Creative Stage 360 full review

Creative may not be the first name you’d think of when choosing a soundbar, but the company has a rich history in audio products. That’s mainly on the PC side of things, but it has broadened its horizons with headphones, soundbars and other gadgets.

There are a couple of attractive things about the Stage 360. First, it’s shorter than a lot of soundbars. At 565mm (20in) it will fit where some of its rivals won’t. And if you have a TV stand that’s not the typical wide bench, that could be a real benefit.

Second, it supports Dolby Atmos. That’s not unique of course, but it’s certainly one of the more affordable options if Atmos is one your tick boxes.

That affordability means the separate subwoofer is connected via a wire, not wirelessly, but so long as you can place it somewhere near the soundbar on the floor, it’s not a problem. Even a wireless subwoofer needs a power cable, but the Stage 360 sub is powered by a single cable running from the soundbar.

Features & design

  • For TV and PC use
  • Dolby Atmos
  • 2 HDMI inputs
  • Bluetooth 5

With its black metal grille, some may say the Stage 360 isn’t the most attractive soundbar, but as it’s all black it should blend in below a black-framed TV.

There are buttons on top to power it on and off, adjust the volume and change input, but those are of course replicated on the remote control.

On the front, behind the grille is a basic LED display that shows the input, volume and audio format being played. It can be a bit hard to read depending upon your viewing angle, but fortunately it can be turned off entirely so it isn’t distracting while you’re watching.

Creative Stage 360 review
Not 'Hi' but HDMI 1

It has rubber feet, but you get wedge-shaped feet to slip over these for setups where you’re sat close to the soundbar, such as if you put it below a PC monitor on a desk. They raise the angle slightly so the speakers face you more. Oddly, there’s no 3.5mm input, so you’ll need to use either  HDMI or optical to pipe sound from a PC to the soundbar.

Most people will hook it up to their TV, though, and the selection of inputs is absolutely fine in that scenario. The only possible complaint is that there are only two HDMI 2.0 inputs (and one HDMI ARC output) so you’ll have to use your TV’s inputs if you have more than two devices, besides your TV itself.

Creative Stage 360 review
Amazon Fire TV Stick fits, but USB port won't power it

Thanks to Bluetooth, the soundbar can double as a Bluetooth speaker for streaming music – or any audio – from your phone or tablet.

No batteries are supplied for the remote, so you’ll need to have a pair of AAAs handy, and there’s no HDMI cable in the box either – odd considering there is an optical cable in there.

The remote is fine, but tiny labels on the buttons are a bit too tiny, making it hard to read what they’re for in dim lighting.

Creative Stage 360 review

Setup

  • ARC support
  • Dolby Atmos over HDMI only

Installing the Stage 360 doesn’t take long, but it’s worth unfolding the map-like instructions to see the various wiring diagrams, so you can decide how you’re going to connect it all up.

At its simplest, you’ll have a power cable to the soundbar (the power supply is internal, thankfully), an HDMI cable running to your TV’s ARC port and the wire for the subwoofer plugged in.

If you want Dolby Atmos sound, then you’ll need to use HDMI as it’s not supported over optical.

Depending upon your TV model, your HDMI devices and how they all handle CEC, the situation with remote controls can get confusing.

Theoretically, the soundbar’s remote can control some TV functions, but the Bush TV I tested with proved problematic. It’s not the best example, but the point is, your mileage may vary, and you might end up having to use multiple remote controls.

One frustrating feature is that it takes around 10 seconds to turn on from standby. This seems unnecessary, and becomes more annoying because of the auto-off feature that does what it says when no sound is detected on any input after a few minutes (I didn’t time it). So if you go off, make a cup of tea and return, you’ll find – on the display to indicate it’s gone into standby and it’s then a 10-12 second wait before you can hear sound again.

You can disable auto-off by pressing the power button for 10 seconds when the soundbar is off, though.

Sound quality

The good news is that the Stage 360 sounds fantastic. If you’re currently using the basic, tinny speakers in your TV, you’ll be amazed at the difference.

Even though the subwoofer is fairly small and lightweight, it adds serious low-end punch to effects in movies and the missing bass to everything else, from music to voices.

Creative Stage 360 review

It’s not just the great quality from the Stage 360, it’s also the volume. On those occasions when you want to turn up your TV, the combo will easily fill a mid-sized living room.

Compared to most TVs, the soundbar makes vocals considerably clearer so it’s easier to understand dialogue which, if BBC shows such as Vigil are anything to go by, contain way too many mumbled lines that are made harder to hear by overly loud background sounds or music.

Admittedly, it’s difficult to hear the differences between the various sound modes. Night mode, as you’d expect, reduces bass and increases mid-range frequencies so you can hear what characters are saying at a lower volume to avoid disturbing others in the home.

One of the main reasons you might be considering the Stage 360 is for Dolby Atmos. In short, it’s great. Despite the fact that the soundbar has just two speakers (the racetrack drivers are so called because of their shape), the surround effect is very good.

Creative Stage 360 review

It depends, of course, on what you’re watching, but that’s true of any surround sound. In the relatively small lounge I tested in, the difference between stereo and Atmos was huge. Stereo sounded flat by comparison, while Atmos made helicopters appear to be hovering overhead and gunshots sound from the sides.

In Amazon’s Tomorrow War, when Dan Forester and the crew are sent forward in time, sound appears to come from all around. Similarly, in Ford V Ferrari, the sounds of wind in the exterior shots and rattling and vibrations inside the car as it hurtles around Willow Springs circuit make you feel part of the action.

Getting Dolby Atmos can be tricky, because you’ll need to ensure that your streaming device supports it, and that the streaming service you use supports Atmos both on the title you’re watching and the device you’re watching it on. You can hear Atmos through Netflix on the Amazon Fire TV Cube, for example, but not on the Fire TV Stick 4K.

Fortunately, the Stage 360 will tell you what you’re listening to when you press the Info button on the remote.

Price & availability

Creative Stage 360 review

You can buy a Creative Stage 360 for £199 / US$229 directly from Creative. At the time of writing it wasn’t available anywhere else any cheaper, and searching on Amazon in the UK and US brought up only other Creative soundbars. It’s new, though, so expect to find it at other retailers soon enough.

For alternative recommendations, read our roundup of the best soundbars.

Verdict

If you’re after plenty of bass, you’ll probably want to avoid soundbars that don’t come with a subwoofer. And those that do tend to be fairly pricey.

That’s why the Creative Stage 360 is easy to recommend: it hits a sweet spot in terms of sound quality and price which makes you feel like you’ve spent your money wisely.

Yes, the sub isn’t wireless but it’s a minor compromise at this price. Really, the only major features you’re giving up compared to more expensive rivals are a dedicated centre speaker for even clearer vocals and a built-in digital assistant such as Alexa or Google Assistant.

If those cons don’t bother you, the Stage 360 is a great buy.

Specs

Creative Stage 360: Specs

  • 2.1 soundbar with wired subwoofer (2m tethered cable)
  • 2 x 30W 2.25in x 3.85in racetrack drivers and 1 x 60W long-throw 5.25in sub-woofer
  • 240W peak power
  • Frequency response: 50-20,000Hz
  • Toslink optical digital input
  • 2 x HDMI 2.0 input, 1 x HDMI ARC input/output
  • Internal power supply
  • Soundbar dimensions: 565 x 75 x 88 mm / 22.2 x 2.9 x 3.4 inches
  • Subwoofer dimensions: 115 x 422 x 250 mm / 4.5 x 16.6 x 9.8 inches

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