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Creative Sound BlasterX Katana review: Price now slashed to £190

Christopher Minasians
27 Oct 2017
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
280
inc VAT

A small, yet beautiful-looking soundbar that delivers good sound for under £300

Pros 
Multiple inputs
Customisable RGB lighting
Overall sound quality
Cons 
Slightly recessed mid-range
Price
No HDMI input
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Save £90 on the Creative SoundblasterX Katana

The Creative SoundblasterX Katana is a great soundbar for gamers and movie aficionados alike. It sounds great, it's compact and it's packed with inputs and useful features. At under £200 from Creative, it's a sensational deal as well.
Creative
Was £280
Now £190

Soundbars come in all different shapes and are designed to quickly enhance the sound of your favourite TV shows. Nowadays, soundbars offer more than just a TV input (optical or RCA), but some also 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.

In fact, the speaker’s primary purpose is to be used as an “Under Monitor Audio System” (UMAS) – although it can also be used as an enhancement for TV audio, of course. 

READ NEXT: Best soundbars of 2017 – our favourite TV speakers

The Creative Katana can be found on Creative’s website for £280 – pitching it up against some tough competitors, 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 review: Design and features

Before diving in, I’d like to quickly touch on the package contents. In the box, you get a soundbar, subwoofer and a power adapter with UK, EU and US sockets, plus two micro-USB 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. I was surprised not to find an optical cable included, though.

Moving on to the build quality, 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. Some might think it garish, but I have no complaints about the Katana’s RGB lighting. The transition of colours is fluid, making the soundbar look great. If you find it distracting, it can be entirely switched off.

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, 3.5mm mic and headphone connections, 3.5mm auxiliary, optical and micro-USB 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. However, 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.

While I’m on the subject, inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone output and mic input is fantastic – as you can directly plug in your headphones and enjoy late night gaming sessions without annoying the neighbours.

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. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support the aptX codec, which is a letdown given the high price, but you do get AAC and SBC codec support.

UPDATE: Since we first reviewed the Katana, Creative has added USB audio support for the Sony PS4, PS4 Pro and PS4 Slim. This means if you're using the Katana on your PC or TV, and have a PS4 - you'll now be able to hook it up via USB and enjoy better sound from the speaker.

Also see: All soundbar reviews

Creative Sound BlasterX Katana review: Software

The Katana can be used standalone, but if you plan to use the soundbar with your computer through its micro-USB 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 and 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 fantastic, and it’s clear that Creative have thought about different modes that customers might want to use. My only complaint is that Creative doesn’t shout about this on its website.

Also see: Best PC speakers 2017

Creative Sound BlasterX Katana review: Sound quality

The Katana is a relatively small soundbar since it’s designed to sit under your monitor instead of a large TV. 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 and 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 (only via PC connection), 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 has fantastic control, and explosions in movies and gunfire in games is accurate and not too bloated. However, due to the relatively small size of the drivers, you don’t get that thumping feeling as you might with other speakers, such as the Cambridge Audio TV2 (v2).

The mid-range is a little recessed – I felt it 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 are 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 review: Verdict

In a nutshell, 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 instance, 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 much more flexible than the TV2. For keen gamers who want something flexible for movies and music as well, it’s a great buy.

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