Over the past few years I’ve gained real respect for Creative. They aren’t heavily promoted, but the company makes some impressive, high performance Bluetooth speakers and my kids are all over its Sound Blaster gaming headsets. When the offer came to try out the Sound BlasterX Katana—a soundbar aimed at the gaming crowd—you can bet I jumped at the opportunity.
Sound BlasterX Katana, a Soundbar for Gamers
I felt we have pretty much the perfect setup to put the Katana through its paces. My twin boys have a section of the basement that’s set up specifically as a video game room and they spend a lot of time on their Xbox One. As teenagers, they are also listening to music pretty much nonstop. The Katana is perfect for that situation.
I also have a pretty decent soundbar set up with the TV in the family room, which gives me something to compare the overall audio performance against.
Setup and Initial Impression
Setup of the Katana was a little more of a hassle than I was expecting, but that was because Sound Blaster didn’t include an optical cable, which is required for a direct connection to the Xbox One. I made do with an analog cable to the TV instead (the Katana doesn’t support HDMI) until I had a chance to run out and grab one.
Other than that minor inconvenience, setup was straightforward. The Katana is designed to fit under a computer monitor (it’s super slim at just 2.4-inches tall and under two feet wide), so finding a spot to place it wasn’t a problem, although it won’t quite fit under their TV. You can also wall-mount it with the included brackets. The wired subwoofer (also in the box) went on the floor. While I’m on the topic of in-box goodies, there is also an IR remote.
Once we fired it up, the first thing the boys wanted to do before even listening to the speaker was to get the lighting show going. Did I mention it’s equipped with Sound Blaster’s Aurora Reactive lighting system? 49 programmable LED lights fire from the bottom of the sound bar. They’re capable of reproducing 16.8 million colors and they can be customized. We stick with the presets, especially the rainbow wave which provides very cool ambient lighting.
Overall, the Katana has a premium look with its brushed aluminum top panel, angled profile, and that lighting system.
The audio produced by the Katana is impressive, especially for a system of its size and reasonable $299 price tag.
Once we’d connected to the Xbox One with optical, the Katana was able to output 5.1 channel Dolby Digital audio. The soundbar uses a 24-bit DAC and its five drivers (two 2.5-inch up-firing mid-bass drivers, two 1.3-inch high-excursion tweeters, and the subwoofer’s 5.25-inch long-throw driver) are individually powered by DSP-controlled amps. In a relatively small room, the setup works well. I’m not sure you’d get the same effect in a big room, but that’s not what this soundbar is designed for.
We aren’t set up for PC gaming, but if you connect via USB to a gaming computer the Katana is capable of outputting virtual 7.1 channel audio.
Since the sound bar was installed, the boys don’t use headsets with their Xbox any more, unless they need to for in-game chatting. The Katana is just plain more enjoyable (especially for explosions, they point out). We’ve had a month to get used to the constant rumble of the subwoofer coming through the floor from their game room. They also connect to the Katana via Bluetooth (it supports Bluetooth 4.2 with AAC and SBC) for blasting their music. And I do mean blast. The Bluetooth speaker they previously used is gathering dust—you’d be hard pressed to find a portable speaker that can match the Katana’s low end performance with its subwoofer, or the considerable volume it can pump out.
Compared to My Existing Soundbar
After a few back and forth listening sessions, it was pretty obvious the Sound BlasterX Katana can’t quite keep up with my existing soundbar. The Katana can’t match the depth, sound stage, surround effect, or overall performance. Audio from the Katana also sounds more… digital. Lacking in warmth and relatively thin in the mid-range. If that sounds harsh, it’s not meant to be. It’s not a fair fight.
The system I compared it against is a Yamaha YSP-800 with a subwoofer. That makes it 26 drivers against five. The Yamaha is literally three or four times the size of the Katana and cost four times the Katana’s $299. I definitely don’t think it’s four times “better” than the Katana…
For the price and its compact size, the Sound BlasterX Katana seems like a comparative bargain. Add in the Aurora Reactive light show and it’s a pretty compelling system for gamers, or any situation where you want to upgrade the audio from a TV without blowing the budget or needing another cabinet to house the equipment.
Disclosure: Creative supplied a Katana for review purposes.