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Creative SXFI Gamer headset review: Holographic game audio

Games have reached a level of cinematic quality that often rivals film in terms of audio and visuals. But developers didn’t design their soundscapes for your old stereo headphones. Those cans can often make it feel like the game is happening inside your head, but a lot of people don’t want to deal with setting up an expensive surround speaker system. That’s where Creative’s SXFI Gamer headset comes in with its Super X-Fi holographic technology. This simulates the sound of high-end studio speakers, and it is magical for gaming.

The SXFI Gamer is available now for $130. It uses a USB-C connection, which is ideal for connecting to your phone, the Nintendo Switch, and — potentially — the next-gen console gamepads. But you can also connect it to a standard USB type-A port with the included dongle.

When you use it in the right content, the SXFI Gamer blows away other headphones. And that goes for its microphone as well. Let’s get into it.

The SXFI Gamer brings games to life

The SXFI Gamer is a revelation when you pair it with a console or PC. The Super X-Fi technology uses an algorithm to create what Creative calls holography. Sound hits your ear in such a way that it builds holographic, positional audio that your brain interprets as a wall of speakers in a sound-treated room.

This effect doesn’t work great with something like podcasts. That kind of content sounds like someone turned up the reverb to max and walked away. But when I plug the SXFI Gamer into my Switch, it’s like I’m experiencing these games for the first time again.

I primarily play my Switch in portable mode, and even when using headphones through the consoles 3.5mm jack, the sound comes through as weak. But since the SXFI Gamer uses USB-C, it doesn’t have those issues with Nintendo’s limited digital-to-analog converter. Even more impressive, however, is the sensation of hearing these handheld games as if they are coming through an expensive receiver and towering speakers.

I would love to see the look on the face of a sound designer at Nintendo when they play one of their games while wearing the SXFI Gamer. They’d likely feel relieved that some people get to experience the games as the creators intended.

For me, this makes the games feel more engrossing. Switching back to standard headphones now feels enclosed and confining. It’s amazing how much holography lends to the illusion of open-air exploration in something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Slight usability issues

Creative is known for its audio algorithms and processing. It’s among the best in the world in that category. But it’s still learning when it comes to consumer devices, and that holds true with the SXFI Gamer.

The headphones are mostly comfortable, but they tend to get warm. It’s a physical effect that can detract from the wide-open soundstage that this tech is working so hard to create.

Also, the included USB-C cable is very rigid. And this a problem, because any time it rubs against another surface, it sends a vibration that rattles all the way up through the headphones themselves. This is annoying and more noticeable during quiet moments. Thankfully, the cable is modular, and you can replace it with your own USB-C cable.

Really good microphone

The mic sounds clean and clear. I’m really happy with it. You never know what you’re going to get with a gaming headset. You can spend a lot of money and end up with a disappointing mic. At $130, I think a gaming headset should have a decent mic. Creative’s CommanderMic surpasses those expectations to deliver something very solid.

A lot of this comes down to, once again, Creative’s algorithms. The company’s InPerson tech distinguishes between the speaker and outside noises and tries to amplify the former while eliminating the latter. This works, and it does so without sounding overly processed or digital.

SXFI Gamer vs. the competition

In a vacuum, I recommend the SXFI Gamer. Its comfort issues aren’t a major problem except for when you compare the device to its competition. The Logitech G Pro X and the Hyper X Cloud Alpha S are both more comfortable and also have great mics. But even with all three on my shelf, I think I might go with the SXFI Gamer — especially when playing games on my Switch.

The other thing to keep in mind is the setup. You won’t get the best Super X-Fi experience out of the box with the SXFI Gamer. You’ll need to download the SXFI app, and then use that to map your head and ears.

Creative’s holography works, and it’s the perfect tech to pair with a screen that you hold up close to your face. It makes personal gaming moments overwhelming, and I don’t want to miss that.

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