Feature – CMSS-3D and Testing
Features: X-Fi CMSS-3D
Creative Labs has invested a lot of resources into the research of creating an artificial sound field using a stereo output source. At a glance this  technique is similar to how Dolby Headphone attempts to mimick environments on two speakers (5.1 to 2 speaker conversion), but Creative Labs has done more than Dolby’s spec as Creative Labs aims to make the technology useful many different speaker configurations.

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Through Creative Labs’ research, there are four distinct algorithms for upmixing:

  • CMSS-3DHeadphone :-  Immersive 3D audio rendering over headphones
  • CMSS-3DVirtual :-      Immersive 3D audio rendering over two loudspeakers
  • CMSS-3DSurround :-       Multi-channel surround sound from two-channel recordings
  • CMSS-3DInteractive :- Interactive 3D positional audio for multiple simultaneous sources.

All of these algorithms employ special processing that adjust the spatial qualities of the source audio to the target output. What this means for a headphone user is that the source audio is really 5.1 surround sound that has been carefully processed to remain faithful to the localization and timbre of the original 5.1 source and adjusted for stereo output.

Testing CMSS-3D

From the description above, it’s hard to conceive how CMSS-3D can be any better than stereo upmixing offered by almost all audio solutions on the market these days. Once again my skepticism was unecessary as the technology works very well in most applications.

Listening to music with CMSS-3D enabled, it helped make more natural audio transitions between the left and right speakers by using the center channel for effect. Using the “XPand Stereo” option in the Entertainment mode settings yields an effect similar to Dolby Pro Logic II; instead of simply cloning front channel audio to the rear/surround speakers CMSS-3D uses those speakers for surround effects like the bass rythm, the tapping of the hi-hat. The result is a more natural enveloping sound with the melody and vocals staged at the front and peripheral audio flowing out from the surround speakers.

In games, I found that ambient noises like steam spewing from pipes or rats crawling on the floor more convincing with CMSS-3D enabled. For those of you with stereo setups you’ll be pleased that CMSS-3D will make your games sound a little more immersive. I tested FEAR with a 2.1 configuration and it fooled me in thinking my surround speakers were still enabled (I actually put my ear up to one to check :)). In surround sound mode (4.1 or higher) the results of CMSS-3D are harder to notice.

CMSS-3D in movies was really hard to notice in either 2.1 or 5.1 speaker configuration. Watching a variety of sequences from movies while toggling the CMSS-3D option on and off had no real effect to the sound field. I was expecting audio to sound more encompassing, but I didn’t really notice that effect at all.

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CMSS-3D on headphones wasn’t too impressive.
Spatial quality changed, but hard to say if it was an improvement.

With headphones, CMSS-3D adds a nice spatial effect to your music which makes certain details appear closer to your position. I’m not sure if I would say this is an improvement but it does give you some variation to how you listen to your tunes. With games, the effect is not as noticeable as with loud speakers and I wouldn’t say the illusion of a larger space is all that convincing with a headset. You may be able to tweak the settings a bit to gain a better effect.

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