Creative’s SXFI Carrier is the company's follow-up to its X-Fi Carrier soundbar, and boasts a rich feature set as well as a compact form factor, especially considering its capabilities. This new soundbar manages to pack an impressive amount of technology, and capability, into a standalone soundbar that goes great with just about any TV while also offering Super X-Fi “headphone holography”, so regardless of whether you listen to the speakers or headphones, you are immersed in three-dimensional sound.

This soundbar pushes the boundaries of audio technology, it is the first DASS soundbar. DASS stands for “Dolby Atmos Speaker System” that utilizes the sound bar drivers in a novel fashion, allowing for higher performance in a more compact design. DASS leverages the dispersion and directivity properties of the comparatively large up-firing “height channel” drivers. The result is a degree of audio performance that you usually associate with physically larger soundbar systems.

SXFI Carrier is a perfect example of how soundbars continue to “raise the bar” in terms of achieving high fidelity, fully immersive audio reproduction from a compact and lifestyle-friendly audio system.


Features and Specifications

Creative did not hold back when it comes to packing its SXFI Carrier with features. This sound bar has what it takes to satisfy movie lovers, gamers, TV watchers, and even music listeners. However you choose to use it, whether it's via HDMI 2.1 with 8K pass through (2 in. 1 out, eARC), optical-digital, USB audio, and Bluetooth 5.0. This gives it broad compatibility with PCs and gaming consoles as well smartphones, TVs and AVR's, this soundbar has the connectivity needed for proper integration. It even has a dedicated SXFI Out that works with the transmitter for SXFI Theater headphones.

I have never before seen a soundbar with such good connectivity! However one thing it does not offers its own built-in Wi-Fi streaming platform, for that you would have to add your own streaming dongle to one of the HDMI inputs, or else rely on streaming from the TV via eARC, or a device attached to the TV. Considering how ubiquitous streaming apps are on TVs, the decision to leave it out of the SXFI Carrier makes sense. And if you do add a streaming device via one of the HDMI inputs, you get to choose the platform (and the cost of streaming HDMI dongles is very low these days).

Considering its capability, this is a compact soundbar system, which is quite a noticeable difference from the X-Fi Sonic Carrier, which was among the largest soundbars I have ever reviewed. This soundbar has three forward-facing speakers (L/C/R), two side-firing speakers, and two up-firing speakers, as well as the sub.

One of the most noticeable physical feature of the SXFI Carrier is the center channel driver, which is a tweeter. This is the visual cue that you are looking at a DASS soundbar. Here's how it works: The SXFI Carrier uses advanced signal processing to leverage the up firing drivers as both reflected sound elevation channels, and direct sound “woofers” for the soundbar itself. As a result, the soundbar offers powerful center channel performance while maintining a low profile. This is because it is easy to fit drivers with a much larger surface area on the top of the soundbar. The trick is to properly integrate the tweeter and the up-firing drivers so they act as one, and that’s part of what DASS does.

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This image shows the center channel tweeter, the headphone jack, and the front facing information display.

A key feature for any premium sound bar is the inclusion of a good subwoofer. Not a mid-bass box, but rather something that can genuinely play deep and do justice to videogame and movie sound, as well as handle the bass found music. Creative does not skimp, it provides a 10 inch ported wireless sub that contributes to the system’s 25 Hz to 20 kHz rated frequency response. Furthermore, and this is very unusual for a sound bar, this unit has a wired subwoofer output, so you can also use it with your own subwoofer, if you wish.

This soundbar ships with a remote control that offers dedicated input buttons that spare you from having to cycle through the inputs, like you do with most sound bars. Instead you can just press the input you want. It additionally offers dedicated buttons for power, listening mode, bass adjustment (which controls the subwoofer level), SXFI mode, headphone-out mode, settings adjustment, info, display brightness, volume, playback controls, and six custom setting buttons that you can assign functions to, using the Creative app.

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The SXFI Carrier remote

The Creative app works on iOS and Android. It makes set up easy, and incorporates a calibration process to optimize the SXFI Carrier to your listening area. The app offers basic remote functionality that includes source, volume and sound mode selection. The Creative app also offers advanced functions like custom mapping IR remote buttons, tweaking the base management for the subwoofer, adjusting the display brightness, turning auto standby on or off, firmware updates, and other features.

In addition to the Creative app, you will want to download the SXFI App so that you can properly set that feature, it too works with iOS and Android mobile devices.

This sound bar is equipped with five sound modes that have the following characteristics:

Movie
is an immersive mode, it attempts to maximize the surroundsound effect and provide a dynamic listening experience. Creative recommends it for all movies, games, and video content.

Music focuses on maintaining total balance, and automatically attempts to reduce loudness differences between different audio tracks. Creative suggests that this the best mode for most music content.

Night is all about not disturbing your neighbors. It applies some dynamic compression to keep a lid on loud sounds, so that you can watch that action movie without having to ride the remote control. Creative recommends this for movies and video content.

Neutral is an alternative to the Music mode. It attempts to provide playback that is closest to the original recording, especially in genres that have a wide dynamic range. Creative recommends it for classical, jazz, and recordings from "audiophile" labels.

Superwide is an upmixing mode. It takes movies and music that only have stereo sound and expands it into an enveloping, immersive listening experience.

You can read all the details about the SXFI Carrier on the Creative website by clicking here.


Specs by the Numbers:

Power Output

  • Soundbar: 250W RMS
  • Subwoofer: 200W RMS
  • Total System Power: Up to 450W RMS
Frequency Response
  • 25–20,000 Hz
Operating Range for Bluetooth Devices

- Up to 10 meters / 33 ft, (Measured in open space. Walls and structures may affect range of device.)

Bluetooth® Version

- Bluetooth 5.0

Dimensions
  • Soundbar: 880 x 128 x 76 mm / 34.6 x 5 x 3 inches
  • Subwoofer: 225 x 430 x 450 mm / 8.9 x 16.9 x 17.7 inches
Weight
  • Soundbar: 3.6 kg / 7.9 lb
  • Subwoofer: 12.8 kg / 28.2 lb


Who Should Buy the Creative SXFI Carrier Dolby Atmos Speaker System Soundbar
  • TV viewers who want immersive surroundsound in a self-contained soundbar system
  • Gamers looking for a premium soundbar with SXFI
  • Movie lovers who seek clear dialogue and expansive surroundsound, including Atmos
  • Anyone who ever asked for a soundbar that offers a headphone jack
  • Soundbar shoppers seeking a premium model that supports 8K and eARC via HDMI 2.1


Pros/Cons

Pros

  • 8K compatible HDMI 2.1 with eARC
  • Dolby Atmos from a single soundbar with wireless sub
  • Low profile design to avoid blocking the front of the TV
  • 10” wireless subwoofer
  • Headphone jack with SXFI
  • Wireless SXFI headset support
  • Wired subwoofer output
  • Front-facing info display

Cons
  • The effectiveness of reflected sound Atmos depends on the room
  • SXFI requires setup before you can use it
  • The remote is not backlit
  • No DTS:X support
  • Headphone functionality may be superfluous to some


Review Methodology

This hands-on review is an experiential account of what it’s like to use the SXFI Carrier Dolby Atmos Speaker System Soundbar in a multi-source living room environment, using a variety of sources (audio and AV) that include a PlayStation 4 Pro, a gaming PC, a ChromeCast Ultra, and a variety of smartphones.

I performed some measurements using REW (Room EQ Wizard) and a UMIK-1 USB mic, mostly to see what sort of bass extension the system offers, but also to compare the in-room response curves of the listening modes, and the effect of the setup’s room calibration.

The soundbar was paired with TVs as well as used as the sound source in conjunction with both long-throw and ultra short-throw projection systems. All this was done in my fairly typical open-plan apartment living room, in a space that overall measures 17’ x 26’ x 11’ and has the requisite flat walls and ceiling that optimize the reflected-sound surround used by this soundbar.

The evaluation is primarily subjective, meaning what I heard is a result of my room, my ears, my personal taste, etc. Therefore, I do not expect that I can speak to what someone else will think of how the SXFI Carrier sounds. However I can speak to what it offers versus other soundbars I have reviewed recently.


Hands-On

The whole point of a soundbar is to make it easy to get good sound. Easy install, easy setup and easy to use are where it’s at in this lifestyle category. To that end, the SXFI Carrier is not the simplest soundbar I’ve seen, but that’s thanks to all the features it offers. The good news is you only use the features you need, so if for example all you want is Atmos out of a soundbar connected to your TV via eARC, then the setuo is super simple and you’ll be in business in no time.

But, if you decide to connect a PC via USB, a Roku TV, and a PS5, plus connect your smartphone via USB, and also use the SXFI functions with wired or wireless headphones, you’re definitely going to have to spend some time on the configuration to get everything working just the way you want. The point is this Creative soundbar is strongly focused on connectivity and supporting whatever sources you wish to connect to it.

This soundbar is unusual in its support for headphones, and that the headphone compatibility includes SXFI Headphone Holography as well as wireless SXFI. I’m familiar with SXFI tech, having experienced it when it was first announced a few years ago, and later in reviews of products like the SXFI Amp and the GC7 USB sound card, as well as the SXFI Cinema gaming headphones that Creative supplied with this soundbar (to test the SXFI out function).

I already have an account and SXFI profiles that I can use, so set up was a little bit quicker than it would be for someone who is new to the tech. But, there's not a lot to it, SXFI just needs a couple photos of your ears to determine their shape, and one of your face, and it will create a custom profile optimized to how you hear 3D sound. With this profile active, SXFI is able to produce highly effective virtual surroundsound through headphones. What's so great about this is the headphone capability extends to a variety of sources, and the TV, and while Creative recommends you use SXFI certified headphones, SXFI actually works with any headphones.

The speaker "Calibration" is a mostly manual process that involves taking some basic measurements like the distance from your listening position to the Soundbar, your distance from the subwoofer, and the distance from the soundbar to the ceiling. You enter these measurements to the app. Then, you can use either your ears, or a dB meter, to match the output level of the subwoofer to the output of the Soundbar. And finally, you can adjust the amount of height effect.

OK, so here’s the nitty gritty on the sound: In my living room, which is an apartment with walls and ceilings that are “reflected-sound Atmos friendly” this soundbar offers excellent performance, especially factoring in size and cost. Each of the sound modes serves its purpose well, as opposed to being gimmicks.

I've been covering the AV and audio industry for a long enough to know that there is a wide variety of taste and preference involved with audio appreciation. So I feel the need to qualify my comments about how this soundbar performs by noting that it is not what a "audiophile purist" should buy. But it is a soundbar such a purist ought to respect, because it does offer the Neutral mode, that in turn respects the original mix. The problem is that as far as the sound modes go, Neutral is the least immersive. I found the Superwide mode highly complementary to a lot of the electronic music I listen to, it translates the fanciful mixes into swirling, enveloping audio environments that are a blast to experience in this manner.

Movie is likely the most useful mode, it's what I'd normally choose for games and movies and TV programs. I expect owners will use it frequently. However, I would encourage SXFI Carrier owners to keep their remote handy and try the other listening modes, to get a feel for how they like the way each mode treats different content.

Importantly, the SXFI Carrier's innovative DASS design works as intended, which is surely a big deal because of how important the center channel is to AV sound, it handles the literal majority of the audio, including the dialog. The good news is that not only is dialog clear and focused, it can laso play loud without distorting, if that's what you need out of the system. I'm not going to dive into the specifics, but it makes a ton of sense to make the up-firing drivers robust and powerful, and to use them this way, for for height effects and as the woofer component of the center.

Now, it is important to note that this design, which does not include dedicated surrounds, is not as immersive as the top-of-the-line Samsung Atmos soundbars, which have wireless surrounds that incorporate up-firing, front-firing and side-firing drivers. Creative's soundbar's surroundsound instead comes 100% from the main unit. This simplicity has the distinct advantage of being easier to set up, but is more limited in terms of how dependent it is on the room and your seating position to create full immersion. At the risk of sounding like a "broken record" my room and layout tends to work favorably with devices like this that depend on "bounced" soundwaves, a room with a vaulted ceiling and a TV located in a corner would not work as well.

Normally with a soundbar, no matter how many channels it offers, there would not be much more to discuss. But with its SXFI and headphones support, including the wireless SXFI transmitter that works with the SXFI Theater headset, this soundbar offers new dimensions in sound and utility. The SXFI Theater wireless function is particularly notable, because if you use the SXFI transmitter directly on a console like my PlayStation 4 Pro, it has to work with stereo sound. But when used with the SXFI Carrier, you can send proper surroundsound to the SXFI Carrier soundbar, and it in turn will translate that to virtual immersive audio. The result is highly accurate video game sound that emulates a surround system and lets you clearly hear the direction of any sound source in a game.

The wired headphone jack is another great bonus feature. For one, it is no slouch when it comes to driving high quality headphones, like the Audeze LCD-2 Closed Back that serve as my reference. If you have not set up SXFI, the system will prompt you to do so when you plug the headphones in. Now, I understand that the spatial audio "holographic" effect of SXFI is not going to be to everyone's taste, but I've had enough experience with it to know that if it sounds "funny" it's because of the dissonance between the soundfield it is recreating, and what your eyes see. This is not an issue with movies or games because you are looking at the scene the sound represents. But with music, it helps to close your eyes and think about what you are actually hearing (interms of the space the recording seems to inhabit) then what SXFI does will make sense. What I mean by that is not only will the sound not seem stuck inside your head, it also won't seem like it's stuck inside your room. And you can always shut the effect off if you are not happy with it, and instead enjoy high-quality sound without any processing.


Conclusion

The Creative SXFI Carrier Dolby Atmos Speaker System Soundbar shows that innovation continues to shrink the size and the cost of adding 3D immersive sound to your TV. The DASS design delivers on its promise of clear, rich sound from a compact all-in-one.

With a MSRP of $999, the SXFI Carrier is definitely not "cheap" but on the same token it delivers audio performance that's appropriate to its price point. What makes it remarkable is how well it performs for a compact soundbar system consisting of only the soundbar and wireless sub. This is a testament to Creative's many years experience with digital sound, and its pioneering implementation of the first DASS design. And that's before we even talk about the inclusion of SXFI, and how convenient it is to have a SXFI-enabled headphone jack plus SXFI wireless headphone support on a soundbar that's 8K compatible. The resulting system outperforms expectations in terms of features and fidelity, earning it a Top Choice for 2021.


Where to Buy

You can prorder the Creative SXFI Carrier Dolby Atmos Speaker System Soundbar direct from Creative.

Buy SXFI Carrier


Additional Resources

SXFI Carrier at creative.com

Reviewpalooza! Click these links to read more reviews of the SXFI Carrier

TechHive: Creative SXFI Carrier review: A smaller, more affordable follow-up to the massive Sonic Carrier

Techradar: Creative SXFI Carrier review - A Dolby Atmos soundbar with a few tricks up its sleeves

Tomsguide: Creative SXFI Carrier review - The Creative SXFI Carrier is a powerful and versatile soundbar and subwoofer combo, though its Super X-FI headphone feature is a costly extra

Forbes: New Creative SXFI Carrier Soundbar With Dolby Atmos Reviewed