Ameya DalviDec 21, 2020 15:27:21 IST
Price: Rs 9,999
Earlier this month, we reviewed Realme’s budget soundbar, and we now have one from the popular PC audio brand, Creative. One striking aspect about the Creative Stage series of soundbars is their noticeably smaller size. While the V2 isn’t as small as its predecessor, it is still among the most compact soundbars currently on the market. The company may have knocked off a few inches from its length, but hasn’t cut corners when it comes to connectivity options and features. Time to set the stage for a closer inspection.
Creative Stage V2 Soundbar: Design (8/10)
The Creative Stage V2 measures just 68 cm in width; that’s almost a foot shorter than most soundbars. It may not look out of place even under a 24-inch monitor, let alone a larger TV. The bar has an all-black body with a metal grille up front with the company logo on the left. The construction is sturdy and leaves little scope for complaint. You also get a wired subwoofer with a 5.25-inch driver. Just as in the case of the Realme and Zebronics soundbars, the subwoofer unit is quite slim, and measures less than 12 cm in width. The cables are of decent length, and the soundbar can be wall-mounted with a pair of screws.
All the input ports are placed at the back of the soundbar, but they don’t face the wall. Instead, they face sideways, making it a lot easier to connect the necessary cables to the ports. The power button along with volume control keys and the Bluetooth button are placed on the right side of the soundbar. There is a tiny white 7-segment LED display at the centre that is always a handy inclusion. It displays the input mode as well as volume/bass/treble levels among other things; something that was absent on the Realme soundbar. A full-function wireless remote control is also bundled in the package.
Creative Stage V2 Soundbar: Specifications and Features (8/10)
There are plenty of connectivity options on the Stage V2, and nothing important has been omitted. You get Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5 mm Aux in, Optical in, USB and my favourite, HDMI ARC. Interestingly, the USB port on the bar is of type-C variety, and not the standard USB-A. The company does bundle a type-C to USB-A cable, but the latter is a male connector, meaning you cannot plug a pendrive into it. The cable should have ideally had a USB-A female connector. You will need to buy one separately if you plan to play music from a USB drive.
The soundbar has a pair of 2.25-inch drivers to take care of high and mid-range frequencies. They can deliver a combined output of 40W RMS, while the 5.25-inch subwoofer adds another 40W RMS of power, thus taking the total rated output power of the system to 80W RMS. The company claims a peak power figure of 160 Watts; I am not sure what to make of it. The rated frequency response ranges between 55 Hz to 20 KHz, with SNR >= 75 dB.
Unfortunately, this soundbar isn’t Dolby-certified, something I was hoping for given its near 10K price tag. Bundled with the Creative Stage V2 is a smart-looking full function wireless IR remote control, which is well-built and looks different from what you get with most soundbars. It has controls for volume, bass, treble, keys for surround and dialog enhancement, and buttons for input selection and audio playback. There’s a power and mute button too. So everything you need is available here. Do take good care of the remote, as most of the functions aren’t accessible without it.
Creative Stage V2 Soundbar: Performance (7/10)
I tried playing different content types through Aux, Bluetooth and HDMI inputs to test the soundbar. The sound quality isn’t drastically different on either of the inputs, but slightly better when using HDMI. However, you need to set the bass and treble differently for different inputs for best results. When in Bluetooth mode, the master volume of this soundbar does not sync with the Bluetooth volume of the source device, so you have to adjust both volumes separately. This is something I don’t like.
Moving on to the sound quality, it is pretty solid as you would expect from Creative, but not spectacular nor one that raises the bar in this segment. The sound signature is noticeably bass-heavy, but thankfully you have bass and treble adjustments that make a noticeable difference to the sound output. You also have ‘Surround’ and ‘Dialog’ switches to either enhance the soundstage or improve the vocal clarity respectively, courtesy of Creative’s Sound Blaster technology.
I would avoid using the former when listening to music as it distorts the sound a lot. Switching on the ‘Dialog’ mode in bass-heavy tracks often brings better balance to the sound. It is quite handy when watching dialogue-heavy content too. The ‘Surround’ option does work well in certain movie sequences, but not all. Unfortunately, there is no one-shoe-fits-all solution here, and you have to constantly tinker with the sound settings to suit your taste.
The soundbar can get reasonably loud for a mid-sized room between the 60 percent to 75 percent volume level. Only in a handful of movies did I need to push it beyond 75 percent. Though the sound output puts extra emphasis on the low-end frequencies, the highs are pretty decent, and there is a good amount of clarity in the vocals too, especially with ‘Dialog’ mode on. The instrument separation is average at best in tracks that have a medley of instruments. When watching web series or movies, it enhances the audio experience way beyond what your TV speakers can deliver. But don’t expect it to pick and reproduce every finer detail in sound accurately. It is still a budget soundbar, after all.
Creative Stage V2 Soundbar: Price, alternatives and verdict
The Creative Stage V2 has been launched at an introductory price of Rs 9,999 with a one year warranty. The price may go up to Rs 17,999 later, something I would strongly advise against. Even at Rs 9,999, the competition is quite stiff. The Zebronics Zeb-Jukebar 4000 is one option that matches this Creative bar in terms of a variety of inputs and performance, and it sells for a good 40% lower. Of course, the Stage V2 has a better design and a few more sound tricks up its sleeve to somewhat justify its higher price tag.
The other alternative among those we have reviewed is the Blaupunkt SBW-01, that not only sounds a tad better but is also Dolby-certified. What’s more, it sells for a couple of thousand lower, when available. You also have options from Samsung and Philips nipping at its heels inside the 10K bracket. Last but not the least, let’s not forget its predecessor – the Creative Stage – that offers most of its features, barring the claimed Sound Blaster enhancements at a good Rs 2,500 to 3,000 lower. As long as its price remains under the psychological 10K mark, the Creative Stage V2 is a good option in the segment. Anything higher and I wouldn’t recommend it.