Review: Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Katana

The Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Katana sound bar delivers crisp, thundering audio in a compact, low-profile design perfect for gaming PCs or home theaters/console gaming configurations.

Why you should consider a sound bar

Sound bars may not deliver a surround sound experience as well as a 5.1  or 7.1 system with dedicated (and accurately placed) speakers, but they dramatically reduce the required cabling, desktop space, and physical challenges of installing and configuring multiple speakers.

In point of fact, I once enjoyed a 4.1 THX Klipsch sound system with 400 watts of deafening RMS power. The sound quality was phenomenal. Unfortunately, I hated the mess of cables. No matter how well I coiled, tied, and organized them, they were still an unsightly pain. And I lacked the ability to physically place the speakers in an optimal configuration anyway due to the constraints of my gaming space.

Since then I’ve simplified, first with a Polk Audio K1 sound bar, and then later to something more desktop friendly: Razer’s Leviathan. Despite some niggling design issues, I genuinely liked the Leviathan for its audio quality and small size.

Enter the Katana

But then Creative Labs asked me to take a look at the Katana. How could I refuse? On paper it’s superior to the Razer Leviathan in every way.  But in practice?

The Creative Labs Katana is superior to the Razer Leviathan in every way.

In point of fact, virtually every design-related issue that I criticized the Razer Leviathan for is addressed by the Sound BlasterX Katana. And it boasts more audio power and software configuration options to boot.

“Virtually every design-related issue that I criticized the Razer Leviathan for it addressed by the Creative Labs Katana.”

Sound BlasterX Katana feature highlights and specifications

The Katana’s 75 Watts of RMS power (backed by its multi-core DSP) deliver crisp, thundering audio, with clear highs and gut-punching bass. In a PC desktop environment, suffice to say the Katana has more than enough boom for gaming. It would serve a moderately sized home theater or console gaming environment as well.

blue-tooth
Creative Labs Katana (Credit: Creative Labs)

The Katana includes inputs for virtually any source you’d be likely to use, including optical, Bluetooth, Mic-in, Headset Out, and an Aux connector. Unfortunately, it lacks an HDMI input, which seems like an odd oversight.

It also includes a rear-mounted USB connector so you can plug in a flash drive full of your favorite music and play it. Personally, I think an HDMI option would have been a better bet here if I had to choose.

The top-mounted Power, Volume, Source, and SBX (EQ) buttons are easy to reach and accessible, though still not as good as front-mounted controls would be. Thankfully, the Katana also includes a small remote for all of its essential functions and more, including standard media controls, source switching, Equalizer switching, and even changing the LED lighting mode.

Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Katana features and specifications

under-monitor-system
Creative Labs Katana (Credit: Creative Labs)
  • 2.1 Sound bar / Sub system
  • Output: 75 Watt RMS / 150 Watt Peak Power
  • Multi-core DSP (Digital Signal Processor)
  • Customizable RGB/LED lighting
  • Bluetooth® Version 4.2 / A2DP (Wireless Stereo Bluetooth)
  • Supported Codecs: AAC, SBC
  • Connectors: Bluetooth, AUX-in, Optical-in, USB FlashDrive, USB Audio, Mic-in, Headset out
  • IR Remote
  • 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)
  • Weight: Soundbar: 1.5kg (3.3 lbs), Subwoofer: 4kg (8.8 lbs)

The Katana also comes with wall brackets, giving you additional mounting options.

Performance Evaluation

After a couple weeks of regular usage (primarily for gaming and some music), I can honestly say I love the Katana. By itself it’s a great PC sound system; and the Sound Blaster Connect software provides many customization options. If you connect a headset to the Katana you can take advantage of its voice morphing and noise reduction features.

In general, used in a PC desktop configuration the Katana is a virtually perfect sound solution. It’s space efficient, puts out high quality audio, and even the virtual surround sound is impressive for a sound bar.

In games of Overwatch, for example, I had a markedly improved sense of sound location than I did with the Razer Leviathan. The surround sound was also good in Left 4 Dead 2  (set to 7.1 output), and I particularly loved the punch the Katana gave the weapons in L4D2.

If you just want to blast some music, the Katana produces similarly powerful music that you can tweak to your heart’s content through the Katana’s customizable equalizer (accessed via the Sound Blaster Connect software).

In addition, the Katana’s light weight and relatively small size make it suitable as a (reasonably) portable entertainment device for parties and the like. The Katana makes an excellent external speaker for a flash drive full of your favorite tunes or a smartphone connected via Bluetooth.

A note about flash drives though: The Katana seems to be a tad finicky about them. I plugged in two different drives and couldn’t get the Katana to play either one, even though it recognized each of the drives when I plugged them in.

Creative Labs Katana
A USB port on the back of the Katana can be used to connect a flash drive full of music. (Credit: Creative Labs)

 I tried formatting the drives, using different .MP3 files, copying files to the root instead of sub-folders, and nothing seemed to work. Eventually a 3rd flash drive—using the same file set stored in the same sub-folders as one of the previous drives—worked fine. I’m still not sure why it worked and the others didn’t however.

In addition, while USB playback is a nice feature, the front LED display and remote make it best used in a ‘set it and forget it’ fashion. You can only play files and go forward/back in the play list using the remote, and the front LED display doesn’t display file information (song name, file number, folder name, etc.) to give you an idea of where you’re at in the list of files. It just displays “next” or “prev”.

Too many drivers…

One other very minor quibble I ran into with the Katana is that the Sound Blaster Connect driver software must be installed separately for each device instead of operating as a unified framework (similar to Razer Synapse and SteelSeries Engine).

Granted this is unlikely to plague most users. I only encountered it because I’m also reviewing a Creative Labs AE-5 sound card, and I had to install Sound Blaster Connect twice and maintain 2 installations. (And this is all in addition to the Acoustic Engine software used by the Sound Blaster X H7 headset.)

Hopefully a little software streamlining is in order for Creative Labs.

Overall — 9/10 Highly Recommended

pcgame-examiner-editor-choice

Despite the scant couple (and minor) issues I encountered, I don’t hesitate to recommend the Sound BlasterX Katana sound bar as a PC gaming audio solution. It’s well designed, it sounds great, and offers a rich array of audio options. Granted, at around $300 it’s a pretty pricey solution, but one I doubt you’d regret.

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