Creative Labs’ Stage V2 2.1 Sound Bar

The Little Engine That Could

In the past decade or so while TVs have become larger in viewing area, they have become thinner and thinner. While this is a welcomed situation from aesthetic reasons, the lack of depth from the TV cabinet makes it impossible for any speaker to be installed into the unit and yet, sounding half decent at the same time.

The results, in nearly all cases, are bad sound. Bad, from both subjective listening and objective measurements points of view. Tinny sound without body, but at the same time lacking high-frequency crispness. You can completely forget about the bass as they are completely nonexistent.

There is only one fix for this. You need to get an external sound system which either means you need a receiver and at least a pair of speakers, or a sound bar. Either way, it’s an added expense as from my personal experience I have not yet found any solution below $200 (in Canada) that is at least acceptable to my ears. I’m not saying the sound bar solution under $200 CA does not exist however they just don’t sound acceptable enough for me to use.

Back in January I asked Creative Labs to send me a Stage V2 (this is the version with wired subwoofer and a wider sound bar — when compared to the original Stage) for me to review and I received the set a couple of weeks later.

As it turns out, this is a very compact system. The sound bar is 27 inches across — which makes it visually compatible with any TV screen or even a PC setup —, but it doesn’t look out of place with large screens, due to its slim and likeable industrial design. The Creative has a two-symbol display that makes selecting the input a very simple task. The subwoofer is also very slim and tiny. Like the sound bar, the 40-watt subwoofer is small; at 17 inches tall, it reminds me of a slim line desktop PC. At this price, expecting a wireless connectivity is outrageous thus the choice of Creative Labs in using wired subwoofer instead. The sub is then tethered by an 8-foot cable that enables the sub to sit at your feet (in a desktop PC environment) or by the TV.

The system comes with a detailed and comprehensive remote control, which includes four sound modes, an independent volume of the sub, and a plethora of other functions. If you lose the remote, there is a three-button panel on the side of the sound bar. When I tap the power button, it changes the input. Essentially, although not to the most detailed controls, you can still use the Stage V2 without its factory remote.

One of the things that makes this product so cool is that it features both Clear Dialogue and Surround technology, powered by Sound Blaster, which as we know is Creative‘s renowned 30-year audio technology and have been copied in a way or another by multitudes of other brands. These features bring some of the best of Sound Blaster to the living room.

Surround is exactly what you’d expect, an immersive audio experience that widens the sound stage to make it sound more like a theatre/full surround sound system. Of course, this will not replace a true surround set up but considering how close the left and right speakers are located with each other, the Surround mode gives a much wider soundstage effect of the sound I listened to. This works nicely with both music and movies piped through the speakers. Not to be forgotten, the subwoofer (I would classify it more as a bass module) adds depth as most of the Midbass frequency range is covered by this unit down to approximately 50 Hz range. Again, this is not to replace a full fledged sound system, but nevertheless as huge improvements over most TV built-in sound systems that usually only go down to 100 Hz or sometimes even as bad as 200 Hz.
As a result, both music and movie intelligibility improved quite dramatically. You’ll wonder how anybody “survived” with built-in TV sound system. At least with the Stage V2, I can appreciate the new Equalizer TV series and feel more of the creepiness of Prodigal Son. Of course, the better the sound mastering of the show will yield better improvements, for example Disney+ Mandalorian and Netflix 6 Underground that were mastered as good as a streaming service can be.

Music video playback from YouTube Vevo Channel and Leap Frog Studios respectively sounded like… songs. I can actually enjoy their respective presentations a lot more thanks to the Surround setting that made the sound a whole lot more than the TV’s own near-mono and no-bass sound signature.

These tests were done not only on my entry level Sony 55X900H TV but also on top of the line Panasonic 65HZ2000 which sound although leaps and bounds better than the Sony in every way, still lacking the oomph produced by the Stage V2 wired subwoofer.

The other feature I use a lot is Clear Dialogue, which extracts the vocals and spoken words through an algorithm, then intelligently enhances and amplifies them, allowing you to clearly hear through music or other sound effects. This has no effect on the ambient sounds, but only helps you to better hear dialogues, or in my case, listening to the news and documentaries about Ancient Aliens and Oak Island.

The only “negative” side is that you can’t combine both Surround and Clear Dialogue at the same, which is understandable as there is only so much a DSP can do, especially at this extremely low price range

From playing with the set for nearly a month on two TVs and also using it as a sound system for my PC, I unequivocally came to a verdict that literally anybody who are currently using a TV without any sound bar (perhaps with one or two exceptions out there) should buy the Creative Stage V2 at the very least. The sub $150 CA price from Dell.ca, Costco.ca, with other retailers coming soon, is nothing compared to the additional enjoyment you’ll get from this unit. I definitely am keeping the Stage V2 for my Sony 55X900H viewing due to its price and its increase in sonic fidelity added to my TV.

https://us.creative.com/p/speakers/creative-stage-v2