37 Creative Stage Air d.pngIt’s hard to put a good man down. I’ve received a series of emails from a 65-year-old (‘plus’) reader whose doctor has given him 12 months to live. Best emails all year. He’s a retired head banger into Metallica, Nightwish (me too), Status Quo, DragonForce and ‘heaps of electric guitar’, playing through quite a respectable soundbar. He wanted suggestions for something ‘heaps better’, and nominated a max of $3000.

I recommended a couple of products but I really hoped he’d stretch a bit further. “Could you go to $4K?” I asked. “Sennheiser’s Ambeo would be just the thing. It reproduces music wonderfully, goes awfully loud and has a ton of bass.” I further suggested he get onto Kanopy to stream a very funny metal movie out of Finland called Heavy Trip.

He replied that, yes, $4K was too expensive but he’d ordered an Ambeo anyway. And after it arrived he wrote again: “Perfect suggestion. Even when the YouTube clips are not great I know they ain’t going to sound better on anything else. And that is exactly the feeling I wanted.”

I suspect it’s going to be a helluva good 12 months at his place, if a little loud.

Yamaha put the first soundbar on the market in 2005 – they called it a digital sound projector because no one had thought up the word soundbar back then – and for soundbars it’s been a helluva good 15 years since; they’ve become so ubiquitous that the folk selling televisions tend to assume their customers will want a soundbar as well.

37 Creative Stage Air bAnd now the soundbar thing has gone beyond television. Creative’s new $80 Stage Air is a soundbar made specifically to go under a computer monitor. And there’s good news, bad news, and something a bit odd about it.

First the good news. It feels well made with pleasing weight, always a good sign. It’s compact enough for a desk, it doesn’t have a separate subwoofer which can create all sorts of placement problems in an office, but mostly it delivers way better sound than you’ll get from your computer.

The Stage Air does a nice job with most music and a good job with old YouTube tracks. The bass is kinda thin (but vastly better than a computer) but mids and highs are good. It will get your foot tapping when connected by the 3.5 mm minijack, but the Bluetooth connection sounds dead flat by comparison. It also plays stuff loaded on a USB drive.

37 Creative Stage Air cThe bad news: The volume control is dumb. To change volume you must stab the up or down button repeatedly, you can’t press and hold to scroll to the volume you want because when you press and hold it skips tracks up or down. So lots of times when you want to turn a track way up using the Stage Air’s controls you find yourself skipping it instead. Extremely frustrating.

I would have like an optical input as well as the 3.5 and Bluetooth, it would yield a lot more flexibility, especially for television. If creative can’t spring for that how about some RCAs at least?

And lastly there’s the odd thing; it’s powered by an internal rechargeable battery that lasts up to six hours between charges. Why a speaker intended to live under a computer monitor is not mains powered is beyond me. It means you’ll have to either charge it every six hours or find a spare USB to keep it plugged into, and if your computer is anything like mine spare USB outlets are non-existent.

First published by smh.com.au October 2019.


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