Soundbars are the fast, easy and affordable way to add better sound to a TV. And each year, new soundbars come along that offer ever more value for the money. But when it comes to pure bang-for-the-buck, the new Creative Stage V2 is a next-level offering that has features you’d never expect to find in a $109.99 (MSRP) soundbar system, like HDMI ARC support plus USB-C connectivity for PC and gaming console support.

Features and Specifications

In addition to HDMI ARC and USB-C, this Soundbar has optical digital input as well as 3.5 mm analog stereo AUX-in. The soundbar also supports Bluetooth 5.0, for wireless connections to a wide variety of sources.

This Creative soundbar is a 2.1 system consisting of the soundbar and a slim tethered sub, plus an IR remote. It also ships with a USB cable and a 3.5mm analog AUX cable that are great for connecting a PC or game console, but you’ll have to supply an HDMI or optical-digital cable for connecting to a TV. The soundbar features a pair of 2.25” full-range drivers (20 W of power each) and the sub uses a 5.25” woofer (with a 40 W amp). Physical dimensions are 26.8 x 3.07 x 3.94 inches for the main soundbar and 16.7 x 4.6 x 9.84 inches for the sub.

One very thoughtful feature of this sub, especially in its price, is the display embedded behind the grill, shows you the selected input and also gives you visual feedback when adjusting settings such as bass and treble or volume.

The Stage V2 sports a design that’s equally at home resting on a TV stand, or hanging on a wall. Mounting key holes are integrated into the chassis, so you just need up couple of anchored screws to hang it. According to creative, this system achieves a frequency response of 55 Hz to 20 kHz.

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Creative Labs Stage V2 2.1 soundbar system.

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Setup and Hands-On

Setting up this Soundbar is as simple as it gets. You place it underneath the TV, plugged into the wall, connect with HDMI or optical digital (with a 2.1 system it will not make any difference which you choose), find a good nearby spot for the tethered subwoofer (the connection cable is 2m long) and power it up. If you are using it with a PC or console and a monitor, instead of with a TV, you can opt for the USB-C connection.

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The Stage V2 and its subwoofer both fit on my TV stand

Speaking of the subwoofer, it is so slender and compact that I found a new place to put it, that I’ve never considered before. On the TV stand! That’s right, there’s no rule that says the sub needs to be on the floor. What’s more, I found that I could fit it behind the TV, which is a bit of a revelation to me, because it that’s usually unused space, and it makes the subwoofer effectively invisible (it fully hides the tether cord). So, while the fact is that a “wired” sub limits placement options, the form factor of this sub opens up new possibilities.

Using the included remote, choose a live input and you will start hearing clear sound right away, and if you want to add Bluetooth to the mix, the dedicated button on the remote lets you start pairing mode by just holding it down for a few seconds, until a blue LED on the soundbar’s front panel begins to flash. And, much to my surprise, if you start playback from your phone, the soundbar remote offers control over playback, including pause and tack skipping, so you can put your phone down and relax.

For my tests, I used ARC with a TV (a Sony A90J), USB to a PlayStation 4 Pro, and Bluetooth with my Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. I also confirmed there was no issue using optical-digital as a connection, and I tried out the 3.5mm analog AUX jack by using a Echo Dot as the source, which is an easy way to add “smart” functionality to this soundbar.

Now, given the price and the specs, you might not expect much from the Stage V2 in terms of the sound. If so, you’d be mistaken. The key is in the tuning and audio processing, which is a Creative Labs forte. This soundbar sounds good, and it can even deliver virtualized surround-sound from its two drivers that works quite well, expanding the soundfield significantly.

It's important to not expect miracles from the sub in this system, but what I found is it keeps up with the music and never, ever sounds bloated or boomy. It’s not the loudest sub. But, it does not try to be more than it is, which is to say you won’t catch this sub distorting or chuffing. But, with a 55 Hz bass spec, it’s also not going to have the same “rumble” you’ll get from larger, more powerful soundbar subs. It is more of a mid/bass module than a sub, and the tuning reflects this… the frequency range covered by the Stage V2 reminds me of how good bookshelf speakers sound. And here’s the big surprise, the tonal balance also reminds me of good bookshelf speakers.

Of course, considering the compact size, there are inherent limitations to this Soundbar system that are worth mentioning, namely bass extension and output levels. But within its operating range, the tuning is such that you get the clear sound that is the usual motivation to upgrade to a soundbar in the first place.

The most important quality an entry-level (or really, any) soundbar can possess is clarity, because that translates to easily understood vocals. And if there’s one thing that motivates most people to upgrade their TV sound with a soundbar, it is so they can hear dialog more clearly. The Creative Stage V2 offers very clear, legible sound that lets you easily hear dialog. And if you still have issues, the Clear Dialog function, which utilizes an algorithm to extract, enhance and amplify spoken word, gets a dedicated button on the remote.


Listening

The biggest surprise with the Creative Stage V2 is how nicely it handles music. It sounds as good or better than smart speakers costing several times more. The first album I played through it is 1995 by Kruger and Dorf Meister, the 2020 release of what would’ve been their first album back in the day, but that never saw the light of day until last year. The smooth rhythms and the catchy beats came across with delicate nuance, the bass tight and well balanced. I was even surprised to discover that the surround mode is not overbearing, and worked well with music to provide an expanded soundstage without notably altering the tonality of the music, which some virtual surround processing has a tendency to do.

The clarity and good tonality of this soundbar lent itself well to all genres, and with the clarity it delivers in vocals, it makes a lot of songs sound really good.

For gaming, I relied on my eternal go-to, the world of GTA Online. Here, I found that the surround experience does not quite deliver full envelopment, but it does render a detailed front stage that makes localizing the direction of sound effects easier than when surround processing is turned off. It’s certainly superior to built-in TV sound, or using desktop PC speakers of a similar price.

Movies showed the Stage V2 is up to handling even complex mixes with many layers, where dialog can get buried. I used it to watch scenes from recent releases like Zack Snyder’s Justice League and Godzilla vs. Kong. Now, if you are used to systems that feature full-range sound with a subwoofer that reaches deep bass frequencies, you’ll likely notice that movie sound is not as visceral. But you still get tight bass that helps deliver a realistic listening experience. And here, again, you get that crucial quality of clear dialog.

Most of my TV watching is sports oriented, and in particular the Philadelphia 76ers. Here, the soundbar excels with its crisp vocal clarity. The announcers voice is front and center, with sounds from the court as well as well as the stands filling in the background. Even at lower volume (during the later West Coast games) it was relaxingly easy to hear every word, not just the play calling but also the floor interviews that can sometimes be a bit less intelligible. This Soundbar is absolutely a great choice for sports fans.

PC users, including gamers, will appreciate how the Stage V2’s USB-C connection turns it into an audio playback device that is recognized by the system. Although Creative has other soundbars explicitly aimed at PCs and desktop use, it’s a task this soundbar handles well and is explicitly equipped to handle.


Conclusion

The Stage V2 sounds so good, I can’t think on any way to get better sound from a self-contained system at its $110 selling price (aside from headphones). Just give it a listen, it will absolutely surprise you with what’s possible in such a small, flexible, easy to use and affordable soundbar package. It is easy to recommend and gets a Top Choice designation for an affordable soundbar system. Indeed, it is the best value I have found at this price, dollar for dollar, considering the sound quality and features you get.