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Creative Stage review: Crazy-cheap sound bar is good for small TVs, great for desktops

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The Good The Creative Stage offers more features than other budget sound bars, including HDMI and a separate subwoofer. It plays clearly, and the subwoofer sets it apart from "all-in-one" sound. It's perfectly suited to desktop listening and also performs well with rock or dance music. The onboard display makes it easy to tell which input you're on.

The Bad It's not as successful as a TV sound bar due to the physical length restrictions of the cabinet, with little stereo separation. It doesn't play as loud as you might want in a living room environment.

The Bottom Line The Creative Stage sound bar and subwoofer combo sets the standard for a desktop gaming system on a budget and can even work with small TVs.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Sound 7
  • Value 10

Computer speakers = terrible. $80 computer speakers = still pretty terrible. Right?

Creative's excellent 2.1-channel system, the Stage, begs to differ. This stylish sound bar delivers a compelling mix of sound quality and features -- including HDMI and a subwoofer -- at an ultra-affordable price. It achieves something Creative has strived for over the last 20 years: to transcend the PC and enter the living room. 

In other words, it's also great for smaller rooms and TVs if you're on a tight budget. Its sound will trounce the built-in speakers of just about any TV.

That said, it's better as a PC desktop or gaming system than a TV sound bar due to its tiny size. I found it difficult to tell left from right when sitting on the couch, and I only felt the full brunt of the small sub when it was placed at my feet. If you're looking to supplement your TV sound and have the space for it, the Vizio SB3621 is worth the extra money over the Stage.

The stage is set

Sound bars like the excellent Vizio SB362An-F6 have drawn the map for sound bars under $100: it should have Bluetooth, an optical input and an internal subwoofer. 

The Creative Stage not only lights this map on fire but then eats the smoldering map bits. The sound bar includes both a separate subwoofer and an HDMI ARC input.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connections also extend into the obligatory Bluetooth wireless and an optical input, and Creative throws in a USB port for playing MP3s from an external drive. Though it still betrays its desktop roots, the Stage is unlike similar multimedia systems in that it won't act as a USB sound card -- you'll still need to use an auxiliary output from your computer.

This is a very compact system. The sound bar is 21 inches across, but it doesn't look out of place with large screens, due to its likable industrial design. And unlike the inscrutable dots of the Vizio, the Creative has a two-symbol display that makes selecting the input a breeze.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the sound bar the 40-watt subwoofer is small;  at 18 inches tall,  it's the size of slimline desktop PC. At this price you can't expect wireless connectivity and it's tethered by an 8-foot cable that enables the sub to sit at your feet or by the TV.

The system comes with a comprehensive remote control, which includes four sound modes and independent volume of the sub. If you lose the remote, there is a three-button panel on the side of the sound bar. If you tap the power button it changes the input.

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