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Evshrug
1548
Jan 18, 2018
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I’d like to try share explanation of CMSS-3D and the “down mixing” that makes the Katana and other Virtual Surround Sound products by Creative, and what makes them special.
Creative has made sound products and DSPs that use HRTF’s (Head Related Transfer Function, which describes the way sound is split by our faces and bounced around our ears) for longer than a patent would last, and have some unique functionality. Let’s say we feed a Katana a 16-bit, 96 kHz, 5.1 channel sound input. If you imagine a 5.1 speaker setup in the living room, there are fairly large gaps inbetween speakers. Especially useful with games, the Creative DSP (now SBAxx-1) uses the information about how sound volume pans between these speakers to essentially guess positions between speakers, creating a “ring” of sound rather than just 5 funnels of direction. A 7.1 signal creates more accurate directionality, but a complete “ring” is the goal. Now, to simulate that surround sound ring, the DSP essentially converts any given clock position around this ring and applies the time delay between when your left ear and right ear would hear it (we humans only have 2 “input” channels), and creates a down mix with the time delays “baked in,” for whatever the output device, such as the Katana or headphones connected to the Katana. The signal remains 16-bit 96 kHz through this entire process, so there’s no downsampling.
Because Creative’s Virtual Surround solution is based on the math of HRTFs from any direction, it was actually able to utilize FULL 3D sound output back in the day when games would output such data, so you could have sounds coming from above (like Dolby Atmos and DTS-X) and below (imagine trying to set up speakers below the floor in a home theater!). Bioshock and Borderlands 2 were really cool in 3D surround, and can you imagine 3D surround in flight sims, horror games, or adventure games? Fortunately, 3D audio is starting to make a comeback with some Virtual Reality titles, but 3D audio by itself is much more accessible for those with budget or motion sickness constraints, and does a great job of expanding the environment and immersion beyond the screen in front of you.
Jan 18, 2018
Evshrug
1548
Jan 18, 2018
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Short overview of the Katana itself:
I don't think of it as a soundbar, I think of it as a Bluetooth speaker like Creative’s iRoar, but with wider separation, separate subwoofer, and a DSP/soundcard functions.
It has similar big volume overhead and bright presentation as the iRoar, emphasizing clarity and only needing about 10% volume if you’re sitting right in front of it, although the bass output is adjustable and does a nice job of filling in the low end and lower mids while also creating the physical “thump” sensation of sound hitting your body/feet. It fills my bedroom-sized office easily. The subwoofer elevates the sound above traditional computer speakers and Bluetooth speakers and IMO is a must-use. The Katana fits elegantly under my iMac display and is a fairly noticeable upgrade in all sonic aspects. The headphone jack output isn’t as nice as the Creative X7 or other discrete setups, but quite better than my PC’s Gigabyte motherboard and my iMac’s headphone out, and provides pretty convincing headphone surround.
The soundbar is pretty easy to use. The little remote has plenty of buttons, with discrete buttons to select each input but one button each for cycling through SBX and LED lighting modes. You also get playback controls for USB and Bluetooth connected music. There are separate inputs for Computer and USB (presumedly for music on a thumb drive), Bluetooth, Aux (analog), and Optical (which can decode Dolby 5.1 bitstream from my PS4). A microphone input is provided for PC/Bluetooth use with a headset, but there is no provision for connecting a mic to a PS4 (so use a PS Camera or USB mic). The soundbar cannot play from multiple inputs at once, unlike the Creative X7.
It must be said that this was designed to be placed in full view while using a computer, and aesthetics have indeed been considered. The bar is slim but wide, all black with a dim ring of light around the power button when powered off (easy to find), and the display and LED’s can be turned off while in use. I thought the LEDs would be cheesy and “computer nerd,” but they don’t directly glare into your eyes and I actually ended up finding the animated color of the rainbow setting or blue/purple/green to add some life and decoration to my otherwise black desk with all black peripherals... highlights all the matching black stuff in a cool way.
I do have a little feedback for improvement. I wish the microphone input could work with my PS4, even if I had to sacrifice surround for the sake of chat, and there have been a few intermittent software bugs from not having audio input (and small “pop” sounds). It has also been muted even when the settings are correct, or behave a little erratic with longer sessions, but powering off/on seems to fix these. V2 I would also like the headphone jack on the front or top, because I have to flip the Katana on it’s “face” to plug in headphones now and it’s also slow to unplug so that I can use the speakers. I’m not sure if it’s easier to develop a switch for choosing speaker or headphone output, or to make the headphone jack more accessible, but this issue has kept me from using the decent headphone jack very often, and in my environment I need headphones the most.
Overall, the Katana is a versatile and fairly convenient sound solution for using with a monitor/desk setup. Erratic behavior does happen, but it’s rare, and usually resolved by restarting the speaker. The sound quality fits in between good near field monitors and built-in speakers in displays, physically saving space and clutter.
Jan 18, 2018
Vipre
9
Jan 23, 2018
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Is there any advantage to using a "higher quality" USB cable with this for the 7.1? Does it come with one or should I buy one from Amazon?
Jan 23, 2018
Evshrug
1548
Jan 23, 2018
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It comes with one, should do the job. I have tried nicer USB cables, and it surprised me to find out they do provide a smoother more even sound (not as surprising after learning that the signal that goes through USB isn’t perfect 1’s and 0’s), buuuuut that’s more obvious paired with gear $500 and up (like the Chord Mojo, iDSD Micro Black Label, and better). I’d say don’t bother buying a better one from amazon, though Wireworld makes very good cables that are “just” expensive instead of “skiddilyridiculous!”
Jan 23, 2018
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