(Pocket-lint) - One piece of information that should be wider knowledge outside of enthusiast tech-lovers is that even an average soundbar universally makes for an upgrade on built-in TV speakers. Despite huge leaps forward in screen technology over the years, even fancy tellies typically just sound a bit middling.
In an ideal world, though, you'd grab a soundbar that makes for a huge improvement - but they can often cost a small fortune. That's where Creative's second-gen Katana fits into the puzzle, delivering eye-catching goods with ear-jangling goodness, including a separate subwoofer.
We can attest to the astronomical volumes the Katana V2 can easily reach, but just how good is its overall quality and is there anything missing from this package?
- Soundbar: 600 x 95 x 62 mm
- Subwoofer: 150 x 367 x 367 mm
- RGB underlighting, LCD information display
The last generation of Creative's Katana already had a fairly solid set of looks, so Creative has effectively chosen to refine that rather than start from the ground up. The new version is a very similar size and falls easily into the compact end of the market.
Our normal soundbar is the Sonos Beam, and the Katana V2 is actually a good deal smaller than that already diminutive bar, so we're definitely impressed by how shrunken it is. This makes it easy to slot under a TV on your stand, or in whatever arrangement you might use.
That said, it's obviously got a connected subwoofer which is decidedly bigger, and fitting that into/around your setup is likely to be a bit more of a challenge, if it's anything like our situation. Still, once you find a way, we think the soundbar looks pretty solid.
It's got an LCD display on the front that'll let you know what source you're playing from at a glance, along with volume and other information becoming visualised as you change it. Underneath the bar, there's RGB underlighting which makes for a nice effect - kind of like Ambilight for soundbars (as you might have seen in some Philips TVs).
That lighting has a music-reaction mode that's on by default which we found pretty janky, though, flickering away much more than desired. That's faded much more nicely into the background once we used Creative's app to disable it.
The Katana V2 is finished in a nice brushed metal, although we found that it collected dust like no one's business. The front has a grille, the same as two sections on the top of the 'bar.
The separate subwoofer is the definition of nondescript in the looks department, so is better off hidden. That's kind of the point of it though. But you'll want it as central as possible to deliver bass where it should be.
- 5.1 virtual surround system
- Dolby audio (but not Atmos)
- 50 - 20,000 Hz frequency range
If you're happy with how the soundbar looks, of course, the biggest variable is really how it sounds. We've found the Katana V2 a bit of a grab-bag of positives and negatives, on that front.
On the one hand, from the moment we connected it, we've been impressed by its maximum volume. This thing can crank out actively antisocial levels of sound, far more than we can really imagine anyone needing in a normal domestic setting. We were typically down on the third or fourth rung (out of more than 50), an absurd degree of power that could easily fill large rooms.
That's all well and good, but thankfully there's also a richness to that sound which means it should sound good at high levels, too, with loads of warmth and bass thanks to that chunky subwoofer. Swapping between sound profiles also brings noticeable changes, which is handy for different types of content - movies, sport, gaming, news, nighttime viewing, and so on.
This is a gaming soundbar first and foremost, though, and we used it in a variety of genres to see how it managed. In shooters like Call of Duty: Warzone we found that we were indeed able to pick out the sort of footstep audio that's normally reserved for headset users, although not 100 per cent of the time.
In the sprawling RPG Tales of Arise, meanwhile, the swells of the soundtrack sound excellent. That said, on the soundbar's gaming mode we found that dialogue was a little undercooked and prone to getting lost in the mix - something that we had to tackle with our own equaliser edits.
Overall, while we're impressed by the brute force of its volume, and the warmth of its sound is generally something you can rely on, we're still a little disappointed by the Katana V2's subtlety - or lack thereof. You won't necessarily be wowed by how consistently it deals with lows and highs.
- EQ customisation
- Lighting controls
This isn't a soundbar that's light on features, to be fair, so if you want plenty of options then it's got more than enough up its sleeve. For one thing, the remote is far better than last time around, with way more controls, including custom buttons that you can map to shortcuts in the creative app.
In that same app, you can control (or turn off) the RGB lights to an impressive degree of precision, and play around with your preferred sound settings. Creative has been around the block more than a few times, so you'll actually find balance settings specific to games and series you might be into, for quicker setups.
There are also loads of ways to connect to the soundbar, comprising Bluetooth 5.0, HDMI ARC, Optical-in, AUX-in, USB-C and SXFI-out. That should be more than enough for most people, and the addition of HDMI ARC - audio return channel via the HDMI port, so visuals and audio can be handled from a single source - is a chunky bonus compared to the last version that lacked it.
There's also a headphone jack on the front of the bar for those who want to sometimes pass their audio through for more sociable listening at later hours, and we're impressed by the consideration shown by that layout.
As we said in our intro, picking up any soundbar is better than not doing so - but if you're looking for a gaming-specific option, the Katana V2 is a real contender. While we aren't convinced anyone will need the shattering volumes it can offer, it's certainly nice to have the option.
If there was a subwoofer-less version on sale, that would probably make for even more sensible value, too, but with the sub included it's able to deliver low-end wobble that standard tellies simply cannot otherwise deliver.
If you're the type of person who's committed to RBG lighting and want a soundbar that you can control, then the Katana V2 is definitely worth checking out. For general less gamer-focused use, however - and in particular if you want total confidence that you'll be able to pick out the subtleties of dialogue against background noise - other options might simply make more sense.
It's another chunk more expensive, but the best compact soundbar on the market probably remains the Sonos Beam, with a 2021 revision bringing Virtual Dolby Atmos to the table. It's beautiful to look at, easily outstrips Creative's option when it comes to music, filling a room with balanced and carefully tuned sound.