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.

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Creative’s Super X-Fi Amp heads to the US

Story image for CREATIVE from CNET

Those living in the US can finally try out Creative’s SXFI Amp — and it will cost just $150.

The dongle can be used with any USB Type-C Android phone, or consoles such as the PlayStation 4, and dramatically expands the sound on your headphones such that they sound like it’s coming from speakers around you.

Retailing online on Nov. 1, the SXFI Amp delivers sound to your ears based on its ear shape and works incredibly well. Check out our hands-on for more information. The online launch in the US takes place after a soft launch in the company’s home market of Singapore, though US customers will not be able to get a custom ear fitting like in Singapore.

Lastly. Apple iPhone users who want to try out the magic will have to wait for the release of its Bluetooth SXFI Air headset, when it arrives, though Creative did not say when that’s launching.

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Nintendo is updating Super Mario Run with a new character, mode, and world

Nintendo will issue a new update to its iOS and Android game Super Mario Run on September 29th, which will include a new world, mode, and playable character.

The update will introduce a new mode called Remix 10, which randomly splices together 10 sections from the game’s various levels in quick succession and rewards players with rainbow medals. Completing the various stages will allow players to rescue Princess Daisy and subsequently play as her throughout the rest of the game. Players will also be able to unlock a new world called World Star, which includes nine new levels, enemies and some additional gameplay mechanics.

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Polygon notes that there’s some other minor updates: players can get new items to put in their Mushroom Kingdom, and can listen to their own music while they play — when they do so, their runners will wear headphones. Nintendo is also temporarily cutting the price in half starting on September 29th through October 12th.

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Latest BlackBerry Device Touted As Super Thin, Super Secure with a Super Cool Camera

Most Secure Android Phones - Latest BlackBerry Device Touted As Super Thin, Super Secure with a Super Cool Camera

If there is one thing BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) phones are known for, it is security. And the company’s new DTEK50 phone lives up to that reputation while adding a great camera in a super thin body. According to the company, the DTEK50 is the “world’s most secure Android phone,” which may make it one of the best moves BlackBerry has made in sometime as it continues to find its place in the smartphone market.

The Android operating system currently has more than 70 percent of the market, and it is growing globally as iOS is shrinking. One bone of contention with Android however has been security. So when BlackBerry started protecting Android on its Priv smartphone continuing that protection with the DTEK50, reviewers and potential customers began to sit up and take notice. So what is so super about the security, camera and size of the BlackBerry DTEK50?

Company Claims ‘DTEK is One of the Most Secure Android Phones’

BlackBerry DTEK for Android controls what is shared on your device and with whom. You might think you have control of your device at all times, but there are tens of thousands of apps out there designed to take control of many of the features on your phone. And if you’re not aware, these apps can turn your microphone on, send text messages, access your contacts and location and steal your personal information.

The DTEK application has an easy-to-use and visual user interface that lets you see the status of your phone immediately with four essential functions:

  • Monitor, giving you a security rating of your device so you can identify what kind of actions you need to take to improve the protection level of the phone with specific security measures;
  • Control, adjusting the security settings of your phone to improve its rating;
  • Track, monitoring what the apps on the device are doing with advanced tools that let you know what information they have accessed, how they’re using it and for how long. This includes whether or not the apps are accessing your camera, microphone, location and personal information; and
  • Alert, notifying you when a specific app is active doing something it is not supposed to be doing.

Most Secure Android Phones - DTEK by Blackberry's Security Rating
The security also extends to the screen, which has an oleophobic layer to help prevent the oil residue from your fingers from sticking to the glass. Believe it or not, the smudges left by those oils on the glass give criminals a way to access your smartphone. But if the oil doesn’t adhere to the glass, it doesn’t leave a smudge.

The Camera

The DTEK50 features an 8MP front-facing camera with flash and a 13MP auto-focus rear camera. The front camera is rated at f/2.2, and it can capture images at a pixel size with an 84-degree field of view. The camera also has automatic image and video stabilization, selfie flash and a wide-angle/panoramic selfie mode.

Most Secure Android Phones - DTEK camera

The rear camera is BlackBerry’s fastest-performing model. It uses a 6-element auto-focus f/2.0 lens with 4x digital zoom along with live filters to deliver professional grade photographs. It has dual toned LED flash, automatic face detection and a continuous focus and touch-to-focus feature which you can toggle to get the best image.

The Design

Most Secure Android Phones - DTEK is Thin

At 147 x 72.5 x 7.4 mm (5.79 x 2.85 x 0.29 inches) and weighing in at 135 g (4.76 oz), the DTEK50 is not the slimmest or lightest phone ever, but when you compare it to previous BlackBerry models, it is definitely much slimmer and lighter then the company’s previous devices.

Here are some of the more notable features for the DTEK50:

  • Display — 5.2″ 1080 x 1920 IPS LCD capacitive touchscreen, scratch-resistant glass and the aforementioned oleophobic coating
  • Processor – Qualcomm MSM8952 Snapdragon 617 with Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 and quad-core 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53
  • Memory and Storage – 3 GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage with a microSD that can support up to 2 TB
  • Connectivity – WLAN, WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, dual-band, WiFi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth v4.2
  • Battery – Non-removable Li-Ion 2610 mAh battery with up to 17 hours of talk time on 3G

If the DTEK50 looks familiar to you, that is because it is a modified Alcatel Idol 4, a slightly different version of another recently released phone by a different company.

BlackBerry apparently decided to modify an existing device rather than going back to the drawing board and designing one of its own.

This allowed BlackBerry to quickly deliver a reliable phone that is much cheaper than the Priv’s $699 price tag.

Cost was one of the biggest complaints about the Priv when it was introduced last year.

At $299, the DTEK50 is more affordable, while still maintaining the BlackBerry security standard along with new features that were never previously a priority in the company’s phones.

Image: Blackberry

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