For living rooms, it used to be a big push for multi-speaker configurations with a big receiver. For some people, this is still the goal, especially for surround sound. But recently there has been a trend where people have been moving to soundbars. They take up a lot less space while still being an audio improvement over your TVs speakers and they better fit with today’s ultra-thin TVs. There are some downsides though and performance can be a little limited. Well, Sound Blaster came out with the Sound BlasterX Katana and they don’t even like to put it in the same category as a traditional sound bar. They call it an Under Monitor Audio System aka a UMAS. This is because beyond having speakers under your monitor it has a built-in 224 bit DAC, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Decoder, and 5 drivers all with their own amps. With my wife getting a new desk, we started to look at her options and the Katana from Sound Blaster looked to be a good fit to keep the desktop footprint low by using unused space under her monitors. So today I’m going to check the Katana’s out and see just how they perform.

Product Name: Sound BlasterX Katana

Review Sample Provided by: Creative Labs

Written by: Wes

Pictures by: Wes

Amazon Link: HERE

 

Specifications

System Configuration

2.1 system

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)

Bluetooth® Version

Bluetooth 4.2

Bluetooth Profile

A2DP (Wireless Stereo Bluetooth)

Supported Codecs

AAC, SBC

Connector Type

Bluetooth, AUX-in, Optical-in, USB FlashDrive, USB Audio, Mic-in, Headset out

Color

Black

Remote Control

Infrared

System Requirements

For Wireless Streaming:

Compatible Bluetooth devices that support the Stereo Bluetooth Profile (A2DP)

For Wireless Control:

Compatible Bluetooth devices that support the Bluetooth Remote Control (AVRCP)

For 7.1 Virtual Surround Audio Playback:

Windows PC

For Digital 5.1 Audio Playback:

Optical-in

For High-resolution 24-bit 96kHz Audio Playback:

For PC via USB Connection

For Playback via USB Flash Drive:

Up to 128GB formatted in FAT16/32/exFAT.

Common audio formats such as MP3, WMA, FLAC and WAV.

(MP3 and WMA up to 320kbps and FLAC up to 1.3Mbps).

For Sound Blaster Connect:

For Windows® OS

Intel Core™2 Duo processor 2.2 GHz, AMD Athlon 64x2 Dual Core or equivalent processor

Microsoft® Windows 10, Microsoft Windows 8.1 32-bit or 64-bit

1GB RAM

600MB of free hard disk space

Available USB 2.0 or 3.0 port

Internet connection (optional)

For Direct Connection to AUX-in Jack:

Analog audio devices with a 3.5mm output

Package Contents

1 x Sound BlasterX Katana Soundbar

1 x Sound BlasterX Katana Subwoofer

1 x Power Adapter

1 x USB Cable

1 x IR remote (battery included)

2 x Wall Mount Brackets

Warranty & Technical Support leaflet

Quick Start Guide

Safety & Regulatory leaflet

Warranty

1-year Limited Hardware Warranty

 


Packaging

The packaging for the Katana isn’t exactly small, I mean they did pack in a full sub and the don’t call me a soundbar UMAS unit. The front of the box really takes the RGB lighting from the underside of the Katana and roles with it with the northern lights in the background with a photo of the Katana out in front. They have the branding up in the top left and then in the tip right we see the 75W RMS and 150W Peak rating along with their Aurora lighting logo and a few details on the DAC. The back of the box goes into a lot more detail on everything. There is another photo of the Katana with the Sub and remote also in the picture. They then have boxes with lines drawn to the location on the Katana with details on each feature broken down more.

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Inside the box is packed with foam around everything and the bar and sub both have a foam wrap on them as well for additional protection.

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I will run through the main components in the next section but you do get a few things with the Katana. For documentation, you get a user guide, a warranty paper, and then a paper on safety and regulatory information. They also packed in a set of brackets should you want to install the Katana on your wall, this is really cool if you already have your monitors on the wall.

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For cables there is a power cable, it is the type with a brick half way up the cord so you don’t have to worry about big power wart at your wall. There are different power cables depending on your country bagged up with everything then you have two USB to micro USB cables of two different lengths depending on how close your computer is. There is also a remote but I will go over that in more detail later.

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Photos and Features

So excluding cables, the Sound BlasterX Katana consists of a small remote, a subwoofer and the main speaker unit. Size wise the sub is mid-sized but it is tall with a smaller footprint, something that really attracted me to the setup because of the amount of space subs tend to take under your desk. The main unit is going to run across your desk up under your monitor and if you have just one monitor it will stick out on both ends. Both are all blacked out with the exception of the Sound BlasterX logo on the front of the sub.

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With the measuring tape out we can get a better feel for the overall size. The main unit comes in at about 23 and a half inches and 2 and a half inches tall. This isn’t as wide as a home theater soundbar but it is just about the perfect size to fit on most desks. In our case my wife runs two monitors so we could even go wider, but for anyone running a single monitor, especially an ultrawide or a 27 inch or wider monitor it should fit well. Then like I said the sub has a very small footprint but you do have to keep in mind its height depending on where you plan on putting it. You also don’t want to put it with the left speaker grill up against anything. It is 13 inches tall, 5 inches wide and almost a foot deep. For comparison, this is about half the size of the powered sub at my desk.

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The top of the main unit also has the Sound BlasterX branding on it just above the control panel. The left button is the power button and it has a LED ring around it to show the status, it also doubles as the Bluetooth button so you can hold it and search for the Katana on your phone to connect. There are up and down buttons that mainly handle volume but also help you navigate the menu then there is a source button. The SBX button turns on Sound BlasterX audio effects. Overall this is a similar setup to the Sound Blaster X7 that I use on my own desk only without a volume knob.

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For speakers, the whole setup has a total of five. Up on top are 1.5-inch up firing midbass drivers. You can see them because of the metal grills on the top. Then for tweeters, there are two 1.3 inch drivers that face forward out the front all the way at the end where the corners angle slightly. The grill for the front runs all the way from one side to the other. The mids also have exhaust ports behind the front grill as well.

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On the underside, there are two feet down at the ends that keep the entire device up off f your desk and then in the middle is where all of the connections are. The picture below is upside down because that is how we get the best view. The power plug is all the way over on the right then next to it is the output to the included non-powered sub. From there you have a microphone in port and a headset plug for hooking your headphones up to the Katana right on your desk. It has its own DAC, so this is most likely going to sound better than running your headphones on your onboard audio. There is then a 2.5mm jack auxiliary input and an optical input. Then there are two USB ports. The full-sized USB port is for hooking a flash drive up and playing MP3s directly from it and the micro USB port is where you hook your PC up to the Katana.

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Normally I’m not a big fan of the size of subwoofers for the office. Unlike in your living room, it is a lot harder to tuck them away behind something or to keep them out of the way. With the Katana, however, Sound Blaster went thinner and taller with the design and with that the sub takes up a lot less room up under your desk while still having the same amount of internal space. The sub has a single 5.25-inch driver in an MDF cabinet with the front firing port. The driver is on the left side and has a large fabric grill over it so you will still have to be careful not to kick it if you have it under your desk but at least you will have a little room still. On the back, there is just a single wire with an RCA connection coming out to hook the sub up to the main unit so it is simple to hook up as well.

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The Katana also comes with a small remote control for additional control over everything. There are just a few buttons on the top of the Katana but with the remote, you have direct buttons for things like mute. You can control the LED lighting and you even have direct buttons to switch between the different audio sources. This is also the only way you can control music with the play/pause and skip buttons if you hook up a USB drive with MP3s on it.

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Software

For our testing I focused on the Katana’s main use, being hooked directly to your PC via USB. Once hooked up I did have to update the Firmware and then I downloaded the software as well. Going in I was expecting something similar to what I use with my Sound Blaster X7 but the Sound Blaster Connect software that the Katana uses is actually completely different. It has a darker theme with it is a little quicker and easier to navigate. The homepage is the dashboard and from there you can turn the EQ on and off, turn on the BlasterX Acoustic Engine, and even turn the lighting on and off quickly.

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The tabs over on the left let you flip between the other pages and the next is the Sound page. Here we start off with a very detailed EQ that can be adjusted along with bass and treble down at the bottom. There are also pages here to get into the acoustic engine or to toy with the build in Dolby support.

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The voice tab really only matters if you are using the microphone input. When running your microphone through the built in DAC you have the option to turn on noise reduction options (that are on by default) and also play around with voice morphing settings.

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The last page is the lighting page and really I think this is where most people will be spending most of their time. There is a whole list of presets included from the start to adjust the lighting up under the Katana. Each one has its own options for setting up the direction of motion and the colors as well as speed.

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Down in the bottom corner, there is also a settings page. This is mostly just where you can check for software updates or check for firmware updates for the Katana.

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Audio Quality and Comfort

So for testing, like I mentioned in the opening, the goal with the Katana was to finally get a proper speaker setup on my wife's new desk so for testing, I set it up there right away. She has two monitors on a desk mounted arm so getting the space up under them wasn;t a problem at all. The Katana is thin enough to fit under most monitors even at stock height. A good example of this is with her right monitor that is taller where it sits lower but the Katana fits well.

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The thin design of the sub worked out especially well, fitting in the small space she had next to the drawers under her desk. If the Katana had a traditionally sized sub it would have ended up either on top of or extremely close to the heat vent causing a fire hazard. Not only that with this design she also has more foot room so big props on the sub’s small footprint.

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Getting everything wired up was simple, the speakers are built into the main unit so really you just have to hook up the power and the PSU to get things rolling. If you want to use the Katana’s built-in DAC and audio controller you need to hook up the USB to your PC as well and I would recommend that. Once you have it all up and running you power it up and the front has a hidden LCD display behind the grill. This gives you feedback when using the remote or with the controls up on top. I love that they hit the display as well so you don’t have a glossy area that ends up looking dirty with dust or fingerprints. Having the remote in general ended up coming in handy more than I would have thought. For me, I control everything through software on my PC but my wife found it easier to use the remote to control the volume and to flip through the lighting from time to time. She rarely used the top controls because they were limited and really given how close the Katana is for most people with it on your desk it almost wouldn’t be bad if the remote could be dropped into the top of the Katana when it isn’t being used. This way you would still have a remote but also have the additional controls right on the unit when docked.

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Where the Katana stands out though is in its overall audio performance. When compared to any normal PC speaker setup the Katana is well above and beyond in both features in performance. Most PC speakers are just that, speakers. The Katana has a built in DAC, amp, and audio controller to give you the Dolby effects. I have a similar setup on my desk but with the X7, speakers, and a sub where the Katana costs about what the X7 costs and you get everything. Now performance wise my much more expensive setup does sound better, but it should considering the price. The Katana, however, being an all in one unit sounds better than any of the all-in-one setups I’ve ever tested. A lot of that is because the built in DAC and all of the hardware with that is improving the audio quality well above what you are getting from a cheap soundcard or onboard audio.

So when gaming the setup had good directionality, especially considering it was all coming from right in front of you. Music sounded good but when compared to the powered sub on my setup the unpowered sub on the Katana did fall behind. I had to go out of my way to really get it to thump and shake the room. I don’t care for wall rattling bass myself, but if that is what you are looking for this might not be the setup for you. Overall though it had a good performance at everything but the high volumes. The mids and highs were good but when cranked up the lows fell off. The good performance was consistent in gaming with a good sound field and directionality, with music, and while watching TV shows and movie as well.

Now as far as the RGB lighting up under the Katana, the lighting didn’t show up as well on her black desk but it looked great in our photo area. The lighting effects were interesting and my wife played with them for a first few days until the novelty wore off after that she set it to what she liked and didn’t mess with it. If you have a theme with your PC, keyboard, and mouse then the Katana can help carry on that theme with a touch of mood lighting. If you hate lighting all together it's okay as well. You can turn it off or set the lighting to something simple like white.

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Overall and Final Verdict

While Creative isn’t even the only company to be focusing on an under monitor audio solution the Katana really stands out because they have been able to take what has worked so well with things like the X7 and fully integrate everything all together for a simple to hookup, space-saving audio solution. The main unit fits up under your monitor and doesn’t use up any extra space and the sub follows the same theme with a smaller footprint than you normally find. The audio performance was great in all of the situations I put it in. That is because unlike a normal PC speaker setup, the Katana also has a high-end DAC built right in. Having just the two speakers and with the DAC and everything built in hooking everything up was easy as well.

As I mentioned in my testing, the sub did fall off at high volumes for me. It doesn’t help that I’m used to the powered sub on my own setup that has the same wattage just for the sub that the Katana has just for itself. In other words, the Katana is amazing as long as you don’t compare it with a setup that costs 3 times as much. Beyond that issue, I would also love to see them integrate a dock for the remote control.

So where does the Katana fit in the market? Well, it is a good option for anyone lacking is desk space or looking for a minimalistic setup from a speaker/space perspective. Where I think it shines the most though is for people who are running onboard audio. The DAC and audio controller on the Katana doesn’t have the connection options of their X7 but it brings similar performance down in the reach of more people. The Katana runs about $100 more than the Razer Leviathan and while I haven’t tested the Razer that extra money is a steal for the control you get in the EQ and the overall audio performance. Sound Blaster sells the E5 portable DAC for just about $200 along and that is similar to what you are getting inside of the Katana. So look past the trendy RGB lighting and you will find that the Katana is a good almost all one PC audio solution.

fv5recommended

Live Pricing: HERE

Author Bio
garfi3ld
Author: garfi3ldWebsite: https://lanoc.org
Editor-in-chief
You might call him obsessed or just a hardcore geek. Wes's obsession with gaming hardware and gadgets isn't anything new, he could be found taking things apart even as a child. When not poking around in PC's he can be found playing League of Legends, Awesomenauts, or Civilization 5 or watching a wide variety of TV shows and Movies. A car guy at heart, the same things that draw him into tweaking cars apply when building good looking fast computers. If you are interested in writing for Wes here at LanOC you can reach out to him directly using our contact form.

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