X-Fi Sonic Carrier review: Home theater of the absurd

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Creative has built the best soundbar ever made. It’s probably better than what any other soundbar manufacturer has dared contemplate. It’s an audio system that’s so over the top that calling it a mere soundbar is an injustice. But I’ve yet to hear any soundbar at any price—and this one costs nearly six grand—that delivers the theater audio experience as effectively as a component system, and the X-Fi Sonic Carrier is no exception. 

My play on words in the title of this review is thus a left-handed compliment. The Sonic Carrier’s price tag isn’t exorbitant when you take into account all its hardware, feature set, and capabilities. This speaker is an embarrassment of riches in that regard. The absurdity is that all that high-end technology is packed into a soundbar that by the laws of physics cannot deliver a surround-sound experience that’s as immersive as a lower-priced component home theater system. (At the time of this review, Creative was discounting orders for delivery to the lower 48 states to $3,999, plus $150 for shipping.) 

This review explores the X-Fi Sonic Carrier in substantial detail. If you just want my one-sentence opinion, scroll to the bottom of the page.

Look ma! No wires!

A soundbar like the Sonic Carrier, however, offers one huge advantage over component audio systems: A dramatic reduction in the number of cables you need to deal with. I was in the process of reviewing Focal’s $1,299 Sib Evo Dolby Atmos speaker array with a $799 Onkyo TX-NR737 A/V receiver when the Sonic Carrier arrived (I decided to push the Focal review to a later date).

sonic carrier left side up firing drivers Michael Brown / IDG

A top-mounted upfiring tweeter and mid-range bounce height audio cues off your celing (the left side is shown here).

Even though the Sib Evo incorporates the Dolby Atmos height speakers into the same cabinets as the front left and right speakers, I still had to measure, cut, strip, and route seven sets of speaker wire, plus one RCA cable for the subwoofer, to set up that configuration. The only wires the Sonic Carrier needs are the ones from your sources (e.g., an HDMI cable from your Blu-ray player), and the HDMI cable to your TV. You do temporarily hardwire the subwoofer to the soundbar, but that cable is removed after the initial setup.

The Sonic Carrier is a hulking beast of a speaker. Should you decide to use the provided mounting brackets to hang it from a wall, you’ll want to be certain that it’s anchored to the studs behind your drywall with very long screws: This monster measures 59.9 inches wide, 5.9 inches deep, and 3.8 inches high. Its frame is fabricated from anodized aluminum, but you’ll still need two people just to remove its 35.3-pound bulk from the box.

sonic carrier calibration Michael Brown / IDG

The X-Fi Sonic Carrier relies on the mic in your mobile device for room calibration. 

Creative describes it as an 11.2.4 speaker configuration, which is a little different than how Dolby classifies Atmos systems. The .2 in Creative’s figure represents height speakers, and the .4 indicates the number of supported subwoofers (the system comes with one, and you’d need a room the size of a stadium to need more than that). Dolby would describe this as an 11.4.2 system.

In any event, each of the Sonic Carrier drivers are independently controlled by an EAX 15.2 digital signal processor (DSP) to produce 16 directional outputs (nine front-firing, two side-firing, four up-firing, and one for low-frequency effects or LFE). Each driver is powered by a discrete Class-D amplifier. The amps in the soundbar itself produce a combined 400 watts RMS, while the sub is outfitted with a pair of 300-watt Class-D amps.

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