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

Working closely with Dolby, Creative delivers the sonic goods with the Atmos-enabled SXFI Carrier, but there are rough edges and missing features, too.

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 Performance

Stowing the headphones, I started off my proper SXFI Carrier listening tests with the Battle of Hoth sequence from the 4K UHD Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (yes, there’s a bit of a Star Wars theme here), which has a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack. As the Rebel speeders buzzed around the Imperial Walkers, I was surprised by the width and depth of the soundstage that the relatively narrow SXFI Carrier managed to deliver, as well as the pronounced height effects as ice pellets clattered through the top opening of a snow-clogged Rebel corridor (“Transport, this is Solo—better take off, I can’t get to you”).

The Atmos-enabled sound was free from the shrillness that sometimes plague DTS Virtual:X audio, which is DTS’s virtualzied 3D sound format. And indeed, the Dolby Atmos-enabled SXFI Carrier did the best job yet of fooling my ears into thinking they were hearing surround cues from physical rear speakers, although that’s not to say it can replace physical surround setups; when I switched back to my proper 5.1.2-channel rig, I could hear the difference.

I also tried the “I’m the king of the world!” scene from the Blu-ray of Titanic, which has a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. This sequence combines a variety of sonic elements, including the hiss as the ship’s bow slices through the water, the deep “kerplunk” of the massive pistons in the engine room, James Horner’s sweeping score, and of course, Leonardo DiCaprio’s iconic (or infamous, take your pick) line.

Offloading the DTS processing to my 4K UHD Blu-ray player, the SXFI Carrier deftly handled the scene, delivering the complexity of the overlapping sonic elements within a wide soundstage but without being too showy about it. Dialog was impressively crisp throughout (“Let’s stretch her legs”) and plenty of deep but not boomy bass. Still, I would have preferred tighter punch from the subwoofer.

To test out the SXFI Carrier’s performance with a streaming set-top box, I dialed up the iTunes version of Superman on my Apple TV 4K. Now with a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack, the swooshes of the famous opening titles seem to fly around and above you, and the Carrier managed just that, while faithfully pumping out John Williams’s rousing score. Again, I could have done with more punch in the bass department—Richard Donner’s “directed by” credit lacked the hard “thunk!” I’ve heard from other wireless subwoofers. Still, the overall sound was immersive and relatively engrossing given the SXFI Carrier’s small form factor.

For music, I called up Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” on Tidal, and streamed it to the SXFI Creative via Bluetooth. Using the soundbar’s Atmos-enabled Music mode, the sound was—as promised—surprisingly wide and expansive, but without any distracting, over-processed hollowness. Skipping to “Solitary Man” by Johnny Cash, I could have sworn that the sound was emanating from my own bookshelf speakers flanking the Carrier—but no, it was the soundbar, all right. Janelle Monáe’s “I Like That” floated pleasantly around the room, while Carlos Kleiber’s legendary performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony felt big and atmospheric, although my ears missed some detail in the high-end.

Bottom line

Like I mentioned earlier, the Creative SXFI Carrier marks the first of what will hopefully be many more “Dolby Atmos Speaker System” soundbars, so perhaps its rough edges are to be expected.

Yes, the SXFI Carrier’s audio performance is impressive and enveloping (a few bass-response quibbles aside) for a soundbar this small that lacks physical surround speakers. But the lack of Wi-Fi support in a soundbar this expensive is disappointing, and the room calibration process needs sprucing up. And while the SXFI Carrier is much smaller than the three-year-old Sonic Carrier, it’s still boxy enough to (potentially) take a slice out of your TV’s bottom edge (unless you mount it on a wall, of course).

If you’re intent on snapping up a Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar that doesn’t need surround speakers, and you don’t care about Wi-Fi connectivity or audio casting, the SXFI Carrier could make for a nice fit in your home theater, provided you have the cash for it. But while it’s ostensibly a more affordable remake of the Sonic Carrier, the SXFI Carrier feels very much like a “version 1.0” soundbar—and personally, I’d be more interested in the SXFI Carrier 2.0.

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At a Glance
  • The SXFI Carrier’s audio performance is impressive and enveloping, but the lack of Wi-Fi support in a soundbar this expensive is disappointing.

    Pros

    • Wide, immersive soundstage courtesy of Dolby Atmos
    • Supports Creative’s Super X-Fi headphone technology
    • Easy setup
    • Three HDMI ports, plus eARC support

    Cons

    • Tall enough to block the bottom edge of some TV screens
    • No Wi-Fi connectivity or AirPlay/Chromecast support
    • Room calibration isn’t a push-button process
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