Creative’s latest headphone tech promises to create previously unheard sounds in your head. Does it work as advertised?
Having a strong grip on the audio processing side of the PC revolution, it’s no surprise that Creative has won numerous CES awards for the Super X-Fi tech. It’s been awhile in the works and it uses UltraDSP to emulate a multi-speaker sensation right in your head, unlike the closed presentation of other on-ears. Using complex algorithms and AI to compute the specific contours of your face, the SXFI can be set up using the partnering iOS or Android app, but once set up you don’t need the app to run it. Hotkeys on the left earcup switch the mode on/off and there’s also a micro-SD card slot for onboard music storage!
It doesn’t fold, nor comes with a carry case, but it’s comfortable with its fabric mesh ear cups that let your ears breathe over extended listening sessions.
Without Bluetooth AptX, wireless music performance is average and even though it has large 50mm drivers, the sonic performance doesn’t come off as refined. Switch on SXFI mode and the sound does leave the earcups for an ‘out-of-the-head’ sound that is great for games and movies. But, wired is even better. Before you reap the benefits of black magic, you have to take shots of your head and L/R ears. Any smartphone will do this, but whether the processing remains unique to each individual still remains a mystery.
Plugging them into your PC/Mac opens up another level of processing that lets you emulate 5.1 or 7.1 speaker experience. While it does make movies sound a lot more engaging than on “normal” headphones, it doesn’t anchor the dialogues to a virtual centre spot or surrounds behind your head. Instead, it takes the whole sound and enlarges the space so you forget you’re wearing headphones, which isn’t a bad thing. Game of Thrones, which is streamed in stereo on Hotstar, took on a more natural feel as opposed to the usual stereo L/R presentation.
There’s also some element of functionality built into the SX-FI algorithm. There’s a little nubbin on the left ear cup, dubbed the ‘nanoboom’ mic. This detachable appendage makes it a great device for phone calls too which also benefit from the SXFI audio processing. Works well for video calls, making the experience more of a “you-are-there” moment.
Gamers have been treated to the impressive Audeze Mobius with its advanced head-tracking; Sennheiser has its Ambeo binaural sound moment, so the Creative SXFI falls in competitive territory. It’s cheaper than the others, with RGB lights around the cans to lure gamers and a sound that is genuinely larger than the headspace. But it lacks musicality for regular Bluetooth use making it ideally suited only for late-night laptop Netflix binges.