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Creative SXFI Carrier soundbar review: A terrific Dolby Atmos with one caveat

Creative SXFI Carrier
(Image: © Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

Our Verdict

Bottom line: With seven dedicated drivers and a wireless sub with a 10-inch driver, it produces incredible sound that makes your TV shows and movies come to life. Combine that with a robust build and HDMI 2.1 connectivity, and you get a high-end soundbar that holds its own against its rivals.

For

  • Amazing sound
  • Wireless sub has sublime bass
  • Easy to set up and use
  • HDMI 2.1 connectivity
  • Six different modes for movies, TV shows, and music
  • Does a great job with Dolby Atmos

Against

  • No Chromecast integration
  • Cannot add rear surrounds
  • Limited EQ customization

In the last five years, I switched between a dozen TVs in the living room. Currently, I'm using Xiaomi's excellent Mi QLED 75, and it gets a lot right; the picture quality is pretty great, it runs Android TV, and has all the connectivity options I want.

In that time, the audio system has stayed the same: Logitech's THX-enabled Z906. I picked these up over five years ago, and they hold up particularly well for movies, TV shows, and music — I have a Chromecast Audio plugged in and use the Z906 as a Cast target. I wanted to get the Wharfedale Linton a few years ago, but there isn't adequate room to position the floor-standing speakers, so I instead looked for a decent soundbar to show up, preferably with Dolby Atmos.

Creative's SXFI Carrier is that soundbar. This is the second Atmos soundbar from Creative; a sequel to the 15-driver behemoth that was the Sonic Carrier. And at $999, it costs five times less than the Sonic Carrier, a relative bargain.

The SXFI Carrier has a lot going for it as well; you get seven driver units, a wireless sub that cranks out a lot of bass, and Creative's unique SXFI virtualization tech. At $999, the soundbar goes up against high-end Atmos options from the likes of Sonos, Sony, and Yamaha, so let's take a look at what you're getting, and whether you should invest in this soundbar.

Creative SXFI Carrier: Price and availability

Creative SXFI Carrier

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

The SXFI Carrier was unveiled in Asian markets at the end of last year — where Creative has a strong brand cachet — with the brand noting that demand exceeding availability in the initial months of launch. It launched earlier this year for $999 in North America, and the soundbar is sold direct from Creative and a few distributors. It is now debuting in India, where it is available for ₹99,999 ($1,340).

Creative SXFI Carrier: What you'll love

Creative SXFI Carrier

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

First, let's start with that name. SXFI is the name for Creative's surround sound tech, and it is pronounced Sex-Fi. Awkward name aside, the SXFI Carrier nails the basics; the soundbar has seven drivers integrated inside its chassis, and the 10-inch wireless sub delivers room-shaking bass.

The SXFI Carrier looks good in front of your TV, and it has all the wired connectivity options you could ask for.

The design itself doesn't deviate too much from the norm; it is decked out in black with a mesh grille surrounding the front, and doesn't call attention to itself. The build quality feels robust, and you'll find a 3.5mm jack at the front and controls at the top for adjusting volume, changing the modes and switching between sources, and powering the device on or off.

With dimensions of 880 x 128 x 76mm and coming in at 8lb (3.6kg), the soundbar doesn't take up too much room. I was initially worried that it wouldn't fit in front of the Xiaomi Mi QLED 75, but it slotted in without any issues.

The best part about the SXFI Carrier is its ease of use. The package includes all the cables you need to connect the soundbar to your TV, and installation is as easy as plugging the soundbar and wireless subwoofer to wall outlets, and connecting an HDMI cable from the soundbar to the TV.

The wireless sub is paired to the soundbar out of the box, so as soon as you plug it in, it will detect the soundbar and connect to it. You'll need to use Creative's mobile app for initial calibration that lets you adjust the sound for your room. After you set it up, you'll be using the bundled remote for changing modes and toggling between sources.

The SXFI Carrier has everything you're looking for in terms of connectivity. You'll find two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with eARC, and you get all the benefits of HDMI 2.1, including variable refresh, ALLM, 4K at 120fps, and HDR10+ as well as Dolby Vision.

You also get optical, 3.5 in, USB-C, and Bluetooth 5.0. There's no Wi-Fi connectivity here, but you can use the soundbar to stream music from your phone over Bluetooth. In the month that I used the subwoofer, I didn't see any issues with connectivity between the subwoofer and the soundbar, but there is an option to connect both via a wired connection over 3.5mm.

Creative says it worked with Dolby to tune the drivers on the SXFI Carrier, and that is immediately evident once you start using the soundbar. It has a 5.1.2 configuration with two large drivers oriented toward the ceiling, three front-facing tweeters, and two side-mounted drivers that provide a lot of width.

Creative SXFI Carrier

Source: Creative (Image credit: Source: Creative)

The two primary drivers are angled, and this allows for the environmental Atmos effect that distinguishes the SXFI Carrier from other soundbars. Creative says it relied on Dolby's hybrid two-way acoustic design to direct a portion of the frequency band to these drivers so that they can be used for more than omnidirectional sound.

The SXFI Carrier is the first soundbar to leverage this design, and it works astonishingly well. Creative noted that it had to strike a balance between delivering a product with a diminutive design while still offering enough drivers to produce a dynamic sound.

With seven drivers and a wireless sub that adds a lot of definition, the SXFI Carrier sounds absolutely incredible.

Although the SXFI Carrier has less than half the drivers as the $5,000 Sonic Carrier, it is able to produce a lot of sound. The wireless sub adds a lot of definition, the height channels are ideally suited for Dolby Atmos content, and the drivers located on the sides do a good job with surround sound.

The end result is a soundbar that is fantastic for movies and TV shows. The SXFI Carrier came into its own when streaming Dune, rendering the otherworldly soundtrack in accurate detail and adding a lot of dimension to the intense battle sequences. Vocals shone through with clarity and timbre, and the wireless sub accentuated the low-end incredibly well, adding a lot of rumble to action scenes.

There are six distinct audio modes to choose from, and the sound changes quite dramatically based on the mode you select. I set it to the movie mode by default as that was ideal for movies and TV shows. The bass by itself isn't effusive out of the box, but there is an option to boost the low-end frequencies via the remote, and once you do, there's much more definition.

I turn to Our Planet when testing new TVs or audio gear, and the SXFI Carrier did a good job creating an omnidirectional effect. The soundbar also holds its own for streaming music, and in this area, Creative's SXFI has a distinct edge. You can easily connect a headset to the soundbar and leverage the brand's virtual surround tech, and it works remarkably well.

Creative SXFI Carrier: What needs work

Creative SXFI Carrier

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

For all that Creative has delivered here, there are a few omissions. The SXFI Carrier doesn't have Wi-Fi connectivity, and wireless is limited to Bluetooth 5.0. So you miss out on Chromecast integration, and you will need to plug in a Chromecast Audio if you want to cast music to it if you don't want to rely on Bluetooth.

There's no Wi-Fi receiver here, so you don't get Chromecast connectivity.

I asked Creative why there's no wireless connectivity, and the product manager for the SXFI Carrier noted that it was a conscious decision to not add a Wi-Fi receiver. Doing so would have reduced the budget for the drivers, and with Creative focusing on the sound quality as the differentiator, it wanted to add the best drivers to the SXFI Carrier.

Furthermore, Creative noted that most smart TV brands already have Chromecast or other wireless streaming options anyway, and that it wasn't going to offer anything meaningful in this area. So it decided to forgo the Wi-Fi receiver in favor of better driver units.

Another missing feature is EQ customization. Most of Creative's products offer a lot of customizability when it comes to sound, but because the brand worked with Dolby on tailoring the sound for each of the six modes it offers on the SXFI Carrier, it said that it wasn't able to offer EQ customization.

It is for this reason that it isn't offering the ability to add rear surrounds; doing so would have meant tweaking the balance of each mode, so it decided to not offer the feature.

Creative SXFI Carrier: The competition

Sonos Arc Review

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

If you're looking for a high-end soundbar, the Sonos Arc is the obvious choice. Sonos is the leader in multi-room audio, and the Arc delivers room-filling Dolby Atmos sound in a small chassis. It doesn't have a wireless sub, however, so you don't get quite the same level of bass and sub-bass detail, but it is effortless to set up and use, and has Wi-Fi connectivity.

Creative SXFI Carrier: Should you buy it?

Creative SXFI Carrier

Source: Creative (Image credit: Source: Creative)

You should buy this if ...

  • You want Dolby Atmos sound in an integrated package
  • You need a high-end soundbar with a wireless sub
  • You want sound quality that's among the best in this segment

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You need Wi-Fi connectivity and Chromecast integration
  • You want the ability to add rear surrounds down the line
  • You're looking to customize the EQ to your tastes

Creative isn't going after market share with the SXFI Carrier. It knows that the market for a high-end Dolby Atmos soundbar is still in its infancy, but by getting in early, it is able to carve out an early lead. By partnering with Dolby on the driver design and customizing the audio modes, it is also able to offer a differentiated product.

4 out of 5

Sure, the fact that you need to connect a Chromecast Audio or an Echo device for streaming music is annoying, but the hassle is worth it for the sound quality. This is where the SXFI Carrier truly excels, and its chassis belies the sheer amount of sound that it is able to deliver.

But is it worth $1,000? If you're interested in sound quality and want an integrated solution with Dolby Atmos, it is a great choice. It isn't three times as good as my Z906, but it is significantly easier to set up and use, and I'm genuinely astonished by the caliber of sound it produces. And if you don't want to shell out quite as much, you should consider one of the best budget Dolby Atmos soundbars available right now.

Creative SXFI Carrier

Creative SXFI Carrier

Bottom line: The SXFI Carrier gives you an easy way to get started with a Dolby Atmos soundbar. With seven dedicated drivers and a wireless sub with a 10-inch driver, it produces incredible sound that makes your TV shows and movies come to life. Combine that with a robust build and HDMI 2.1 connectivity, and you get a high-end soundbar that holds its own against its rivals.

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.

2 Comments
  • Thoughtful review. Still surprised how the manufacturers are willing to label a media sound system Dolby Atmos when it does not even have rear speakers let alone true ceiling Atmos ones to reproduce the objects above? Disappointed the media allows for this without some kind of new label such as Atmos Lite? For those that try these soundbars thinking it is the same as a real Atmos setup and are disappointed it sets back the enitire technology. I was lucky to install atmos ceiling speakers and after using an "Atmos" soundbar it was night and day. Blade runner was incredible with airships flying overhead just as amazing as a theater.
    Please label this stop gap technology as Atmos Lite.
  • I stopped reading at "you can't add rear surrounds".