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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.