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At CES 2020, Creative unveiled Super X-Fi Gen2, an update to their immersive audio technology. Whether you’re watching a movie, listening to music, or playing a game, Creative promises that the sound emitted from Super X-FI-powered headphones will make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the action. We had a chance to hear it for ourselves at Creative’s private demo of the SXFI AMP, a dongle that works with any headphones, and the SXFI Carrier soundbar.
The Creative Super X-Fi Story
At CES 2019, Creative made waves when they received a stunning 15 best-of-show awards for their Super X-Fi headphone holographic technology. The press was blown away by a software solution that packs 3D surround sound, which typically requires a multi-channel speaker system, into a pair of headphones.
Creative CEO Wong Hoo Sim has had the vision for this product for over 20 years. And while the theory behind the technology has been known for a long time, processing power wasn’t anywhere near the required benchmark for a mass-market consumer product. In the past few years, however, technology finally caught up with Sim’s vision and Creative’s engineers made every audiophile’s dream come true.
The Super X-Fi Setup
The AI-driven technology customizes the sound experience based on physical features of your head. Creative has built its AI using data from tens of thousands of people and it continues to add head and ear shapes to its collection. Using the Super X-Fi app installed on your phone, you take three photos of your ears and face. Based on the images, the app tunes the optimal audio settings to surround you with a deeply realistic, spacial, and hence immersive listening experience.
A better alternative to the app, is building your custom audio profile using an in-ear microphone that records how your ear perceives sound amplitudes played at you. We were treated to this special setup during our demo, and Creative is planning on offering this as a premium feature in the US and Singapore sometime soon.
The Super X-Fi Experience
During our demo, we got to listen to the audio from two action movies, a YouTube video, and a mono recording from the Rolling Stones. We used the SXFI AMP, which acts as an intermediate between the audio source and the headphones. This gave us the opportunity to switch the SXFI feature off and on and really hear the difference.
The sound of the headphones without Super X-Fi was alright. Like most conventional headphones, it felt like the audio was playing in your head. But we actually went into the experience with Super X-Fi turned on and it felt like the sound came from the external speakers around us, which was rather perplexing. Once you’ve had this listening experience, it’s really hard to go back. Turning on Super X-Fi felt like turning off a headache and moving to a pleasant sound experience.
Which Products Offer Super X-Fi?
Creative has already released a range of headphones with built-in Super X-Fi and more are on the way.
The SXFI AIR C is optimized for gaming, though users told Creative that it didn’t work too well with FPS games. The SXFI Gamer, bound to be released in April 2020, will address this issue to give FPS gamers an optimized sound experience in regards to hearing distance, direction, and other FPS-specific audio features.
If you already have a pair of headphones that you love, you should get the SXFI AMP. But note that it requires a physical connection from the music source to the dongle and from the dongle to the headphones. Also, while the AMP does support any pair of headphones, it does work best if Creative created a profile; you’ll be able to see the list of certified headphones in the Super X-Fi app (Android, iOS). If yours isn’t available, you can use a default profile instead.
Creative has also launched true wireless in-ears with an impressive battery life of 14 hours.
The Super X-Fi Roadmap
Since its international launch last year, Creative has used accumulating real-world data to train the AI that’s powering the Super X-Fi technology. With Generation 2, the audio profile covers a wider range of content, such as more musical genres and gaming. If you’ve previously set up a profile, you’ll receive an upgrade to Gen2, automatically; just watch for the Gen2 sign on your profile in the app.
For Generation 3, which may come out in 2021, Creative is hoping to offer noise cancelling with its Super X-Fi headphones. They’re also looking into working on solutions for people requiring hearing aids.
Is 3D Immersive Audio Right for You?
Personally, I can only recommend trying it out for yourself. Fair warning: You might not want to listen to audio without this technology ever again.
I should note that Creative isn’t the only company with this kind of product. Sony has a product for headphones called 360 Reality Audio, which requires proprietary audio tracks. Waves Nx offers 3D Audio, which you’ll find built into products like Dell laptops or Audeze headphones.
That said, at this point, Creative’s SXFI AMP is the best solution if you’re looking for something that works with your current headphones and music/sound collection.