Soundbars come in all different shapes and are designed to quickly enhance the sound of your favourite TV experiences.
Nowadays, some soundbars offer wireless streaming capabilities, Bluetooth connectivity and even USB-playback. The Creative Katana offers one extra trick up its sleeve - it can be connected to a Windows PC through USB and even provides a line out/mic in for your gaming headphones.
The speaker’s primary purpose is to be used as an “Under Monitor Audio System” – although it can also be used as an enhancement for TV audio.
The Creative Katana is pitching it going against the competition, such as the Cambridge Audio TV2 (v2), that can be found for £200, and the popular AudioEngine A2+ found for £220 .
Creative Sound BlasterX Katana: Design and features
In the box you get a soundbar, subwoofer and a power adapter with UK, EU and US sockets, plus two microUSB to USB cables (short and long), a remote, two wall mount brackets and a set of manuals. The remote is particularly useful when you want to use the speaker at range, but no optical cable is included.
The Katana is well built and looks gorgeous. Its brushed aluminium design couples well with the RGB light strip under the speaker, making the Katana your go-to disco bar. The lighting can be customised through the Sound Blaster Connect for Windows application – Mac users, you’ll need to phone-a-friend. The transition of colours is fluid, making the soundbar look great. If you don't like, you can switch it off entirely.
You’ll find five buttons at the top of the soundbar: An on/off/Bluetooth button, minus, plus, source and an SBX button. Around the back physical connections comprise power, subwoofer output, 3.5 mic and headphone connections, 3.5mm auxiliary, optical and microUSB inputs plus a standard USB A port.
I like the selection of inputs provided by Creative, especially the inclusion of that USB port, which allows you to store music on a flash drive and directly play it back through the speaker. But, there’s no HDMI input, meaning if your TV doesn’t have an optical output you’ll be stuck using that 3.5mm headphone input.
The Katana’s connectivity options don’t stop there, though. With the inclusion of Bluetooth v4.2, you can also directly pair your Smartphone with the Katana. The Bluetooth range is impressive, extending to more than 15m and through walls as well.
Creative Sound BlasterX Katana: Software
The Katana can be used standalone, but if you plan to use the soundbar with your computer through its microUSB to USB connection, you’ll need to download and install the Sound Blaster Connect software.
As I mentioned above this only runs on Windows machines, but it’s extremely well-designed, easy-to-use, and gives you a whole host of options. Through the main dashboard interface it’s possible to select pre-configured settings designed by professionals in the music, film and game industry. You can also quickly toggle various settings, such as the EQ, on and off.
In the sound section, you can play around with the soundbar’s various effects, such as “Immersion”, “Crystalizer”, smart volume and “Dialog+”. You can also enable Dolby Digital sound. Through the voice tab, you’ll have the option to reduce background noise - a simple toggle, useful for those who plug in their microphones into the soundbar.
The Connect app is also the place where you can fully customise the bar’s RGB lights. The level of customisation is quite something, and it’s clear that Creative have put much time and effort into offering so many choices.
Creative Sound BlasterX Katana: Sound quality
The Katana is a relatively small soundbar, but don’t let its size fool you, though: it packs a lot into its compact chassis. There are four drivers on the soundbar – two upward firing 2.5in mid-bass drivers and two front-facing 34mm tweeters – plus a 5.25in driver found in the separate passive subwoofer box.
And the scale of the sound it produces is impressive. There’s 150W of total DSP-controlled amplification here to power all these drivers. The soundbar has a multi-core Digital Signal Processor (DSP), which controls three separate amps that consequently output 75RMS/150W Peak Power. I have no complaints about its maximum volume output, as it was able to deliver large-room sound without distortion.
The Katana supports 24-bit 96kHz audio through its Dolby Digital decoder (via PC connection only), and when connected via optical or USB it doubles up as a soundcard, where it bypasses the audio processing on your computer. With it connected to a PC with Creative’s software, you can enable virtual 7.1 surround sound, which provides a much wider soundstage.
The Katana’s sound quality is surprisingly impressive. At such a small size, the soundbar blew me away, but it does have its limitations. With the soundbar set to “neutral” mode and its bass set to +2 (it can be adjusted from -4 to +4 depending on your preferences and room), I found the Katana capable of producing great sub-bass frequencies, where the lows extend well. It is however, cut-off in the lower sub-bass regions. Given the small size of the subwoofer and driver (5.25in), though, this didn’t come as a surprise.
Its mid-bass have fantastic control, and explosions in movies and gun-fire in games is accurate and not over bloated. However, due to the relatively small size of the drivers, you don’t get that thumping feeling as you might with other speakers.
The mid-range came across as slightly ‘muffled’ at times – where its dipped mids puts emphasis on the lows and highs. A simple tweak to the custom EQ in the software, though, soon put paid to this unwanted effect. The highs better, though: there’s good extension and sparkle and none of the sibilance that can make some speakers hard to listen to for long periods.
Lastly, the Katana’s soundstage and instrument separation are both great. Despite its small size, the Katana delivers an expansive soundstage that can be further widened using Creative’s software. Instrument separation is something I always look out for in speakers, especially soundbars, as there’s a tendency for them to sound congested and jumbled. This, to me, is where the Katana shines, providing an immersive sound that doesn’t jumble frequencies.
This comes down to the DSP-controlled amplifier, which assigns the right frequencies to the five drivers and handles the crossover between them.
Creative Sound BlasterX Katana: Verdict
The Katana’s sound quality is great, the build quality is marvellous and the plethora of inputs and outputs Creative provides means it’s suitable for a wide variety of application and listeners.
There’s very little here at fault; my main criticism is the price, which At £280 is considerably more expensive than the Cambridge Audio TV2 (v2), for example, which delivers a more refined sound and better bass for music and movie watching.
However, the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana is still a great soundbar and it’s a lot more flexible than the TV2. For keen gamers who want something flexible for movies and music as well, it’s a great buy.