At CES, I was really impressed by the new Creative Super X-Fi inline DAC/amplifier. It’s a USB-C audio device that encodes multi-channel audio to stereo headphones using ear imaging and spatial audio technology to simulate multi-channel speaker setups. Their CES demo was impressive, and they let me bring a unit home which I have been listening to, and unraveling like a mystery for the past couple weeks. The magic of the Super X-Fi system is ear modeling which improves the effectiveness of the Super X-Fi algorithms. The ear model is acquired by their mobile app, and then firmware blasted out to the Super X-Fi through its USB-C connection and permanently assigned until a new profile is added. After you do the one-time setup, you can use the Super X-Fi amp with any source. They have also worked to do headphone and earbud profiling which may in particular impact headphones with wacky frequency response curves. At CES, Creative took in-ear measurements and were able to store that as a part of my online profile - so I can select that profile, flash it to my Super X-Fi and listen to algorithm calibrated audio using their 3D simulation tech. For surround content, I am testing 5.1 channel DTS films and I also rip my own SACD to AC3 5.1 encoded FLAC content. Many SACD’s were mixed to 5.1 channels and arrive in a DSF format which can be encoded to FLAC which supports multi-channel. I cut these into H.265 videos which maintain the 5.1 channel encoding without re-encoding the video, so theoretically, I have music videos I can play with VLC on the PC and Android which are a perfect reproduction of the original SACD content. The Creative Super X-Fi amp is designed for multi-channel content. Two channel content also theoretically benefits - speakers sound like they are in front of you rather than to in your left and right ears or somewhere in the middle of your head. I use an LG V20 and an LG V40 both which sport a well regarded quad DAC, and a FiiO E18 Kunlun. I used MAS Audio Science X5i earbuds and X5h headphones for the test - I consult with MAS Audio Science, a new Head-fi.org sponsor, traditionally a high end ODM now introducing a new 5 driver earbud and high fidelity headphones. The X5i earbuds boast 5K to 70K response and the headphones are 10 to 50K. Both are acoustically efficient, powerful, and great with live and the remastered surround content I tested with. I believe their frequency response worked in their favor, effectively reproducing the LFE channel as well as highs without getting muddy or losing detail. For reference, the X5i earbuds and X5h headphones both have a lot of full frequency energy and are strong below 1Khz all the way down to sub 20Hz. The X5h earphones are up a few dB in this range, but both are a bit stronger than the standard Harmon curve through this range. Otherwise, the MAS X5i and X5h have frequency response and sound quality in line with elite, audiophile-class headphones and earbuds. They shine on live content - rock is great - with all of the low-level energy of a concert. Using the USB dongle as an extension of the headphone I was able to move from my smartphone to my PC without even noticing that I was now whipping around a multi-channel, surround simulating DAC without even thinking about it. Going from the PC to smartphone was effortless. Turning on Super X-Fi is done by the button on the unit - green indicates on, gold indicates off. Simple. One notable psychological effect is the “turning off the music effect.” When you do so, you have a moment of shame because you subliminally have been convinced that the music is coming from around you and then you realize how quiet it is and how loud you have been rocking out. It’s real. I listen to a song or two, or watch a movie kill the sound. And the silence is more profound. Also, sound effects from your phone are absolutely coming from “outside” and there is no convincing yourself otherwise. Two Channel Audio First, there are amazing moments when two channel music has the - riveting - characteristic of sounding like its coming from speakers in front of you. Listening to any track with clean, left or right vocal tracks will put a smile on your face. However, center audio from stereo sources still has moments where I struggle - does it sound like its coming from in front of me, or in the middle of my head. And then I turn of the Super X-Fi and I realize that indeed the sound is spatially oriented outside my head. But just listening to the way the voices sound - I wonder - is that how it sounds when I am listening to speakers or is the room effect - the sound of voices in a tunnel with echo - too pronounced? I still struggle with this. But one thing is for sure, you get pretty calibrated to the Super X-Fi and it can be hard to go back. Van Halen - The Best of Van Halen is mostly remastered content. I went side by side with my home speaker system and the over-ear MAS X5h. Both the X5h and my speakers have a lot of energy below 1K all the way down to 20Hz. Hot for Teacher’s riveting drum and guitar intro moved forward - out of the middle of your head, into the foreground in front of you. The cost of this movement is the “room-effect” added with the Super X-Fi enabled. It makes the drums sound more “live” and less “studio” with a bit more room effect than when using my speakers. I tested these several ways, using multiple ear mappings etc. and found the heavy room effect to be consistent. Dreams similarly got out of my head and in the foreground. My Violin Recordings, Various - My live recordings of my daughter’s performances sounded much more live, and the sound stage was almost perfect. It sounded like a live performance and more closely resembled the experience of being there. Violin sounds somewhat lower in tone as the room of the performance is more strongly felt with its capacity for resonance. It is as if the room is recaptured by the surround effect. Now, whether the tone and reverb are sacrifices for the 3D effect or brought out by it is very hard to tell, but I favor that the room is being re-animated by the Super X-Fi. And getting the violin out of the middle of your head is pretty awesome. Live music recordings - even from YouTube really come alive. Sofi Tukker, Queen, Metalica, the Glastonbury shows - they all move to the next level. I appreciated the extended low end of response of the X5h headphones here - as I said earlier the low-end energy of a live show is absolutely preserved and improved with the Super X-Fi. Surround Audio - Film With 5.1 content, voices have the most noticeable room effect - when a voice is standing alone you are forced to think you are in an enclosed space.Actors outside can sound like they are inside and this may be exacerbated by the fact that in many instances they were inside, but I have heard others confirm this sound artifact with voices. Many recordings - particularly songs- ad reverb to voices making the effect less noticable, but in film, a simple voice exposes this effect. However, for multi-channel content the surround effect is pretty profound and I found it hard to go back to plain stereo. I also found that low frequency sound was a bit more appealing. I enjoyed watching Solo - A Star Wars Story but found the audio track not particularly inspiring. I turned to Mission Impossible Fallout and the soundtrack was more inspiring and the surround effect convincing again. I am still not fully reconciled to the concert hall sound of voices. With the Super X-Fi the movies are immersive but localization is not as precise in complex scenes, which is fine - the point sources in a surround setup are too easily localized to the speaker location, our ears our a bit too good to be fooled. I did feel like I was in the action, which is what surround sound for films is supposed to do - but I was wearing headphones, and could have been watching on my cell phone. And that’s a big form factor reduction while retaining immersive audio. Surround Sound - Music I have begun listening to my 5.1 channel audio collection and the truth is I am not am still trying to figure out how much I like what I am hearing. First, the sound is totally different. There are depth and gravitas - a sense of space that is extremely pronounced going back and forth from stereo to surround - but these are 5.1 channel recordings and its supposed to be that way. You really have to compare the speaker setup to the simulated surround to get a fair comparison. The Soundstage and feeling of being present are excellent, music sounds completely “live” but I am still trying to see how, by adjusting the Super X-Fi app calibration, I can achieve the best possible sound. I can say it is awesome to listen to these recordings with headphones sharing many of the qualities of a live performance. If you haven’t listened to 5.1 channel SACD content before I highly recommend it. It took me a little time to figure out how to achieve this experience using today’s equipment (SACD players were built for another age) but it was worth the investment. I listened to: Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here SACD Transcoded to multi-channel AC3 FLAC: Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon SACD Transcoded to multi-channel AC3 FLAC Depeche Mode 101 SACD Transcoded to AC3 FLAC: It's a live recording and the surround simulation works as it should - bringing you into the live show. The audience is everywhere. All of them preserve a lot of the surround stage and the clarity of distinct instruments and voices, and I am still dialing things in and listening to get the best sound.