The Creative Stage V2 is a masterclass in doing more with less. It’s less than 30 inches wide so doesn’t naturally suit large TVs, it only has two drivers in the main soundbar unit and it lacks tricks like voice controls and Dolby Atmos — but despite all this, it starts to impress almost as soon as it comes out of the box.
Speakers: 2 x full range drivers, 1 x subwoofer
Ports: 3.5mm aux in, optical in, USB-C in, HDMI ARC, sub out
Size: 3 x 26.8 x 3.9 inches (soundbar), 6.7 x 4.6 x 9.8 inches (subwoofer)
Weight: 4.4 pounds (soundbar), 7.3 pounds (subwoofer)
What’s more, there’s a reason for the lack of features: it’s cheap. In fact, at $109, it’s one of the best cheap soundbars you can buy, especially when unlike most sub-$150 models, it comes with its own dedicated subwoofer. To find out how this and other qualities make for one of the biggest bargains in home audio, read on for our full Creative Stage V2 review.
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Some extra credit is due to the Creative Stage V2 too, as it's won big in the Tom's Guide Awards 2021 Audio categories: it's the overall winner of our Best soundbar award. Congrats to Creative, and be sure to check out the main Tom's Guide Awards 2021 hub for the rest of the categories and winners.
Creative Stage V2 review: Price and availability
The Creative Stage V2 costs $109. While that’s a few bills more than truly entry-level soundbars like the Vizio SB3820-C6 or LG SK1, it’s still not much at all for a soundbar and subwoofer combo package.
You can buy the Stage V2 from Creative directly, as well as from Amazon or Micro Center.
Creative Stage V2 review: Design
Happily, the Stage V2 neither looks nor feels as cheap as it is. Other than some slightly chunky plastic around the rear ports, it’s nice and sleek, with a glossy finish on top and a firm, finely-crafted metal grille on the front. The shiny plastic seems prone to attracting dust, or at least making it more visible, but otherwise Creative has done well on aesthetics and build quality. The way the soundbar tapers slightly towards the back is a particular improvement on the original Creative Stage.
Inside the soundbar are just two drivers, half that of the $129 Roku Streambar, but the unusually svelte subwoofer is on hand to deliver some extra power. Combined, power output peaks at 160W, which is nearly 100W more than the Streambar.
A handy set of volume, power and Bluetooth pairing controls sit flush with the right edge, though you can also use the included remote. You’ll need the latter to switch between sources, of which there are potentially many: HDMI ARC, optical and 3.5mm ports are all tucked away on the rear, and there’s even a USB-C input so you can use the Stage V2 with PCs and laptops.
Between these ports and Bluetooth functionality, the Stage V2 serves up a commendable variety of connections. HDMI ARC is particularly useful if you want to connect another device, like a games console or Blu-ray player, without the clutter of several additional cables.
At 3 inches tall, the Stage V2 keeps a decently low profile, though it does come with built-in hooks for wall hanging as well. A two-digit, seven-segment display behind the grille also helpfully keeps track of volume and playback mode changes without being overly distracting when you’re trying to watch TV.
Creative Stage V2 review: Setup
In the absence of any satellite speakers or wireless amplifiers, setting up the Stage V2 is easy enough for any home theater newcomer. As long as you remember to plug in the subwoofer to the rear of the soundbar, just connecting your TV via an HDMI or optical cable is all you need to get started.
Bluetooth pairing is simple, too: both the soundbar and the remote have buttons that activate pairing mode, from which you only need to find and connect your source device through its respective Bluetooth menu.
One thing that isn’t wireless in any way is the subwoofer, and the cable it uses to connect to the soundbar is pretty short. As such it can’t be placed very far away from your TV, which might disappoint if you were hoping to keep it next to your sofa or favorite chair. Still, the subwoofer’s slimness could help it fit on top of TV stands and inside AV cabinets.
The IR remote is straightforward as well. It’s a bit odd that three buttons share the job of switching between five potential sources, but then you’d only ever want to use one at a time anyway.
The Stage V2’s remote can also switch the soundbar between its Surround and Dialog sound profiles, and lets you choose between accentuating the bass or treble.
Creative Stage V2 review: Sound quality
Admittedly, the Stage V2’s 160W peak power output doesn’t actually translate into the kind of sonic force that shakes pictures off the wall and rattles loose your fillings. Nonetheless, together the soundbar and subwoofer still provide a punchier, fuller sound than most TV speakers.
The subwoofer tangibly delivers the rumble, and it’s not a flabby, unrefined kind of bass. It’s tight and composed, which enhances the kinetics of a big fight scene or dramatic score without overpowering the rest of the frequency range
In direct contrast to the LG SK1, which struggles with keeping dialog clear, the Stage V2 handles speech with ease. It doesn’t strictly need the Dialog setting, but flicking this on brings conversations even closer to the forefront with minimal adverse effects.
Still, the Surround mode is more compelling. The name is a little ambitious — the soundstage is nice and wide in spite of the Stage V2’s modest size, but it’s not eveloping enough to pass for digital surround sound. Even so, this particular setting makes everything sound bigger, bassier and more exciting. What you lose in high-frequency sparkle is gained in a richness that’s usually alien to such affordable soundbars — a quality that elevated the shootouts in Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 and made the production-added crowd noise in soccer games a little more believable.
In comparison to switching between Surround and Dialog modes, tapping the remote’s Bass and Treble button produces more subtle changes. Selecting Treble creates a slightly cleaner sound, but Bass will get you closer to the cinema sound you’d likely want from a soundbar and subwoofer — if only modestly. I also preferred Bass mode for music playback, as it added a little extra energy without spilling over into distracting boominess.
The closest thing to a fault here is that the Stage V2’s sound isn’t quite as detailed as that of premium soundbars. Even so, that’s not a surprise, and is vastly outweighed by the various ways in which this combo punches above its weight.
Creative Stage V2 review: Verdict
Some low-cost soundbars are worth buying specifically because they’re cheap, or because they can fill a certain niche; the LG SK1, for example, is well-suited to small TVs for which larger and more expensive soundbars would be overkill.
The Creative Stage V2 is different. It’s affordable, but also a very good soundbar in its own right, with strong performance and extensive connectivity. By all means, spend more if you want features like Dolby Atmos, or perhaps the ability to add wireless speakers for true surround sound. But on sheer value, the Stage V2 might just be one of the best soundbars around right now.
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