This Holographic-Sound Headphone Dongle Blew My Mind

LAS VEGAS -- I thought I was being duped. After listening to surround-sound audio on a pair of headphones at Creative’s CES booth, I had to take my cans off to make sure the sounds weren’t actually coming from all the speakers in the room.

Nope -- it turns out that honest-to-goodness directional audio was coming from a humble set of headphones, all thanks to Creative’s Super X-Fi technology.

This mind-blowing audio technology uses acoustic mapping and holographic sound to create a headphone experience that’s nearly indistinguishable from what you’d get out of a dedicated set of surround speakers. You’ll be able to experience on it on just about any pair of headphones by buying a $150 dongle from Creative later this year.

My Super X-Fi experience started with the mapping process, in which a Creative rep took pictures of my ears and face using the company’s SFXI smartphone app in order to come up with the proper sound profile for my head shape. I then placed a set of microphones in my ear that helped further fine-tune my personal acoustics. After that, the magic began.

My first demo started with an ambient Dolby Atmos sound sample dubbed "Santeria" that thrust me into what sounded like a lush jungle. The sounds of birds chirping and tribal drums beating jumped side-to-side and top-to-bottom, first on a set of surround speakers, and later on the headphones. Amazingly, the latter sounded just like the former.

Creative's surround-sound test area.

Creative's surround-sound test area.

I had a similar experience with a clip of the movie "In the Heart of the Sea," in which the sounds of splashing water and yelling crewmen engulfed me from all angles. Once again, the speakers and headphones sounded identical.

For my last demo, I listened to some Steely Dan in order to gauge just how big a difference the dongle makes. With the Super X-Fi technology turned on, the music’s soundstage was so spacious that I could easily pick out each instrument as if I was at a live show. The track still sounded satisfying with Super X-Fi off, but gave a tighter, more typical stereo effect.

The Super X-Fi dongle

The Super X-Fi dongle

While these types of CES demos usually consist of exorbitantly expensive gadgets that you’ll never actually own, Super X-Fi will be available to anyone for a decent price. The Super X-Fi dongle is set to launch this summer for $150, and will work with any headphones you connect to it.

The dongle’s companion app will be free for iOS and Android, allowing anyone to map their own head shape to get a more personalized sound profile. I’m eager to spend more time with Super X-Fi -- and hear how it stacks up to my everyday listening habits -- when it hits the market later this year.

Credit: Tom's Guide

Michael Andronico

Mike Andronico is Senior Writer at CNNUnderscored. He was formerly Managing Editor at Tom's Guide, where he wrote extensively on gaming, as well as running the show on the news front. When not at work, you can usually catch him playing Street Fighter, devouring Twitch streams and trying to convince people that Hawkeye is the best Avenger.