. That’s exactly what happened when Adidas and Monster got together to create a new line of headphones and earbuds.

Nick had a chance to talk to both Johan and Kevin from Adidas. They both gave a breakdown of this new line of listening devices. There’s everything from full over-the-ear headphones to bluetooth-enabled wireless earbuds that link up with the Micoach smart watch from Adidas.

Interview by Nick DiMeo of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Monster DNA Headphones with Art by Chris Nunez

Monster logoWould you like to wear headphones that look as great as they sound? Monster has what you need. Monster’s DNA Pro over the ear headphones have a realistic sound profile, a sleek design, and are comfortable to wear. The variety of colors and artwork provide you with a wide selection. Pick one that best fits your style!

Nick had the opportunity to speak with Chris Nunez, who is a judge on the Ink Master show that is on Spike TV. Chris Nunez is a well known tattoo artist and the owner of Handcrafted Tattoo and Art Gallery that is located in Miami, Florida. His design for the Monster DNA headphones was very popular.

The Monster DNA headphones come with a stylish carrying case and a Monster cleaning cloth. The headphones deliver live, studio quality sound with passive noise isolation. The headphones have pillow-soft Advanced Noise Isolating cushions which let you comfortably wear them for hours. It keeps noise out and also prevents your music from disturbing others.

Interview by Nick of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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Sennheiser Momentum Wireless Headphones

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser have always been one of my preferred headphone brands and I previously reviewed the Momentum On-Ears for GNC. Consequently, I was very interested to hear that a second generation of Momentum headphones were on their way with both Bluetooth wireless and noise-cancellation features. Marlo chats to Scott Houston from Sennheiser about the Momentum Wireless.

The new Sennheiser Momentum Wireless takes the original Momentum and updates it for listening on the move. No tangled wires with Bluetooth wireless; environmental sound kept to a minimum with active noise cancellation; integrated microphone to take calls without removing the headphones, improved padding for extended listening and folding arms to pack the headphones away neatly. Overall, it looks like a tidy package.

Of course, this doesn’t come cheap with the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless costing US$499 or GB£379 from Sennheiser’s web store.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kinivo Music and Video Gadgets at CES

Kinivo LogoKinivo have a range of consumer-oriented music products from headsets to speakers, including several with Bluetooth. Don chat’s with Henry Wong, Kinivo’s Director of Product Management to find out more.

All of Kinivo’s products are competitively priced – for example the ZX100 Mini Portable Speaker with rechargeable battery costs less than $20. The BTH360S Bluetooth Stereo Headphones which supports wireless music streaming and hands-free calling costs $69.99 so these are good value products. There’s also an interesting HDMI switcher, the HS420 which has four inputs and two outputs, at just under $65. Could be very handy for advanced gaming or home cinema setups.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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FreeWavz Wirefree Wearable Earphones

FreeWavz LogoBluetooth headphone are commonplace these days but usually there’s a connector between the two earphones, either as a wire or a band. The FreeWavz wirefree earphones are different, using Bluetooth to transmit the music to both earphones, so there’s no physical connection between the earphones. The earphones are smart too, as the blend between sound from the smartphone and the surrounding environment can be adjusted to match the wearer’s preferences.

That’s the “wirefree” part taken care of. What about the “wearable” bit? Aimed at the fitness enthusiast, FreeWavz aren’t only earphones, they’re fitness bands for the ears, measuring the wearer’s heart rate. As you’d expect, the data is reported back to the connected smartphone but the wearer also hears about his heart rate, calories burned, distance and steps in his ears via the FreeWavz. It’s all clever stuff and there’s more revealed in the interview.

The FreeWavz earphones are expected in the summer and are on pre-order for $219 (RRP is $249).

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor for the TechPodcast Network.

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ONvocal Mix360 Combines Music, Voice and Ambient

ONvocal

Anyone who has worn earbuds or in-ear headphones will know that (a) they are very effective in blocking out external noise and (b) phone conversations sound a little strange if you use them with your smartphone to take a call. ONvocal have a solution to these problems….it’s a little unorthodox and pricey so Don finds out more from company president, Bob Spanner.

The Mix360 personal audio device combines microphones with signal processors to mix sound from three sources – music, phone call and environmental noise. The benefit in the first instance is that you can hear the world around you and avoid getting run over by buses plus when you are on a phone call, you hear your own voice, which makes it much more natural. The exact level of each audio source can be adjusted via complementary app. The interview video doesn’t really make it clear but the band is a neckband not a headband and is worn at collar level.

The Mix360 will be available in May with a price of $349 and can be pre-ordered at ONvocal’s shop.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Audio-Technica Gets SonicSporty At CES

Audio-Technica LogoJapanese audio specialists Audio-Technica have a long pedigree in sound going back to the 60s with an impressive client list include a number of successive Summer and Winter Olympics. Todd and Crystal Griffith take a look at the latest headphones from Audio-Technica.

First up are new additions to the SonicSport line of in-ear headphones, each of which has a different mechanism for retaining the earbud in the ear. Some hang over the ear, others lock into the inner part of the pinna. The idea is that Audio-Technica has headphones that suit you and your activities. The USP of these in-ear phones is that in addition to the standard ear-tips, ridged ear-tips are provided which allow a small amount of external sound through. This makes the SonicSport headphone range a good choice for those who need to be a little more aware of their surroundings. Prices start at $35.

Next are a new pair of high-end audiophile over-ear headphones. Aimed at the lossless music market, these headphones are technically designed to get the best from the music source while providing comfortable extended listening. US availability is March at an RRP of $249.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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HearNotes Wirefree Earbuds Come to CES

HearNotesAudiophile wireless headphones are rare and audiophile wireless earbuds even rarer. There are a couple of reasons for this but the main one is that Bluetooth isn’t really very good for music streaming, even with newer codecs like AptX. HearNotes reckon they have the answer to this problem. Patrick Donohue explains what HearNotes can offer the audiophile.

HearNotes wirefree earbuds are special for three cool features. First the earbuds are genuinely wirefree with no wires even between the earbuds. Second the earbuds charge wirelessly in a matching case – there’s no plugging in to charge up – giving about 4 hours of listening between charges. Finally the wireless transmission uses a high quality wireless audio technology called Kleer. It goes without saying that the audio components are top notch too.

A small transmitter plugs into the 3.5mm audio port to support the Kleer technology so the HearNotes can be used in any situation where an audio jack is available. This is undoubtedly a benefit but the audio output from most DACs in portable equipment leaves a great deal to be desired.

The HearNotes will be available in Q1 for a fairly pricey $349 from retailers nationwide.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.
Disclosure – HearNotes is currently an advertiser at Geek News Central.

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