Nowadays TV’s have really improved to the point where an average consumer may not even see a point of upgrading, especially if you purchased an OLED TV in the past 3 years. Would it surprise you if I said that having a great TV is only half the experience? If your TV is top of the line but you use built-in speakers - I can guarantee that you are missing out!
In the perfect world you would set-up your viewing area with a whole stack of speakers all around to get that perfect immersive experience, but not all of us can afford it or have the ability to - this is where soundbars come in.
With a good soundbar you can both fill the room and have enough channel separation to create a very immersive content consumption. In this video we will be checking out the SXFI Carrier Soundbar by Creative and see how it delivers.
Let’s start with what you actually get for your money. In the kit you get a 5.1.2 channel system which includes the soundbar itself as well as 10 inch wireless subwoofer. 7 out of 8 channels are actually located in the soundbar itself: three at the front, two at the top and one on each side.
Creative has worked with Dolby to design and tune this unit for what they call the perfect Dolby Atmos acoustics signature. Creative also sells an optional set of low latency wireless headphones, more on that later on.
Due to the quantity of large speakers this soundbar is actually rather chunky (well, as far as soundbars go, we are not comparing it to a full size audio system, of course).
It looks rather presentable when you place it on top of your TV console and if needed, it can be mounted on the wall. Something to note - in our set-up, due to the height of the unit, it actually covers up the infra-red receiver on our LG TV, forcing us to make funny poses to turn it on. Luckily, our remote only needs infra-red to turn on the TV, after that it uses bluetooth so an obstructed sensor is not that much of a problem.
The top of the unit contains all the physical buttons should you ever lose the remote or want to do quick changes to settings. At the front there is a built-in LED display, as well as 3.5mm headphone out port.
This soundbar comes with a very nice remote where you can change inputs and all the settings such as sound modes like movie/music etc. My favourite feature here is the 6 user configurable presets. This allows you to save presets that you are most comfortable with. For example, in our household I prefer louder basey-er movies with a bit of a punch, while my wife prefers it to be less in-your-face. This way we can dial in what we like and just swap it at a click of the button.
Another tool I really like is the accompanying app, this allows you to do initial set-up, calibrate the sound profile based on your room and also change settings like the aforementioned custom buttons.
Next let's cover connectivity. This is a new soundbar thus it features HDMI 2.1 on all the ports, making it suitable for modern consoles as well as high end PC’s. There is also optical and 3.5mm jack in and subwoofer analog out, allowing you to hardwire it should you desire. On top of all of this there is Bluetooth 5.0 as well as a USB port for the headphones. You will need to plug in the dongle to use that low latency wireless connection.
We tested the headphones and found them to be actually one of the highlights in this set-up, they have great sound quality and the added in surround mode makes the experience incredibly immersive. It was a perfect addition to the soundbar for those days when you want to watch a movie without disturbing your neighbours. These headphones also have microphone attachment, as well as up to 30-hour battery life, so they can be used in multiple different ways.
Now over to the main star of the show - the soundbar and how we feel about it. By now we have watched numerous shows and over 20 movies using it, and I must say, it has impressive sound clarity (this is especially noticeable while listening to dialogues). The somewhat small unit certainly fills the room and we never had to increase the volume past 20 out of 50. More often it was set to 15. Also the base is deep and shakes the room when needed.
The one lacking feature for us was that surround sound feeling, but I feel this is more our room design issue as the side speakers have to bounce the sound off the walls - our listening location is really wide so any bounce is lost. In this kind of room it makes more sense to have a wireless set of speakers to the side or behind for that desired effect. I wish there was an option to expand the system and add extra speakers.
This leads us to a few issues we experienced: when playing back any type of content there is a few second delay before the sound is “activated”, and same goes for skipping back or forth in a movie or show. I followed up about this with the Creative team, and they have confirmed that this is deliberate set-up time for the decoder to ensure the incoming stream is detected and decoded reliably. It can be annoying but ultimately it is there to ensure you have the best quality sound.
Another issue we experienced is audio formats: in some of our older Blu-Ray movies the sound would not work through the soundbar while playing directly. It was only a few and simply transcoding them using Plex resolved that issue. We had no issues with movies or shows on any of the online streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime or YouTube.
There are two features I would like to see on the future version of this device. I previously mentioned the ability to expand the system to have extra channels - it is something that other brands like LG already are doing and it is a nice way to start small with just the soundbar and then over time upgrade into a full home theatre set-up.
Second feature would be the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity and full support for smart home devices like Google Home / Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit. Having a high-end soundbar in the living room seems a bit of a waste if you cannot integrate it to your home automation system. Right now when hosting, I have to connect to it via Bluetooth to be able to stream music, rather than have the ability for anyone to quickly change track or play a different playlist from the home assistant.
Other than that, I feel this is a great piece of kit with impressive sound quality. It easily fills the room and creates a very immersive experience. There are quirks and things Creative can work on to improve in the future, but as far as a soundbar goes - it is really good.