Creative Stage Air Review: Cheap and Cheerful Computer Soundbar

Rating: 7/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $40
Creative Stage Air Soundbar
Creative

Part mini soundbar, part portable Bluetooth speaker, the Creative Stage Air is a somewhat unusual amalgamation of familiar features. At a budget price, you shouldn’t expect perfection by any means, but it’s easy to forgive a device that’s only going to set you back $40. Here’s how we got on with this cute looking soundbar.

Here's What We Like

  • It's cheap
  • Easy to use
  • Low-profile size

And What We Don't

  • Sound quality could be better
  • A bit big for a portable Bluetooth speaker
  • A bit small for a soundbar

Small Yet Mighty?

Designed to live under your monitor, the Creative Stage Air is really lightweight—it only weighs two pounds, and you can easily carry it around with one hand. The thinking behind it is that it’s a social device too. You can easily take it with you to a friend’s house for instance, or you could take it to a party thanks to its built-in battery.

The sound output isn’t quite significant enough for a big gathering, but if you just want a little extra oomph when watching or listening with friends, it’s quite appealing. And for it’s intended purpose—improving the speaker experience while using your laptop or desktop computer—it puts on a good show.

Creative Stage Air
It’s not much longer than a 13″ MacBook Pro Jennifer Allen

For the price, you don’t get much in the box. There’s the soundbar itself which measures a mere 16 x 3 x 2.75 inches, along with a micro-USB and 3.5mm cable. Both of these are only a little over half a foot long so expect to buy longer cables separately if you want to do anything more advanced than just slot it under your PC monitor, such as place it under your TV.

It’s predominantly plastic with a glossy finish and matte sides. It won’t set the world alight with its looks, but it’s subtle and easily blends in with your other devices. There’s a metal grill that covers two dynamic drivers, along with an oversized passive radiator. Predictably, the glossy finish loves to collect fingerprints but hey, what tech doesn’t?

Creative Stage Air side buttons
Jennifer Allen

On one side are four rubberized buttons. Expect to need to look closely at what each does as the descriptions are a little awkward to spot, plus it loves to attract dust. One is power, along with Bluetooth connectivity, and volume controls. It’d be nice if the buttons were a little easier to distinguish from each other, but when it came to volume control, I mostly stuck with using whichever device I had it hooked up to. It’s one of those things that would feel like a bigger issue if the Creative Stage Air costs more than it does.

Connectivity Options: Not Too Shabby

Creative Stage Air
Did we mention that it loves to suck up dust? Jennifer Allen

The Creative Stage Air has three physical inputs. There’s USB-A for plugging in a flash drive for instant playback. This is one of those things that seems useful but is fairly limited. When you plug in a USB drive it just starts playing all the files in the order in which they appear on the flash drive—there’s no ability to skip, go back, or control the music playback with a companion app or anything. While you can’t expect much from a device with no screen, some basic button-based functionality would be nice. Still, if you just want to dump a giant pile of music on a flash drive and leave it to play without worrying about somebody staying in Bluetooth range, it’s useful.

Additionally, there’s the 3.5mm input which comes with that very short cable but is useful for hooking up a multitude of things (even more so if you buy a longer cable). Then there’s the micro-USB socket that’s there to charge the battery. The battery capacity is 2200mAh, so you’re good to go for a while with Creative reckoning a maximum battery life of about 6 hours. Expect that to drop to about 4 hours if you turn up the volume.

As anything with the word Air in the title suggests, the Creative Stage Air also works via Bluetooth. It’s fairly standard and reassuringly straightforward. Hooking it up to my phone took seconds, and there’s always the option of connecting it to your computer this way too. The downside for some here is that it’s Bluetooth 4.2 and only works with the SBC audio codec which isn’t the best of codecs, but it’s not something that most users will notice. Basically, if you know what any of that means, you’re probably already intent on spending a lot more on your speakers than the price of this one.

Middling Sounds

Creative Stage Air
Jennifer Allen

Given the size and price tag attached to the Creative Stage Air, it’s not going to set your ears on fire. It has dual 5W drivers inside, so the output isn’t loud, but it does the job when up close. It’s quite bass-heavy to listen to, but the passive radiator helps somewhat to make lower notes more noticeable.

Don’t expect great trebles or strong clarity though. This isn’t a speaker for listening out for the more subtle nuances of a track. I tested it out on a friend’s homegrown album, and it failed to extract the quieter moments particularly well. However, for anything loud and easy like an expertly recorded pop or rock track, it does the job well enough. It’s another moment where you appreciate the price and let it go.

Unlike other speakers and headphones, there aren’t any options to tweak or adjust, but then again, this was never going to be an audiophile’s first choice.

Daily Use: Steady Going

Creative Stage Air and cables
Yup, those bundled cables are short. Jennifer Allen

The Creative Stage Air isn’t going to be the kind of device you buy to show off your audio prowess, but that doesn’t make it a bad investment for those on a budget. On a daily basis, I found it was quite respectable for those times that I wanted to stream music via my laptop or iPhone quickly. Occasional tests on my TV reminded me that my fully grown Sony soundbar was a better option, but it also costs three times the amount of the Creative Stage Air and comes with its own subwoofer.

Instead, the Creative Stage Air works best at close range. Sitting in front of your desktop or laptop is where it’s strongest, which may explain those super short cables. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate being able to use it as a portable Bluetooth speaker when moving around the house. In the summer, I can see it being useful when I want to listen to music in the garden even though it’s a little big for a regular portable Bluetooth speaker.

Offering A Little Of Everything

The Creative Stage Air is a tricky one to define. In an ideal world, it’s too big for a regular portable Bluetooth speaker and not quite rugged enough, but it’s fine for taking into your garden or somewhere where it can’t get easily damaged. In an ideal world, it’d be a more powerful soundbar, but it has a price tag that makes it less than many pairs of headphones currently cost.

It’s an uneasy middle ground between the conventional soundbar and portable Bluetooth speaker, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile for certain users. If you need an extra speaker to boost the sound quality of an old or small TV, this is ideal. Similarly, if you’re no expert when it comes to sound and you’re on a tight budget, this will easily enrich your desktop or laptop experience.

The Creative Stage Air is almost the perfect example of “you get what you pay for,”  but it’s a little better than that. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pick one up. Unless that is, you can afford something better.

Rating: 7/10
Price: $40

Here’s What We Like

  • It's cheap
  • Easy to use
  • Low-profile size

And What We Don't

  • Sound quality could be better
  • A bit big for a portable Bluetooth speaker
  • A bit small for a soundbar

Jennifer Allen Jennifer Allen
Jennifer is a freelance writer for ReviewGeek. In the past decade, she's also written for Wareable, TechRadar, Mashable, Eurogamer, Gamasutra, Playboy, and PCWorld. Read Full Bio »

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