Not everybody has the space in their house for a full surround sound setup, and that's where recent soundbars have come in to fill the gap.
One such example would be the Creative Sonic Carrier, a 17-driver soundbar system that provides a 15.2 experience. The problem? It's a S$7,999 soundbar that weighs in at a whopping 16kg with a 27kg sub-woofer. Well, the Creative SXFI Carrier fits the bill for those of us who want something smaller and lighter (especially on the wallet) while still getting that Dolby Atmos support.
This S$1,499 soundbar system has been scaled down to weigh just 3.6kg with a 12.8kg sub-woofer. This is due to the fact that it's not a 15.2 system, but rather a 7.1 system. Creative claims that you get the same sound signature as you would with the Sonic Carrier and the SXFI Carrier still has Dolby Atmos support, as well as support for Creative's Super X-Fi technology, which works best when you're using the Creative SXFI Theatre headset that's bundled in with the soundbar.
Let's talk about how it looks first, because I actually like the unassuming design of the SXFI Carrier more than the Sonic Carrier with all the drivers showing. It's pretty much a sleek, long bar with a mix of both matte and glossy plastic parts.
On the top, you get six buttons: the power button (which also doubles up as a button to activate Bluetooth pairing mode), a minus button for lowering volume, a plus button for increasing volume, a source button to loop through the input sources, a mode button to go through the different sound modes and finally, a SXFI button to activate the Super X-Fi mode.
On the front, you get an LCD screen with the same retro-ish font design as the one I saw on the Creative Stage V2. That being said, we're not limited to just two characters/numbers here, so thank god for that.
At the back, you get all the input ports as well as power input. That's a total of two HDMI 2.1 inputs, a HDMI eARC port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C audio in port, USB-A SXFI out port for the dongle that comes with the SXFI Theatre headphones as well as an optical in port. There's also a sub out port if, for whatever reason, you need to use your sub-woofer wired to the soundbar. Of course, there's also Bluetooth 5.0 capability in this soundbar.
In the box, you'll also get a small plastic remote that allows you to swap between inputs easily, adjust volume, skip tracks, switch modes and more. It's... okay, it works fine for what it's intended to do, but it does feel a bit plasticky and not very premium. For a S$1,500 soundbar, I'd have expected a bit better.
That being said, I'm glad for the remote since it saves me the trouble of having to loop through inputs on the soundbar itself. With all the input buttons on the remote, it's just one click there instead of multiple on the soundbar.
Setting up was a breeze. The soundbar and sub-woofer come pre-paired in the box, so it's really as simple as finding a good spot in your home for these and plugging the power cables in. I do have to say that the power brick for the soundbar was very tightly wedged into the styrofoam block in the box, and I had to enlist the help of my brother to slowly get it out without breaking the styrofoam since I still have to return this item to Creative. For most people, I reckon it won't be that big an issue since they'll be tossing away the styrofoam and box after setting up the speaker, but it's something to take note of.
While the soundbar is relatively compact for what it contains, the sub-woofer is pretty huge. It definitely requires a good amount of space, and Creative's manual states it's best to put the sub-woofer in the corner of the room closest to the soundbar, with at least 10cm of space away from the wall. If you're planning on getting this system, you'll definitely want to make sure the room you're going to use it in will have enough space or a good enough placement for the system.
The sub-woofer does seem like it might be a waste of space, but I found myself putting items on top, like the controller charging station for my PS5, so it was actually relatively handy as a small side table for knick knacks.
That being said, the sub-woofer and soundbar are paired via 2.4Ghz frequencies, so you might want to make sure there's not too much interference around. I have the soundbar right next to my Wi-Fi router, and I haven't experienced any problems, so I reckon it'll do fine in most situations.
There's a companion app for customisation, but it does require you to be able to measure the distance between the soundbar and your sitting position. Rough estimates work, but of course, the best experience would be if you're able to give exact figures. There's a bunch of stuff to do here, including "tuning" the sub-woofer, which was a bit of a pain. I'd have been happier if Creative could have added in an automatic sound calibration feature like how Sonos does it.
Anyway, let's get into the sound. These sound really good, full stop. They get incredibly loud, and I found myself usually sticking to a maximum volume of around 15% because I feel like my neighbours would complain if I raise the volume any higher.
But the highlight has to be the Dolby Atmos support. You get a really all-encompassing sound that shines with dialogue and when it comes to movies or shows with great sound. You can hear the rumble of planes flying overhead, or perhaps even footsteps to the side, and it's definitely a more immersive experience than other soundbars or built-in TV speakers.
Unfortunately, there's a pretty limited space or "sweet spot" where you get the full surround sound effect. Even if you're not in that sweet spot though, the sound is still very immersive.
Music streaming over Bluetooth is pretty decent. The overall sound is balanced overall, with good bass thump thanks to the sub-woofer and relatively detailed and clear mids. You do get a wide soundstage, although instrument imaging isn't pinpoint accurate, you just get a general sense of where instruments are. But to be honest, you wouldn't be buying a soundbar for critical music listening. These work best with movies and the likes, so I'd recommend just sticking to that.
I did play a few games with my PS5 hooked up, and the overall experience was pretty good, especially for AC:Valhalla. I didn't find myself straining to hear dialogue, and I did find myself not relying on subtitles as often, which goes to show how clearly vocals come across through the soundbar.
With the SXFI Theatre headphones (RRP S$299) though, it's almost a whole other experience. You get the SXFI technology that Creative is well-known for, and yes, you do need to map your ears with the app and get everything set up first, but once you do, it's pretty rewarding. Gaming was definitely much better with the headphones on than through the speaker, and I felt explosions, gunshots and general environmental noise were much more impactful through the headphones. Of course, the distance I'm sitting from the soundbar (approximately 2.2 metres) does play a part as well.
All in all though, I'd say this is an excellent soundbar that offers a very good attempt at surround sound for the price. Considering that you get the SXFI Theatre headphones bundled in, I'd say that S$1,499 is a pretty fair price. It's not as good as the Sonic Carrier, that's clear, but at slightly under a quarter of the price, I'd say it's definitely a good alternative.
Written by Cheryl Tan