Creative Stage 360 Soundbar Review: A Dolby Atmos Bargain

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Soundbars come in all shapes, sizes, and prices these days – from £60 sticks with tiny speakers, to heavy £1,000+ bars full of tweeters and woofers and advanced technologies.

The new Creative Stage 360 sits comfortably in the middle: its size is somewhat compact, it delivers impressive, booming sound, and it supports Dolby Atmos – which is often seen as the holy grail of home theatre audio these days, especially for effects-heavy films. And all that for a relatively affordable price.

Naturally, it’s not all perfect – quiet talk-heavy scenes suffer a bit, the HDMI/input control is a bit finicky, and there’s only so much power you can get from a 565mm-wide soundbar.

Still, at this price – you’re getting a lot. Let’s take a closer look…

Creative Stage 360 soundbar

Quick Look – Creative Stage 360

What is it:  A 2.1 compact soundbar (with a separate subwoofer), with Dolby Atmos support and 2 HDMI-In ports

Features

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Audio Quality

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Value for Money

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Overall

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • Powerful, room-filling sound with excellent bass
  • Dolby Atmos makes a real difference (IF your content supports it)
  • A lot of connectivity options
  • Bluetooth support for casting music from your mobile

Cons

  • Speech gets swallowed a bit in lower volumes
  • Setup and input switching can get confusing
  • Audible “electrical” hissing sound (if you’re close to it)

Features and Specs

  • Size: 565 x 88 x 75 mm / Subwoofer: 115 x 250 x 422 mm
  • Weight: 1.7kg / Subwoofer: 3.4kg
  • Drivers: 2 Custom Tuned 3.85′ x 2.25′ Racetrack Drivers / Subwoofer: 5.25″ High Excursion Driver
  • Power: 60W RMS / Subwoofer: 60W RMS / Total: Up to 120W RMS (Peak 240W)
  • Audio Formats: Up to Dolby Atmos
  • Ports: HDMI-out 2.0 (ARC), Two HDMI-In (2.0), Optical-in, Subwoofer-out, AC-in, USB (Only for software updates)
  • Wireless: Bluetooth
  • Extra Features: Remote control / Four audio modes: Music, Night, Wide, Movies / Two distance modes: Far-field, Near-field

Summary

Soundbars that support Dolby Atmos are usually quite expensive. This one gives powerful, expansive sound at an affordable price (though not exactly cheap), and almost turns your living room into a movie theatre – when you’re watching supported films. It’s not as precise and effective for low-key, talk-heavy programmes, though.


Who is the Creative Stage 360 For?

Long time computer nerds will be quite familiar with Creative (formerly known as Creative Labs), as they’ve been in the audio business since 1989. As someone who had the original Sound Blaster more than 30 years ago, I have a soft spot in my heart for them.

And indeed, Creative is still around today, and still focusing mostly on audio products, such as sound cards, headphones and speakers.

Soundbars have become quite popular in recent years. With tellies being so flat, their built-in speakers are usually tiny.

So while some prefer to hang multiples speakers around the room for a true surround-sound experience – a soundbar is a much more elegant solution, as you get one wide “bar” (and sometimes an additional subwoofer for the bass) that’s supposed to replace that cumbersome multi-speaker setup.

Keep in mind that despite the technology for soundbars getting more and more advanced, and despite some marketing promises, I’m yet to see a soundbar that can actually mimic surround sound. Some do a good job of “throwing” the sound to different areas of your room, but it will never be as good as a speaker that’s actually, physically, located behind you or above you.

That being said, Creative did a really good job with the Creative Stage 360. The sound really fills the room (so sort of feels like it’s all around you), the bass is impressive, coming from a relatively slim subwoofer, and you truly can hear a difference when you watch content that supports Dolby Atmos.

Creative Stage 360 under TV

So if you’re looking for something that will make effects-heavy movie spectacles “explode” in your room, this is a good choice – at an affordable price (at least compared to many other Dolby Atmos soundbars).

It’s also a great choice for gaming consoles – you can connect them either via the Optical-In port, or – for newer models (PS5 and XBOX Series S/X) – directly via the HDMI-In port.

It’s not the “ultimate” soundbar – it can’t be, at this price level – but it’s certainly a few steps up from some of the cheaper ones you can get (including from Creative themselves).

And finally, because it’s rather compact, it can be a good fit as a desktop soundbar (for your computer), and not just for a TV. That being said, there’s no USB (or 3.5mm) connectivity – so you’ll need to make sure your computer has an HDMI-out port for the sound.

Setting Up the Stage 360

Depending on how many devices you have connected to your TV – setting up is easy, but can get a bit confusing if you don’t plan ahead.

Creative Stage 360 In the Box

In the box, you get the soundbar and the subwoofer, an IR remote control, two plastic “legs” you can use to prop up the soundbar at an angle, a power cable, and an Optical cable.

Curiously, it doesn’t come with an HDMI cable. So sure, many of us have extra HDMI cables hidden in drawers – but giving you everything you need for the initial setup would have been nice.

There are four physical buttons on the soundbar itself – Power on/off, Volume up and down, and a Source select button.

The ports on the back are pretty straightforward:

Creative Stage 360 back ports

The HDMI-Out port is used to connect the Stage 360 to your TV. It supports ARC, so you can control some TV functions via the soundbar’s remote. And since ARC is a two-way pipe, this port will also be used to transfer audio from your TV to the soundbar.

But this is where things get a bit complicated – as some TVs do funny stuff with how they handle audio over HDMI. For those problematic cases, there’s also an Optical-In port, so you have another way to transfer audio from your TV TO the soundbar.

Then, there are two HDMI-In ports. These are quite useful for making the soundbar the centre of your home entertainment setup.

So let’s say you have a Freeview recorder and a streaming device like the Amazon Fire TV 4K Stick. You can connect both of these directly to the Stage 360, without going through your TV.

You will then use the soundbar’s remote to switch between the two – not just for the audio, but for what you’re seeing on your TV as well.

This is quite convenient , up to a point – many of us have more than two HDMI devices these days, so if you you have, in addition, a gaming console, or a Blu-ray player, or something else – you would need to switch between using the Stage 360 remote and the TV remote, to switch inputs on both the soundbar AND on your TV.

Finally, there’s also a USB port on the back of the Stage 360 – but unfortunately, it’s only used for system updates. It would have been good to at least be able to use it as a power source (for streaming sticks, for example) – but alas, that’s not the case.

Using the Stage 360

When you first turn the Stage 360 on, you’ll see the LCD display that’s hidden in the front, behind the grill. It shows status messages, sound modes, volume levels etc. and is quite useful.

The Stage 360 takes about 10 seconds to go from standby mode to ON. Where it gets annoying, is that the Stage 360 turns itself off automatically after some time (when there’s no sound detected). So you’ll find yourself having to turn it back on quite often – having to wait those 10 seconds each time you want to watch (and hear) something.

Thankfully, there’s a somewhat hidden option to turn that auto-off feature off, by pressing the “Source” button for 8 seconds, until ‘EOFF’ shows up on the internal display.

The Stage 360 remote has a nice look to it, and is fairly straightforward:

Creative Stage 360 remote

The remote lets you switch between that various input ports (so HDMI 1 and 2, and the TV and Optical), plus the Bluetooth connection (which you can use to stream music directly to the soundbar – from Spotify, for example).

The remote also lets you control the volume, the bass level, and the various modes – Music, Night, Wide and Movies.

As is often the case with these types of sound modes, the differences aren’t huge – Night mode mainly turns the bass down a bit so things aren’t as loud when you don’t want to wake people up, and the others are pretty self-explanatory.

The Far-field and Near-field options let you change the soundscape according to the room you’re in – and how far you’re sitting away from the soundbar. Creative recommends using Near when you’re sitting less than 1 meter from the soundbar (so mostly for using it on a desk, with a PC, for example), and Far when you’re, well, far (more than 1 meter).

Your mileage may vary – while I sit at about 1.5m from the soundbar, our living room is a bit small – so I went back and forth between the two modes, trying to decide which is best for us.

All in all, using and operating the Stage 360 is pretty smooth – except, as mentioned, if you have more than two HDMI-connected devices, which is when things get confusing. That’s not really the soundbar’s fault – you can always choose to connect everything to your TV (or use an HDMI switcher) and skip the soundbar’s HDMI-In ports – but it’s something to keep in mind.

Just remember that if you DO use the soundbar’s HDMI-In ports, you won’t be able to see anything on the TV screen, from any of the connected devices – until you turn the soundbar On.

Creative Stage 360 near tv official

Stage 360 Audio Quality

Let me start with the bottom line: the Stage 360 is great for movies (and action-oriented TV programmes).

When I tested it with things like The Matrix, Avengers: Endgame or even the Bodyguard series, I was very impressed with how this relatively compact device managed to turn my living room into a movie theatre.

As mentioned, the Stage 360 supports Dolby Atmos, which is an advanced surround sound technology from Dolby. In a nutshell, Dolby Atmos adds height channels to the “traditional” surround sound platform – allowing sounds to be placed like objects in space.

In a movie theatre, or in a room with several speakers positioned all around you, certain sounds (a person talking, a gun shot, a laser beam) will appear to come from exactly the place where it was supposed to be in the movie – not just behind you or in front of you, but also above you or below you.

A soundbar is limited in how it can replicate this, and it will never be as accurate – but the Stage 360 does manage to fill the whole sound stage around you, with sound appearing to be coming from all around.

For Dolby Atmos to work, it’s not enough to have a soundbar that supports it – your content needs to support it as well. Meaning, the streaming service (or Blu-ray disc) you’re using.

The big streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ all support Dolby Atmos – but not for all their titles, so look for an icon that lets you know the content you want to watch has Dolby Atmos (or, you can check on the Stage 360 display to see whether you’re listening to Dolby Atmos at the moment or not).

Dolby Atmos is not just for films – music videos, for example, also sound great – and live performances that support Dolby Atmos on Netflix (such as their Shawn Mendes tour) really sound incredible.

Things go downhill a bit when you’re watching quiet programmes, such as programmes that are heavy on the talking – and especially if you watch at a low volume level.

Some soundbars are very good at amplifying speech and making it clearer (the Roku Streambar comes to mind) – sometimes as an optional “effect” that you can turn on or off.

The Stage 360 doesn’t have that – so the speech gets swallowed in by the wide, echoey soundscape of the soundbar. You can still hear everything, but I found myself reverting to earphones instead of listening at low volume levels late at night.

Another problematic aspect I noticed when I connected the Stage 360 was a very quiet – but certainly audible – electrical hissing sound. It’s a sound you sometimes hear when electronic elements are too close (or not isolated enough) from the speakers or the sound processors.

However, I’ve been told by Creative that this issue only affected early sample units (including the one I received), and has since been fixed.

Creative Stage 360 box official

Bottom Line: Is The Creative Stage 360 Worth It?

At its current price, the Stage 360 is very much in the middle of the soundbar market.

It does a lot of things right – and if you’re someone who tends to favour big, loud blockbusters – then you’re going to be really impressed with how this soundbar fills your room and thumps your whole body with bass.

if you’re more of a courtroom-drama type of person, this isn’t such a clear cut – both because of its low speech sound levels, and the fact that it’s, well, a bit of an overkill for that, at this price.

But all in all, if you’re looking for an entry level stepping stone into the world of Dolby Atmos that won’t cost you an arm and a leg – the Creative Stage 360 is a solid choice.

Note: The Stage 360 was supplied by the manufacturer for this review. As always, this did not influence my unbiased opinion of the product.

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