As much as I appreciate the relative portability afforded by in-ear headphones, they just don't offer the same richness of sound and the same kind of passive noise isolation that you get with over-the-ear designs. Giving you a versatile option that will work across all sorts of situations and platforms is the Creative Sound Blaster EVO Zx, a gaming headset that does so much more than offer just a good gaming experience.
Blasting Sound in a Creative Way
Some people might prefer to have generic black cans that allow them to blend in with the masses, but those aren't the kind of people that will be drawn to something like this. The Sound Blaster EVO Zx is decidedly eye-catching with its black and red color scheme and "chunky" lines. This is further accented by the red light (which turns blue during the Bluetooth pairing process) on the exterior of the earpieces.
On the audio front, you get FullSpectrum 40mm audio drivers plus the built-in SB-Axx1 audio processor for "vastly improved audio delivered to your ears in real-time." Even though you don't see a boom mic here, the Sound Blaster EVO Zx is a headset. Indeed, they've implemented their CrystalVoice technology to provide the greatest clarity in voice communications. Ambient noise and echoes are picked up by the microphones, getting cancelled out and allowing your voice to be more easily heard. These are far from being budget cans, but you do get something for your money here beyond good looks.
Multiple Ways to Connect
Given the bold color scheme and design, it's easy to assume that the Creative Sound Blaster EVO Zx is purely a gaming headset. While that is certainly one of its primary functions, it's also important to note that Creative has designed the EVO Zx to have broader appeal than that. It also helps that it has wireless capabilities and multiple ways to get connected.
One of the primary complaints that I had about the KMD Talkback Pro was that the wires got really cumbersome, really quickly. That's not a problem with the EVO Zx. If you want, you can use the NFC to pair it to a Bluetooth-enabled device of your choosing and do the wireless thing. That would be for your smartphones, tablets and so on.
For wired connections, the EVO Zx comes bundled with a 4-pole analog cable with a standard 3.5mm connection, making it very versatile. If you want the best experience, though, I would recommend using the provided USB cable to connect it directly to your computer. This gives you the greatest control and flexibility as well. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be direct support for game consoles, but you can still use it via the 3.5mm stereo cable or with an optional splitter cable.
On-Ear Controls for Everything
You might be more inclined to simply use the controls on your computer directly for most of your audio, but the EVO Zx does come with a whole slew of on-ear controls. The power button doubles as the "SBX" button. This audio enhancement mode was mostly like a bass boost to my ears. Also on the earpiece are track forward/back buttons and a volume dial. The large center portion, where the NFC chip is also contained, acts as a giant button for play/pause and for answering phone calls.
This is quite robust, since those audio controls work fine with programs like Windows Media Player, but it did get quite crowded with having everything on the right ear. It is also on the right earpiece that you'll find the ports for the USB cable and the 3.5mm stereo mini jack. This is really cluttered and I'm wondering if the experience could have been improved by moving a few things to the left ear instead.
Comfort and Build Quality
The cushioning for both the earpieces and the headband was softer than I expected. This didn't make for an uncomfortable experience, but people who prefer to have denser foam may be disappointed with the amount of cushioning that they receive here. It is a closed ear system as well, so what this means is that you don't get much in terms of air flow through the ear pieces, so you could run into that unfortunate situation of the ear sweats after an extended gaming or music session.
This is a double-edged sword, of course, as it means that your ears will be completely enveloped, effectively blocking out just about all exterior noise. I also found the flex in the band to be perfectly adequate without being too tight or too loose, making for a comfortable experience overall. This could wear down over time, though, and I am concerned with the amount of moving parts. The ear pieces can rotate and tilt, making for a more customized fit, but these parts are going to be susceptible to wear and tear.
Sound Performance: Music, Movies and Games
Naturally, to give the EVO Zx a fair test, I put it through a variety of situations. Using the USB connection to my computer, I listened to a broad spectrum of music, watched a few movie sequences and played a few games (mostly Team Fortress 2 and Divekick), all using the corresponding SBX profile. The bass in the music, especially with SBX activated, was very pronounced and made for a great experience with hip hop and other bass-heavy genres. These headphones are loud, even at lower volume settings. The mid-range can get a little lost in the mix when you have that much bass, so some users may prefer to de-activate the SBX mode for that kind of music. Even so, I found the overall sound profile to be rich and full.
The EVO Zx is supposed to provide a cinematic, virtual 7.1 surround sound. This does work, but I did not notice as much of a difference between a "side" and "front-side" channel as I did with something from a rear channel. This is far from terrible -- it's still very good -- but some FPS gamers may prefer greater surround sound performance in this regard. The same can be said about some action sequences you may find in movies.
As an added bonus, you can have some fun with the software when it comes to your voice chats and such. Under the CrystalVoice settings, you can alter your voice with a series of different effects (FX) like Alien Brute, Elf and Robot. I imagine some very evil things can be done with Female to Male and Male to Female, but I'll leave that up to your imagination and discretion. And yes, this will affect anywhere the mic input is used, not only in-game, but also in audio recording programs like Audacity or VoIP calls.
MEGATechie Mind Blasting Headset or MEGATechie Deep in the Red?
With an MSRP of $250, the Creative Sound Blaster EVO Zx isn't exactly cheap, but it is competitively priced against other similar gaming headsets. You get some great flexibility here with NFC, Bluetooth, USB and 3.5mm stereo mini connections, particularly with the easily detachable cables. I would have liked if the USB connection sat more flush with the rounded edge of the EVO Zx, but flattening out a small section could have had a detrimental effect on the overall look and design.
Audio quality on these headphones is commendable, offering a rich and powerful sound that is just as comfortable with music as it is with an open fragging session on Steam. It's comfortable to wear, though the softer padding and multiple moving parts could become less desirable with time. The cluttered controls can be a little cumbersome too, but once you get familiar with where everything is, it becomes less of a problem. Some people may find the earpieces a touch on the small side, but there is a version with larger 50mm drivers coming out soon that will presumably also have larger cans to accommodate.
While I would not purchase the EVO Zx purely as a Bluetooth headset for my smartphone or tablet, I would definitely consider it if I were looking for a quality gaming headset that can handle a lot more than just gaming on my PC.