Check out the Sound Blaster Katana SE soundbar, one of the latest from Creative Labs. Can you get full sound without a subwoofer? The Katana SE gives a nice balanced output to thicken up your sound without the footprint of a subwoofer to clutter up your space. The glossy black soundbar looks fantastic under the flat screen tv too. So if you’re short on space or just like the convenience of an all-in-one soundbar unit then the Katana SE is worth your time to consider.
The Sound Blaster Katana SE soundbar dimensions measure 25.6 x 4.3 x 3.1 inches (650 x 109 x 78 mm). The Katana SE operates at a frequency range of 55 – 20,000 Hz with a 90W RMS (180W Peak) some info for you aspiring audiophiles. A proprietary multi-core DSP (Digital signal Processor) allows each of the 4 drivers to be individually powered. This dedicated amp set up provides more control stronger but more importantly, cleaner sound. Does it work? Sure it seems to, the audio produced is clean and balanced with presets for different media types to tweak out the sound.
Comes with two 4.3″ (109mm) up firing mids and two 2.1″ front firing tweeters make up the array of speakers. That’s nearly double the size of the reset of the lineup at 2 x 63 mm (2.5″) mid-range drivers and 2 x 19 mm (0.75″) tweeters or 2 x 34 mm (1.3″) tweeters. Of course if you’re after bass then go with the Katana V2 equipped with a 165 mm (6.5″) subwoofer.
Included in the box is a remote control, power adapter, optical cable, USB-C to USB-A cable. Also comes with 2x wall mount brackets in case you want to mount this under your flat screen TV.
Creative Labs has provided us with the Sound Blaster Katana SE soundbar so that we could provide hands on review coverage of the speaker performance and our experience with the unit to our readers.
The port array gives you plenty of different connection types so you always have options. USB audio, HDMI ARC, Bluetooth® 5.0 for wireless audio streaming, optical-in, SXFI-out, headphone jack (on front), and a 3.5 mm AUX-in for analog audio (on rear).
Our preference is to connect via HDMI ARC. But if you don’t have an ARC compatible LED TV you’ll need to connect via optical cable with a return loop via HDMI cable. HDMI ARC or Audio Return channel; what this does is centralize all of your remotes so you don’t need to fiddle, it just works! It’s a small but amazing convenience not to have to enter codes and program your remote to control multiple devices.
The Katana SE Soundbar comes in a variety of flavors: There’s the Katana SE, Katana V2, Katana V2X, Sound Blaster X Katana. It begs the question which one? The Sound Blaster Katana V2 and V2X use the same head unit with different subwoofers. While the Katana SE and SBX Katana add two different head units to the array. The sub on the Sound Blaster X Katana is also different from the one that comes with the V2/V2X/SBX. The prices are all nearly the same so it can be a bit confusing deciding which of the Katana’s you might want: SE $299.99, V2 $329.99, V2X $279.99, SBX Katana $249.99.
The Katana SE delivers increased audio performance with nice thickening bass without the extra space. Yes of course the unit will not provide you with as much thunder when compared to the Katana, Katana V2, Katana V2X but it’s worlds above the built-in audio for your typical LCD tv’s or computer monitors. For many, the level of bass will be enough to satisfy for a variety of applications.
5.1 Virtual surround sound give you excellent performance for movies and television shows while the Super X-Fi / Scout mode give you the best of directional sound while gaming.
The two mid drivers are up firing but are also tilted slightly backwards for a diffused and more ambient sound. Seems to take away some of the harsh pops and modulation that can sometimes surface when you have too much bass present. If you try and compare the Sound Blaster Katana SE to another soundbar that has a separate subwoofer you’ll of course be disappointed. You won’t get that thundering base that an additional dedicated speaker can give.
The Katana SE does give some excellent performance with a tiny bit of tweaking per application. Movies, music, television, games: you’ll want to turn the bass up but you’ll reach a point where in some peaks you’ll experience a bit of distortion. Back it off a notch or two and find that sweet spot. You can also just lower the base to the lowest common denominator where everything sounds balanced so you never have to fiddle.
Think of the Katana SE as the audio you wish your TV had built-in, but doesn’t.
For media, television shows, movies: You get a variety of broadcasting volume’s, commercials can be blaring loud while some shows play so low that you have to turn the volume up so loud to hear any dialogue. This could be partially due to the fact that you’re listening to the audio in 5.1+ where you don’t have a 5.1 system. This is where the 5.1 surround preset for the Katana SE come into play. While it is a 5.1 virtual surround sound it still allows you to hear center channel speech at a level where it compliments the visuals.
The Katana SE is a certified Dolby Audio decoder so you get balanced cinematic audio experience at home. While it does support Dolby Digital for 5.1 or even 7.1 audio channels, the Katana SE does not support Dolby ATMOS.
SXFI Battle mode & Scout mode
SXFI or Super X-Fi® technology is essentially virtual surround sound on steroids. What we mean by that is, spatial audio takes the concept of surround sound and then multiplies it to include a 360 degree audio up to 64 channels for a truly spherical audio experience for 5.1 to 7.1 systems on up.
Audio is what really sells the visuals you’re watching so the impact can be dramatic when you first hear it. Once you do, you won’t want to go back. If your audio source is 2-channel stereo, SXFI will try to do it’s best to virtualize the spatial array.
Dolby ATMOS, Sony 360 audio, DTS:X are versions of spatial audio. Creative lab’s Super X-Fi 3d audio designed specifically for headphones to create an even more immersive audio experience. If you want to use the Super X-Fi technology you’ll need to connect the Katana SE via USB to your PC or game system and it does not function over Bluetooth so you’ll need a wired connection to your gaming headset.
What does all that mean in the real world? When watching a movie or playing games you’ll notice much more directional sound. The sound is much more realistic and takes into account distance and angle to enhance the detail of your media experience. It’s going to be most evident in cinema and games and less in music but only because there aren’t as many utilizing it for music just yet.
Scout mode is a gaming preset that is optimized for headphone use. When playing games what Scout mode will do is to give you enhanced audio highlighting your opponents movements. Things like footsteps, doors squeaking open, guns reloading and more. Not only will you get directional information, Scout mode actually focuses in on them and makes them more pronounced so you are more aware of their presence. Think of it as a little cheat.
The audio feedback can be very helpful to give you a slight advantage over your opponent. SXFI Battle mode works only on your headphones. Scout mode works on both, but it’s much more apparent on a set of headphones. You can further enhance your gaming audio with a set of SXFI optimized headphones that will take full advantage of the audio profile.
There are plenty of ways to connect the Katana SE whether your attaching it to your PC/MAC, TV, PS5/PS4, Xbox X/S, Nintendo Switch or even your mobile device. A convenient front port aux plug for headphones if you’re using this on your gaming or media rig.
We really enjoy using HDMI ARC which reduces cords and remotes with a single wire for hooking up to an LCD/LED TV. There’s no ritual of pairing remotes or entering codes, your TV remote will control the volume automatically without hassle, Love it.
If you don’t have an HDMI ARC compatible TV then you can use your HDMI cable and optical to create the ARC loop. But for compatibility sake it nice to have other options. Bluetooth 5.0 is available though it’s always our least favorite way to connect a device due to interference and odd connection drops typical in Bluetooth device.
Aesthetically the Katana SE is pretty nice as eye candy sitting in front of an LED TV or PC monitor. There isn’t anything super incredibly radical about the design but it’s shiny black with clean lines. The optional RGB lighting is a bit of a novelty but at the same time, the RGB lighting is cool without coming off too juvenile. You can just turn off the LED bar if that’s not your thing or keep it constant so it’s not rolling.
The max volume that the Katana SE dials to is 50%, due to the audio tuning, bi-amplification and presets the Katana SE produces full robust sound without getting into obnoxious volume levels. What we mean by that is typically your volume level goes to 100%, but somewhere near 70% you might get distortion on a typical speaker.
Nigel would tell you that his amp goes to 11
Does it matter what number on the volume knob goes to? Not really, it’s just a number and full volume on the Sound Blaster Katana SE typically equals maximum volume without distortion. Does that mean it’s completely distortion free? Not 100% but at max volume, a simple change of output preset and/or a nudge of the bass setting easily smooths out any over-modulation that you’re hearing. The sound is robust and optimized balanced for output.
For the size of the Katana SE we are impressed with the amount of punch at the max volume level that the unit can produce. True it’s not going to touch a system with a dedicated bass but the Katana provides more than respectable levels of bass and volume for movies, gameplay and music.
For music the audio is night and day when compared to Sound Blaster Stage SE Soundbar and rightfully so since these are in a completely difference weight class. However if you’re looking for a bit more power and volume yet like the reduced footprint the Katana SE becomes a bit more sparkly. The sound output is full and thick without a subwoofer. It’s a good compromise between the Katana V2 (with sub) and taking up less space. Check out the Jason Nevins remix of Run DMC’s It’s like that as a music example on the Katana SE.
Movies & TV shows
For the Stage SE soundbar we used one of our favorite series Band of Brothers so we thought it would make sense to revisit an episode to showcase the output for Movie and Television audio. As we mentioned, the Katana SE has the enhanced audio you wish your LED TV had built-in. The sound is well balanced and you aren’t struggling to hear the center channel dialogue. The bass nicely thickens the sound up. Check out a clip from Band of Brothers with machine gun fire and all the trimmings, you won’t be disappointed.
Admittedly we use the soundbar least for gaming, though it does do a pretty good job for the casual gamer. You’ll be using Scout Mode most likely the majority of the time unless you are using headphones.
If you are playing something a bit more thriller, jump scares, footsteps then plug in a pair of headphones and SXFI Battle mode might sound more appealing to you. For games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Five nights of Freddy, Fortnite where you want to hyper focus on the footsteps and disregard other background noises. To use SXFI you just need to plug in a set of headphones. If you want the full immersion of Creative Labs holography then you can grab a set of SXFI headphones to fully enhance the experience.
That’s a wrap
So can you have full sound without a subwoofer? You bet your *ss you can! The Katana SE soundbar is a nice add on for your existing LED TV and provides room filling sound where your TV lacks. The Katana SE is all about balanced sound and convenience. It won’t shake the house with bass but it provides enough bass for a beautiful sound output and it doesn’t require any extra space for a subwoofer.
If you’re looking for an all around performer that does pretty well overall at everything, the Katana SE is a worthwhile consideration. Versatile connectivity, elegant design and a balanced performer.
The price has dropped considerably since its’ initial launch which was set at $449. But you can grab one now for a discount normally $299.99 spotted as low as on sale $259.99