The Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE is an appealing soundbar for gamers willing to trade low-end potency for practicality
- Clear and balanced audio
- Customisable sound and lighting
- Compact single-unit design
- Bass could have more oomph
- No Dolby Atmos
- Only supports SBC over Bluetooth
The Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE is the latest entry in the Singaporean manufacturer’s gaming-focused Katana lineup, which also includes the original Katana, the Katana V2 and the Katana V2X, with the latter slimming down the subwoofer that accompanied its predecessor by around 40%.
The SE model ditches that sub entirely but beefs up the soundbar to accommodate larger drivers. It’s able to deliver the same power output as the V2X as a result, and matches it in every other department save low-end performance – the SE can’t go quite as deep and lacks the visceral impact of its 2.1-channel stablemate.
If you’re a gamer looking for a flexible single-unit soundbar solution, the Katana SE is definitely worth considering. Sound quality is solid, there are lots of ways to customise your experience, and the impressive range of wired and wireless connection options means you can use it with your TV, laptop, desktop PC, tablet or smartphone.
Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE review: What do you get for the money?
The Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE has a list price of £300. That’s £10 cheaper than the V2 at launch, although you can currently pick up that model for £290. The V2X is slightly cheaper at £260, while the Katana (2017) can still be picked up for £200. You’re better off buying one of the newer models, however, as they’re more powerful, have an expanded suite of features, and provide more choice when it comes to connectivity.
The bar measures 650 x 109 x 78mm (WDH) and weighs 2.67kg. In comparison, the soundbar components of the V2 and V2X both measure 600 x 95 x 62mm and weigh 1.5kg. So it isn’t quite as compact as its predecessors, but it won’t take up too much room on your desktop or in front of your TV and doesn’t require you to accommodate a subwoofer. As a side note, the Katana SE can be wall mounted, and a pair of brackets are included for that purpose.
A pair of 3in up-firing mid-bass drivers are found at the top of each end of the Katana SE, with 0.75in left and right tweeters firing out directly from the front of the bar. Creative states total power output at 90W RMS, with each of the tweeters capable of 20W RMS and the mid-bass drivers handling 25W RMS each. A strip of LED lights is located along the base of the bar – it wouldn’t be a gaming soundbar without RGB illumination – although you can turn the lights off if you find them distracting.
The Katana SE supports Bluetooth 5.0 (SBC) and is equipped with an HDMI ARC port, a Toslink optical-in, a 3.5mm AUX-in and a USB-C input, all of which are located on the rear of the bar. To help you get set up, Creative includes a 1.5m Toslink optical cable and 1.2m USB-C to USB-A cable, but there’s no HDMI cable in the box so you’ll need your own if you want to connect via that method.
Also located on the rear of the Katana SE is an SXFI-out, which allows you to plug in the dongle that comes with Creative’s SXFI Theater wireless gaming headset and take advantage of its Super X-FI holographic audio capabilities. If you don’t own the SXFI Theater, you can still make use of Super X-Fi by connecting any headset with a 3.5mm jack into a port on the front of the bar.
Also on the front of the bar is the Katana SE’s LED display, which provides information relating to the source being used, the sound mode you have active and your volume level. You’re able to cycle through sources, change sound modes and adjust volume using physical controls located on top of the soundbar, and these are flanked by power and SXFI buttons.
Further control options are available via the included remote, which takes AAA batteries that you’ll have to buy yourself. The remote is quite a busy affair, with numerous buttons that allow you to adjust volume, bass level, RGB lighting, cycle through sound modes and select specific inputs. There are also six buttons that can be customised using the Creative app, which provides a whole host of other options, including access to a much wider range of EQ presets than is available through the controls on the bar or remote.
In addition to the default Gaming, Music and Movies modes, you’ll find EQ settings for multiple music genres as well as specific gaming titles such as League of Legends, Fortnite and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Siege. You can also tweak the settings for the dual beamforming microphones built into the front of the bar to increase or decrease the amount of background noise that’s picked up when on calls (the Katana SE can be used as a speakerphone), adjust the mic’s EQ and set the angle at which the microphones picks up sound.
Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE review: What does it do well?
The Katana SE offers a fantastic range of connection options and this makes it supremely versatile. I tested it out with my TV over HDMI and optical connections, with a laptop hooked up via USB-A, and with a smartphone using both Bluetooth and a 3.5mm audio cable. That versatility gives it a big advantage over options such as the Razer Leviathan V2 Pro, the subwoofer-less sibling of the Leviathan V2, which makes do with Bluetooth and a single USB input.
The design of the bar, while not particularly innovative, is pleasing enough, and its compact dimensions mean it will fit under most TVs and monitors with minimal fuss. The RGB lighting looks good when engaged in a dark room and can be personalised to a great degree: the LED strip is split into seven distinct segments, and you can tailor each using colour wheels in the Creative app. You can then select the “motion” in which you want the lights to move and the speed at which they do so. RGB lighting doesn’t do a lot for me personally, but there’s no denying it’s well implemented here, so fans of it should be happy with what the Katana SE is capable of.
On the audio front, the Katana SE is pretty sharp. It was more than loud enough to fill my home office and had little trouble projecting audio into my open lounge area. The bar is able to articulate an impressive level of mid-range and high-frequency detail and is especially good at delivering dialogue in narrative-heavy games. Character voices during the opening of Final Fantasy XVI had clarity and nuance, and this helped establish the cast as individuals rather than a homogenous group of RPG stereotypes. The game’s exceptional soundtrack was also handled adeptly, the Katana SE communicating subtle shifts in pace and dynamics with confidence and clarity.
The virtualised 5.1 surround sound is reasonably effective, too. Audio cues were positioned convincingly within the virtual soundstage while playing Diablo IV, with the sounds of hordes of hellish demons and magic spells being cast appropriately matched to the on-screen action. There was a clear sense of left and right separation and reasonable width to the presentation given the size of the bar, although true sonic envelopment is lacking due to the absence of physical rear speakers.
Sadly, boosting the “Surround” slider in the Creative app’s “Acoustic Engine” section can’t fix this – the difference between 60 and the maximum of 100 is negligible – but there are plenty of other ways to tweak how the Katana SE sounds. The Dialog+ option in Acoustic Engine boosts voices effectively, the list of preset EQs is extensive, and the pre-amp, bass and treble levels of each can be increased or decreased using a graphic equaliser.
With a headset plugged in, you’re able to access SXFI sound, which needs to be set up via its own dedicated app. Once you’ve taken a few photos of your ears and head and uploaded them, the app creates a personalised holographic audio profile for you.
The SXFI immersion-enhancing technology works well in general use, but the Scout and Battle modes it enables are its biggest draw. The former seeks to highlight audio gameplay elements such as footsteps and reloading your guns. It’s actually available when using the Katana SE without headphones, too, although the effect is far less noticeable.
Battle mode is only unlocked when using headphones and focuses on accurately articulating the direction of sounds and providing a sense of their distance from you. I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was a game-changer, but I certainly noticed a difference while playing Fortnite with it engaged. I was able to gauge where other players were located more effectively and judge how far away firefights were more precisely as I navigated the map.
All in all, regardless of the type of content you’re consuming, you should be able to find a sound mode that handles it well, although there is one exception.
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Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE review: What could be improved?
That exception is streaming music over Bluetooth. The Katana SE only supports the SBC codec and audio quality pales in comparison with the high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz playback available if you’re connected over USB or Dolby Digital 5.1 when hooked up via HDMI. You’ll struggle to find many affordable soundbars with high-res capabilities over Bluetooth, but I would like to have seen AAC support at the very least. As it is, wireless streaming is functional rather than fulfilling.
The other audio format notably absent is Dolby Atmos. Atmos adds height effects to surround-sound audio and setups that make the best use of it typically feature up-firing speakers, of which the Katana SE has two. It’s a shame, then, that it’s not supported here, as it would have helped increase immersion when consuming compatible content. It would likely have increased the Katana SE’s price tag substantially as well, however, so I can understand its omission.
While I enjoyed the audio experience delivered by the Katana SE, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s not able to reproduce thunderous lows with quite as much impact as a setup with a discrete subwoofer. Lower frequencies simply don’t hit as hard, nor do they delve as deep, so those craving proper bass slam will want a soundbar that comes with a separate sub.
Creative Sound Blaster Katana SE review: Should you buy it?
The Katana SE is a compelling option for gamers who prioritise practicality over a booming bass response. Very few soundbars costing £300 support as many connection options, nor do they offer the user as many ways to tweak their experience.
While lacking a little oomph in the sub-bass department, audio is clear and focused and the Katana SE makes a decent fist of virtualised surround sound, despite the inherent limitations of its one-box design. That box is relatively easy on the eye, equipped with RGB (essential for many gamers) and compact enough to fit easily under your monitor or TV as required.
Its performance over Bluetooth may leave a fair bit to be desired and Dolby Atmos support would have been nice but, for the money, the Katana SE makes good on its promise of elevating your gaming audio experience.