There are days when I wish I can just immerse myself in music wherever I go, as if I’m sitting in my study with my NAD D3020 digital amplifier to soak in the music from my Chario bookshelf speakers.
The best headphones can pick up the sometimes throaty vocals, that gentle pluck of the guitar string and the reverberation of the cymbals. What expensive headphones usually cannot do is to recreate the actual experience of listening to a track using multiple speakers.
Most of the time, the sound in headphones would feel like it is coming from the centre of your head and not out in front of you. Even some superb 3D rendering tracks using binaural recording techniques are not as expansive.
A sound source that should be further away often still feels that it is just between your ears or next to you but never a few feet away.
The Creative Super X-Fi chip that was unveiled earlier this year aims to push that source that is between your ears to the space around you to create the natural listening environment from several speakers.
Having sampled the technology before, I was already impressed early on. Good news is, it is now incorporated into a portable SFXI headphone amplifier that you can plug into your phone as well as a pair of headphones.
At a launch of the amplifier in Singapore yesterday, I managed to try out Super X-Fi more. To start off, you map your ears by scanning your face and ears with an app and feeding that data to the amplifier.
Inside here is Creative’s secret sauce – an algorithm that processes and pushes an audio signal that is customised to your ears, via your favourite earphones or headphones.
During my quick tests, I managed to try out video footage that showcased the immersive surround sound that held such promise earlier on. Once again, I was not disappointed. What went into my ears matched what I was seeing on screen, in both distance and location perception.
I understand that the term “three-dimensional” will be pandered around quite easily with this device but my experience with it thus far is “naturally immersive”. The audio quality is not something that feels manufactured and “in your face”, unlike the 3D we have come to know in recent years.
You can also choose what “speaker setup” you want to enjoy the sound with if you plug the amp into your PC. In the options, you can opt for stereo speakers, 5.1 surround and 7.1 surround. I find that the 5.1 Surround works for both movies and music and the stereo is great for music.
To further test the setup, I fired up Spotify and played Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli’s Perfect Symphony with my PC and used the SFXI amp to drive a pair of Creative Aurvana Trio earbuds.
I could immediately sense that both singers were singing in an enclosed place. The delivery was a bit more natural and open, especially with the vocals. When I switched off the SFXI amp, the music tracks just squeezed back in between my ears again.
It is not a home-run for the Super X-Fi, though. In its attempt to enhance the spatial imagery, you sometimes do get an overemphasis on one part of a recording. On some tracks, I feel that the vocals are being overshadowed by a stress on the instruments on stage.
You might also want to be careful about the type of headphones to use with the amplifier. As with audio components, pairing is important.
I have tried using the Plantronics Backbeat Pro 2 headset with noise cancellation on and it does not have with the same impressive effect. The noise cancellation here seems to be muddling the sound.
Of course, you can overcome that by getting Creative headphones that come with the Super X-Fi technology built in, so you don’t need the amp at all.
This could be in the form of the company’s SXFI Air headphones out later this year (no prices indicated yet), or upcoming ones certified by Creative, to be announced later.
All said, music enjoyment is subjective and I do hope Creative will allow people to audition the system easily with their favourite headsets and earphones.
Available for orders online in Singapore now, the Super X-Fi amplifier is going for S$219.
We will have a deeper dive into the amp and headphones as we get to try them out more.
hi wilson, can i know if there is any way to test it out before purchase? Currently seems like no such option.
Hi James. The thing about customisation is that it takes a lot of resources to manage and organise. Hence an audition will be a huge undertaking and only Creative will know how they can allow customers to test their product in the most economical and efficient way.
I did buy my own set after my tests and part of the purchasing process is also the choosing of a session to collect the SXFI dongle. Part of the reason for doing that is they are helping the customers to do up their individual profiles.
As far as I am concerned, all the sessions are taken up and we have to wait for Creative to release more dates.
Thanks for reading Techgoondu.
Hi Andre. First of all, I must say music enjoyment is really subjective so I won’t say too much about the individual characteristics too much. I do say that the expansive soundstage is something that most headphones will struggle to create but can be done with this amp.
I will not say to get it based on my experience. I can say it is worthwhile for Creative to allow audition of this amplifier so that customers can make their own minds about it.
In short, and really reading between the lines…I bought one set for myself after the tests and audition.
Thanks for reading Techgoondu.
The bigger question is — does the resulting audio effect justify the S$ 219 price?