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Creative Stage SE Mini review: This $35 PC soundbar doesn't cut it

Creative Stage SE miniImage: Petter Ahrnstedt

At a glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Easy to install Good price

Cons

So-so soundNo way of adjusting the sound on the device itself

Our Verdict

The Creative Stage SE Mini offers a simple and fairly elegant solution to boosting your PC’s sound. Unfortunately, the soundbar’s audio performance falls disappointingly short, particularly when it comes to music.

Price When Reviewed

$34.99

Best Prices Today: Stage SE Mini

RetailerPriceCreative$34.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

I don’t understand Creative. Once upon a time, this storied speaker manufacturer made damn good products, including sound cards, speakers, and even 7.1 systems for your computer. Sure, its products cost a lot, but on the other hand, Creative was often associated with quality.

Their new Stage SE Mini is a relatively inexpensive soundbar that you can place in front of your computer or plug directly into your tablet. Is it good? Well…it’s not terrible, but it’s not that good either. And why do we need a soundbar in front of a computer?

Further reading: The best budget computer speakers: Solid audio for $100 or less

Design & build

Creative clearly put some thought into the Stage SE Mini’s design. Gone is the black, slightly 1988-era high-gloss piano lacquer–you know, the kind of finish that absorbs fingerprints like there’s no tomorrow. Instead, they’ve given the new Stage SE Mini a duller, rougher surface that feels more modern.

The Stage SE Mini’s sound is…so-so, depending on what you use the speaker for.

In terms of looks, there’s not much to say. The Stage SE Mini is an oblong black speaker with a knob on one side, plus a small LED to indicate when it’s on. The dial doubles as a volume control or for switching on/off. A small button next to the dial lets you choose which audio source you want to use.

USB, Bluetooth, or 3.5mm input

The Creative Stage SE Mini requires no installation whatsoever. The easiest way to connect the speaker is via the included USB-C cable. If you’re playing media from a phone that doesn’t have USB-C (looking at you, iPhone 14), you can use Bluetooth. (Stage Mini SE supports Bluetooth 5.3). If you have an iPhone 15 or an iPad, just plug it into the USB-C port. You can also plug a pair of headphones into it if you prefer.

You can also connect it to a PS5, which I unfortunately couldn’t test (Xbox FTW!).

Audio performance

The Creative Stage SE Mini’s sound is…so-so, depending on what you use the speaker for. If you want to listen to music, it doesn’t sound very good. If you want to listen to a podcast, the sound is passable. But shouldn’t a speaker be able to do both?

The problem is probably in the design. Most soundbars manufactured today, apart from Sonos and those costing north of $1,000, don’t sound good when playing music. Whether the problem is that the drivers are too small or that they employ a so-called “racetrack” design (think of the oval running track in a sports arena) is an open question. You also can’t adjust the sound directly on the device itself, except for the volume, so you have to dig around in the app’s sound settings.

The Stage SE Mini doesn’t have any distinctive bass to speak of, while the midrange isn’t very pronounced either. After a lot of fiddling with the audio settings in Spotify, I managed to get acceptable sound, although I’d hesitate to call it “good.”

And as usual, the Stage SE Mini has a sweet spot; if you push the speaker too hard, it doesn’t sound good at all.

Pricing and availability

The Creative Stage SE Mini costs a reasoable $34.99, and it’s available on Amazon and other online retailers, as well as on Creative’s website.

While the Creative Stage SE Mini is certainly affordable, I would rather buy a pair of speakers from the Creative GigaWorks series. That’s not as elegant a solution as a one-piece soundbar like the Stage SE Mini, and the GigaWorks speakers are pricier to boot. That said, you’d be getting much better sound for your trouble.

Specifications

Manufacturer: CreativeModel: Stage SE MiniTested: October 2023Connections: USB-C, Bluetooth 5.3, 3.5mmSize: 410 x 82 x 63 mmPower: 24 wattsPrice: $34.99 on Amazon

This translated review originally appeared on M3, our sister publication.

Best Prices Today: Stage SE Mini

RetailerPriceCreative$34.99View DealPrice comparison from over 24,000 stores worldwideProductPricePrice comparison from Backmarket

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