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Hands on: Creative SXFI Carrier soundbar review

A Dolby Atmos soundbar with a few tricks up its sleeves

What is a hands on review?
soundbar
(Image: © TechRadar)

Early Verdict

The Creative SXFI Carrier is one of the most interesting soundbars we've seen so far at CES 2020, with both Dolby Atmos and the brand's own virtual surround sound on offer. With pricing still to be confirmed it's hard to say whether it will beat competition from the likes of Samsung, Sony, and JBL, but so far, count us impressed.

For

  • Dolby Atmos and SXFI surround sound
  • Compact design
  • Good connectivity options

Against

  • Small sonic sweet spot
  • SXFI only works with headphones

The Creative SXFI Carrier soundbar combines the immersive sound of Dolby Atmos audio with the unique virtual surround sound of Creative's own Super X-FI technology – with a much smaller footprint than its predecessor, the SXFi Sonic Carrier

It's the first soundbar to support Super X-Fi technology. Previously found in amplifying headphone dongles, and more recently, the brands own holographic Creative SXFI Air headphones, the technology uses scans of your ear to create a personalized virtual surround experience, applying a 7.1 soundstage to your regular stereo audio. 

In our review, we awarded Creative's SXFI headphones four out five stars – but how well does the technology translate to soundbars? We spent a little time getting to know the Creative SXFI Carrier at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

Price and availability

The Creative SXFI Carrier will be available between April and June 2020, and will cost "under $1,000", according to the brand. Based on current conversion rates, that works out at around £760 / AU$1,450.

With a subwoofer included, this is an attractive price for a Dolby Atmos soundbar – and with SXFI technology included, it sits apart from competitors like the recently announced JBL 9.1 Bar.  

creative soundbar

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design

Measuring a compact 34 inches (88 cm), the Creative SXFi Carrier comes in a glossy black finish, with a wireless 10-inch subwoofer included as part of the package. 

On the top of the soundbar you'll find power, volume, and source buttons, as well as a button to turn on the SXFI audio processing. 

As well as Bluetooth connectivity, there are USB-C and USB-A ports, a HDMI eARC port for lossless high definition audio, and two HDMI 2.1 inputs, which allow for 8K passthrough. 

There's also a 3.5mm headphone port, which allows you to listen to your films at full volume without disturbing your neighbors – it's also the only way you'll be able to experience the SXFI virtual surround sound (more on that later).

creative sxfi

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Features and performance

With 450 watts of power coursing through seven drivers, this compact soundbar sounds very powerful indeed, with booming bass, rich mids, and tight treble frequencies. 

As we watched an excerpt from Blade Runner 2049, we were struck by the immersive sound of Dolby Atmos audio, as vehicles groaned and crowds chattered amongst a bustling, industrial cityscape. 

One drawback of the soundbar's small size is that the sonic sweet spot is reduced – you'll need to sit front and center to get the true Dolby Atmos surround sound experience.

As a Dolby Atmos soundbar alone, the Creative SXFI Carrier is very impressive – but the inclusion of SXFI technology means that you can get even more immersive audio if you plug a pair of headphones into the soundbar. 

Up to two people can enjoy the soundbar in SXFI at one time; one plugged into the headphone port, and one connected wirelessly – for the latter, you'll need one of Creative's dongles plugged into the soundbar, too. 

It's a shame that the holographic audio isn't available without using headphones; after all, who has a wire long enough to reach from their couch to their TV? Still, the ability to utilize this technology sets this soundbar apart from the competition, and as long as you have a decent pair of headphones to plug in, you should find that the effect is simply mesmerizing. 

creative sxfi

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Early verdict

Like its predecessor, the Creative SXFI Carrier is very impressive indeed, offering not one, but two types of immersive, virtual surround sound. 

If Creative can live up to its promise of keeping the price under $1,000, the SXFI Carrier could prove to be a competitor for market leaders like Samsung and Sony – although the limitations of the SXFI technology to headphones is slightly disappointing. 

We'll need to carry out further tests before we can say for sure, but this is certainly one of the most interesting soundbars we've seen at CES 2020. 

  • Check out all of TechRadar's CES 2020 coverage. We're live in Las Vegas to bring you all the breaking tech news and launches, plus hands-on reviews of everything from 8K TVs and foldable displays to new phones, laptops and smart home gadgets.

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.