Hands on: Creative SoundBlasterX Katana review

The soundbar comes to PC

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Katana makes a great deal of sense if you're running out of desk real estate to fit two dedicated speakers.

For

  • RGB lighting
  • Big sound
  • Hi-res audio supported.

Against

  • Narrow soundstage.

The soundbar might have taken over as the best balance of sound and space, but when it comes to desktop PCs the dual speaker setup still reigns supreme.

This is probably because when it comes to a computer desk space isn't at a premium in the same way as it is on a small TV stand, and as a result computer users have a little more space to dedicate to two individual speakers.

This trend hasn't deterred Creative from offering something of an industry first, the SoundBlasterX Katana, a soundbar that's been specifically designed to sit underneath a monitor rather than a television.

Design

Of course there have been soundbars in the past that are small enough to sit underneath a monitor (the JBL TV Boost is an obvious one that comes to mind), which is why Creative is billing the Katana as the world's first 'Under Monitor Audio System' rather than a soundbar to reflect the additional PC-specific features it's packing.

So what exactly does a soundbar need to included for it to cater to PC gamers?

Well an obvious inclusion is USB input, which supports up to a nicely high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz, and essentially means that the Katana is functioning as an outboard soundcard for your PC when it's plugged in.

In fact the audio decoding chip in the Katana is the same used in Creative's Z-series of soundcards.

SoundBlasterX Katana

If you don't want to use USB, the Katana also accepts Bluetooth, optical and aux input, although USB will be required if you want to make use of the fancy lighting modes of the Katana.

Yes you heard that right. After having taken over our keyboards and mice, RGB lighting is finally here to take over our soundbars as well.

The lighting bar on the Katana is an impressive beast. Creative Audio claims the bar is capable of producing 16.8 million colors, which seems like quite enough to be getting on with.

As with most other RGB lighting-equipped products, the bar's lighting can be programmed in a variety of ways, and we were also told that this lighting profile could be shared across other compatible Creative hardware such as mice and keyboards.

What this means is that you could theoretically have a light strobing across all three peripherals while you use your computer.

SoundBlasterX Katana Front

Performance

Show floors are never the best places to test out audio quality, but the Katana's five total drivers (2 mids, 2 tweeters and a separate subwoofer) threw out a huge amount of sound.

The bass was chunky, and the mids and highs were also surprisingly well-balanced.

A quick playthrough of Counter-Strike 1.6 really allowed the speaker's big bass presence to shine. Shots were almost deafening, and the sound as a whole felt very clear.

We're not sure that we could comfortably claim that the soundbar offers a surround sound experience that's even close to what's offered by separate speakers, but only sustained testing with the speaker in our own testing environment will be able to tell this for sure.

SoundBlasterX Katana Top

Early verdict

With a very capable RGB light and decent sound, the SoundBlasterX Katana is not a poor speaker by any stretch.

Whether the form factor makes sense for you will probably vary based on your relative desk and monitor size.

If you've recently purchased a monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio, the amount of real estate on your desk is likely to be in very short supply, and it might make sense to switch to a soundbar over a pair of desktop speakers.

But even if you're still using a 16:9 monitor there's still a lot to appreciate about being able to fit your entire PC's sound system underneath your monitor.

And at that point the pretty lights are a welcome bonus.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.