If you asked the average gamer who Creative are, they might not recognise the name until you mention Sound BlasterX as it’s been a while since we ‘needed’ to have a discrete sound card installed in our systems in order to get great quality audio. I’m sure most of you will instantly know who I’m talking about, after all, their Sound BlasterX range of sound cards, headsets and speakers, as well as their non-gaming audio products, are renowned across the globe.
It’s one of their speaker systems that I have been testing for the past couple of weeks, the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana, which is a gaming focused 5.1 (and virtual 7.1) Surround Sound soundbar. I could have done the testing quicker but I wanted to be thorough, by which I mean that I wanted to keep my hands on it as long as possible… but is that because it’s really that good or simply because I had a house party coming up? Well, you will just have to read through the review and find out for yourself. #NoSpoilers. First up, a breakdown of the Sound BlasterX Katana’s specifications as stated on Creative’s website then we’ll take a look at the product itself.
Dimensions (H x W x D)
Soundbar: 60.0 x 600.0 x 79.0 mm (2.4 x 23.6 x 3.1 inches), Subwoofer: 333 x 130 x 299 mm (5.1 x 11.8 x 13.1 inches)
Soundbar: 1.5kg (3.3 lbs), Subwoofer: 4kg (8.8 lbs)
A2DP (Wireless Stereo Bluetooth)
Bluetooth, AUX-in, USB FlashDrive, Headset out, USB Audio, Mic-in, Optical-in
- For Wireless Streaming:
Compatible Bluetooth devices that support the Stereo Bluetooth Profile (A2DP)
- For Wireless Control:
Compatible Bluetooth devices that support the Bluetooth Remote Control (AVRCP)
- For 7.1 Virtual Surround Audio Playback:
- For Digital 5.1 Audio Playback:
- For High-resolution 24-bit 96kHz Audio Playback:
For PC via USB Connection
- For Playback via USB Flash Drive:
Up to 128GB formatted in FAT16/32/exFAT.
Common audio formats such as MP3, WMA, FLAC and WAV.
(MP3 and WMA up to 320kbps and FLAC up to 1.3Mbps).
- For Sound Blaster Connect:
For Windows® OS
Intel Core™2 Duo processor 2.2 GHz, AMD Athlon 64×2 Dual Core or equivalent processor
Microsoft® Windows 10, Microsoft Windows 8.1 32-bit or 64-bit
600MB of free hard disk space
Available USB 2.0 or 3.0 port
Internet connection (optional)
- For Direct Connection to AUX-in Jack:
Analog audio devices with a 3.5mm output
- 1 x Sound BlasterX Katana Soundbar
- 1 x Sound BlasterX Katana Subwoofer
- 1 x Power Adapter
- 1 x USB Cable (1.8m)
- 1 x USB Cable (0.6m)
- 1 x IR remote (battery included)
- 2 x Wall Mount Brackets
- Warranty & Technical Support leaflet
- Quick Start Guide
- Safety & Regulatory leaflet
2-year Limited Hardware Warranty
The Creative Sound BlasterX Katana’s packaging is large and pretty sturdy, as you would expect for a box that has to safely transport not just the two-foot-long soundbar but also the subwoofer. On the front of the box we can see a shot of the soundbar and woofer against a backdrop of the Aurora Borealis (or perhaps the Aurora Australis), which is a nod toward the Aurora Reactive lighting feature, along with the product and brand names and some limited features and specifications in a selection of languages.
Around the back of the box we have a more stylised image of the soundbar, in addition to another large name tag and several more features which are again displayed in a few different languages.
Inside the box, the Katana sound bar and subwoofer are kept safe from jostling about by a combination of large, thick fitted polystyrene blocks and 2 large cardboard boxes. Whilst one of these is completely empty, the other holds the paperwork (warranty, safety and regulatory information leaflet and the installation and quick-start guide), two brackets to mount the soundbar to your wall along with the cables and the remote-control unit. Of the cables, you have the power brick complete with three differently plugged cables so the complete package can be used around the world without any changes and two micro-USB leads, one approximately 1m long and the other roughly 2m.
Now we get our first glimpse of the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana in the flesh, and it’s pretty striking in an industrial sort of way; all black with straight edges and the front corners cut away at an angle. The front face and sides feature nothing at first glance other than a wraparound black metal grill which covers the pair of 1.3” tweeters. The top plate is black plastic with a brushed effect that is designed to look metallic and is set with the pair of 2.5” mid-drivers.
In the centre of the top face is a nameplate stating Sound BlasterX and five buttons to control the basic features of the speaker set (on/off/Bluetooth, volume up and down, input source and a SBX button) Both the power button and the SBX button are surrounded by a LED indicator.
Around the back we have plain plastic with two small slatted vents and very little else of interest except the inset array of sockets for inputs and outputs; altogether they are:
- Microphone (3.5mm),
- Headset (3.5mm),
- Auxiliary (3.5mm),
- Optical (S/PDIF),
- USB for flash drive, and
- Micro-USB for computer input.
Underneath the Katana there is again very little of interest, two long and thin feet with rubber soles, another two slatted vents and some information relating to the product number in various languages as well as regulatory information and a serial number sticker. I said very little of interest, because if none of that tickles you in your happy spot how about a full-length strip of 49 RGB LEDs? Yep, that’s there on the bottom too.
Moving on to the subwoofer and this time we are presented with a large obviously plastic case which is absolutely plain on one side and the rear only features the cable protruding from the base. At the front there is nothing but a large vent and the Sound BlasterX branding and on the final side we see the cloth covering of the 5.25” driver.
With the unit under power however we can see that not only do the on/off and SBX buttons have LED indicator but behind the front grill is a digital display that tells you what setting you are selecting for a few seconds after pressing a button on the remote or the top of the box. This display covers everything from lighting and EQ settings to volume and bass adjustments.
A look at the Sound BlasterX Katana support page will show you quite a few useful snippets of information. There’s a link to the knowledge base along with a selection of top questions as well as a link for a digital copy of the Quickstart Guide and Safety and Regulatory Information and a download link for the latest firmware which I recommend you install if you are getting one of these yourself. There is also a link to download drivers and software, and while the speakers don’t require drivers to be installed to run on Windows (at least not on Windows 10) the supporting software is well worth taking a look. It includes both the longstanding Creative ALchemy which has been packaged with all soundcards and gaming for the past eon or two (I may be exaggerating) and the Sound Blaster Connect application which we’ll be taking a look at in this section.
Sound Blaster Connect
Opening up the Sound Blaster Connect application we are greeted with the Dashboard page where you can quickly select equaliser presets like Gaming, Concert and Night as well as see which person or department created that setting – which is nice. The speaker is pre-loaded with some of these settings but there are a few more game-specific ones in the library that you can choose from like Dota2 and CS:GO which you can choose to run from the PC or install to the speaker to replace one of the current selection. You can also turn off and on the Equaliser or BlasterX Acoustic Engine individually as well as the lighting effects. Clicking on any of the icons displaying what these settings are currently set to will take you to the appropriate page to adjust them. If you scroll down the page you will also see the icons showing Voice and Dolby settings.
The first option under the Sound heading is the Equaliser (EQ) where you get the option to choose from the traditional musical options such as Acoustic, Classical, Jazz and many more. Alternatively, you can literally draw your own graph of peaks and troughs with your mouse (or finger if you have a touchscreen) which is lots of fun to do. Remember though, if you are listening to a preset that’s loaded on the speaker, those changes will be remembered by the speaker for that preset (so for example, ‘Night’ will now sound like your adjusted ‘Night’ whenever it is selected on the speaker until you overwrite it with the version from the Library).
Next up is the Acoustic Engine which is simply four sliders stylised as dials which will adjust or enhance certain specific areas such as voice or music. They are each well described underneath and there’s not much more to add other than they do pretty much what they are designed for.
Lastly under the Sound heading is Dolby where as you might expect you can adjust Dolby audio between fully on or night settings without losing the benefits that come with using Dolby audio.
You might think it strange that soundbar software would even have a voice setting. No, it’s not leftover from another product. The Sound BlasterX Katana – having a built in sound card – has sockets for Headphone out as well as Mic in, and what sound card worth its salt doesn’t let you morph your voice into that of an orc or an alien to match your gameplay and annoy the heck out of your team? Because that’s what the appropriately titled Voice Morph tab will do. If you want to make your virtual chipmunk (slightly) easier to understand then click on the Clarity tab where you will find a toggle switch to remove background noises.
The last section heading, Lighting, brings up a menu of predefined lighting effects for you to choose from. Once you have selected one you can choose to tweak it if you wish, in which case it will be copied instantly to the ‘Personal’ choice in the menu and saved there until you make another change or save it to the library by clicking the ‘+’.
Unlike standard 5.1 systems the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana was really straightforward to set up. With only one power plug and only one lead to plug in before any of the connected devices it was never going to be that difficult but even the occasionally annoying task of setting up the Bluetooth was as simple as holding the on/off button down for three seconds and then selecting the Katana from my phone. Getting the right sound and lighting was as easy as selecting them from the menu.
The soundbar accepts five audio inputs allowing you to connect PC, Bluetooth, TV, Blu-Ray, or any combination so long as you have plenty of different output options for those devices and switching between them is just a case of clicking a button on the included remote or the soundbar itself.
As I mentioned in my intro, I spent a couple of weeks with the Katana sampling every kind of music and every variety of television program and movie from Enya through to American Head Charge, from the high-pitched scream and low rumble of Formula 1 racing through to the horse whispered voice accompanying the clicks and ticks of a snooker match and from explosive Marvel blockbusters through to Disney musicals. Ok, I didn’t quite listen to every type of music… not even the demands of reviewing can force me to listen to opera, but you get the idea. The list is exhaustive, as was the task, simply because my main PC died and my only games that I can run on the windows tablet are Minecraft and old RPGs like Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate which left me in a bit of a pickle as far as testing a ‘gaming’ product. I did install BF3 in the end in the hope it would run, as well as The Witcher 2, and I got some useful data though the games themselves don’t exactly run well enough to enjoy.
And, what was the result of all that testing? Simply put, the system is amazing. It fills the room with clear sound and as much bass as you could need. Whether it’s music you’re listening to as you potter around attending to tasks through the day or gaming and you want to hear where the monster is coming from in Minecraft or detect the hidden sniper in Battlefield. Even in the evenings when the kids were asleep upstairs and with the Katana connected to the TV, I was able to enjoy any category of entertainment without disturbing them, hearing both the dialogue and the effects and music of any given film or program with ‘Night’ setting which toned down the bass and softened the highs. Then, the next day, a few clicks on the remote and the ‘Cinema’ setting really brought films and dramas to life.
For such small speakers, I didn’t expect exceptional quality to the sound, fearing that they would fail to impress at the top end or, if they didn’t, that they would be next to useless unless they were turned up. That however is definitely not the case with Creative’s sound system. In the bedroom (with my son asleep in my bed) the volume was turned down to just 1 on the built in LCD display and the Youtube volume at roughly 1/3rd, yet it still filled the room with quiet music that barely changed in volume as I walked around. At the other end of the scale with both children in school and the house to myself I was able to blast out tunes and dance without embarrassment to heavy metal – I did however resist the temptation to plug in a microphone and have an impromptu Karaoke session… not even the Katana can make my vocals sound good. I did not need to have the volume turned up to the maximum, after all, 150 watts of thumping music would probably get me into hot water with my neighbours; but at around 35 on the 0-50 scale the volume the music was still perfectly balanced and there was no distortion at all.
Lastly I tested the USB flash drive reading feature that the Katana has. Simply put, I inserted the USB drive which was preloaded with music into the soundbar, set the input and pressed play on the remote. As expected, it worked flawlessly. Most users would probably have their PC connected, along with all their music library, and so won’t consider this option worthwhile, however it did allow me to listen to specific bands while the Katana was connected to the TV and Blu-Ray player.
I should mention that although the remote was easy to use and understand, with buttons that corresponded to those on the soundbar as well as additional track control buttons, it is really light and smaller in length and width than a credit card. This could be a good feature but in a living room full of remote controls (Blu-Ray, TV, Now TV, Amazon Fire, Netflix via the Wii) it will be really easy to lose and so an Android/ iPhone software remote would be nice to have as a back-up.
After two weeks thoroughly exploring every aspect of the Katana and trying to find its weak spot I can finally conclude that, acoustically, it simply doesn’t have one. It fills the room with rich, vibrant sound and as I sit here typing away and listening to Metallica’s One on Youtube complete with all the background movie cut-ins, every aspect is as clear and invigorating as a rock track should be. TV and movies really come alive especially if watching a DVD or Blu-Ray with Dolby Surround. In gaming, the virtual 7.1 is precise enough to be able to hear your prey, be they human or monster, and pinpoint their location with ease as well as hearing all the other special effects just as the creators intended.
Creative state on their website, “Named after the sword so technologically perfect in structure and so demanding in its creation, the Sound BlasterX Katana exhibits the same sleek sophistication and formidable strength in its design and audio prowess,” and I think they have not done a bad job and emulating the spirit of that ancient oriental weapon. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t opt for wood instead of plastic for the woofer and that the soundbar portion is also mostly plastic, although with a very good brushed effect finish. However, the quality of the build from the chosen materials is excellent, and the overall effect with it sitting under a monitor or even TV is one of elegance and poise – and if it’s not turned on then you may not even notice it at all initially.
All the flowery language in the thesaurus cannot disguise my main worry… the price. It costs a whopping £279.99 on Creative’s website, and even with a bit of shopping around the cheapest I’ve seen it so far is around the £250 mark. To put that into perspective, Razer’s 5.1 soundbar is available for around £220 with it even being listed on eBay at just £180. That’s quite a premium that Creative have placed on the Katana and in fairness I’ve not heard the Leviathan in the flesh so I cannot compare the quality of the two, but if I was to see both on the shelf with a potential difference of £70 I would need a dedicated and enthusiastic salesperson to tempt me toward the Katana.
Of course this isn’t a blind (or deaf) test nor a snap purchase, so in my opinion is the Sound Blaster Katana worth the price? It’s very well built, looks good, the sound is frankly excellent and it comes with RGB and enough input options for all my entertainment devices and then some so I have to say yes, but only just.
Overall the Sound BlasterX Katana is an excellent product. I’ve tried my best to find any fault with it and the only ones I can come up with is their choice of materials and the cost… and I’m really pushing the boat out there. Of course, over time the cost will probably come down as retailers have promotions and whatnot so if you’re reading this on Black Friday or a year from now the only negative you’re likely to take away is “It’s made mostly from plastic” and a fairly good quality plastic at that.
As a result, the Creative Sound BlasterX Katana takes away Play3r’s Platinum Award,
Thanks to Creative for sending in a sample of the Sound BlasterX Katana Multi-Channel Gaming Soundbar for us to review.
- Exceptional room-filling sound at all volumes
- Outputs 5.1 or virtual 7.1 surround sound
- RGB effects
- Easy setup and use
- Can switch between a variety of input options
- Sleek industrial looks
- Simple yet functional supporting software
- Price is right at the limit though worth it