Here we have the latest soundbar from Creative - it’s the Sound Blaster Katana SE. It is a soundbar that aims to deliver high-quality audio in a fairly compact form factor. And while it does succeed on several fronts, it's not without its considerations. Let’s check it out!
This is actually already the fourth product in the Sound Blaster Katana family and if we were to summarise the evolution within it, it’s clear that each model has its own strengths and addresses different user needs. The Katana V2 added a more premium feel and more connectivity. Meanwhile, the V2X, while being somewhat more compact and budget-friendly, maintained a performance level quite similar to its predecessors. And now, the SE takes a divergent approach in its design by transitioning from a soundbar and separate subwoofer combo to a unified larger unit, efficiently combining both functions.
We have actually done a full in-depth review on the V2, so I thought it would be interesting to see how these two fare against each other. Let’s start with physical differences. The SE model is noticeably larger, measuring approximately 50mm wider, 14mm deeper, and 16mm taller than the V2. It sports a comparable mesh finish on the front and top for the speakers, though the rest of the top panel features a matte grey aluminium, contrasted to the V2's black finish.
Turning to the back, we see a similar set-up between the two models. You'll find an HDMI port, USB Type C input, and a USB Type A output, which can conveniently be utilised for a Creative wireless headphone dongle. Other connections include AUX and optical ports, and the requisite power barrel plug. The sole missing component is the SUB connector. Similar to the V2, the bottom of the SE model is fitted with RGB lighting. Lastly, on the front, there is an AUX-out, a screen, and a dual microphone setup for added functionality.
They both come equipped with identical remotes, USB cables, optical cables, and power cables, along with mounting brackets. Overall, it appears that Creative has adopted a philosophy of "if it isn't broken, don't fix it," ensuring they maintain the components that worked well in previous versions.
Which brings us well to the main difference - the lack of sub. What Creative did here is really redesigned the device and went with a new four driver set-up. For tweeters there are two 54mm drivers and for mid range they are using two massive 109mm drivers.
The bass of this soundbar has a cool feature - it uses something called Quad Passive Radiators. This is a special design in speakers that helps to boost the bass sound. Unlike the main speakers that are powered by electrical signals, these passive radiators aren't. They respond to changes in air pressure inside the speaker box instead.
Here's how it works in simple terms: when the main speaker moves forward, it pushes air out and makes the passive radiator move backward. When the main speaker moves backward, it pulls air in and makes the passive radiator move forward. This back-and-forth movement of the passive radiator produces sound waves that enhance the bass sound. It's a clever way to produce better bass sounds without needing extra speakers or using up too much space, which can help to keep costs lower.
When it comes to comparing the sound quality, both models certainly hold their own, but there are some noticeable differences. First one being the lack of subwoofer on the SE model. To be honest, I was fairly sceptical about it, thinking that there is no way a soundbar on its own could compete with the V2 system that has a separate woofer. That being said, there is still significant bass on the SE - in fact in some ways there is more bass because now the whole sound is coming from the desk rather than split into two locations.
The bass produced by the soundbar has a distinct character - it tends to sound more hollow, which can impact the clarity of the sound. Also, due to its close placement to the listener, the bass seems louder even at lower volumes. Because the soundbar is situated on the desk, it can cause the desk to vibrate at higher volumes. Essentially, the sound output from the SE on the desk is equivalent to the combined output of the V2 on the desk and its subwoofer.
Comparatively, the V2 delivers sound that's slightly sharper, and its bass adds more of a subtle, rumbling backdrop. This is something I personally appreciate, especially while watching movies.
There is an upside for the SE - if you like to have a considerable amount of bass but have family members or neighbours next door - again due to being on top of the desk - you will never need to blast it, thus it will not resonate as far as a stand alone sub does.
Take a listen to the comparison sound samples (video at 4:32) but do bear in mind that this is only a relative comparison as there are many variables that could affect how you hear it which includes our microphone, YouTube encoding and your speakers.
While testing we also found that both units have different volume control - the SE version has more granular control which I personally prefer as it is easier to configure just the right volume. The reason behind is actually because it is more quiet. If you were to turn it up to max, the difference between the two is about 15 dBA which is considerable - but when sitting right in front of it - either one is way too loud at that volume.
Lastly, let's talk money. The Katana V2 bears a heavier price tag than the SE. Considering the arguably nicer looking soundbar and subwoofer this cost escalation seems justified. But in the end, it's all about what you value more and your budget.
To sum it all up, the Katana SE main strength lies in delivering respectable performance. At the same time it can create a considerable amount of bass without causing noise disturbances. And being a single unit, it saves space and is ideal for those who have space constraints or prefer a less complicated setup. The Katana V2, on the other hand, is a bit pricier but comes with additional features and a more aesthetic design. Its sound is slightly sharper and its bass adds a subtle, rumbling backdrop that some may prefer.
In the end, the decision between the two comes down to personal preferences and budget. If you prefer an immersive bass experience, a simpler setup, and are budget conscious, the SE might be a better fit for you. However, if you are willing to spend a bit more for a more nuanced sound experience, then the V2 might be your choice.
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