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Creative Stage SE review: Compact, capable and brilliant value

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £40
inc. VAT

The Creative Stage SE isn’t perfect but it’s an eminently affordable desktop soundbar that punches well above its weight


  • Compact
  • Good audio quality
  • Brilliant value


  • Recessed mid-range at low volumes
  • No 3.5mm port
  • Some minor design niggles

The Creative Stage SE is a compact and affordable soundbar designed to sit below your monitor and improve the audio quality of your PC or laptop. It’s a little limited on the connectivity front and not without some minor audio and design niggles, but you’ll struggle to find a better PC soundbar for the money.

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

The Stage SE has a list price of £75 but was available for just £40 from Amazon at the time of writing. With that hefty discount, it’s even cheaper than the Singaporean manufacturer’s Stage Air V2 (£50), which has a rechargeable battery so can be used portably, but can only muster 20W of peak power compared with the SE’s 48W.

Both sport similar designs and dimensions, with the Stage SE measuring a space-efficient 410 x 108 x 68mm (WDH) and weighing 1.22kg. The Stage Air V2, meanwhile, measures 410 x 94 x 75mm (WDH) and weighs just 10g more.

The Stage SE houses a pair of full-range racetrack drivers either side of an oversized passive radiator and that trio is protected by a speaker grille running along the front of the bar. Small rubber feet at either end help keep the Stage SE stable on your desktop, while controls are handled by a large multi-functional knob built into the right end of the chassis.

This knob can be rotated to control volume and has a depressible button in its centre used for turning the soundbar on and off and switching between USB and Bluetooth connections. That’s it for on-soundbar controls, though there’s a basic infrared remote included, which lets you mute the bar, adjust tone and activate the Stage SE’s audio modes as well as switch inputs and increase or decrease volume.

There’s just one physical input available: a USB-C port located on the rear of the bar behind the control knob. Above that, you’ll find a USB-A slot but this is reserved for servicing. On the wireless connection front, the Stage SE supports Bluetooth 5.3 but is only compatible with the bog-standard SBC codec.

When in use, you have two sound mode options – “Clear Dialog” and “Surround” – which are powered by the Sound Blaster technology also found in our favourite soundbar under £100, the Creative Stage V2 (£90).

Creative Stage SE review: What do we like about it?

Compact enough to fit under a monitor, the Creative Stage SE can be incorporated into just about any desktop setup and couldn’t be easier to get up and running. Simply connect it to a power source and your input device using the supplied power adapter and USB-A to USB-C cable and you’re good to go.

Alternatively, you can pair it with your device of choice via Bluetooth and I had no issues when doing so with a MacBook, Windows laptop, Android smartphone and iPhone. Pairing proved very swift and connections remained stable throughout testing.

Given its cost and diminutive stature, the sound the Stage SE produces is excellent. It’s able to deliver powerful bass and vocal clarity and handles a variety of content types impressively as a result. Listen to a bass-heavy track like Air Max ‘97’s ‘Enthusiast’ and you’ll be treated to a hearty low-end response capable of rattling your desk at higher volumes.

Dialogue is reasonably clear when using the Stage SE in its default mode, but can be improved by engaging the Clear Dialog option via the remote control. This successfully adds additional emphasis to speech, making the nuances of conversations easier to digest during chaotic scenes in films or TV shows. It works when listening to music too, pushing vocals to the fore, though the overall presentation lacks the body of the Stage SE’s other audio mode: Surround.

Surround mode uses Sound Blaster audio filters to identify spatial audio information from any source and position it within an expanded soundstage to enhance immersion. It does so pretty effectively considering the Stage SE’s compact nature: while sitting about 1m from the Stage SE with Surround mode active, audio certainly felt more immediate and engaging.

The soundbar also allows for tone adjustment of both of these modes. You can make the sound warmer or brighter using the remote control and while not the most advanced method of EQ customisation, the changes made to my listening experience were appreciable.

Besides the sound it produces, one of my favourite things about the Stage SE is its multi-function knob. This makes changing volume even easier than it otherwise would be and although I’d have preferred it if volume increased continuously while you turn the knob rather than jump up in increments with each turn, I’m surprised more desktop soundbars haven’t incorporated something similar.

Creative Stage SE review: What could be improved?

While the Creative Stage SE puts in an impressive audio performance for its size and price, there are a few areas that could be improved.

At low volumes, mid-range frequencies had a tendency to sound a little recessed. I had no such problems when pushing the soundbar to its limits, but mid-range clarity could have been better when listening at 40% volume and below. The instrumentation in Paul Simon’s ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’ sounded a little muddied, even if the vocals themselves remained clear. The tone adjustment options help to some extent, but it’s a shame that the Stage SE isn’t compatible with the Creative app as this would have allowed for greater EQ customisation.

It’s also a shame that physical connectivity is limited to a single USB-C port. Optical and 3.5mm ports can be found on other affordable Creative soundbars and would have been very welcome here, though their omission is understandable given the Stage SE’s price and the fact it’s specifically designed for use with laptops and PCs.

While I enjoyed the simplistic and tactile nature of the multi-function knob, I’d have liked to have seen it offer a few more control options. Having to use the remote to engage the different sound modes or adjust tone levels feels jarring when the bar is within arm’s length and additional commands could have been added to the knob’s central button to cover these areas.

I also found that pushing the button in caused the soundbar to move slightly. This was a minor annoyance rather than a big problem but could have easily been avoided by making the feet on which the Stage SE stands wider and sturdier.

Creative Stage SE review: Should you buy it?

The Creative Stage SE is an enticing option for those looking for a cheap soundbar to pair with their PC or laptop. It boasts a harmonious and potent output across its sound modes, can be tweaked to suit different content types and has a pleasingly small desktop footprint.

Minor missteps like the absence of a 3.5mm port and slightly recessed mid-range at low volume prevent it from being the perfect under-monitor soundbar but are easy to enough to overlook when you take into account how good the Stage SE sounds and how little it costs. If you’re after a cost-effective way of improving your desktop audio experience and would rather a soundbar than a pair of PC speakers, the Stage SE is currently your best bet.

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