Creative CEO: Super X-Fi audio tech more revolutionary than colour TV
Creative CEO says its Super X-Fi audio tech is more revolutionary than colour television
With his widened eyes, bellowing voice and rapid-fire speech, it is hard to miss the excitement Creative Technology's chief executive Sim Wong Hoo feels about his latest offering.
"Remember when televisions switched from black and white to colour? I think the jump we have with this is bigger than that," the 63-year-old told The New Paper at the company's Jurong East headquarters, gesturing to the new Super X-Fi dongle next to him.
The 5cm-long device might be small but it packs a punch.
By plugging it into any audio source, the Super X-Fi creates surround sound and gives the audio a detailed sense of realistic space and depth, without the need for any extra speakers - a contrast to the "flat" sound of current headphones, said Mr Sim.
The Super X-Fi also tailors audio input based on the listener's ears and head shape.
TNP sat through a demonstration of the technology. This reporter had to remove his headphones halfway - just to make sure the surround sound was indeed coming from the headphones and not any speakers.
The state of headphones has been "wrong and unnatural" to Mr Sim. So he has spent 20 years finding a way to make headphones sound like surround sound speakers.
If reactions to the Super X-Fi are anything to go by, Mr Sim has succeeded.
Making money is okay, it is important for my shareholders. But for me, I have a higher, loftier kind of calling. Money is not my personal concern anymore.Mr Sim Wong Hoo
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January this year, the dongle's technology won the prestigious Best of CES 2018 Award by AVS Forum- think Best Picture at the Academy Awards but in the audio tech world.
Following the announcement of the Super X-Fi at CES, Creative Technology shares hit a decade high. This month, they were priced seven times higher than they were at the end of February.
Many CEOs would be elated with all this news, but Mr Sim, who became a billionaire at 45, shrugged when asked about the money he is going to make.
The man, known for his annual salary of $1, is more focused on spreading his technology.
He aims to have 50 million Super X-Fi users in two years.
It will be available in the second half of the year for US$150 (S$197).
"Making money is okay, it is important for my shareholders.
"But for me, I have a higher, loftier kind of calling. Money is not my personal concern anymore," he said.
"My concern is to get this technology out to every headphone user on the planet. Headphones, in-ear, earbuds, everything, I want everybody to enjoy this new era."
Getting so many people on board cannot be done alone, and Mr Sim acknowledged that the 50 million goal can be achieved only through collaboration.
For this reason, he told TNP that he will be selling the technology inside the Super X-Fi , too.
The chip, which Creative has spent US$100 million developing, can be incorporated into headphones that other companies can manufacture.
This marks a departure from Creative's stance from its previous Sound Blaster technology.
When Sound Blaster came out in the 1980s, bringing digital audio to computers, Mr Sim took advice from his sales people to not sell its chip. He now realises that was the wrong move, and he is now "putting (his) foot down" to collaborate.
He erupted in loud laughter when asked if he is worried that people might try to clone the Super X-Fi's technology, which was developed by a team led by Mr Lee Teck Chee, the vice-president of technology at Creative.
"It is not easy to clone. These people who do the cloning, they are trying for a quick buck. They are not prepared to put in any serious effort," he said.
"If they want to make a quick buck, just buy my chip to go and make headphones so you can make better money."
This pivot towards collaboration is something Mr Sim said Creative can do because it has been leading the charge in audio technology.
He sees himself and his company as carrying a "burden" to grow the industry- one he is more than happy to take on.
"We have always been creative, and we always want to be different. It is a burden, it is baggage that we carry, it is like a cross," he said.
"So I carry this cross for the benefit of other people, but it's something that we pride ourselves in doing."
Perhaps Mr Sim's need to shoulder this burden comes from his belief that Singapore suffers from a dearth of creativity. The quality needs to be developed, not "taught or learnt", which he said has been the practice here.
According to him, Singaporeans are not creative because they are too stifled and are not given enough "freedom", referring to how restrictive systems and regulations can feel here.
He called for more freedom from structures and for "open space", free from meeting targets and expectations, which would allow Singaporeans to let their creative juices flow.
This was a luxury he enjoyed while growing up in a kampung in Bukit Panjang. Mr Sim's mother tended to a farm and his father was a shopkeeper.
When Mr Sim was not helping out at home, he was finding ways to entertain himself by "making toys" on his own.
Mr Sim took up odd jobs that included being a computer technician to support himself and his large family. He had about a dozen siblings, but his family was so large that some of his siblings had to be given up to other families.
It was a rocky road that led Mr Sim to starting Creative, which started as off as a computer repair shop in a shopping centre.
One of the most memorable moments of his 37-year career as CEO was when he took Creative's Sound Blaster technology to the US in 1989.
Although it would set the stage for his company's eventual ascent in the tech world, he remembers it for another reason - meeting Michael Jackson.
When the singer approached Creative's booth, Mr Sim thought he was an impostor. It was only after they started talking that he realised it was the moonwalker, in the flesh.
Mr Sim recounted the experience: "He was shocked to hear that sound from a computer, that digital sound, for the first time in the world. He came by, and his people expected him to be five minutes.
"He stuck around, and I was talking to him. He ended up staying there for half an hour."
Some have touted gaming company Razer's Tan Min-Liang as somewhat of a successor to Mr Sim, a new generation, forward-thinking tech leader with a brand making its name globally.
Mr Sim said he and Mr Tan are "good friends" and that he has known Mr Tan since his start-up days.
"They have their space in the gaming area, they built a brand there. He is a smart guy. I should have invested in him... but I did not," he said with a sigh.
When asked if he was worried Razer would try to compete with his new technology, Mr Sim said that Creative was open to collaborate with anybody out there.
He said with a chuckle: "There is no competition with them. I can sell them my chips."