Cre­ative’s Su­per X-FI Head­phone Au­dio Holog­ra­phy demo blew my mind

If the ship­ping prod­uct is as good as what the com­pany is demo­ing at CES, it will for­ever change your per­cep­tion of head­phones.


Cre­ative had the demo to beat at this year’s CES. The com­pany showed an early pro­to­type of a prod­uct it calls Su­per X-FI Head­phone Au­dio. And it blew my mind.

Done right, ob­ject-based au­dio such as Dolby At­mos can be the next best thing to be­ing at a live per­for­mance. The only prob­lem is that the cost of the equip­ment to re­pro­duce it at home can cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars. Cre­ative says its Su­per X-FI Head­phone Au­dio Holog­ra­phy (how’s that for a mouth­ful?) can repli­cate the ex­pe­ri­ence—po­si­tion­ing au­dio events in 3D space around your head—with head­phones.

But Cre­ative’s tech­nol­ogy isn’t limited to de­cod­ing ob­ject-based au­dio, it also works with stereo record­ings. The tech­nol­ogy re­lies

on a smart­phone app that cap­tures a pic­ture of each of your ears, so that it can es­sen­tially con­tour map your outer ear. Once you’ve dig­i­tized your ears, you take a photo of your face so the app can map the bone struc­ture of your head for the same rea­son.

In the demo I sat for last night, the tech­nol­ogy’s cre­ator—lee Teck Chee—said the software maps hun­dreds of an­thro­po­log­i­cal fea­tures with high pre­ci­sion. An AI en­gine then syn­the­sizes your fea­tures with both the dy­nam­ics of the head­phones you in­di­cate you’re us­ing and a mul­ti­di­men­sional map of the room acous­tics you want to em­u­late.

The tech is still early, how­ever, and this wasn’t the cal­i­bra­tion process that I ex­pe­ri­enced. In­stead, Chee had me put a pair of ear­bud-style mi­cro­phones in my ears and then played a se­ries of test tones to cap­ture how my ears heard the sounds. The Su­per X-FI Head­phone Au­dio Holog­ra­phy will come to mar­ket first in three form fac­tors: In­te­grated into a set of pre­mium over-the-ear head­phones; in over-the-ear and in-ear head­phones, with teth­ered don­gles hous­ing the chipset; and a don­gle that users can plug their own head­phones into (Chee said the prod­uct works best with head­phones that have dis­crete left and right in­puts).

When I in­quired about driv­ing mul­ti­ple sets of head­phones si­mul­ta­ne­ously in a home the­ater set­ting, Chee said the com­pany was con­sid­er­ing that, per­haps us­ing HDMI in­stead of USB.

Here’s what got me so ex­cited about this prod­uct’s po­ten­tial: Chee played a Dolby At­mos demo track over a high-end home the­ater sur­round-sound sys­tem that in­cluded ceil­ing-mounted speak­ers. He then asked me to don a pair of head­phones plugged into the Su­per X-FI (at this point, it’s es­sen­tially a cir­cuit board in a plex­i­glass en­clo­sure) and he played the same demo track. I could barely tell the dif­fer­ence, even when they had me go re­peat­edly switch

Chee played a Dolby At­mos demo track over a high-end home the­ater sur­round-sound sys­tem that in­cluded ceil­ing­mounted speak­ers.

Cre­ative’s app con­tour-maps your ears and face to an­a­lyze how your ears hear sound.

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