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The 7 Best Music Streaming Services for Audiophiles

Music streaming services haven’t traditionally targeted audiophiles by focusing on audio quality. Spotify and Google Play Music both boast maximum bitrates of 320 Kbps, while Apple Music comes in at just 256 Kbps.

This might sound like a lot, and for most users, it’s certainly enough. However, when you compare the quality of most streaming services to CDs—which typically offer 1,411 Kbps—there’s no contest.

If you’re an audiophile, this poses a problem. You demand the clearest and most refined music available, and don’t want to put up with low-quality audio. As such, your options are rather limited. However, here are the best streaming services for audiophiles.

1. Tidal

tidal logo

Tidal is the best-known high-definition music streaming service around right now. Operated by global rap star Jay-Z, the service’s entire reputation has been built on its high-quality audio offering.

Tidal offers users two different plans. The Premium plan costs $9.99/month and provides a music bitrate of 320 Kbps. If you’re an audiophile, you need to focus on the Hi-Fi package. It offers lossless, CD-quality 1,411 Kbps music for a monthly fee of $19.99. Both packages have family plans available.

And just because Tidal doesn’t have the same allure as the big three—Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music—don’t worry about not being able to find something to listen to. At the time of writing, Tidal boasts more than 60 million tracks.

2. Qobuz

qobuz playlist

Another of the leading audiophile streaming services is Qobuz. Based in France, entrepreneur Yves Riesel launched the company in 2007. In addition to streaming services, it also offers music downloads.

Unfortunately, the app does not have the international reach of some of its competitors. While Tidal is currently available in 54 countries worldwide, Qobuz operates in just 12: the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and Austria.

Today, Qobuz holds the largest catalog of lossless CD and hi-res albums in the world. The library, which spans 50 million songs, has both new releases and niche genres.

Two subscription plans are available, Studio Premier ($15/month) and Sublime+ ($250/year). The audio quality is the same on both plans, but Sublime+ allows for cheaper music purchases.

3. Deezer

deezer hifi

If you live outside Qobuz’s supported countries but don’t want to subscribe to Tidal, Deezer might be exactly what you’re looking for.

Although it’s not known for as an HD audio music streaming app, the $20/month Deezer Hi-Fi offers 16-bit, 1,411 Kbps FLAC audio. In comparison, the regular Premium plan only offers 320 Kbps and the free tier just 128 Kbps.

The lossless plan was originally introduced in 2014 thanks to the company’s partnership with Sonos. At the time, it was only available on Sonos speakers. Today, however, the Hi-Fi subscription works on most smart speakers, including Bang and Olufsen, Harman/Kardon, Sony, and Google Home.

4. Primephonic

primephonic playback

Primephonic launched its streaming service for classical music fans in 2014. It was instantly popular, as users praised the app for its reimagined approach to cataloging tracks, its impressive artist biographies, and its ease-of-use.

Classical music-loving audiophiles will be delighted to learn that Primephonic streams all of its content in 16-bit, 1,411 Kbps CD-quality if you are happy to pay for the $15/month Platinum plan. A cheaper $10/month plan is available with 320 Kbps MP3 streaming. Primephonic also lets you buy music. Again, all of your purchases will be downloaded in high-definition audio.

The use of FLAC audio for classical music makes sense. It’s the music genre that has the most to gain from high-definition audio. After all, you don’t want your Mozart masterpieces to sound like something your school orchestra has thrown together.

5. Amazon Music HD

amazon music hd details

Amazon Music HD is one of the newest audiophile music streaming services on the market following its launch in the second half of 2019.

More than 60 million HD songs are available on the platform. Around 50 million of them are in 850 Kbps and 16-bit/44.1 kHz, with a further 10 million available in 3730 Kbps and 24-bit/192 kHz. That’s more than 10 times the quality found on most rival music streaming apps.

Before you sign up, make sure your device supports 24-bit songs. If you own a pre-2015 Android or iOS gadget, you will probably be out of luck. Amazon’s Fire devices are all supported.

A subscription to Amazon Music HD costs $15/month (or $13/month if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber).

6. YouTube Music

youtube music videos

YouTube Music initially launched with a maximum bitrate of 128 Kbps, though that has since increased to 256 Kbps. But that’s still way behind some of the other apps in this list, so why have we included it as one of the top streaming services for audiophiles?

Well, for the music videos. Music as an art form is about more than the audio. Ever since Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles became the first music video to air on MTV in 1981, artists have been falling over themselves to produce more and more extravagant video content. As you can see in our brief history of music videos.

If this side of the music world appeals to you, YouTube Music is king. Not only is there a vast selection of music, but you can watch the videos, concerts, and recording sessions that accompany your favorite tracks.

7. Spotify

spotify playlists

Spotify offers its users a maximum audio quality of 320 Kbps. However, despite the lesser quality, Spotify is still worth considering if you’re an audiophile purely for the vast library. More than 50 million tracks are already available, with a further 40,000 being added every day.

The service’s music discovery tools are also unrivaled. Even if you have niche tastes, Spotify will still be able to find new music that you’ll almost certainly love. For music lovers who want to embark on an audio journey, there are few better ways to broaden your horizons.

And remember, Spotify is one of the most device-agnostic services. There is a Spotify app available for just about every operating system and smart speaker on the market. Some of the lesser-known services don’t offer such widespread support.

Interestingly, in 2017, Spotify announced that it was planning to enter the world of high-definition audio streaming. Branded as Spotify Hi-Fi, the company started testing it around the world. Since then, the trail has gone cold and Spotify has offered no further updates.

It is still one to keep an eye on though; Spotify is already one of the world’s top music streaming services. If it did enter the HD music arena, its vast library and powerful music discovery tools would make Tidal vs. Spotify a more interesting battle.

Keeping Even the Pickiest Audiophiles Happy

These music streaming services for audiophiles should be more than enough to keep everyone satisfied. Yes, even the pickiest audiophile. And if you don’t already own one, here are the best digital audio players for music without your phone.

Read the full article: The 7 Best Music Streaming Services for Audiophiles

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The 5 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Audiophiles

Your choice of headphones is critical for those audiophiles who enjoy listening to music privately. However, standard designs not only lack audio clarity but allow the sounds of the outside world into your personal space.

A set of noise-canceling headphones is essential, then, for any audiophile hoping to listen to music on the go. These sets use microphones to cancel out the sound before it even reaches your ears, allowing you to enjoy your music in relative peace.

Here are the best noise-canceling headphones for audiophiles available today.

1. Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless

Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless Buy Now On Amazon $189.97

It won’t surprise any audiophile to see this company on the list. The Sennheiser Momentum 2.0 Wireless respects the brand’s strong legacy of high-quality audio products. To that end, Sennheiser even lists the frequency response (16Hz to 22,000Hz), active impedance (280 Ohms), and passive impedance (28 Ohms).

They use the apt-X Bluetooth codec for CD-quality wireless audio when connected to any apt-X enabled device. The earcups are slightly larger than on previous editions to increase comfort, especially over long periods. This is especially important, as the company’s NoiseGuard active noise cancellation (ANC) can be found inside the headset, granting you a peaceful space to enjoy your music.

The Momentum 2.0 Wireless achieve up to 20 hours of use on a single charge, even with Bluetooth and noise-cancellation enabled. So you don’t have to spend time switching, you can connect two devices simultaneously and pair with up to eight. This is useful when coupled with Sennheiser’s VoiceMax technology, so you can seamlessly take calls on the headphones.

2. Jabra Elite 85h

Jabra Elite 85h Jabra Elite 85h Buy Now On Amazon $249.99

For many years, Jabra was best known for its range of office-based headsets. However, the company has entered the headphones market, releasing some of the best sets available today. One such pair, the Jabra Elite 85h, make the perfect companion for any audiophile. This set comes with three noise-cancellation modes; full active noise-cancellation, HearThrough, and disabled.

Of course, being able to tune out your surroundings is part of the appeal of any ANC set, but HearThrough is one of the best features here. When paired with the Jabra Sound+ app, the headset’s AI can determine your surroundings and adjust the noise-cancellation, so you always stay safe and aware when you need to be.

Aside from the intelligent ANC, the headphones can adjust for high-quality calls thanks to six of the set’s eight microphones. Using these, it can block unwanted background noise on calls, too. With ANC enabled, you can expect up to 36 hours of use from a single charge. The Jabra Elite 85h are water-resistant as well. A dedicated button on the right earpad gives quick access to Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant.

If you want to know more before investing in a set, check out our review of the Jabra Elite 85h.

3. Sony WH1000XM3

Sony WH1000XM3 Sony WH1000XM3 Buy Now On Amazon $348.00

The Sony WH1000XM3 are the company’s flagship noise-canceling headphones. Reviewers around the world have classed the WH1000XM3 headphones as among the best noise-canceling headphones for great audio, too. Sony has been a world leader in audio products for decades, so if you choose this set, then you’ll know to expect a high-quality listening experience.

They come equipped with digital smarts, too. There is integration with Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, at the touch of a button. The Quick Attention Mode allows you to cover the right earcup to turn down the volume so you can hear your surroundings. The ANC here is intelligent as well, changing with your environment.

Unlike some of the other options on this, these headphones charge via USB-C. That said, you shouldn’t need to recharge too often as they offer up to 30 hours of use on a single charge with ANC enabled. The headphones have been designed for comfort as well, so they shouldn’t give you sore ears or a headache while listening.

4. Bose QuietComfort 35 II

Bose QuietComfort 35 II Bose QuietComfort 35 II Buy Now On Amazon $349.00

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are some of the best noise-canceling headphones around. Bose’s reputation for high-quality audio products precedes them, but it is well-earnt. If you travel on public transport or by plane, these headphones will be instantly recognizable. They are firm favorites for anyone looking for high-quality noise-cancelation.

That’s not to say they prioritize ANC above all other features, though. The QuietComfort 35 II have a dedicated button for quick access to Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. Additionally, if you download the Bose companion app, you can rename the headphones, making them easy to recognize in crowded Bluetooth lists. The app also provides firmware updates to the headphones.

Importantly, they are also comfortable. Thanks to the padded earcups and headband, you can wear them for hours without discomfort. They collapse inwards, too, for easy storage. With the ANC enabled, you can expect the headphones to last around 20 hours before they need recharging via micro-USB. The QuietComfort 35 II come in three colors; black, silver, and rose gold.

The headphones have been revised since their original release to add Bose AR and Alexa support. However, if you’re interested in all they have to offer, take a look at our review of the Bose QuietComfort 35 II.

5. Bowers & Wilkins PX7

Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Bowers & Wilkins PX7 Buy Now On Amazon $398.98

Any fan of high-quality audio will be familiar with Bowers & Wilkins. The British brand has been producing audio products since 1966, and that experience shows in the Bowers & Wilkins PX7 headphones. The 43mm drivers found in this set are the largest in the company’s range and are tuned by the same engineers who work on the notable Abbey Road Studios setup.

That said, these aren’t a relic of past generations; the PX7 are equipped with some of the best ANC available. The ANC can automatically adapt to your environment, so you always have the best listening experience. There’s an auto-pause too, you just need to lift one earcup, and the audio will stop until you put the set back on your ears.

As the company notes, with 30-hour battery life, you could use them on a round-trip from California to London on a single charge. The 15-minute quick charge feature grants you six hours of use, as well. Bowers & Wilkins state that the carbon fiber composite design was inspired by race cars, a claim largely there for marketing purposes, but this material does make them strong and well-equipped for travel, too.

The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for You

Choosing the right set of headphones can make all the difference to your audio experience. Finding a set that sounds great, comes with noise-cancellation, and feels comfortable over long periods is essential.

Fortunately, all the headphones we’ve included here fit that brief, so you’ll be sure to find the right set of noise-canceling headphones for your needs.

That said, if you aren’t won over by the merits of noise-cancellation, and are just looking for a wireless option, consider one of the best wireless earbuds for all budgets.

Read the full article: The 5 Best Noise-Canceling Headphones for Audiophiles

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The 4 Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

Everyone loves music, right? So it’s always nice to have access to it, no matter where you are. Obviously, you can get away with wearing a pair of wireless headphones to get your fix. (What to know when buying wireless in-ear headphones!)

But that isn’t really in the spirit of sharing. If you want to be a bit more social, what you need is a portable Bluetooth speaker.

There are thousands of portable Bluetooth speakers on the market, so choosing the best one for your needs can prove a bit of a minefield. With so much to consider, our guide to the best portable speakers will give you a step up.

1. Anker Soundcore Flare 2

Anker Soundcore Flare 2 Anker Soundcore Flare 2 Buy Now On Amazon $79.99

Anker really knows how to put together a good, solid speaker. Despite being a relatively new brand in audio terms, Anker hits the bullseye with the Soundcore Flare 2. It packs in plenty of features for a very reasonable price tag, so it won’t break the bank.

The overall size of the Flare 2 is 3.5 x 3.5 x 6.31 in; roughly that of a 16 fl oz can of Dew, to offer a real-world comparison. Quite the coincidence, as it doesn’t weigh much more, either. The speaker only tips 1.29 lbs on the scales. It’s compact size and weight means you can carry it around and barely notice that it is in your bag.

If you are heading out, the Flare 2 has got plenty of life in it. It packs 12 hours of playback into its 5,200 mAh Li-ion battery. You’re probably good for a full day at the beach with that amount of playtime.

Speaking of which, the Flare 2 is waterproof, too, carrying an IPX7 rating. This means you don’t have to worry about a sudden rain shower catching you out. You could completely submerge the speaker in water and it wouldn’t make a difference. This means it is great for bathroom use, too! Just don’t have it on too loud if you’re an early riser.

As well as this, the Flare 2 features dual radial lights at the top and the base of the unit. This makes it look good, but how is the sound? Well, it looks pretty great. This is down to the 20W it is capable of cranking out, at 360 degrees. This, combined with the Bass-Up technology makes for a great portable listen.

2. Sonos Move

Sonos Move Sonos Move Buy Now On Amazon $399.00

If you have a little bit of cash to spend, then the Sonos Move offers plenty for your money. This is likely to be more of a “home and garden” speaker. Especially given the price tag. However, what you do get leaves very little to be desired.

The Sonos Move is a rotund little speaker, measuring 4.96 x 6.29 x 9.44 in. It is a little on the heavy side, too, as it weighs in at 6.61 lbs. Quite the chonk, then. This is why it is probably not best taken any further than the garden. It would be too bulky to heave any further.

You can take it into the garden without fearing the elements, though. At least, momentarily, as it’s IP56 rating means it can withstand plenty before giving up the ghost. Rain, salt spray, dust, and even snow are no match for this trooper. It isn’t completely waterproof, though, so don’t knock it into the pool if that’s where you’re using it.

You get a good ten hours from the Sonos Move before it needs charging. This makes it great for an afternoon-into-evening BBQ. Then you can impress your friends with your high-quality audio, into the bargain! The Sonos Move offers a truly balanced sonic experience and one which can deliver great sound irrespective of genre. This is via the Auto Trueplay function, which adjusts the EQ dependent on the surroundings.

With additional features like Alexa voice control, this is a brilliant, high-end portable Bluetooth speaker.

3. Tribit Stormbox

Tribit Stormbox Tribit Stormbox Buy Now On Amazon $59.99

The Tribit Stormbox is by far the best budget option out there. It very capably outstrips some significantly more expensive speakers in a number of criteria. We’ll start with battery life. At 22 hours, it is more than likely that the Tribit Stormbox will be partying for longer than you. This makes it great for camping—you could listen to music for the whole day, between sleeping.

It is incredibly portable, too. The 1.1 lb speaker can be carried with zero discomforts, so you can take it pretty much anywhere. The IPX7 rating means you don’t have to worry about any moisture frazzling the circuit boards. A great all-weather speaker.

You can control the Stormbox using Alexa, which it has built-in. This is great for finding and playing music without having to use your smart device. So, you can take it around the pool and tell it what music to play while you take a dip.

In terms of sound, you get a whopping 24W of output. The Tribit, too, is a 360-degree speaker, so no matter where you sit the sound is just a great. This puts plenty of more expensive portable speakers to shame. As does the battery life and waterproof rating.

4. JBL Wind

JBL Wind JBL Wind Buy Now On Amazon $41.99

A portable speaker round-up wouldn’t be so, without a nod to JBL. And the JBL Wind couldn’t really get much more portable. This pocket rocket is designed to attach to the handlebars of your bicycle. So, its portability really depends on your pedal power. They even include a handlebar mount in the box, so you can attach it easily.

The speaker connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. You will get a good sound out of it as it sits so close to the source. The option to load the JBL Wind with a 32GB microSD means you can conserve your phone’s battery life. This is great news for more leisurely bike rides as it manages a good 10 hours from one charge.

Unfortunately, the Wind isn’t waterproof, although it does come with IP45 rating. This mean’s it is good for low-powered jets of water. It can handle a splash from a puddle, for example. This isn’t too much of a problem, though. If it does suddenly rain, you can clip the speaker inside your bag using the provided carabiner.

Share the Sound: Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

As we mentioned, portable Bluetooth speakers are a great choice for social events. They also make great listening devices for around the home. If you must keep the music for yourself, though, check out the best wired headphones available now.

Read the full article: The 4 Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

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The 7 Best Windows 10 Sound Equalizers to Improve Your PC Audio

If you’re an audiophile, a heavy gamer, or simply enjoy customizing the sound on Windows 10, you might be looking for a sound equalizer app.

An equalizer can adjust the loudness of specific audio frequencies—called bands—to suit both the listener’s preferences and the acoustics of the environment. For example, an equalizer will let you boost the bass when listening to dance music or increase the treble in a room that responds to low-frequency sounds.

But which is the best Windows 10 equalizer? Are there any free equalizers for Windows 10? Keep reading to learn more.

1. Equalizer APO

equaliser apo app windows 10

Our first recommendation is Equalizer APO. It’s the most powerful, customizable, and full-featured free sound equalizer that you’ll find. The app operates as an Audio Processing Object (APO), so if your audio uses APIs like ASIO or WASAPI, it will not work.

Equalizer APO’s best features include an unlimited number of filters, multi-channel use, support for 3D surround sound, and very low CPU usage. You can also create multiple profiles (perhaps for your external speakers and your headphones) and hop between them in a flash.

The big drawback is the lack of a graphical user interface (GUI). You need to edit the filters in a TXT file. Thankfully, several third-party GUIs are available. We recommend Peace Equalizer.

Download: Equalizer APO (Free)

2. Equalizer Pro

equaliser pro windows app

Equalizer Pro is another popular choice. It’s more user-friendly than Equalizer APO thanks to its clean and clutter-free interface.

The app offers a ten-band equalizer. That’s not as many as some of the other sound equalizers in this list and way behind professional music equipment which might provide 30 or more. However, it’s more than adequate for all but the most dedicated audiophiles.

Equalizer Pro comes with 20 presets, a system-wide bass boost feature, and the ability to save your own equalizer profiles. The app also offers a preamp volume control. It means you can adjust a single band to boost low tones with needing to tweak each band individually.

Equalizer Pro is not free. You can enjoy a seven-day trial, but thereafter you will need to pay $19.95 for the license.

Download: Equalizer Pro ($29.95, free trial available)

3. Viper4Windows

viper4windows windows 10 app

Viper4Windows is an open-source sound equalizer for Windows 10. It also works with Windows Vista, 7, and 8.1.

The equalizer offers an impressive 18 bands; it’s as many as you can hope to find on a consumer-level computer-based equalizer. The bands’ ranges run from -120dB to 13dB. As you’d expect, you can create your own profiles or use one of the many available presets.

Viper4Windows also offers some features beyond sound equalization. They include:

  • Room Size: You can set the size of the room you’re listening in, and Viper4Windows will adjust the surround sound settings accordingly.
  • Bass Boost: The app offers a customizable extra boost to the low-end sounds.
  • Distortion Control: You can choose from three presets or use the slider to tweak the control in decibels.
  • Reverberation Settings: Viper4Windows offers settings to control audio damping, density, bandwidth, decay, and more.

(Note: Make sure you set Viper4Windows to run in administrator mode. Right-click on the app’s file and go to Properties > Compatibility > Settings > Run this program as administrator. Doing so ensures the equalizer will still work if another app runs the software.)

Download: Viper4Windows (Free)

4. FXSound

The FXSound app is two tools in one. There’s the equalizer (and its associated effects) and the real-time audio processing feature.

Firstly, let’s look at the equalizer. It comes with 10 bands that go from 110Hz to 15KHz. There are also customizable sliders for fidelity (to reduce the muffled sound in compressed audio), ambiance (to add extra stereo depth), surround sound, dynamic boost (to increase the loudness with increasing the dynamic range), and bass boost. The preset profiles include Rap, Alternative Rock, Dialog Boost, Country, Techno, and countless more.

The real-time processing excels when you’re listening to audio on the web. internet audio is only 16-bit, but FXSound uses a 32-bit processor. The processor automatically adjusts the fidelity, ambiance, and surround sound of the audio, then re-dithers it into 16-bit. This allows the app to improve significantly on the theoretical limits of the web’s 16-bit output.

FXSound offers a seven-day free trial. The full app costs a one-off payment of $49.99.

Download: FX Sound ($39.99, free trial available)

5. Voicemeeter Banana

Voicemeeter Banana for Windows 10

If you do a lot of work with a microphone—perhaps because you’ve started your own podcast or upload a lot of videos to YouTube—you should try Voicemeeter Banana.

The app’s main feature is the advanced audio mixer. It lets you control your computer’s audio for any kind of streaming or recording.

From an equalizer perspective, the mixer lets you adjust audio input as well as output. Therefore, if you’re casting your screen via Twitch, speaking to the family on Skype, or recording a podcast with your friends, you can make up for any microphone deficiencies by making the sound crisper and less distorted. You can play with the equalizer settings in the app’s Master Section.

Voicemeeter Banana is donationware. You can pay what you like for the software, and you don’t have to pay anything at all.

Download: Voicemeeter Banana (Free)

6. Boom3D

boom3d app windows 10

Boom3D is an equalizer app for both Windows 10 and macOS.

The software is primarily designed for people who listen to their computer audio through headphones. It can convert all your audio output into 3D surround sound without any additional hardware or boosters.

It also boasts one of the most advanced equalizers out of all the apps on our list. The equalizer has 31 bands and dozens of presents, both of which combine to provide an immersive listening experience, regardless of the genre of audio you are playing.

Download: Boom3D ($39.99)

7. EQ Audio Equalizer

EQ Audio Equalizer chrome

EQ Audio Equalizer is slightly different from the other Windows 10 sound equalizers we have covered. Rather than being an EXE file that you download and run on the Windows operating system, EQ Audio Equalizer is a Chrome app.

Being a Chrome app has both advantages and disadvantages. On the downside, it will only work with the audio that’s being produced from within the Chrome web browser; it cannot change the bands across your entire machine.

However, most people do the majority of their audio listening through Chrome on the desktop—whether that’s YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, or something else entirely. The extension will also work across all your devices that run Chrome and won’t eat through your system resources.

Download: EQ Audio Equalizer (Free)

Learn More About Sound on Windows 10

Using a sound equalizer in Windows 10 is just one part of the battle. There are lots of ways to tweak the operating system’s audio output to your liking.

For example, did you know it’s possible to set the sound output devices on a per-app basis? And remember, if anything ever goes wrong, we’ve got you covered. Just check out our article on how to fix audio issues on Windows 10.

Read the full article: The 7 Best Windows 10 Sound Equalizers to Improve Your PC Audio

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Creative Super X-Fi AIR Review: Spatial Audio Done Right

Our verdict of the Creative Super X-Fi AIR:
Get the Creative Super X-Fi AIR if you need a new pair of headphones to use at home or in the office and crave the spatial audio experience. Reconsider if you want to heavily use them on-the-go, need noise-cancellation, or value a long battery life.
810

Immersive surround sound, packed into a pair of comfortable headphones; it’s the quiet audiophile’s dream. Creative’s Super X-Fi Headphone Holography technology promises to deliver just that. We received an impressive demo of the technology at CES 2020 and took home a pair of Creative SXFI AIR headphones, valued at $159.99, to put them through the test. Here’s what we found.

Creative SXFI AIR Specifications

  • Design: closed over-ear
  • Drivers: 50mm Neodymium magnet
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20,000Hz
  • Impedance: 32 ohms
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C, Line-in
  • MicroSD Card Slot: supports MP3, WMA, WAV, and FLAC formats
  • Microphone: detachable NanoBoom microphone
  • Colors: white and black, plus 16.7 million colors for the RGB ear-cup rings
  • Weight: 338g (11.9oz)
  • Battery Life: up to 10 hours
  • Charging time: 2.5 hours
  • Price: RRP $159.99, on sale for $139.99 at the time of writing

First Impressions

The SXFI AIR wireless over-ear headphones are fairly lightweight for their size (11.9oz or 338g). Each side of the headband expands up to 1.5inches (4cm) and the ear cups swivel slightly to provide a perfect fit for any head size or shape. The foam-cushioned headband and ear cups complete a comfortable experience.

Creative Super X-Fi AIR with red RGB light

Creative placed all control options on the left ear cup and an RGB light strip graces the outer edge of both cups. The light comes on when you’re using the headphones and you can customize the colors via the SXFI AIR Control app. Unfortunately, this is a separate app from the one you’ll need to set up your Super X-Fi profile; more on that below.

Overall, the Creative SXFI AIR headphones appear bulky and the absence of a folding mechanism means they’ll take up lots of space in your bag. The lack of active noise-cancellation makes them work best in a quiet environment. That said, the build quality appears solid enough to tolerate an active lifestyle.

Creative Super X-Fi AIR vs. Search Results Web results Sony WH-1000XM2 and TT-BH22
Size comparison: Creative Super X-Fi Air vs. Sony WH-1000XM2 vs. TaoTronics BH22

Headphone Ports and Controls

Along the rim of the left ear cup you’ll find (from front to back):

  • on/off button
  • detachable NanoBoom microphone
  • USB-C port
  • 3.5mm AUX jack
  • source selection (Bluetooth, USB, or SD card)
  • microSD card slot
  • Super X-Fi toggle

Creative SXFI AIR top/bottom view

The touchpad on the side of the left ear cup lets you control playback and volume or accept calls.

The NanoBoom microphone plugs into its own 3.5mm AUX jack and you can replace it with a better quality gaming microphone if you like. Alternatively, you can take it out and plug up the port.

Creative SXFI AIR NanoBoom microphone detached

Two things make these headphones special: the built-in Super X-Fi technology (see below) and the audio source options. The USB-C charging port doubles as audio input for your PC, Mac, PS4, or Nintendo Switch. In addition to Bluetooth and the standard 3.5mm AUX jack, the SXFI AIR also functions as its own audio player when you insert a microSD card; a rare feature in headphones.

How Does Super X-Fi Work?

Super X-Fi is an AI-based technology that uses acoustic modeling to create the impression of spatial audio inside a pair of headphones. The technology is backed up by decades of research.

The Theory

The perception of sound is incredibly subjective and depends, in no small part, on the shape of your outer ears. Scientists refer to this circumstance as head-related transfer function (HRTF).

“Humans have just two ears, but can locate sounds in three dimensions – in range (distance), in direction above and below (elevation), in front and to the rear, as well as to either side (azimuth). This is possible because the brain, inner ear and the external ears (pinna) work together to make inferences about location.” Source: Wikipedia

Creative’s Take

Software can simulate those spatial cues, if it knows enough of the listener’s personal HRTF. Creative uses either an in-ear acoustic measurement or a picture-based head map to feed its AI with that data, which then calculates a custom-fit audio profile for every user. Once you’ve connected your SXFI profile, the SXFI software can crunch incoming audio to sound like you were using a surround sound speaker setup.

SXFI Gen2

In early 2020, Creative launched Gen2 of its AI, which brought a range of improvements to Super X-Fi, including the preservation of more sound details, better audio fidelity, clearer sound signature, and higher positioning accuracy, which is key for movies and games.

“At the beginning, our user profile base was in the range of tens of thousands. Over the past year, riding on the successful launch of Super X-Fi, we have accumulated hundreds of thousands of user profiles. This significant jump in real-world data has provided us with the capacity for more research, and importantly, it has enabled us to train the Super X-Fi AI engine to be even more accurate in personalizing the audio experience for our users. This was key in our development of the Super X-Fi Gen2 profile.” —Lee Teck Chee, Vice-President of Technology at Creative and inventor of Super X-Fi

The Gen2 engine also features more efficient power consumption. As a result, the SXFI AIR headphones gained more than 10% battery life. This explains why our headphones, using Bluetooth, lasted for a little more than the advertised 10 hours; a pleasant surprise. I also should note that the headphones turn off rather quickly when not in use. And every single time that happens, I’m startled by the voice that seemingly pops up right next to me to announce “powering off”.

While the SXFI AIR are excellent all-around headphones, you shouldn’t use them for first-person-shooter (FPS) games. Instead, look into the the SXFI GAMER headset, which runs a Super X-Fi engine designed specifically for the FPS-specific sound environment.

How to Create Your Super X-Fi Profile

The spatial audio experience generated by the Super X-Fi AI incorporates your head shape into its calculations. To create your custom profile, you can use the SXFI App to take pictures of your face and ears. Download the SXFI App (Android, iOS), create an account, and log in. Under Personalize, click Start Head Mapping, and follow the on-screen instructions.

We found that the quality of the pictures had an impact on the resulting audio. So make sure you take the pictures with sufficiently good lighting. It’s also easier when you can get someone else to take your pictures for you.

Once you have created your profile, connect your SXFI AIR headphones to your phone via Bluetooth. Then return to Personalize and select your profile. The app will automatically sync your data to the connected headphones. Now you’re ready to enjoy 3D spatial audio.

There’s a second way to create your personal profile. When you’re lucky enough to receive a SXFI demo, as we did at CES 2020, they will measure your personal audio perception using an in-ear microphone. Creative said they might offer this acoustic measurement as a premium service in the future. Until then, you’ll have to use the app.

The SXFI Sound Experience

Creative’s Super X-Fi demo at CES 2020 blew us away. For the demo, we were using Creative’s SXFI AMP with a pair of generic headphones. At one point during the setup, I briefly thought I heard an audio cue from an external speaker. When I remembered I was already wearing headphones, I was sold on the technology and the remaining demonstration convinced me further.

Bluetooth vs. Wired Connection

The experience we had during the demo was outstanding. And at first, I couldn’t quite replicate it with the SXFI AIR headphones, although I used the higher quality audio profiles created during the demo. However, when I switched from Bluetooth to wired audio transmission via USB and from Spotify to a high quality audio source, the sound improved dramatically.

Note: If you have a Spotify subscription, you’ll be streaming at up to 320 kbps (vs. 160 kbps for free users). Make sure you set the streaming quality to “very high” in your Spotify settings.

Unfortunately, Creative opted for the low-quality SBC codec for wireless streaming. Its maximum transfer rate is 320 kbps, making it just good enough for Spotify, though you may experience data loss. SBC simply won’t let you enjoy the full audio quality provided by a non-lossy format like FLAC.

In-ear Measurement vs. Head Map Audio Profile

Personally, I could tell a difference in quality between the audio profile generated during CES and the app-based audio profile. It was more subtle when I took the head map pictures in great lighting. Creative says that the picture-based audio profile reaches about 90% of the accuracy of an in-ear measurement.

Music vs. Entertainment vs. Calls

I most enjoyed the SXFI AIR headphones when listening to music. With default settings, it gives rock and pop songs a club-like sound with good bass and a satisfying 3D effect. For classical music, the overall quality and spatial audio effect were even more convincing.

Audio calls were the least pleasant as the speaker on the other end sounded tinny. Movies and TV shows were somewhere in the middle. I couldn’t shake off the “sound in a can” impression, but the spatial effects were clearly audible.

If you’re not satisfied with the sound, be sure to download the SXFI AIR Control app (Android, iOS) and use the Equalizer to customize your audio experience. It comes with presets for movies, games, as well as classical and pop music. Within this app, you can also disable or customize your AIR’s RGB ring lights.

It’s regrettable that you need a separate app to create your audio profile, but once that’s done, you’ll only need the SXFI AIR Control app to switch between existing profiles and customize your headphone settings.

Creative Super X-Fi AIR with green RGB light

How Does the SXFI AIR Compare?

Creative isn’t the only company that has come out with a spatial audio product.

Sony 360 Reality Audio

At IFA 2019 in Berlin, we received a quick demo of Sony’s 360 Reality Audio, which also uses a head map to generate a custom audio profile. While Sony’s object-based spatial audio technology works with any headphones and commands no additional hardware, it doesn’t work with any old audio source. 360 Reality Audio is its own music format.

Presently, you’ll need a subscription to a premium music streaming service like Deezer or Tidal, before you can access Sony’s 3D audio format. You’ll also need to use its mobile app to create your custom audio profile. In other words, you’re limited to music available on a streaming service via your smartphone. On the bright side, you can opt for an affordable monthly subscription and see how you like the effect.

During our demo in Berlin, we were impressed with the clarity of the 3D effect, but we noticed a drop in bass compared to the unaltered track.

Dolby Headphone

This mobile surround solution is part of the audio decoders found in many surround sound gaming headsets, including the HyperX Cloud series. You can get a HyperX Cloud II surround sound headset for as little as $99.

The Dolby Headphone technology has been around for over twenty years. Like Creative’s Super X-Fi, it applies HRTFs, but it went with a one-size-fits-all model that lacks user-specific customization.

Our Super X-Fi AIR Verdict

The SXFI AIR are a great pair of headphones for audiophiles who desire an immersive listening experience for music, entertainment, and non-FPS gaming. These headphones will let you privately enjoy surround sound, without bothering your neighbors.

However, the audio quality suffers when using Bluetooth or low-quality audio files, which is why we can only recommend the SXFI AIR if you’re prepared to use a wired connection or can transfer your media to a microSD card. Moreover, given that the headphones don’t offer active noise-cancellation (ANC), the battery life is slightly disappointing. The lack of ANC also limits their use in public spaces.

Get the Creative Super X-Fi AIR if you crave the spatial audio experience in a quiet environment and don’t mind its limitations.

Creative SXFI AIR side view

If you already have a great pair of headphones, but want to experience the Super X-Fi sound, try the SXFI AMP, priced at $149.99. It contains the same technology, but it’s completely wired, using USB input from your phone, computer, or gaming console, and a 3.5mm audio jack output to your headphones.

Enter the Competition!

Creative Super X-Fi AIR Headphones Giveaway

Read the full article: Creative Super X-Fi AIR Review: Spatial Audio Done Right