If you’re one of those people who believes that soundbars will never compete with a proper speaker setup in quality and spatial accuracy, then Creative Labs has something that’ll make you a convert. For the longest time, I was in the same boat. I’ve reviewed several excellent soundbars over the years, but when it came to personal preference, I always returned to a traditional speaker setup due to greater sound precision.
However, Creative Labs’ newest Sound BlasterX Katana is in a league of its own. The Katana offers the best audio performance I’ve ever experienced from a soundbar, and it does it without taking up much room in your entertainment setup. It’s a phenomenal audio device that may very well be one of my favorite pieces of tech this year.
Creative Labs has always been known for creating stunning-looking products, but Katana’s designers have taken product engineering to a whole new level. The Sound BlasterX Katana looks astounding. It’s significantly smaller than most soundbars and weighs just a few pounds. It’s narrower than my 27inch Asus monitor, a perfect fit for a clutter-free gaming setup. The body is enveloped by a beautiful, brushed, chrome-finish, and even the hard-plastic pieces boast a fine, textured exterior. The LED display is smartly tucked away behind the speaker grill, making the screen appear concealed when in standby mode. The Aurora Lighting System is also hidden underneath the speaker so as not to vie for attention when turned off.
"The Katana offers the best audio performance I’ve ever experienced from a soundbar, and it does it without taking up much room in your entertainment setup."
There a multiple ways the Katana can be used to enjoy your media. You can stream music via Bluetooth devices that support the A2DP Profile or you can stream high-quality files directly off of a USB stick, you can connect the Katana via optical for Dolby Digital Encoding (limited to 5.1 channels), you can use traditional AUX-in (lowest quality) and lastly, you can connect the Katana to a PC for the best possible audio experience with the inclusion of 7.1 Virtual Surround Audio Playback. And if that isn’t enough, the Katana has headphone and microphone inputs for late night gaming. If you’re looking for versatility, it doesn’t get better than this. After I finished drooling over the Katana’s sleek appearance and flexibility, the real wow factor set in.
Once I switched my audio profile to the correct 7.1 channels, the Katana transformed into something otherworldly. My entire office filled with sound, and I couldn't even tell where the acoustics were coming from—remember, I'm sitting right in front of the soundbar. For the first few minutes, I didn't know what was happening. I closely examined the soundbar face-to-grill while playing music, and it felt like the sound waves were wrapping around me. There’s some serious engineering wizardry going on in there.
"Once I switched my audio profile to the correct 7.1 channels, the Katana transformed into something otherworldly. My entire office filled with sound, and I couldn't even tell where the acoustics were coming from!"
This is also the very first time I’ve experienced simulated 7.1 surround sound working so effectively. I’ve grown tired of every single audio manufacturer boasting about surround sound capabilities without being able to backup their claims, but Creative Labs’ Katana isn’t your typical audio device. I can’t find the proper words to describe the Katana’s directional accuracy. Words like perfect and flawless are meaningless when you can’t genuinely hear the performance for yourself. If you’re playing a competitive shooter and you find yourself surrounded by foes, you can easily determine their location, despite not having individual channels split across multiple speakers.
Based on Katana’s technical drawings, there are two up-firing bass drivers on each side of the bar, with two high-excursion tweeters positioned next to each driver. The external subwoofer has its own, gigantic long-throw driver that independently handles bass without interfering with higher frequencies. The 2.5″ (63.5mm) Upfiring Midbass Drivers and the 1.3″ (34mm) High-excursion Tweeters are the Katana’s secret sauce—so to speak. Thanks to the inverted alloy dome diaphragms and wide polymer surrounds for low-resonant frequency and extended low-frequency response, the high-frequency drivers deliver remarkable clarity that never loses impact regardless of volume and type of content played. Combine that with a crystal-clear midrange and dynamic midbass performance of the upward-directed drivers, and you have a device that excels at everything you throw at it.
"The Sound BlasterX Katana is, hands down, one of the best soundbars on the market. Don’t let the “gaming” label fool you, the Katana is so much more than just a simple soundbar for playing video games."
And talk about excellence...the Katana's Music performance deserves just as much praise. I normally don’t like placing gaming hardware in the same category as audiophile equipment, but based on my own experience with the Katana, I think it deserves a category of its own. The Katana houses a proprietary multi-core DSP that is capable of producing 24-bit high-resolution audio, so for the music enthusiasts who have a lot of lossless 24 bit 96/192 kHz material, the Katana is a godsend. I’ve listened to countless genres over my two-week testing period, including: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Soundtrack, Angel Haze’s latest Resurrection release, Babymetal, Dessa, Snow Tha Product, a bit of old-school Pantera, as well as The Last of Us soundtrack. Whether I’m listening to rap, metal, pop or orchestral performances, the Katana’s audio delivery continuously impresses.
Conclusion: The Sound BlasterX Katana is, hands down, one of the best soundbars on the market. Don’t let the “gaming” label fool you, the Katana is so much more than just a simple soundbar for playing video games. I think Creative Labs has been a little too generous with their labeling as the Katana easily classifies as an entry-level audiophile device. Its 7.1 surround sound performance has no equal, and the fact that the channel separation is as accurate as having multiple speakers makes this a truly special piece of audio equipment. If the Katana is any indication of where Creative Labs is headed with their future products, then I can’t even imagine what 2017 will bring!