Creative Super X-Fi review: A ‘holographic audio’ eargasm

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Few things in technology are guaranteed to bring you actual joy, but Creative’s Super X-Fi just might qualify for that list.

In short, the Super X-Fi distills decades of audio work into a tiny, portable dongle no bigger than a USB thumb drive that transforms smartphone, laptop, or PC audio with “holographic audio,” according the company.

While that sounds like a lot of superfluous ad copy, we have to admit that after weeks of using the Super X-Fi, the company is on to something. We’d almost believe Creative’s claim that it has found the “holy grail” of audio, but we’re disinclined to recall the Quest Knights just yet.

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Gordon Mah Ung

The Super X-Fi (right) is the size of a finger but offers far more advanced audio than the Google Pixel 2XL audio dongle (v1) on the left.

Getting started with the Super X-Fi

The Super X-Fi features a USB-C port on one end, a standard 3.5mm analog jack on the other, and features volume, shuffle, and a single control button on its surface. A tiny LED changes state from green to orange to let you know if it’s at work or not.

To get started with the Super X-Fi, you first download an Android app though the GooglePlay store. You then take pictures of your head which is analyzed by Creative to pick the perfect audio profile for your particular head shape.

This is necessary because so much of how we hear sound is determined by the timing differences of audio arriving in our ears, and the shape of our head and earlobes plays a large part of it.

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The Super X-Fi app scans your head to determine what is optimimal for you.

Besides profiling for your head, you also pick from a set of listed approved headphones in the app, or set it to “generic” for either headphone or in-ear. The headphone profiles are fine tuned by Creative to make the most of each pair’s sonic characteristics and fit style.

Creative actually has an even more optimized approach for mapping that uses in-ear microphones to precisely model audio for your head while frequency sweeps are run on a surround system. Obviously, this isn’t something that’s currently feasible for your average consumer. But we can say that in demonstrations of the Super X-Fi mapped using the in-ear microphones, we had a tough time distinguishing the Super X-Fi from a decently high-end Dolby Atmos system.

For now, the head scans using a phone camera are the next best thing.

Having that extra information is how Creative distinguishes the Super X-Fi from all other spatialized audio solutions. Creative expects its algorithms to get even better still as it adds more scans to its growing database.

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Gordon Mah Ung

On one end is a USB-C port, and on the other is a 3.5mm jack, which many companies have banned from phones.

Inside the Super X-Fi

Crack open the Super X-Fi and you’ll find an AK4377. That’s a 32-bit, 768KHz digital analog converter from acclaimed audio company Asahi Kasei Microdevices. The other chip is Creative’s Super X-Fi chip. The company is pretty secretive about what the Super X-Fi does exactly but we’d guess it relies on such technologies as Creative’s Crystalizer, CMSS, and dozens of other audio patents the company has in its war chest.

Yes, true audiophiles who pursue the highest-resolution FLAC or DSD files will scoff at Creative’s bag of audio techniques as gimmicks or magic tricks, but in our listening experience, the Super X-Fi was nothing short of phenomenal.

Super X-Fi and music

With stereo content over a good set of headphones or in-ear earphones, most music is rendered as if a singer or band is inside your skull. In fact, we’re so accustomed to this John Malkovich feeling that switching on the Super X-Fi may throw you off for a second or three.

If you keep listening though, you’ll eventually realize you’re just not used to the sound of a band in front of your head, where they would be if they were performing for you.

If we were writing Creative marketing lines, it would be easy to say that the Super X-Fi is like having a personal audition by musicians.

Using whatever wizardry Creative has summoned from its library, there were times when the difference was stunning. It had us combing through our collection for more music to re-experience.

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With the Super X-Fi in Windows, you set the OS to output as discrete 7.1 audio, which the dongle then reassembles positional audio from.

Super X-Fi and games

Want to feel like you have an advantage in a multiplayer shooter? Want to be further immersed further in an open world? Plug that Super X-Fi into your PC and enjoy a 5.1 setup at the comfort of your desk with no pesky speakers or wires to worry about.

Online games like Destiny 2Battlefield V, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 worked like a dream and provided a level of feedback that made us feel as if we were cheating. When you can accurately place a sound without any visual feedback and respond to it, it becomes a game changer. Did it make us a better player? No, it’s not magic. But it did give us a deeper sense of our surroundings than we’d experienced before. The Super X-Fi will also pass microphone data as well, for when you are teaming up with your buddies.

The spatialized sound even increased the immersiveness of single-player games like The Evil Within 2DOOM, and Red Dead Redemption 2 (gasp—a console game). Yes, the Super X-Fi also works with the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, but not on the Xbox One due to current restrictions from Microsoft.

We’ve been using the Super X-Fi primarily to play games for two months and it’s become a must-have. In situations where a dedicated 5.1 sound system isn’t an option, the Super X-Fi is the next-best thing whether you’re playing on a TV or PC.

And for those who are worried about Creative drivers, have no fear, this is plug-and-play—meaning you can’t blame the company anymore if your build locks up mid-match!

Super X-Fi isn’t perfect

Be forewarned, the Super X-Fi is not perfect by any stretch. As we said, there will be times when you’ll be floored by just how good the Super X-Fi sounds. But there will also be times when it’s just meh, or even just wrong. Maybe a pinch too much reverb, maybe the vocals are processed out as a little too thin. Android users will also be annoyed by the device asking for permission to access the Super X-Fi (Creative says it’s a security limitation imposed by the OS).

There also isn’t much customization in how much depth you can add to the spatialization. In future iterations we’d love to see the ability to push the “speakers” out further, or adjust how much reverb is in the space with you. Fine-tuning like this can further trick the brain to accept you are indeed listening to speakers in the space with you.

Fortunately, in situations where the Super X-Fi’s processing isn’t working for you, you can click a button on the device to switch it off. You’ll still get the benefits of a 120dB SNR, 32-bit AKM DAC, which is likely a big improvement over anything built into your phone or laptop, or the generic dongle that came with your phone.

[“source=pcworld”]

Free college is now a reality in nearly 20 states

Students who graduate from this tiny tuition-free college make more than Harvard grads

Students who graduate from this tiny tuition-free college make more than Harvard grads   8:30 AM ET Sat, 14 July 2018 | 03:38

“There was no way I could have gone to a university after high school,” said Emily Buckner, 20.

“My parents were laid off during the recession and it set us back a lot,” she said. “When I finished high school, there was nothing.”

Instead, Buckner took advantage of the Tennessee Promise — an offer of two years tuition-free at a community or technical college in the state.

In May, she completed her associate degree and is now enrolled as a junior at Tennessee Technological University, or Tennessee Tech, studying human resources.

Emily Buckner at her Volunteer State Community College graduation

Source: Emily Buckner
Emily Buckner at her Volunteer State Community College graduation

In addition to the state funding, Buckner has relied solely on academic scholarships to pay for school as well as a job at Waffle House, which covers additional expenses such as books and food. She has no student loan debt.

“I know a lot of people go to college and a lot of people don’t,” she said, “I just felt like it was for me.”

She credits the Tennessee Promise for opening the door.

Of the students who started in the program’s first year in 2015, more than 50 percent have been successful, according to Mike Krause, the executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and founding director of Tennessee Promise.

More than 20 percent have graduated, another 20 percent are still enrolled and 10 percent successfully transferred to a four-year institution.

Now in its fourth year, the number of applicants is still rising, according to Krause.

“There are students that may have counted themselves out and when they hear that you can go for free that provides a sense of momentum,” Krause said. (Students can use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges or other eligible associate degree programs or vocational schools.)

Other states, including Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Rhode Island, have also rolled out statewide free community-college programs and more are expected to follow.

[“source=cnbc”]

Russia Blames a Bad Sensor for Its Failed Rocket Launch

officials held a press conference to reveal that they have determined what caused last month’s Soyuz mid-flight failure. The culprit: a damaged sensor on one of the rocket’s four boosters responsible for stage separation. With the investigation complete, the officials announced that they will move up the date of the next crew launch to the International Space Station.

The investigation has captured international attention because the Soyuz rocket is currently the only vehicle capable of transporting people to and from the ISS. Russian space agency officials confirmed that the faulty sensor, designed to signal stage separation, had caused one of the boosters to improperly separate. This led the first and second stages of the rocket to collide, which then triggered the vehicle’s emergency abort system.

“The launch failure was caused by an abnormal separation of one of the strap-on boosters that hit with its nose the core stage in the fuel tank area,” said Oleg Skorobogatov, deputy director of the Central Research Institute of Machine-Building who led the investigation, in a statement.

Video of the incident, released today by the space agency, shows the accident from the rocket’s point of view. In it, the booster in question strikes the core of the rocket, causing a significant jolt, which triggered the abort. According to officials, the afflicted sensor rod was bent slightly during the assembly of the rocket. To check for any handling errors that might have also affected other rockets, Russian officials said that all assembled Soyuz rockets—and their attached booster pack—will be taken apart and put together anew.

[“source=TimeOFIndia”]

Sharp Aquos Zero uses an in-house developed curved OLED with a huge notch

Sharp’s latest smartphone was unveiled in Japan today. It’s the Aquos Zero, which features the company’s first OLED panel designed and manufactured in-house.

It’s a curved 6.2-inch 1440×2992 screen with support for the DCI-P3 color space and Dolby Vision, and as you can see it comes with a huge notch. Not just that, but the parts of the top bezel that are to the left and right of it are pretty substantial too, at least by the usual notched smartphone standards.

Oh, and there’s also a chin. Anyway, enough about that. Thanks to its magnesium frame and aramid fiber back it weighs just 146g, and Sharp is clearly proud of this achievement, boasting about how this is one of the lightest flagships around. By the way, for reference, note that Kevlar is a type of aramid fiber although Sharp doesn’t mention that brand anywhere in its marketing materials so we’re assuming it didn’t pay DuPont the associated licensing fees.

The Aquos Zero is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chipset (what else?), paired with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of UFS storage. Its battery has 3,130 mAh capacity and the phone runs Android 9 Pie. Its dimensions are 154 x 73 x 8.8 mm.

The single rear camera has 22.6 MP resolution and f/1.9 aperture, while the selfie cam is an 8 MP unit. The Aquos Zero is IP68 certified for water and dust resistance. A fingerprint scanner is on the back of the handset, and it also has a face unlock system. Stereo speakers are in too, with Dolby Atmos technology.

The Sharp Aquos Zero will be available in Japan by the end of the year. There’s no telling if it will be offered elsewhere at any point – but since the company now has a presence in Europe, maybe we’ll see it there in the future.

[“source”=gsmarena]