A bit from the past a LOT for the future from Sound Blaster and Sound BlasterX!
Hey there Massdrop! My name is Ryan Schlieper and I’m the Product Marketing Manager for Creative / Sound Blaster.
We’ve been excited to work with Massdrop over the past couple of years. We’ve found that the Massdrop community is where we’re able to really get above the noise of the tech product market and focus on users who know what they want, and love what they get.
I personally have especially enjoyed engaging with the user community through answering questions and clarifying things for users who may have wanted a bit more information on our products or needed help with an issue they may have been experiencing. Massdrop is a unique place where sales and support combine. And the community is one that listens and engages.
Massdrop is my kind of place.
Here’s a bit about myself: I’ve been with Creative / Sound Blaster for about 13 years now. I’m an avid PC gamer and am the dad to a 10-year-old gamer as well. I’m also a classically trained musician and play brass instruments for both Jazz and Orchestral ensembles. This has led me to have an absolute love for sound reproduction and accuracy.
I grew up tinkering with my Commodore 64 (and later 128) and an Apple IIc my uncle gave me with an awesome monochrome (green) monitor. System building and hardware is part of my DNA and is a huge reason why I started working for Creative.
One of my fondest PC memories is installing a Sound Blaster for the first time and being able to use the digital speech pack with the original Wing Commander game. Going from bleeps and bloops that came from the PC internal speaker to full-blown sound effects with actual voices was a landmark moment for me. It completely changed my world. I became obsessed with following the latest and greatest in PC tech from that point on. Needless to say, I was pretty broke all through high school (even though I had two jobs) because I was constantly upgrading my PC gear.
The industry has definitely changed since those days; even in the past few years it has drastically morphed as the audiophile market has exploded alongside VR. It’s created some cool new opportunities for people to be exposed to the difference of “good enough” audio and “badass” audio. There’s a huge portion of the market out there that settles for “good enough” audio. Listening to music straight from your phone or onboard motherboard audio solution is “good enough.”
There’s no denying that “good enough” gets the job done. There are even some “premium good enough” options that raise the quality significantly from lower-end solutions you’d find on most smart devices and motherboards.
One of the largest challenges as an audio company is getting people to be able to experience audio superior to “good enough” audio. Unlike the graphics card arena, where you have a clear frame rate advantage and a clear side-by-side screenshot comparison, with audio you have to actually hear it to truly experience the difference.
This is part of what I love about going to tradeshows and events—we’re able to demo our quality and technologies to people who have been using standard solutions. You get to see the look on their faces when they hear great audio coming from a PC for the first time. Not “good enough” audio, but truly powerful audio that’s been expertly tuned using proven technology to deliver a fantastic experience. It’s awesome and exciting to see even after all these years.
Buying into an audio solution for most people is a true leap of faith. If they haven’t been able to experience it in person, they have to rely on those who HAVE taken that leap of faith and are guiding others along the path to great audio experiences.
And that’s why we love Massdrop.
The customers at Massdrop know their stuff. They are relentless in their comments and if you don’t have the “right stuff” to hang, you can’t hang. It’s a challenging environment, but one that we embrace. That’s because unlike most others in the PC space making audio products, we actually have our own audio engineers who are able to adapt and modify products. We act on feedback to continuously add and expand product features as we’ve done with our X7 and E5 products. We listened to feedback directly from the Massdrop community and we acted on it to enhance the product.
So as the industry has changed, we’ve been adapting to continually provide the legendary audio experiences the Sound Blaster brand is known for. This has come in new and exciting form factors, and we’re also branching out from our audio heritage into new spaces.
Today we’re excited to be partnering with Massdrop to be the first place to bring a completely new form of Sound Blaster to the market. A UMAS or Under Monitor Audio System, the Sound BlasterX Katana.
At first glance it would be easy to say that the Katana is just a gorgeous desktop soundbar. But there’s so much more to the Katana under the hood that it’s a misnomer to call it “just” a soundbar. Thus the term “Under Monitor Audio System”. It’s a product completely unique to itself, purpose built to deliver badass audio experiences in a compact and sexy form factor.
Firstly, it’s remarkably sleek and fits under a PC monitor sitting at a low height. That’s not something you can say about other “gaming soundbars” on the market. It has a refined, elegant brushed aluminum finish along with fully programmable RGB lighting. It’s designed to complement a desktop with either an astounding bling factor or more modest “bias” lighting (or if you prefer NO lighting at all for complete “stealth mode”).
In terms of audio, the Katana has an amazingly large sound stage despite being centralized on your desktop. We’ve researched and designed a unique upwards and front-firing speaker arrangement that allows the Katana to be heard even if placed behind a laptop.
Driver-wise, we used high-powered 2.5” mid cones driven by Neodymium motors, as well as inverted aluminum dome diaphragm tweeters with exceptional excursion capability. The drivers in the Katana are powered by 3 amplifiers (that’s right, THREE) which allows for superior audio delivery as each set of speakers and subwoofer has its own dedicated power source.
The result of just those items alone would be an amazing “desktop soundbar.” But like I said, it’s much more than that.
The real difference with the Katana is the inclusion of the SBAxx-1 multi-core audio processor, which transforms the Katana from an ordinary sound bar to a kickass Under Monitor Audio System.
The tech that is powered by the SBAxx-1 provides several advantages:
- Adjustable width sound stage and virtual surround
- Real-time compressed audio recovery (clearer and deeper sounding audio even from compressed sources)
- Advanced audio profiles and tuning
- Hardware-assisted volume normalization and voice enhancement
- And a bunch of other audio customizations that simply would not be possible without having an audio processor onboard the device
The Katana is also Dolby Digital certified, so you can plug it straight into the optical connector on your PS4 or Xbox One and get the same audio features that normally would be limited to a PC.
And of course…it’s got a remote control.
The Katana is designed for the gaming desktops of today and tomorrow.
When we drew up the design, we knew we wanted to have something that fit under a monitor, but also delivered massive audio. With its unique physical chambering and design, and its integrated technology, the Katana is a piece of hardware we’re extremely proud of.
And we’re even prouder to be launching it with Massdrop because we know it’s a piece of hardware that’s going to live up to the expectations of the Massdrop community.
As I noted above we’re also branching away from our more traditional audio roots and moving into other spaces where we can complement audio with control. One such product that represents this new direction for us is the Sound BlasterX Senz3D.
For several years now, we’ve been working with Intel‘s RealSense team to build the best interactive webcams in the world. Intel’s Developer Kits were actually produced by us, and the Senz3D is the first retail consumer product that we’re bringing to market that utilizes the amazing Intel RealSense technologies.
Basically, we took the good ole’ webcam and future-proofed it for the emerging interactive and virtual reality technologies.
But let’s set the technologies aside for a second and start with the basics. A webcam isn’t going to be much use if the video quality isn’t great, which is why the Sound BlasterX Senz3D features full HD 1080p streaming at 30fps and 720p streaming at 60fps with great video quality.
The Senz3D is Windows Hello and Cortana certified, and is USB 3.0 certified as well.
We then added the Intel RealSense tech into the mix and things got interesting.
With RealSense, the camera can sense depth and be used to control your PC via gestures. This is great for motion-sensing games (which we include in our exclusive software bundle) as well as technologies for streamers and broadcasters. With its depth-sensing capabilities, the camera can eliminate the background behind a user’s head / chair with no green screen required. So if you’re looking for a simple and effective way to deploy “green screen” tech without actually having to set one up in your broadcast space, you’re in the right place.
We currently have integration with X-Split and are working with Intel on integration with the OBS streaming platform as well. OBS support will be deployed in the near future, which means the camera will cover anyone using the two major streaming platform choices.
We’ve also worked with one of the software development partners from the RealSense developer pool to modernize an insanely cool Minecraft plugin that’s exclusive to the Senz3D. This plugin allows you to take an object and scan it to create a Minecraft block object that you can assign properties to.
There are also software features that refine background removal, blurring and other options even further, and there’s even software available from the Intel showcase that allows you to scan objects and convert them into 3D printable models. There's also a pretty massive included library of titles valued at over $190 that we bundle exclusively with the Senz3D camera.
The Senz3D is one product that is just starting to chip away at the massive potential of the Intel RealSense technologies integrated into a state-of-the-art hardware solution.
This got a bit longer than I originally had planned, but if you’ve stuck with me this far, I look forward to reading comments from all of you and answering any questions you might have. Look for the Senz3D and Katana drops coming to Massdrop VERY soon!
Best Regards, Ryan and the Sound BlasterX Team