Audio

Sound of the future

The Super X-Fi Amp is the first product to feature Creative's Super X-Fi headphone holography technology, which simulates surround sound and optimises audio based on each user's ears and head shape.
The Super X-Fi Amp is the first product to feature Creative's Super X-Fi headphone holography technology, which simulates surround sound and optimises audio based on each user's ears and head shape.PHOTO: CREATIVE TECHNOLOGY

The Super X-Fi Amp features headphone holography technology, which Creative took 20 years and more than $137 million of research and development to perfect

The Creative Super X-Fi Amp is a USB-C dongle that is able to recreate surround sound with a realistic sense of depth, space and details through any regular headphones.

This is the first product to feature Creative's Super X-Fi headphone holography technology, which is the result of 20 years and more than US$100 million (S$137 million) of research and development by the local audio firm.

The Super X-Fi technology not only simulates surround sound, but also optimises audio based on each user's ears and head shape. Thus, this is not as straightforward or plug-and-play as you think.

Looking like a thumb drive, the Amp is crafted with a single aluminium unibody and has a fine-textured anodised black finish.

There is a USB-C port on one end and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the other. On its top are the volume buttons, play/pause button and Sxfi button. You press the Sxfi button to activate or deactivate the surround sound function.

Before you start using the Amp, you have to download the Sxfi Android app (the iOS version to come later) and use it to do some "head mapping". Basically, you need to take photos of your ears and face to get your own customised sound profile from the mapping.

Next, connect a USB-C cable from the Amp to your Android smartphone to load the profile into the Amp. Once the profile is loaded, you can use the Amp with other devices, such as the Sony PlayStation 4 (PS4) gaming console and Nintendo Switch portable gaming console, to get the surround sound effect.

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $219, available at www.sxfi.com

    CONNECTIVITY: USB-C and 3.5mm headphone jack

    WEIGHT: 15g

  • RATING

  • FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The Sxfi app also allows you to select the headphones you are using with the Amp for an optimised listening experience. At press time, there are only limited headphones that are available in the app to choose from. And only a few Creative and E-MU headphones have been Super X-Fi certified, which means they will take full advantage of the technology.

For this review, I used the Super X-Fi certified Creative Aurvana Special Edition headphones ($99), which are given away free (while stocks last) with every purchase of the Amp.

I was given a demonstration at Creative's office. I first heard the playback of an elaborate surround sound system, before donning the Super X-Fi Amp+Aurvana setup. I was blown away by how similar both setups sounded.

But the real test comes in real life. I tried the same Super X-Fi Amp+Aurvana setup with various devices - my gaming PC running the latest version of Windows 10, MacBook Pro running macOS Mojave, PS4, Switch and Samsung Galaxy Note9 smartphone.

Whether playing games, watching movies or listening to music, my audio experience went up several notches with the Amp. With each device, it delivered realistic surround sound with jaw-dropping accuracy.

Playing games like the first-person shooter Call Of Duty: WWII on PS4, I am able to sense where the incoming rockets or bullets are coming from, while explosions have a thumping effect that makes them more real. I felt transported to a concert hall when listening to music and to a movie theatre when watching movies.

The only glitch I found is the intermittent static noise and echoes when playing Fifa 19 on the Switch, which I did not experience with the other devices I tested. But unplugging and reinserting the Amp solves the problem most of the time. Another downer is that the Amp is currently not supported on the Xbox One gaming console.

• Verdict: The Creative Super X-Fi Amp is a glimpse into this headphone holography technology that works really well and is truly magical. This may well be the trump card that Creative has been waiting for for years, since its SoundBlaster sound card heydays.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Sound of the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe