Review: Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Katana Multi-Channel Gaming Soundbar | iLounge

Review

Review: Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Katana Multi-Channel Gaming Soundbar

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company: Creative Labs

Model: Sound BlasterX Katana

Price: $299

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Guido Gabriele

It's been quite a while since we've had a Sound Blaster branded audio product in our setup. In fact, the last Sound Blaster product we used was one of Creative's Audigy sound cards in a white-box PC before computers came with competent onboard audio. Today, we're looking at a wildly different product from Creative — the Sound Blaster Katana desktop sound bar. Sound bars are usually built for home theater use; we don't see many designed for the desktop because space in front of your monitor is likely at more of a premium than the space under your TV. The Katana works, though — it's about as wide as a typical desktop monitor and shallow enough not to eat up too much desk space.

The Katana is absolutely packed with features. It accepts a wide range of inputs — PC USB, optical, 3.5mm analog, Bluetooth, microphone, and USB-A — and a headphone jack for more discreet listening. The soundbar features two 2.5-inch upward-firing drivers, two 1.3-inch angled front-firing tweeters, and a separate 5.25-inch passive subwoofer in a ported enclosure, with separate stereo amplifiers for each set. We like the Katana’s interface — a somewhat lo-fi digital display hidden behind the front speaker grille visible only when a setting is changed. On the top of the device are buttons to control every essential feature, and even more controls are available on the bundled remote control. The Katana sits slightly raised off the desk, to accommodate its row of 49 RGB LEDs underneath — a feature popular with the PCMR crowd.

The Katana, including its lighting features, work without drivers on both PC and Mac, with its volume linked directly to digital system volume on PC. For more granular control, users can install Creative’s Sound Blaster Connect desktop app, which offers myriad options for customization of the Katana user experience. DSP can be applied for equalization, virtual surround sound, a wider sound stage, and other sound tweaks, and the RGB lighting can be customized to display various patterns and colors.

All of the available customizations can be combined in presets like Gaming, Concert, and Night modes, but also with various game-specific modes — we are not convinced that these are necessary, but serious gamers might find them useful. Our only real disappointment here is that even with the companion app installed, the Katana’s RGB lighting doesn’t react to PC audio or video — the lighting effects just play on a loop. This makes them feel like little more than a gimmick; static lighting makes sense in a custom PC case, but on the desktop it tends to clash with what’s on the display, and it seems like at least some kind of music visualizer would have been a no-brainer here.

So how does the Katana sound? In its “Neutral” setting, not terribly exciting — with tweaks disabled, music and gaming audio can sound relatively thin and small. This is noticeably improved, however, when DSP is applied. Using the Concert or Cinema presets, or manually activating the “immersion” mode adds soundstage and life to the audio, even if the RGB lighting isn’t doing much more than adding some visual flair. A system with drivers this small would usually be very limited in its bass response (or, worse, overdriving its speakers and making only thuppy bass), but the Katana’s subwoofer provides a competent fill to the low-end. We tried the Katana with music, movies, and with some popular FPS games, and generally enjoyed the experience. The Katana is in no way an audiophile speaker, its RGB lighting is a bit gimmicky, and its performance is limited to near-field applications, but it does provide a nice all-in-one solution for gamers within limited desk space.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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