At a Glance
When I reviewed Creative’s Aurvana In-Ear Earphones ( ), I found them to be easy to fit, with a clean but nondescript look and audio performance that was generally capable but ultimately a bit bland. The company’s newest headset, the HS-930i improves upon that model in a number of ways, albeit with a couple caveats.
Like the Aurvana, the HS-930i is a canalbud-style headset. Canalbuds essentially split the difference between traditional earbuds and in-ear-canal (“canalphone”) models. (See our in-ear-canal headphone primer for more details.) Since they fit partially in the ear canal, canalbuds block some external noise and form an acoustic seal that improves bass performance. However, they don’t block as much sound as true in-ear-canal models, and they share a few drawbacks with canalphones: fit challenges, cable noise, and the odd sound of your own voice that comes from having your ears plugged while talking.
Compared to the Aurvana, the HS-930i has a more eye-catching, retro design. Each L-shaped earpiece mates a capsule-shaped body with an aluminum stem, the latter fitted with clear-silicone eartips. The top half of capsule is stem-matching metal, while the rubbery, black bottom half leads into a black cable that exits at a 45-degree angle. The seam between the two halves features a thin, metallic band—blue for the left earpiece, red for the right. Interestingly, you can twist the two halves of this capsule to fine-tune the cable’s angle relative to the rest of the earpiece.
The right-hand cable hosts a small, cylindrical module with a microphone and a one-button remote. The remote’s button is flush with the body of the module, but sports a small, raised dot to make the button easier to locate. I like this design, which makes the button unobtrusive but still easy to use.
The HS-930i’s package includes small, medium, and large pairs of eartips; a velvety drawstring carrying bag; and a “PC adapter” that splits the headphone and microphone portions of the cable, allowing you to use the headset with PCs and older Macs that have separate headphone and microphone jacks.
Although I found the HS-930i’s L-shaped earpiece design to be visually appealing, from experience I know that such earpieces—a common canalbud design—are somewhat incompatible with my extra-large ears. To get an appropriate fit with many canalbuds, I need either earpieces that I can insert deeper than intended or extra large eartips. The HS-930i has neither. With some experimentation, I found a positioning that sealed the headphones properly so I could evaluate them, although this precise position was easily disrupted. Those with large ear canals should check fit before buying.
I tested the HS-930i’s microphone by making a recording of my voice and comparing it to the recordings I’ve produced with other headsets I’ve reviewed. The HS-930i’s microphone sounded rich and natural, but was just a little on the quiet side. A friend confirmed this assessment during a test phone call. Overall, microphone performance was above average and more than adequate for voice memos and phone calls.
While the Aurvana’s audio performance was somewhat bland, I found the HS-930i’s sound to be much more exciting. Higher frequencies, particularly cymbals, are emphasized, and while a few test tracks sounded bright and grating, treble is generally clean and detailed. (As with the Maximo iP-HS5 ( ), high frequencies were very harsh when I first listened, but 20 hours of burn-in took most of the edge off.) Bass frequencies are also emphasized, but missing some detail, with occasional muddiness in the mid- and upper-bass frequencies. The HS-930i’s midrange is pleasant with impressive detail, producing rich vocals and electric-guitar tones, as well as sweet string and piano sounds. However, the midrange could be overwhelmed by the occasionally muddy bass frequencies.
Overall, the HS-930i offered audio performance that was on par with the better canalbuds I’ve reviewed: the iP-HS5, the V-moda Remix Remote ( ), and the Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220vi ( ). Each of the four offers impressive performance, but none are perfect, so choosing one is essentially a choice of tradeoffs. For example, the Maximo model’s tonal balance is similar to that of the HS-930i, but the iP-HS5 provides better bass detail, not as much—but less frequently harsh—treble detail, and less-exaggerated high and low ends. The V-moda Remix Remote offers better bass detail and more relaxed—but less detailed—high frequencies. And the Ultimate Ears MetroFi 220vi gives you an overall flatter, more balanced sound that avoids the occasional harshness and bass bloat of the HS-930i. If you’re a fan of treble, though, the HS-930i offers the most impressive treble detail of the bunch.
As with all headphones, it’s best to listen before you buy, or to buy from a vendor with a good return policy, particularly if you’re unsure of your personal preferences. In particular, those with large ears and those who dislike brightly voiced headphones should be extra cautious of the HS-930i. However, aside from my personal fit issues and matters of sonic preference, I enjoyed the HS-930i’s audio performance and unique styling. If you want above-average bass quantity and lots of high frequency detail and volume, the HS-930i is worth a listen.