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Creative SXFI AMP Review (headphone adapter)

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the Creative Super XFi headphone amplifier and DAC "dongle." It was kindly sent to me by a member. Unfortunately it is discontinued but from what I can tell, it cost US $149. Its claim to fame was multi-channel virtualization customized to your face and ear shape. My review is focused on its audio performance and not this feature.

I liked the nice buttons on the SXFI:

Creative SXFi review headphone amplifier DAC multichannel.jpg


They have a very positive action. The top button turns on its eq/virtualization.

The class driver in Windows recognizes it as an 8 channel DAC. That way, it can receive multi-channel content in order to down convert it to stereo. Alas, as with other dongles, the class driver only works in 16 bit mode with my Audio Precision software. So for testing, I had to use my Roon player to stream content to it which means no sweeps (other than power). In addition, it only supports maximum of 96 kHz sampling so I could not run my 192 kHz multitone test.

Creative SDXI Amp Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard:

Creative SFXI Measurements.png


This is with the output adjusted to 2 volts. Performance is pretty good with distortion below threshold of hearing at -115 dB. Signal to noise ratio/dynamic range falls in the same bucket:

Creative SFXI Dynamic Range Measurements.png


Ditto for Jitter:
Creative SFXI jitter Measurements.png


Most important test for a headphone adapter is amount of power so let's get into that starting with 300 ohm load:

Creative SFXI power into 300 ohm Measurements.png


Not bad:
best windows headphone dongle review 2021.png


Power was more impressive using 32 ohm load:
best windows headphone dongle review.png


Headphone Listening Tests
There was good amount of power and lack of distortion with both my Ether CX and Sennheiser HD-650 headphone.

Conclusions
If I had tested the sXFI back in 2019, it would have landed at the top of the class. Even today it holds its own. You can get more though for less money than it retail so not as impressive now. Not sure you want to go and hunt one down (I see a used one for $110 on ebay). But if you did, it would be fine. I put it on my recommended list.

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As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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wwenze

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Hmm the unit I measured seems to not have that increasing noise at HF... strange

4B7RIaQ.png


BTW, crosstalk? I remember it being bad.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Hmm the unit I measured seems to not have that increasing noise at HF... strange
I suspect that is USB noise bleeding through. These small dongles don't have as much filtering.
 

wwenze

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Measurements aside...

What are your views on the virtualization technology? It caused quite a stir when it was announced and sent the share price up +500%, and then shortly after release it had strange trading behavior (that dip at 2019 which triggered an investigation which found nothing as usual).

cWGFm5i.jpg


Now with benefit of hindsight we know that feature failed to penetrate the market, but how would a trained listener rate the feature?
 

YSC

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nice performing dongle.

Just one question on dongles in general, it seems to me most if not all of them are passively powered, so if I am correct using them to listening to more inefficient earphones or headphones would drain away the phone battery pretty quickly?
 

wwenze

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nice performing dongle.

Just one question on dongles in general, it seems to me most if not all of them are passively powered, so if I am correct using them to listening to more inefficient earphones or headphones would drain away the phone battery pretty quickly?
Oddly, it seems like it might have compatibility issues with quite a few devices. They list several android phones that are specifically incompatible, and iphones are not on the compatible list either... (though they have a separate page saying it might work). https://us.creative.com/sxfisupport/sxfi-amp/device-compatibility/

I lost my USB current measurements... dammit.
But those are for standby power anyway. The additional power due to your headphone depending on your volume setting will either be inconsequential (<1mW) or so high that standby power doesn't matter.

But those standby power measurement might have explained the lack of iPhone compatibility:

https://www.soundphilereview.com/reviews/creative-sxfi-amp-review-4556/
The Creative SXFi AMP is only compatible with Android, but that’s for good reason. Apple imposes a 100 mA current draw limit (with 5 V voltage that means 500 mW) on iOS devices, so anything that tries to draw more current is shut down and gets a “device not recognised” warning. This is an inescapable limit of the platform. Creative decided they did not want to deal with this limit and the result is a small device that can output 452 mW on 16 Ω. While all this power means that connecting it to a phone will drain the battery quite fast, on the other hand this means that the SXFi AMP will be able to drive even demanding headphones with satisfactory results. A computer would also be able to cope with the power draw better, making the SXFi AMP an ideal companion for notebooks.
 

ishouldbeking

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I lost my USB current measurements... dammit.
But those are for standby power anyway. The additional power due to your headphone depending on your volume setting will either be inconsequential (<1mW) or so high that standby power doesn't matter.

But those standby power measurement might have explained the lack of iPhone compatibility:

https://www.soundphilereview.com/reviews/creative-sxfi-amp-review-4556/

Interesting! And can't fault them for the choice to build a better performing product, even if it means compatibility won't work for everyone.
 

Weebster

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I was tempted to get one of these for so long, but their reputation for mediocre sound quality kept me off that train.
 

milosz

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-sigh- I keep coming here hoping to see the review of the massdrop Ether CX 'phones.

I am dissatisfied with my HiFiMan HE6 'phones and want to find another pair of planar headphones that I will like better.
 

rxp

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I had this since day 1. It's ruined my speakers for listening to music for me. The virtual room I get with my customization is so wonderful with all its reflections I much prefer it. The image it "projects" is huge. It blows away two my my setups, an LS50 and R300 in another theater. For movies though, it's way too much reverb for a small room so my brain doesn't seem to like it. Similar to the people with Smyth A16's who get a Dolby Atmos theater done, take it to their homes and hate the reverb. The Headphones it comes with actually gives the best effect, but for comfort I'm glad they have the Fidelio X2HR on there too.

I wish Creative would just deploy a Windows app for the tech though. I hate not being able to use it over Bluetooth. I did try and record the impulse responses, but recording them via analogue just didn't work. I need a way to record a sweep and convert that into an impulse response so HeSuVi can use EAPO to convolve it..

And unlike any of the other DAC's it registers as 7 channel, so you can use HeSuVi/Impulcifer with it natively. No need to faf with Voicemeeter which adds noise for me.
 

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Nango

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nice performing dongle.

Just one question on dongles in general, it seems to me most if not all of them are passively powered, so if I am correct using them to listening to more inefficient earphones or headphones would drain away the phone battery pretty quickly?
The higher the resistance they offer (ohms, impedance), the more ampere the stick will consume. The less sensitive it is, the louder you need to crank up the volume, the more power will it consume. It's s pity @amirm don't tell us how much mA it consumes under normal conditions.

In Europe it sells direct from the mfr for 89€ p&p paid.
 

sweetsounds

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In Germany it is available now for €89. Problem is the compatibility issues. Does anyone know of a similar performing holographic method? iFi xDSD?
 

PierreV

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Oddly, it seems like it might have compatibility issues with quite a few devices. They list several android phones that are specifically incompatible, and iphones are not on the compatible list either... (though they have a separate page saying it might work). https://us.creative.com/sxfisupport/sxfi-amp/device-compatibility/

I suspect this incompatibility is much larger and hasn't been updated in a while: the phones listed there were among the first android phones to aggressively manage power.
 

Juanrdp

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I suspect this incompatibility is much larger and hasn't been updated in a while: the phones listed there were among the first android phones to aggressively manage power.

I've the SXFI amp from release and used it with several phones LG G5 and G6, Huawei P30 and the last one is a Realme x2 Pro... it worked with all of them, the only difference is that with the last phones (and more modern) you need to activate the OTG option (previously it wasn't needed) before the dongle works ... and you need to make it each time you plug it into the phone.

Another thing is that if you activate the OTG and left the dongle connected even without playing anything will drain your battery like a crazy.

Sound related the virtual audio ranges from wonderfull with a headphones that is on the list supported (or a similar one) to good (with the rest of headphones) to terrible (with a bad head-ear mapping or an incorrect one), it just miles ahead of any solution that i known (even the "sxfi" headphones like own creative ones are way, way worse), once you start using the virtual audio you just can't stop using it.

Just an advice, as it just create a virtual environment it didn't work the same with all kind of music because it just simulates a live environment, on some cases it could just ruin the music.
 
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