Back in its heyday, home-grown technology company Creative Technologies and its chief executive Sim Wong Hoo were the talk of the town.
This year, the spotlight was thrust back on Mr Sim, 63, and Creative, thanks to a new award-winning piece of audio technology called the Super X-Fi – which he said is more revolutionary than colour television.
By using artificial intelligence to tailor custom audio profiles, the software recreates the listening experience of a high-end multi-speaker system in a professional studio, delivering the same depth, detail and immersiveness in headphones.
The world has taken notice. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, Creative’s technology won the prestigious Best of CES 2018 Award by AVS Forum – an online forum focused on home-based audio and video entertainment.
Following the announcement of the Super X-Fi at CES, Creative Technology shares hit a decade high.
Mr Sim said in September that the device had sold 600 units in the first 20 minutes when its local Web store went live.
Sim Wong Hoo was born in Singapore to a Zhao’an Hokkien family. He graduated from the Electrical & Electronic Engineering faculty (then known as Ngee Ann Technical College) in 1975, after which he worked in the private engineering sector.
On 1 July 1981, with a capital outlay of US$6,000, Sim founded Creative Technology in the form of a computer repair shop in Pearl’s Centre, in Chinatown. There he developed and sold an add-on memory board for the Apple II computer. Later, Creative began creating customized PCs adapted for the Chinese language, including enhanced audio capabilities that allowed the devices to produce speech and melodies. The success of this audio interface led to the development of the stand-alone sound card sound blaster. It was among the first dedicated audio processing cards widely available to general consumers. Creative dominated the PC audio market until the 2000s, when OEM PCs began to be built with integrated sound boards in the motherboard. Sound Blaster then found itself reduced to a niche product.
Mr Sim Wong Hoo, the founder of the Singaporean company who brought the world the default standard for consumer audio in PCs in the 90s, is obviously excited. Since the SoundBlaster, Creative Technology has not really had a major hit, but its new innovation could be the chance for the company to rejoin the big leagues.
On Wednesday (Mar 7), Mr Sim presented to reporters and analysts what he hailed as the “holy grail” of the audio industry at the company’s Jurong East headquarters. Called the Super X-Fi, Creative’s latest innovation is not a headphone nor a software.
Rather, it is a technology that can be used in headphones and dongles for mobile devices that is meant to recreate the listening experience of a multi-speaker surround sound system.
“The whole industry has been hunting for it,” said Mr Sim.
“I’ve a confession: We sell tons of headphones (but) I don’t use them,” Mr Sim shared. The existing ones in the market today are “stressful”, he added, saying the brain probably has to compensate for the audio technology’s inability to fully recreate a realistic enough sound.
He likened this to myopia. For someone with the condition, taking off the spectacles means having to squint in order to see something unless brought up close. This requires brain power too, and it is stressful on one’s eyes, he explained.