Headphones

Creative Super X-Fi Technology: Preview Experience

Mr Sim Wong Hoo presenting at Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore 28 Feb 2018 Creative Office

Creative Labs Singapore launched the Super X-Fi during CES 2018 in January and was awarded “Best of CES 2018” by AVSForum.com. When I saw the launch coverage, I asked Creative PR if there are any chances to experience it on Singapore soil. Weeks later, I received a media invite, and gladly took time off from work to attend it.

Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore

Many audio companies have attempted to create some sort of 3D audio effects, but most of them come out unimpressed. Even till today, when I listen to music, I do not enable any audio effects because to me, they alter the original source and frequency reproduction, where the bass might not sound full, the treble lack definition. So when the Super X-Fi received phenomenally positive responses from some of the industry, I had to try it out and see if it is worth the hype.

Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore 28 Feb 2018 Creative Office

The event was conducted by Mr. Sim Wong Hoo himself, showing his utmost dedication and belief to this project, which he claimed is 20 years in the making. He gave a very open presentation about the history, the vision, the process, the planned products, sales targets, competition.

Mr Sim Wong Hoo presenting at Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore 28 Feb 2018 Creative Office

Shortly after his speech, we are brought to the demo area and started the experience. Some of the audience were able to calibrate their ears with a stereo microphone inserted on their ears like wearing earphones. I was seated at a seat without the microphone calibration, but was calibrated by the SXFi AI by taking photos of my ears and my head.

Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore 28 Feb 2018 Creative Office

Once we were settled, the demo began. First, a Dolby Atmos nature-environment clip was played, then a gaming clip, then a movie clip, then finally, a stereo audio clip. We were advised to toggle among a few modes via the control box. I was able switch between the AI-calibrated mode and the mic-calibration mode of JianHao the YouTuber who was seated in front of me. I was able to toggle between SXFi mode and non-SXFi mode.

Creative Super X-Fi dongle prototype

Super X-Fi: Impressions

Indeed, the headphones with Super X-Fi technology is able to replicate the sensurround audio experience of a multi-speaker setup. The headphones fooled me into thinking that the audio source came from the external speakers instead of the headphones.

Chester Tan of musicphotolife.com at Creative Super X-Fi demo event

However, the demo clips generally failed to wow me to the next level, partially because the clips are not quite capable of demonstrating the SXFi technology to its full potential. The tracks are too fast-paced to give a detailed evaluation of the surround effects. But the SXFi headphone surround effect matches the physical 7.1 speakers.

As for the demo stereo track, I felt that it adds a room effect not unlike the other surround effects filter. If it is better than the other filters, I am unable to determine in that short demo. As I toggled between non-SXFi and SXFi, I personally prefer the non-SXFi version, which offers higher fidelity and detail.

Creative Super X-Fi UltraDSP controller board

While toggling my photo-calibrated profile and Jian Hao’s mic-calibrated profile, I enjoy his version a lot better. This suggests that the photo-calibrated method might not be accurate enough. Or, they tagged a profile that was not mine.

JianHao Tan at the Creative Super X-Fi demo event

The Headphones Generation

Old recordings are intended for enjoyment in physical rooms, many were recorded in binaural format. Modern pop recordings are more likely to be mastered over headphones and in-vehicles, hence I am not so sure if 3D audio technologies such as Creative Super X-Fi will perform well for these “manufactured” recordings. Additionally, headphones offer different listening experience, putting audio closer to the ears to be felt. Speakers, on the other hand, are music enjoyed over a physical setting, so the “live” environmental effect is more important than the audio details. For that, I do agree that older recordings sound better over speakers than on headphones, while newer digital recordings show off the better side with headphones.

But SXFi has proven to be absolutely marvellous for multi-track recordings. I happen to have a few 5.1 audio tracks and would be eager to try them out over SXFi. Watching movies and playing games will also be a lot more immersive as SXFi can recreate the surround channels accurately, which means anyone can finally enjoy movies in multi-channel audio experience over existing headphones.

Mr Sim Wong Hoo presenting at Creative Super X-Fi demo event at Singapore 28 Feb 2018 Creative Office

Next Steps

Creative says the Super X-Fi dongle will be on sale later this year for USD 150. This dongle can transform any headphone into a holographic audio headphones. Before that, Creative will release a free software app that can process off-line audio tracks with Super X-Fi holography. This free app is targeted for 2nd quarter of this year. To be informed of its launch, Creative recommends to subscribe to their mailing list from the website sxfi.com.

Creative has been rather docile when it comes to product marketing, despite launching pretty impressive audio products over the past years, notably, the Soundblaster ROAR series, X-Fi Sonic Carrier soundbar, and portable audio processors. Let’s hope the Super X-Fi technology can put them back in the game as a premier audio tech company.

Update 24 Sep 2018

The Super X-Fi Amp is now on sale at S$219, limited to Singapore address. Click this link to receive S$20 referral discount.

Summary
Article Name
Creative Super X-Fi Technology Preview Experience
Description
Creative Labs launches the Super X-Fi Technology that creates audio holography over headphones. Many critics have claimed this to be the "holy grail of audio". Music Photo Life has the opportunity to preview this tech at the Creative HQ.
Author
3 comments
  1. Sharkoon T28

    I do not see how they can sell US$150 dongle. Phone OS does not output 7.1 or 5.1 native audio for you to pull and put it into 2 channels neatly. VR and AR headsets already have their customized HRTF API for content creators. Switch on Super X-fi and you mess up the effect. If the object is supposed to be near me and Super X-fi makes it further, I am going to lose the game. They have no software platform or API for developers (content creators) unlike Oculus, Android, iOS, HTC vive, THX spatial just to mention a few,

    You are right, Thank you for your honest write-up. Super X-fi for music sounds worse. I only listen to what the musician wants to give me. If you want the piano to be near my left ear, it should be exactly there. Even if the musician does multi-channel music, they already have software platforms that can do customized HRTF/binaural/3D audio in 2 channels. Try listening to binaural stuff (BBC click, virtual barber, matchbox, 3D BINAURAL GUITARS WITH SEPARATE STRINGS)
    on youtube using normal earbuds and just a phone, tablet, Mac or PC with surround effect off and you will know what I am talking about.

    2D camera matching is hit or miss. Microsoft Holo Lens uses 3D depth camera. Oculus VR advises people to use microphones in ears to do matching. iPhone X can do a 3D facial scan.

    The HRTF technology behind Super X-fi is not theirs, hence no patent for them. Anyway, Windows 10 has Sonic for HRTF spatial stuff and it can pull 7.1 or 5.1 into 2 channels pretty well. Dolby Atmos headphone also does similar stuff for e.g. in Overwatch. Which one is better is up to the listener.

    The burden of creating accurate 3D audio for your headphones lies with content creators, not Super X-fi.

    Without a platform or de facto standard for content creators, this whole thing will just be another useless post-processing enhancement product.

    Once people wake up from the hype, you may see Creative writing off millions of redundant dongles.

    P.S. I am a long time user of Creative products since Soundblaster 16bit. I must admit I initially almost believe in this rubbish until I did extensive research and audio listening myself. I have no long or short position in Creative Technology Ltd shares.

    1. DC

      Sharkoon, i replied to your posting on the other site as well.

      i really think you are overanalyzing this. there is nothing physically or technically impossible about what they are doing. they are merely processing a sound projected directly into your ear to make it sound as if it is coming form a distance. this just takes processing power, know-how and clever implementation and packaging. creative with its background in sound and processor design is just the company to figure this out.

      there are other much larger and complicated products out there that do similar things. creative has just minituarized it and built in the AI to simplify it and make it portable.

      if you want to get a sense of the effect do this:
      1. put on a pair of headphones or earbuds connected to your phone but do not play any music.
      2. then sit in front of your traditional speakers and play some music.
      3. then close your eyes and imagine the music were coming from the headphones.
      4. then play music from the phone and turn off the speakers. see the difference!

      THIS is what the effect is like (according to all the reviewers).

      if it even comes close to this it will be a dramatic step forward in headphone listening. speakers are much more pleasant to listen to. headphones, no matter how low you turn the volume down, is jarring in that the sound seems to come from directly next to your ear or (at best) from inside your head. sound that envelops you spatially is gentle and pleasant.

      i suspect speakers will be superior to SXFI but i cant bring my speakers with me on my run. i would opt for SXFI than normal headphones.

      if creative really has cracked this like the reviews say they have then i can understand why people are so blow away. it will revolutionize audio just like stereo did to mono.

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