The Best Soundbar In Its Class and Beyond
If you lived in an apartment or condo, most probably you have either space restrictions and/or positioning restrictions for a full Atmos set up. Even in a house, you may not be able or want to have a full-fledged surround system. I’m in such position for both my bedroom and my living room. I don’t want to have more clutter than what I already have right now in my living room and can’t have (space wise) more than a soundbar in my bedroom. After all, I already have a full Atmos system in my dedicated home theatre anyway. I have tried many soundbars and soundbases in the past and while they all offered a huge improvement over the TV sound, imaging and breadth still leaft me wanting for a better soundbar.I would be lying if I say there is no soundbar at the level I can actually be satisfied as Sennheiser Ambeo fits that bill perfectly. However, at $3,300 (Canadian), it is cost prohibitive and something that I can’t justify especially for a bedroom / living room (read : secondary room) settings. At $1,300 Canadian, however, the Creative SXFI Carrier pricing is a lot easier to digest.
Not only the price is easier to justify, the size too. No longer the behemoth of its predecessor, the Carrier is less than a width of my 55” TV. In fact, the size of this soundbar, at a hair below 35”, is smaller than most soundbars with a more understated look that definitely will fit any style of room decor. While I would prefer it more if all the plastic parts would be in a matte finish, the glossy plastic parts don’t look cheap-o either.
Even listening to something as simple as music videos on YouTube, the unit’s SuperWide mode expands the width of the stereo imaging to much wider than the bar’s width. Usually when using a similarly function feature tends to create hollow-ness of the centre sound. This is not the case here. Yes there is a slight reduction phantom image, but not to the point of being detrimental to the overall stereo spread. This effect has been best done by Bose on their $1,500-ish soundbar; yet this $1,300 soundbar can reproduce it effectively but with more poise and a sense of grandeur.
Listening to this bar, not once I feel that the sounds are coming from small-sized driver. This is not merely caused by the highly capable wireless active 10” subwoofer system but also due to Dolby Atmos Speaker System technology currently exclusive to Creative. While the too-generic name does not inspire, the DASS technology maximizes every drivers used in this soundbar to collectively create a psycho-acoustically large-driver sounding speaker derived from special DSP filtering tuned specifically for this 7-driver individually-DSP-controlled and powered soundbar. The sonic target curve also follows very closely to Dolby-designed acoustic concept. It is difficult to describe the pleasant and neutral tone of the sound but suffice to say that it is close enough to the sound signature of the Sennheiser Ambeo at almost triple its price. Let me be clear here. I’m not saying that the Carrier has the same sound quality as the Ambeo, but it’s practically in the same “neighbourhood”.
As for Dolby Atmos sound reproduction, tested in a room that’s 10 ft x 16 ft, the effect is quite dramatic. Sitting 9 ft away from the speakers, the imaging was tremendous. Although all the speaker drivers were in front of me, the sonic imaging seemed to be slightly wider than 180 degrees. Of course, there is no actual sound coming from behind as all the speakers are sitting in one package in front of the listener. The above-the-head sound in this 8 ft-high room, I can somewhat locate the sounds coming from above. Not as clear as having speakers above your head, of course, but that is to be expected. The special Atmos sound design of Netflix’s 6 Underground have never sounded this good when compared to all sub $1,700-ish price range of soundbars I’ve experienced and this soundbar is $400 less than that. Sonic immersion and width are, again, immense. The soundbar itself seemed to disappear as none of the sound sounded coming from the enclosure at all. Changing the movies to Resident Evil 4K Collection discs yielded similar results. What I like most is that don’t have to sacrifice a lot from both sonic and financial standpoint when using this bar. While there are several modes in its arsenal, I usually flip flop between Neutral Mode (my favourite) and SuperWide for the gigantic sonic envelopment effect. I don’t prefer the Movie mode as I find the dialog tend to be boosted with slightly boomy bass coming from the sub.
The same goes when I’m watching Bluray concerts of Celine Dion, Def Leppard and Chris Botti. Each concert was rendered extremely well as if the sound came from a much larger set of speakers. Believe it or not, the audience noise (hand claps, chants, etc.) is usually the sound that sounded the most unrealistic when a small-sized drivers are used. Not with the Carrier. The audience sounds sounded wide and seemed to come out of nowhere making the enjoyment in watching these concerts more elevated than using a similarly classed soundbars. For the most believable sonic profile, I choosed Neutral Mode as it is the most effective and, well, neutral.
For late night listening, this soundbar offers the option to send low latency signal to Creative’s SXFI-enabled wireless headphones that after doing the detailed profile setup can sound very nearly as good and realistic as the JVC Exofield immersive headphones sold at the same price (headphones only with no soundbar). If you don’t own a Creative SXFI wireless headphones, you can use regular wired headphones too. There is a lost of registered headphone profiles on the app that allows the soundbar headphones output to match and re-arrange the given headphones on the list the ability to match Creative’s reference audio profile in order to create the most effective sound curves for immersive audio experience. Creative claims that SXFI will work to an extent on any headphones, but to get the best results you’ll need a pair of its own SXFI-branded models. This statement was tested multiple times using multiple movie sources and it is very true… which is quite impressive if I may say so.
There is still no way to absolutely replace a true Atmos system with a soundbar and I don’t claim that it is as good as my reference $3,300 Sennheiser Ambeo. At the same time, the soundbar (and the included 10” wireless subwoofer) merely cost $1,300. At that price point (and even compared to the ones higher than that price), the Creative SXFI Carrier is hard to beat.