My Second-Favorite Pair of Headphones

This classic pair might be old, but it’s still amazing! Exclamation Mark!

Image for post
Image for post

Creative Labs and I have a long personal history….well, as personal as the history between any company and one of their consumers. I’ve been enjoying their products for almost 30 years, and they probably don’t know I exist.

But they make my second-favorite headphones: The Creative Aurvana Live!

That exclamation mark isn’t me being overly enthusiastic about the headphones, it’s part of their name. And it’s part of what I like about them.

My first-favorite headphones are the DT770’s or M50X’s, depending on what day of the week it is.

Picking a first-favorite is a hard thing to do. But I have no doubts about second place.

My first Creative Labs product was a Sound Blaster that my parents bought after I begged them to do it for months. My positive experiences with that original Sound Blaster meant that Creative Labs became my go-to company for PC sound hardware once I was spending my own money on peripherals. I had a Sound Blaster 16, a Sound Blaster Live!, a Sound Blaster Audigy, and today I own a small SoundBlasterX G5 desktop DAC/amp.

They’ve always made good sound products, and during their expansion phase in the 90’s and early 2000’s, they worked with and/or purchased both Cambridge Soundworks and E-mu Systems. The Cambridge Soundworks PC Works System was the first speaker system I ever bought for myself, and its exceptional sound quality is probably what started me down the audio gear rabbit hole.

Cambridge is still around today making…Bluetooth speakers. And the E-mu name sometimes finds itself dragged out and slapped on some headphones.

And yes, those headphones I linked are just an Aurvana Live! with wooden cups.

Image for post
Image for post

The Live! branding first came about in 1998, and was the herald of a whole new range of audio products from Creative that was meant to “Recreate a Live Sound Experience.” And that exclamation mark gave them magical excitement. Or something.

Creative didn’t actually design the core components of the Aurvana Live! It seems like I’m shouting that sentence at you, but that’s really just the magic of branding.

Instead, this headphone is really an enhanced Foster 443741. If you thought that having an exclamation mark in the name was bad, just imagine telling your friends you’re wearing a “443741”.

Foster, who also owns famous audio company Fostex, makes all kinds of OEM audio products. The key innovation in the 443741/Aurvana Live! is the combination of a good enclosure, excellent pads, and a Biocellulose Driver. Biocellulose is a fibrous byproduct of certain bacteria that can be fashioned into things…in this case, a very resilient, low distortion dynamic speaker driver.

Biodynamic drivers are used in many different models of headphone, including expensive pairs like Fostex’s $400+ TH-00 lineup. The 443741 design captures a lot of that same audio performance in a smaller, lighter, cheaper design. Creative then refined that design and added their own branding to it, and they’ve sold it for years for a street price that hovers around just $60.

For $60, it’s nigh-impossible to beat the audio performance of the Aurvana Live! It has a deep, robust bass response, natural smooth midrange, and even some solid treble detail. The bass and midrange are its strongest qualities.

I reviewed a pair back in 2017, and then I was pretty crushed when my pair’s plug fell apart. Amazon didn’t have any others in stock for me to exchange it with at the time, as it’s a dramatically popular item. So I had to return it.

Image for post
Image for post

But recently, I finally bought a new one. And then I also bought an E-Mu Walnut. And I might even buy the Massdrop-exclusive E-mu Purpleheart.

That’s right, there’s three versions of this headphone on the market, and they all sell for less than $100. That almost makes me feel normal for considering owning three of them. The only other headphones I’ve ever owned multiple versions of at once are the above-mentioned M50X and DT770.

I love the Aurvana Live’s padding. Its small memory foam pads are somehow cushy and comfy in spite of being so small and borderline on-ear. I love its portability. And I love the surprising punchiness of its sound.

It’s good enough to tap into the nostalgia I have for the old PC Works speakers and Sound Blaster Live sound card. It’s a little pair of relatively-affordable headphones that provides big, unabashed sound quality.

Yes, the cable doesn’t detach. Yes, the wooden-cupped versions come with less extras in the bag even though they cost more. Yes, the wooden versions isolate a bit better than the ho-hum noise blockage of the originals.

But these flaws can’t stop the little headphone that could. It’s a product that every audio fan should have the pleasure of trying, it’s cheap enough that I don’t feel bad recommending it, and it’s sold for so long that it’s stuck with a 90’s exclamation mark in its name.

What’s not to love?

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store