Creative’s Sound Blaster Katana V2 has been a long time coming, but it’s been worth the wait. The V1, released in late 2016, has long been regarded as one of the best soundbars gamers can buy. The V2 cranks the dial with 68% more power, improved sound quality, and a bevy of quality of life improvements that push the Katana into the next generation, even if you’re a console gamer. At $329, it’s not just one of the best soundbars for gaming, it’s one of the best soundbars for the price, period.
- Current Price: $329 (Creative)
Creative Sound Blaster Katana V2 - Overview and Key Features (What’s New?)
Over the years, I’ve made no secret about my fondness for the original Katana. Like many readers at that time, I had never used a soundbar with my PC and was blown away. The sound was big, detailed, almost vertical at times; it was better than it had any right to be with its compact size and price point. Since that time, I’ve reviewed a lot of audio gear, including gaming speaker sets, but nothing was ever able to dethrone the Katana.
Until now, with the Katana V2.
In many ways, the Katana V2 is exactly what you would hope from a second-generation product. Creative has made meaningful changes but has taken nothing from the original design that made it great. Instead, the V2 is a refinement that factors in four years of user feedback. It incorporates the advancements the brand has made in spatial audio with its SXFI tech, and improves the level of detail and resolution in total. What’s more, Creative has added features to make this a better soundbar for console gamers, and given the features and performance it offers, it’s frankly an outstanding value for a compact TV soundbar too.
Like last time, the Katana V2 is a compact soundbar designed to sit underneath a monitor. It features the same 23.6-inch length and 2.4-inch width, but is slightly taller at 3.7-inches versus last-gen’s 3.1. This is to accommodate the updated driver system and acoustic goals of the soundbar but could make it harder to slide under some monitors. To address this, Creative designed the Katana V2 to angle backward so it’s tallest at the front. Depending on the height of your monitor, it may still stick out somewhat, but I was able to slide it back far enough to look good and not take up unnecessary extra space.
The Katana V2 features a six-driver array and a powerful subwoofer. Like the V1, it’s powered by Creative’s tri-amplified design, allowing a complex signal processor to individually power each driver to provide the best possible sound at any given time. The driver system has been updated with new drivers to enhance clarity and detail, however. The tweeters, in particular, have received an upgrade and now use aluminum domes for improved rigidity. This improves their speed and reduces the likelihood of distortion, particularly in busy sections of games, movies, or music.
The subwoofer has also been given an upgrade. It’s now, bigger, louder, and more consistent. One of the pieces of feedback that Creative received on the V1 was that the subwoofer didn’t scale down to lower volumes well. That has been addressed in this version while simultaneously making it larger. The subwoofer can get moderately louder but more important is the consistency of its performance from low to high volumes. The performance boost is immediately noticeable in a side-by-side comparison and even outperforms some larger TV subwoofers I’ve tested.
Compared to last generation, the entire system is more powerful. The V1 featured 75 watts of RMS power whereas the V2 ups that to 126 watts. In practice, this is not a dramatic volume boost but lends the system enough headroom that it can deliver improved punch and slam, which is especially important for gunshots and explosions. It’s most evident in the peaks where that extra power is needed most.
Another set of updates comes in with connectivity. Like last time, the Katana supports optical, USB, and auxiliary audio connections, but Bluetooth has been updated to the latest 5.2 codec for improved stability and reduced latency. This version also supports HDMI ARC, so can connect directly to a TV and be controlled by your existing remote (though the one included here is much higher quality than last time).
This feature alone makes it a compelling option for console gamers. Though it’s still a “PC first” device, I tested it with both current-gen consoles and had a wonderful experience. Don’t let the compact size fool you, this soundbar is able to deliver a powerful wall of sound that’s bigger than you would expect from a device this small.
Though it might seem like a small thing, one of the most iconic aspects of the original Katana was its RGB underglow. The light show makes its return and is just as customizable as ever, but instead of being based around reflection this time (the original LEDs fired down toward the desk), the V2 uses a diffusion strip. In speaking with Creative, they found that users with dark-hued or black desks couldn’t see the RGB lighting well on the original. This solution still allows for reflection on surfaces that allow it but is more vibrant, visible, and well blended than before while also using less power.
The V2 also packs two other cool features. If you like to game at night, you can easily plug in a headset. Where the V1 required you to plug the headset into the rear IO panel, the V2 has a jack right on the faceplate — just be careful not to miss and scratch its glossy surface. Using the headset also allows you to enable SXFI, Creative's in-house spatial audio solution, so you don't have to sacrifice on atmospheric audio just because you swap to headphones.
It also supports features a built-in mic, which I thought was strange at first. A mic on a speaker that’s actively putting out audio? Surprisingly, it’s not terrible. Creative has implemented echo cancellation which helps eliminate feedback. I wouldn’t use it while actually gaming (a separate mic is leagues better) but for casual chatting or taking a Zoom meeting, it’s not half bad! This is while on a desk, however. If you’re sitting back on a couch, the vocal quality is expectedly much less.
Creative Sound Blaster Katana V2 - Customization and Performance
One of the highlights of the Katana V2 is just how customizable it is. It features a selection of preset modes for different types of content, from music, to movies, and games. Each of these applies its own EQ tuning to emphasize what’s most important and experience a little bit of Creative’s in-house tuning. It’s possible to set up the soundbar, choose a preset and go. The tunings are good, if a bit on the bassy side. Doing so would be missing out on the huge customization potential of the soundbar, however.
Like most of Creative’s Sound Blaster gaming products, you can download a software suite that really allows you to dial in the Katana V2’s sound with custom EQ curves and then save those as a custom preset. You can also apply effects to enhance the overall sound to exactly your taste. This does mean that the software, while not required, is highly, highly, recommended.
But, how does it sound? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is a damn good soundbar. The sound it delivers is bigger and more spacious than it has any right to be. It genuinely enhances the gaming experience and will leave you wondering how a single soundbar can manage to sound so big and, yes, directional. This is room-filling sound, so much so that I doubt anyone will actually need to push it to its limits short of a house party.
One of the coolest features it offers is its two gaming-based sound modes: Scout Mode and Battle Mode. For competitive shooters, Scout Mode can offer a genuine advantage, tweaking the sound profile to bring out elements like footsteps or teammate callouts. Battle Mode, on the other hand, is all about spaciousness, directionality, and distance. It’s a bit of a mind-twist how the Katana V2 can manage to project left, right, front, and back while sending all of that sound from a 23-inch space under your monitor, but it does, and it’s accurate. Combined with 5.1 channel surround sound, this is the most atmospheric sound I’ve heard from anything other than an open-back gaming headset.
Since the soundbar supports HDMI, I also took it for a spin for some console gaming and my regular Netflix routine with my wife before bed. If you’re worried about the amount of sound when sitting at a distance, don’t be. The Katana V2 filled out my living room with ease.
The improvements to the subwoofer and bass presentation are very evident. The V2 doesn’t cut or jump the same way the V1 did when scaling up and down. It’s a smooth gradient in the bass. If you’re a parent like I am, this is important in the evening hours after the kids have gone to bed. That’s core game and adult-TV (get your mind out of the gutter!) time, but booming bass can easily wake the kids. The Katana scales exceptionally well, making it possible to keep the subwoofer active at night.
The Sound Blaster Katana V2 is fantastic. At $329, it’s not just a great gaming soundbar, it’s an outstanding option for soundbars in general at this price. The features and customization it offers are well beyond many of the competitors at this price point, even if you never plan on playing a game with it. You’re not going to get the verticality of a Dolby Atmos soundbar, but there is a level of verticality to the sound, that was pleasantly surprising at this price. Simply put: this is the gaming sound system to buy if you want a compact solution that doesn’t skimp on soundstage, atmosphere, and that all-important positionality. The best gaming soundbar just got better.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.