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First look: Creating 3D headphone audio with the Super X-Fi

AppleInsider goes on with Creative Labs' Super X-Fi, the aluminum dongle designed to turn any headphone set into a 3D soundstage to improve the audio your music and movies.

Super X-Fi

Super X-Fi dongle

We skeptically greet claims of apps and software that pledge to drastically improve the audio quality of your laptop or smartphone instantly. More often than not, they usually utilize some version of adjusting the EQ, which could be done by a user and a very little bit of know-how. So, when we were offered a demo of the just-launched Super X-Fi dongle during CES, we furrowed our brow a bit, and headed into the impromptu theater room to adorn a set of headphones, each affixed to its own Super X-Fi device.

Creative Labs, the company that created the X-Fi, debuted the device as a prototype in 2018 and quickly won an award for its audio reproduction abilities. A year later, the product is finally available to the masses.

The idea is that Super X-Fi —SXFI for short —focuses on the spacial soundstage of the headphones and attempts to reproduce an immersive 3D soundstage within the headphones themselves. In short, music should feel like you are standing in front of the stage, rather than having the singer in your ear. When listening to a movie, it creates almost a lite version of Dolby Atmos.

At the same time, it serves as a headphone amp, pushing more power to your cans than your iPhone would ever do.

As the demo kicks off, we were impressed out of the gate. A simple sound test announced a different area of the 7.1 surround sound and it accurately sounded like each of the distinct zones, enough that we took off our headphones to be sure the sound we heard came from them, and not the speakers surrounding us. We were then guided through a series of demos, both movies and music, designed to show off the prowess of the device.

A demo is just that, a demo. It is tailored to the strengths of the device and was without a doubt extremely impressive. They are designed to want you to throw your money at the product on the spot, and not think that hard about the real-world application while you're still impressed.

Once we got to spend time with our own playlists, our thoughts were a bit more mixed.

Super X-Fi slide

Super X-Fi slide

As a headphone amp, we saw big differences between using and not using the SXFI. It made a difference, even on our nice MW50's.

The 3D sound was a little less impressive as we tried out different tracks. It for sure altered the sound, giving it a much larger soundstage, but it will require more listening to see how it plays out across the entire gamut. In the brief time we used it, we really liked the sound, but the mids seemed to be slightly missing.

Regardless, I think I will be grabbing one to use with my iPhone or Mac and further testing will be really needed to see how SXFI really alters the sound and how much better it performs.

AppleInsider will be attending the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show starting on January 8 through January 11 where we're expecting 5G devices, HomeKit, 8K monitors and more. Keep up with our coverage by downloading the AppleInsider app, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos throughout the event.