Creative is known for its affordable products. Admittedly, the low prices often come at the expense of the most important criterion for us, namely the sound quality.
Creative may have gotten tired of standing in the cheap corner, when they now launch the home cinema soundbar SXFI Carrier. A packed soundbar with Dolby Atmos, and separate speakers on top for the occasion. These take the sound from the height channels and direct it up to the ceiling, so that the sound is reflected down on the audience on the sofa. This gives you a much bigger impression of sound from above, than if you try to do the same trick exclusively with digital sound processing (DSP).
Creative actually ships with a set of headphones in the package if you order online. Why, we will get back to.
The speaker elements
The SXFI Carrier has a total of seven speaker drivers, distributed as follows: A pair of 3.5-inch oval full-range drivers on the sides reproduce the surround sound channels, as well as the front left and right. Two drivers tilted at the top reproduce the height channels, but in fact also the center channel with the dialogue.
Then we find three tweeters elements on the front, for the left, center and right front channel. To give more air to these. In the wireless subwoofer we find a 10 inch woofer, which recreates the bass effects on film and music. The case is quite tall and slim, and thus much more compact than the monstrous subwoofer of the Klipsch Cinema 600 that we tested earlier this summer. Also the one with 10-inch bass.
Every single speaker element in the SXFI Carrier is powered by its own Class D amplifier, which is necessary when you finally have to put a digital processor to control it all with the right time delay, phase reproduction and tone control for each channel.
SXFI holographic sound from headphones
SXFI in the name of the soundbar means that it must be able to draw a special holographic sound image. However, since this is a pure headphone technology, this sound mode can only be used with the headphone output. In fact, it comes with a headset in the price (SXFI Theater), if you order from Creative’s website. This allows you to choose between speakers and headphones when playing.
Fortunately, you do not need your own, SXFI-branded headphones for the occasion, as the soundbar processor does the job. Use whichever headphones you want, as long as they are cabled.
I have just tested SXFI with headphones (Focal Stellia), and it gives a significantly larger sound image than regular stereo. However, I do not quite get the feeling that sounds come directly from behind or from the front, and I would probably consider this an emergency solution rather than playing sound directly from the soundbar.
Ease of use and features
Creative SXFI Carrier has two HDMI 2.1 inputs which means that games and video in 4K 120 Hz (possibly 8K 80 Hz) can be sent through unaffected to the TV.
The HDMI output also has an eARC type audio return, so you can instead connect all your sources directly to the TV, and get the sound back in high definition via the HDMI cable from the audio board to the TV. I would do that, to be sure of the lowest possible delay (input layer) on the image from the game console.
Should you want to play or listen to music from a PC, it is good to know that the soundbar also has a USB-C input that takes over as a sound card.
The soundbar has various sound modes, including Super Wide, which provides the largest sound image. It also has both Movie and Music, where the latter in my opinion works best regardless of source material. Then you get the warmest and fullest sound, and the most lifelike singing voices and dialogue.
The remote control is better than with many other soundbars, with direct buttons for source selection, bass adjustment, switching tracks back and forth – and of course the sound level. In addition, there are six buttons marked C1-6, which can be adapted to your own wishes in the Creative app.
What the soundbar lacks is a network connection. The only way to stream wirelessly is with Bluetooth, and then with the rather sad SBC audio codec – which gives the worst Bluetooth sound. It works just fine, but is perceived as an emergency solution in relation to the more well-sounding AAC and aptX. This is thus a soundbar intended to be used with the TV, or to connect a network player to HDMI or optical connector.
In the app you can also adapt the soundbar to the room. But this does not happen automatically. You must measure the distance from the sound barrier to both the subwoofer and the sofa. And also the height under the roof. It can be an advantage to do this, even though we actually got a surprisingly good result right out of the box. The advantage of the room adaptation is that the bass is even a little better integrated, and the illusion of surround sound even a little bigger and holographic.
Great sound on film
What strikes us first is the giant sound image in Super Wide sound mode. The reverberation is huge in the prison canteen in The Irishman, in the conversation between Al Pacino alias Jimmy Hoffa, and Stephen Graham alias Tony Pro. Here we actually get a feeling that the sound comes from both the side and the back, even without physical rear speakers. The psychoacoustic effects work really well.
The harmonics are airy and open, and the consonants in the dialogues are clear without becoming coarse-grained sibilants. Far better than, for example, the Philips Fidelio B97, which is 50 percent more expensive than the Creative board.
There is also a good push from the deeper chest sound area, in the bar visit between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The subwoofer hangs impressively well on the soundbar, without any clear “gap” between them.
Sometimes we think the dialogues are a bit thin. Both when Sebastian Vettel & Co talk in front of the camera in F1: Drive to Survive, but also in Jurassic Park, there is a little meat on the bone in dialogues. On the other hand, dinosaur roars are all the tougher.
The salvation for sleek dialogues is to set the sound mode to Music. Then it will be a little rounder and warmer, with more fullness in the voices.
It is quite typical that a soundbar sounds good on film but less good on music. Fortunately, Creative delivers here, and the soundbar draws even more from the Philips Fidelio B97. The guitar body is reproduced with great fullness on Dua Lipa’s acoustic performance of Lost In Your Light at Glastonbury in 2017. At the same time, the body is well connected with the clinking of the strings.
You do not get the same thrust as from the hefty Klipsch Cinema 600, and the Samsung HW-Q610A possibly has a more natural midrange. But Creative has more powerful and tactful bass.
The Sonos Arc, which costs a little less than the Creative SXFI Carrier, and then without a subwoofer, has the advantage of being able to adapt the sound character to the room and not just the distance and sound level. It actually has even greater room reproduction and can also be expanded with real rear speakers. But it needs a subwoofer to be able to measure itself on film, which almost doubles the price.
Creative SXFI Carrier: Conclusion
Creative SXFI Carrier is the best soundbar we have heard from that edge. Ever. That may not say much, as other Creative planks are of the cheap type. But SXFI Carrier surprises us. With a gigantic soundscape, especially in Super Wide mode. Dialogues are clean and open, and the subwoofer hangs exceptionally well. Here there is both impact and finesse, and the soundbar also delivers when we take the price into account.
What is missing is a little more fullness in dialogues and in singing voices. Maximum sound pressure is more than high enough for us, but there are planks in the class that are even more powerful. We still do not give credit for this.
We would still like a network connection, and preferably support for Chromecast and AirPlay.
Plus in the book to include headphones in the price. We have tested SXFI Theater before and enjoyed them quite well.