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(Pocket-lint) - The Creative SXFI Carrier soundbar package includes a wireless subwoofer and is capable of decoding Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound - along with Creative's own Super X-Fi virtual surround technology for when listening via wired headphones.

The soundbar is clearly aimed at the home entertainment market, and while there's no DTS:X object-based decoding you do get HDMI 2.1 with future-proofing support for all kinds of features - such as 8K resolution (when that's a thing), 120 frames-per-second high frame-rate (HFR), HDR10+ high dynamic range, and more.

But with no further expansion options - it's 5.1.2 channels in total, you can't add additional speakers - and a lacking of features, including no Wi-Fi connectivity or therefore voice assistants, can Creative's offering stand up to the competition?

Design

  • Soundbar: 880 x 76 x 128mm; 3.6kg
  • Subwoofer: 225 x 450 x 430mm; 12.8kg

The Creative SXFI Carrier keeps things simple, with a compact main unit that's finished in black. The sides are angled to accommodate the width speakers, there are also three speakers firing forwards, and two more aiming upwards to bounce sounds off the ceiling to create the overhead channels.

There's a separate grille for the dedicated centre speaker, with a display on the right, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left. Above the centre speaker you'll find controls for power on/off, volume up and down, source selection, mode selection, and the Super X-Fi setting.

The included subwoofer uses a side-firing 10-inch driver with a port at the front, and Creative claims it can get down to 25Hz - which is some sub-audible rumbling goodness. The sub matches the main soundbar unit aesthetically, and there's a total of 450W of amplification (250W allocated to the soundbar, a further 200W driving the sub).

Connections and control

  • 2x HDMI input; HDMI output with eARC
  • Optical digital audio; 3.5mm; USB
  • Bluetooth 5.0 (A2DP)

The Creative SXFI Carrier houses its connections in a recessed area at the rear. It's a decent selection: there are two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output, all are HDMI 2.1, meaning support for eARC on the output (enhanced Audio Return Channel), along with HDCP 2.3 (the hand-shake to ensure various digital rights don't cause issues), support for 8K/4K resolutions, gaming goodness from VRR (variable refresh rate) and ALLM (auto low-latency mode), HDR10+ and Dolby Vision high dynamic range passthrough.

There's also an optical digital input, a 3.5mm analogue input, a USB-C audio input, and an SXFI-enabled USB-A output. Sadly there's no Wi-Fi, but there is Bluetooth 5.0 for a wireless connection. While the soundbar and subwoofer as designed to connect wirelessly, there's also a 3.5mm jack on both for a wired connection if necessary.

Pocket-lintCreative SXFI Carrier review photo 17

The large included remote control fits comfortably in the hand, making it easy to use. It has all the buttons you'll need, including power, mute, and the inputs. There's also playback, volume, and the menu button, plus you can adjust the bass and turn on the Super X-Fi headphone feature. Finally, there are six customisable buttons at the bottom which are setup using the mobile app.

The Creative mobile app for iOS and Android offers all the controls, setup options, and a calibration process to fully optimise the placement and settings of the soundbar and subwoofer. It also has advanced settings for custom-mapping buttons for remote control, subwoofer bass adjustment, auto standby, display brightness, additional input/output setup and firmware updates.

Features

  • 5.1.2-channel configuration
  • 450W built-in amplification
  • Dolby Atmos decoding
  • SuperWide technology
  • Super X-Fi Headphone Holography

The Creative SXFI Carrier's main feature is its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and deliver it with genuine immersion thanks to a 5.1.2-channel speaker layout. These speakers were developed in conjunction with Dolby, and use innovative acoustic concepts designed to push the performance limits and capability of a compact soundbar when it comes to three-dimensional audio.

Pocket-lintCreative SXFI Carrier review photo 2

All seven speakers and sub have their own digital signal processor-controlled amp. Creative has included its proprietary SuperWide technology, designed to expand the soundstage of stereo content to produce a sonic experience that's much bigger than the soundbar's compact dimensions. 

While the Carrier doesn't support DTS:X, the reality is this format is increasingly unimportant in the face of Dolby's dominance when it comes to streaming audio. There's support for hi-res audio up to 24-bit 192kHz, but this is limited to physical connections because there's no Wi-Fi. As a result, there's also no Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast support, and no smart assistants support either. 

CreativeCreative SXFI Carrier review photo 19

The other big feature on the Carrier is Creative's Super X-Fi Headphone Holography technology. This recreates the soundstage of a surround speaker system using headphones, and applies artificial intelligence processing to personalise it for a natural listening experience. Super X-Fi supports Dolby Atmos, and works with any headphones via the 3.5mm jack on the front of the Carrier (for the best results Creative recommends using its low-latency wireless SXFI Theatre headphones). The results are rather impressive.

Sound quality

The Creative SXFI Carrier is easy to setup, primarily thanks to the excellent remote app. This lays everything out in a simple fashion, and includes an optimisation feature where you input the actual distances from the sweet spot to the soundbar and subwoofer, as well as the ceiling height.

Pocket-lintCreative SXFI Carrier review photo 3

The Carrier can be stand- or wall-mounted, just make sure none of the speakers are blocked. In addition, when it comes to the overhead effects, a low reflective ceiling will deliver the best results. Then all you need to do is connect your display, plus any sources, and you're good to go.

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The first thing you notice is that despite the Carrier's relatively compact dimensions, it produces a seriously big soundstage. The side-firing speakers give it width, while the up-firers are very effective at creating sounds overhead. Stick on a movie like Midway with its highly aggressive Atmos soundtrack, and you'll have planes effectively buzzing all around the room.

The delivery is understandably front-heavy due to the lack of any rear speakers, and unfortunately there's no upgrade path to add them, but it remains an impressive performance. The dedicated centre speaker ensures dialogue remains clear and focused on the screen, while the subwoofer with its big 10-inch driver digs deep and produces a solid and highly visceral foundation of bass.

Pocket-lintCreative SXFI Carrier review photo 9

The upshot of all this is a soundbar that's capable of handling whatever you're watching, whether it's a TV show or a movie. It's also great for gaming, allowing you to enjoy an immersive sonic experience. The Carrier is also decent performer with music, although the SuperWide feature tends to muddy the sense of stereo imaging and is best avoided here.

Verdict

The Creative SXFI Carrier is an impressive soundbar from a company more usually associated with computer accessories. It delivers a soundstage that's considerably bigger than its compact dimensions, while the 10-inch subwoofer produces some seriously deep bass.

The Dolby Atmos decoding is excellent, with a noticeable overhead presence and precise placement of sound effects. Dialogue is clear and focused, while the SuperWide tech gives a more expansive soundstage across the front of the room.

The HDMI 2.1 connections are a nice touch, providing the Carrier with a degree of future-proofing, while setup is easy - especially with the excellent Bluetooth remote app. Only the lack of Wi-Fi disappoints, and means there's also no support for AirPlay, Chromecast, or smart assistants.

So whether you're watching TV, enjoying a movie, or gaming, this soundbar is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Super X-Fi headphone holography tech is also impressive, scanning your ears to create a personalised virtual surround experience with everything from stereo to Atmos. This feature helps it stand out, but there's escaping that there's a lot of even more feature-packed competition to consider.

Also consider

SonosAlternatives photo 1

Sonos Arc

An obvious alternative, also offering Dolby Atmos but not DTS:X. Along with the Sonos ecosystem, you get Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, room correction, and built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. There's no subwoofer included, but you can add one, plus there are optional rear speakers for a full (if rather expensive) true 5.1.2-channel system.

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SamsungAlternatives photo 2

Samsung HW-Q800A

This soundbar delivers a 3.1.2-channel system with an 8-inch wireless sub for a similar asking price. There's Atmos and DTS:X support, along with Wi-Fi, built-in Amazon Alexa, eARC, Dolby Vision and HDR10+ passthrough, and AirPlay 2. That's hard to contend.

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Writing by Steve Withers. Editing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 20 September 2021.