Creative ups its game by adding Dolby Atmos and Super X-Fi virtual surround to its latest soundbar. Steve Withers decides if it’s a winner. Read our Creative SXFI Carrier Review.
SOUNDBAR MANUFACTURERS OFTEN cater for TV viewers looking to beef up their sonic experience, or film fans who want to enjoy object-based audio with the minimum of fuss, but they rarely consider the needs of the gamer. Creative’s new SXFI Carrier is here to address this oversight.
The company’s experience in the gaming market results in a soundbar designed to tick all of a gamer’s sonic boxes. Immersive audio – check. HDMI 2.1 – check. 4K/120Hz – check. There’s even Creative’s virtual surround headphone technology, ensuring no-one can sneak up on you in a first-person shooter.
These gaming aspirations are all the more apparent when you consider what’s missing. There’s no DTS:X, which will disappoint anyone with a big disc collection. Nor is there an option to add wireless rear speakers, so no genuine surround channels. There’s also no Wi-Fi, which means no Chromecast or AirPlay and limited opportunities to stream music.
What you do get is a well-made soundbar that feels solid enough to help justify its price tag. The design is compact – perfect for pairing with a large gaming monitor – and unassuming, with mesh grilles, dimmable LED display, and a black finish. There’s Dolby Atmos decoding that’s delivered using a 5.1.2-channel speaker layout and wireless subwoofer. Creative is cagey when it comes to driver specifics, aside from claiming there are seven of them driven by 250W of grunt. At least the side-firing drivers add width, while the upfirers ensure genuine overhead effects.
POSITION: Creative’s premium soundbar
peers: Sonos Arc; LG SP8YA; Samsung HW-Q800A
Creative is a bit more forthcoming about the separate sub, which is ported and has a 10in side-firing woofer powered by a claimed 200W of amplification. This boom box also has a frequency response that Creative says goes to a very respectable 25Hz.
Physical connectivity is where this soundbar really shines, with a pair of HDMI 2.1 inputs and an HDMI 2.1 output with eARC. There’s support for HDCP 2.3, and passthrough of 8K/30Hz, 4K/120Hz, VRR, ALLM, HDR10, HLG, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision. So you can connect both next-gen consoles safe in the knowledge that this soundbar will handle whatever comes out of them.
The included remote is also decent, eschewing the usual credit card-sized zapper for something a bit more substantial. There’s also Creative’s mobile app for those wedded to their ‘phone.
The other big feature on the Carrier is Creative’s Super X-Fi headphone holography technology. This aims to recreate the soundstage of a surround speaker system using only a pair of headphones, and applies AI processing to personalise it for a natural listening experience. Super X-Fi supports Atmos, and works with any headphones via the 3.5mm jack on the soundbar, although for best results Creative suggests using its low-latency wireless SXFI Theatre cans.
DRIVE UNITS: 3 x forward-firing; 2 x sidefiring; 2 x upward-firing ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 450W total CONNECTIONS: 2 x HDMI in; 1 x HDMI out (all v2.1); optical digital audio input; USB-C; headphone jack DOLBY ATMOS/DTS:X: Yes/No SEPARATE SUB: Yes. 10in driver REMOTE CONTROL: Yes DIMENSIONS: 880(w) x 128(d) x 76(h)mm WEIGHT: 3.6kg
FEATURES: Super X-FI headphone tech; SuperWide processing; Creative mobile app; Bluetooth 5.0; 4K/120Hz passthrough; HDR10+/Dolby Vision passthrough; wall-mounting option
Side-firing units handle surround channel replay
Used in soundbar mode, it delivers an impressive sonic performance, managing to sound much bigger than it looks thanks to those side drivers and Creative’s SuperWide processing. The upfirers are also a hit, skilfully creating the illusion of sounds overhead.
With the Atmos track of Midway (4K BD), the Carrier distinguishes itself with a cohesive front soundstage that’s well-balanced as it seamlessly steers effects around the front of the room. The sounds of planes fly from side-to-side, and overhead, while flak splatters the wallpaper.
The final tussle in Godzilla vs Kong (4K BD) is all about creating a sense of scale, and once again the Carrier rises to the occasion, conjuring a large wall of sound to accompanying the pugilistic titans. The sub does much of the heavy lifting here without embarrassing itself, digging deep, and adding weight to the skyscraper-destroying action. There’s also sufficient power to keep up with the soundtrack dynamics.
A criticism is that the overall soundstage is very front-heavy due to the lack of rear speakers, and with no way of adding them the sense of surround envelopment will always suffer. Of course, if you really want to immersive yourself when gaming, you could always put on some headphones and take advantage of Creative’s holographic wizardry.
This future-proof ‘bar and sub combi isn’t cheap, and there are better film-first options for the money, but for gamers it certainly seems to do a lot right