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Creative Stage 360 review: A Dolby Atmos soundbar at a very appealing price

Andy White
2 Dec 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
180
inc VAT

The Creative Stage 360 soundbar is one of the cheapest and most convenient ways of enjoying Dolby Atmos audio in your home

Pros 
Dolby Atmos support
Compact design
HDMI ARC and two HDMI inputs
Cons 
No analogue input
Long boot-up time
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The Creative Stage 360 shares many characteristics with its cheaper sibling, the Creative Stage V2, which sits proudly on both our best soundbar and best budget soundbar roundups.

It’s a compact soundbar and subwoofer combo that will fit smartly under or in front of any reasonably sized TV and is an affordable option for those seeking to improve the quality of their television or PC's audio.

The Stage 360’s big draw is support for the Dolby Atmos surround-sound standard, and Creative says this is a bar that delivers a 5.1.2 sonic experience via a 2.1 channel speaker arrangement. While I wouldn’t go that far, it certainly provides a more immersive listening experience than the V2, although it does also cost twice as much.

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Creative Stage 360 review: What do you get for the money?

The Stage 360 will normally set you back £200 but was available for a promotional price of £180 at the time of writing.

It's supplied with a 566 x 88 x 75mm (WDH) soundbar and a wired subwoofer measuring 115 x 250 x 422mm that's almost identical to the one that comes with the V2. The soundbar is slightly narrower, however, so takes up even less space under your TV. There are a couple of other key physical differences between the models, too.

Unlike the V2, the 360’s front speaker grille extends across the top of the soundbar to aid the dispersion of sound upwards in the absence of upward-firing drivers. Physical controls are also present on the crest of the bar, which is a more sensible place to have them than on the side as they are on the V2.

In terms of connections, you’re getting an HDMI ARC port, two HDMI 2.0 inputs and an optical S/PDIF connector. The 3.5mm jack and USB-C port present on the V2 have been dropped but you do get Bluetooth 5.0 for streaming audio wirelessly from your phone, tablet or laptop. On balance, despite the loss of a couple of ports, it’s a well-connected budget soundbar.

Complementing the physical buttons on the top of the bar is an infrared battery-powered remote control, although sadly the batteries aren’t provided. The remote is neatly laid out, intuitive to use and allows you to switch between sources, change audio modes, adjust volume, enter Bluetooth pairing mode and more.

When the Stage 360 is connected to your television via the TV’s HDMI ARC port, you can use your TV remote to control volume instead, but doing so means you miss out on the more granular and worthwhile audio options.

Speaking of connecting to your TV, the Creative Stage 360 comes with an optical cable and power cable but no HDMI cable. If you plan on connecting via HDMI and require a new cable, you can find our list of the best here.

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Creative Stage 360 review: How does it sound?

The Creative Stage 360 soundbar houses a pair of custom-tuned racetrack (oval-shaped) drivers capable of outputting 60W RMS. The accompanying subwoofer is also capable of delivering 60W RMS, so you’re looking at total system power of 120W RMS. That’s a fair whack more than the V2, which hits 80W RMS.

That difference was noticeable when I pushed both bars to their limits but, most of the time, you’re unlikely to want to go that loud, so the extra oomph isn’t really necessary. If you are going big for movie night, however, you’ll be pleased with the impact and volume with which the Stage 360 can deliver blockbuster action sequences without distortion.

Despite being a 2.1-channel system, the Stage 360 articulates Atmos soundtracks pretty convincingly. Audio cues are accurately positioned to the left and right of the soundstage, which is a lot wider than most £200 soundbars manage. Height effects aren’t quite as effective due to the lack of upward-firing drivers, but you do get a vague sense of sound coming from above you.

This combination creates an immersive experience superior to the V2 in Surround mode, although it still falls some way short of a true surround-sound speaker system. Ultimately, Dolby Atmos can only do so much to make up for the inherent limitations of a 2.1 soundbar and subwoofer setup.

When handling non-Atmos audio, the Creative Stage 360 still sounds good, but its advantages over the V2 are less noticeable. There’s plenty of detail in the upper registers, and the discrete subwoofer packs enough power to do bassy on-screen action justice. However, I did find some dialogue hard to make out at lower volumes, something the Stage V2’s “Dialog” mode would have helped with. Sadly, that didn’t make it over to the 360; you only have Movie, Music, Night and Wide modes to choose from.

Wide broadens the soundstage and was my go-to for most content. It’s not quite as bombastic as Movie mode but I favoured the additional width over the more potent low-end reproduction. Night is designed for low-volume viewing in mind and helped clean up dialogue but it came at the expense of reduced bass response. Music mode didn’t really add all that much: I actually enjoyed streaming Spotify playlists more when using the Movie and Wide modes.

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Should you wish to customise the sound further, you can tweak bass and treble levels independently via the remote control. This is always a welcome option to have, especially if you live in a flat and don’t want the subwoofer annoying your neighbours.

The final noteworthy sonic feature is the inclusion of far- and near-field sound profiles that can be switched between using specific buttons on the remote. These optimise audio based on how far away from the soundbar you are: within 1m you’ll want to use “Near”; further away and “Far” will be your setting of choice.

The effect is pretty subtle but achieves its desired aim. While sitting 3m away from my TV, the near-field mode made audio sound more distant and constricted in comparison to the far-field mode, making the latter the obvious choice.

Conversely, when using the Stage 360 as a PC soundbar, the far-field mode’s soundstage felt rather overwhelming. Switching to the near-field mode narrowed the soundstage and felt far more appropriate for close-proximity listening.

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Creative Stage 360 review: What could be better?

There’s very little to dislike about the Creative Stage 360 at £200 but, despite the low price, I’d still like to have seen batteries for the remote and an HDMI cable included. It’s also a shame the 3.5mm input and USB-C port have been lost.

My only other gripe is a pretty minor one but I won’t be alone in finding it frustrating: the Creative Stage 360 takes an age to boot up from standby. I say an age, it’s actually only 15 seconds, but this feels like a long time to wait between hitting the power button and being able to execute controls.

I became acutely aware of this due to a power-saving feature that’s not referred to in the Stage 360’s quick start guide but is buried deep on the Creative website. By default, the soundbar will automatically power down after around ten minutes of inactivity. This is great if you have a habit of accidentally leaving things on when you go to bed but means relatively short breaks from watching something result in having to watch the words “Welcome” flash across the LED display for 15 seconds before you get to hear any sound.

Fortunately, you can turn this feature off by holding down the source button on the soundbar for eight seconds, meaning you only have to experience the long boot-up once an evening.

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Creative Stage 360 review: Should you buy it?

With an increasing amount of Dolby Atmos content available across a range of streaming platforms, demand for affordable soundbars supporting the format is guaranteed to increase.

As a 2.1 soundbar and subwoofer combo, the Creative Stage 360 is never going to be able to deliver Atmos content as convincingly as a surround-sound setup but the Atmos effect is still impressive, and audio quality while watching non-Atmos content is great for the money, too.

A couple of small niggles and the existence of the even better-value V2 prevent it from securing a Best Buy award but, make no mistake about it, the Creative Stage 360 will take some beating in the budget Atmos soundbar stakes. If you want affordable Atmos, this is currently our top pick.

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