Roar2 – Creative Excellence

A Review On: Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 Portable NFC Bluetooth Speaker with aptX/AAC (Black)

Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 Portable NFC Bluetooth Speaker with aptX/AAC (Black)

Rated # 6 in Computer Speakers
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Brooko
Posted · Updated · 4721 Views · 9 Comments

Pros: Sonics, form factor, versatility, connectivity, portability, build quality, company support/service

Cons: Weight, lack of sub bass, PC software suite a little ‘gimmicky’

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INTRODUCTION

I don’t think there would be many people of my vintage who are into computer audio, and haven’t heard of Creative Labs. My first venture with Creative Labs was a very old Sound Blaster Live 24bit desktop unit (I still have it somewhere I think), and later my X-Fi Titanium PCI card (now in my son’s machine).  Both were excellent – build quality and sound quality – and I can honestly say that I had hundreds of hours of fun with both units over a number of years. They weren’t perfect (anyone that’s used Creative sound cards will have had the odd driver issue), but for the money, they were incredible value. I also still have a pair of Creative Labs T20 Series II desktop 2.0 speakers (now with my son – I graduated to JBL LSR 305s), and while I had them, I enjoyed their clarity and overall value for money.

 

So when Lucas from CL ran a thread on Head-Fi asking for testers / reviewers of their Roar2, Aurvana 3 and E5, I immediately put my hand up to test and review the Roar2 – and was lucky enough to be chosen as a reviewer. I’d just like to thank Lucas and the team at Creative Labs for making this opportunity available.

 

ABOUT CREATIVE LABS

 

For those who haven’t been fortunate enough to try a Creative product, and was unaware of the Creative legacy (where have you been?!), here’s a little history on the company.

 

Creative was formed in Singapore in 1981 with a vision that multimedia use on personal computers would revolutionise the way we interact and entertain ourselves.

 

Creative’s original fame came with the Sound Blaster range of internal and external sound cards, which became a staple amongst gamers and audio enthusiasts alike.  Since then, Creative have moved from strength to strength, expanding their network globally, and moving to cover all aspects of digital entertainment – including sound cards, speakers, high quality amplifiers, headphones, audio players, webcams, and full suites of software.

 

According to their website, they have a user base of in excess of 400 million (and growing), and are experiencing massive growth in the lifestyle portable digital entertainment sector. And I guess this is where the review starts – with the Roar2 portable Bluetooth speaker system

 

DISCLAIMER

 

I was provided the Roar2 as a review sample, for the purpose of evaluation and feedback, and it is my intention to offer it for tour around New Zealand at the completion of this review, so others can also experience this wonderful little unit. I am in no way affiliated with Creative Labs - and this review is my honest opinion of the Roar2.

 

PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.

(This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).

 

I'm a 48 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile – I just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up.  I vary my listening from portables (Fiio X5ii, X3ii, LP5 and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD).  I also use a portable set-up at work – either X5ii/X3ii > HP, or PC > E17K > HP.  My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600, and AKG K553.  A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile). For speakers at home I use JBL LSR 305 nearfield monitors.

 

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences.  I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880.

 

I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent.  I do use exclusively redbook 16/44.1 if space is not an issue.  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).

 

 I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’.  I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 48, my hearing is less than perfect.

 

For the purposes of this review - I tried to test the Roar2 in as many different scenarios as I could (this thing is like a swiss army knife!). Primarily though I was looking mainly at use as a portable Bluetooth speaker.

 

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

 

WHAT I WOULD LOOK FOR IN A PORTABLE SPEAKER SYSTEM

 

I’d never really tried a lot of portable speaker’s before – just some small wired Apple ones I’d bought back for the kids (from the US), and of course the occasional Bluetooth speaker system I’d encountered other people using.  So what would I personally look for if I needed one? 

  • Clean, detailed, but neutral signature
  • Good quality bass representation (sometime hard to get on a small speaker)
  • Ability to take a variety of different inputs – but primarily Bluetooth
  • Portability
  • Good battery life
  • Easy to use and configure
  • Value for money

 

So how did the Roar2 fare?  Well actually it almost ticked every box in my list above, and the more I uncovered with the Roar2, the more I was impressed by its versatility.

 

THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

 

When the courier pack arrived at the end of August, I was pretty impressed with the care and attention Creative had taken with external packaging to ensure the contents were well and truly protected.

 

Retail box front (lid) Retail box profile - looks exactly like the Roar 2 would OOTB Retail box underside

 

The Roar2 arrived in a 225 x 200 x 85 mm white retail box and lid style outer packaging – adorned with photos of the Roar2 which are actually pretty nicely arranged.  If you stand the box on its side (i.e. how it would be displayed in a retail store), the front face shows the Roar2 as it would be standing in front of you, both sides display the bass speakers / ports, and the top displays the controls.  I thought it was a really nice touch – you get an idea of exactly what it looks like. On the underside of the box is a list of the features, history of the Roar family of portable speakers, and a list of the accessories.

 

Opening the box reveals the Roar2, nicely bagged and protected, and also a lift out compartment which contains the charger and USB cable.  Creative also include a full featured manual, warranty and safety information, and stick on feet.

 
Inside the box + add-on soft case Roar 2 inside the soft case Snug fit but well protected

 

The plug I was given has North America, UK and European connectors – unfortunately no NZ / Australian style plugs – but I have a suitable adaptor, and the USB cord takes care of power charging anyway.

 

Creative also included their neoprene soft carry / protection case – which is a really nice addition, and one I’d thoroughly recommend to anyone considering buying the unit. It offers really good protection, fits the Roar2 like a glove, and is relatively easy to slip on and off.

 
Walwart + USB cable Manual, paperwork, and bottom feet

 

Impressions so far – very positive.

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

 

The tables below list most of the relevant specifications for the Roar2

Specification

Roar2

Cost (approx.)

USD 170-200 (Amazon)

Dimensions

188 x 109 x 51mm

Weight (unit only)

1000 g (997g on my scales)

Outer Shell

Toughened Plastic

Speakers

5 – 1 woofer, 2 tweeters, 2 side firing radiators

Inputs

1 x micros USB, 1 x micro SD, 1 x aux in

Outputs

DC out 5V (for charging portable devices)

Bluetooth

Bluetooth V3.0 with NFC

Bluetooth Codecs

SBC, aptX, AAC

Bluetooth Range

Up to 10m

Battery

Lithium rechargeable 6000mAh

Supported Micro SD

Up to 32 Gb class 4 or higher

Supported Formats (Micro SD)

MP3, WMA, WAV (16bit 48kHz PCM)

Battery Life

Approx. 8 hours

Recharge methods

Walwart (supplied – 100-240 VAC, 15VDC 1.6A), USB

 

BUILD / AESTHETICS

 

The first time I handled the Roar2, my reaction was that it feels reassuringly sold, but also that it is quite a bit heavier than I was expecting.  In talking with Lucas, I was able to determine that the outer shell is indeed hardened plastic, but the reason I had to check was that it looks and feels like a premium alloy has been used.

 

The corners of the Roar2 are nicely rounded, edges on my unit are generally nicely joined, sockets are firm, and the front mesh is clean, clear, and uniform.  The buttons themselves are firm with nice tactile feedback. The two side firing ports are nicely flush, look really gorgeous (jet black with Creative logo emblazoned on each), and when music is playing there is a nice little vibration – so you can actually feel the output. Behind the grill (there is a single woofer, and two tweeters) and you can’t really see a lot of them on this unit – so I’ve borrowed Creative’s cut-away photo to show you the driver configuration.

 
Roar 2  - upright / direct orientation Roar 2 - horizontal orientation (more spacious sound) Underneath the unit and view of the side ports

 

The Roar2 is designed to be used in two different configurations, and both give quite a different sound (which is actually kind of neat).  Lying down flat – the sound is projected upward, and is ideal for a small to medium sized room, as it gives a greater sense of openness and space to the sound. Sonically it’s probably my preferred orientation. Standing upright the sound is more directional, and I guess this would do more for a single user scenario, or when you wanted the Roar2 to give a more directional oriented sound. One thing I did find with using it upright was that sonically it started to sound a little narrow and closed in – hence my preference for lying the unit flat.  It is great being able to have the choice though.

 
Underneath the unit (feet added) NFC connection slot + lights showing battery level On/off, volume controls and bluetooth / call button

 

Standing upright, on the front face, there are buttons for power, volume, Bluetooth connection / calls, a recording indicator, battery/charging indicator, and NFC connectivity zone. At the top (from left to right) are a USB options button (storage/audio), Terra Bass / Roar button, play / pause / advance / reverse buttons (for using with micro SD cards), play / record / microphone buttons (recording to micro SD), a micro SD slot, mini USB port, 5V 1A DC out USB (for charging external devices), 3.5mm aux-in, and 15V socket for walwart charging. The rear of the unit has two strips (feet) prefixed for horizontal orientation.  Included in the box are two shorter strips you can affix yourself for upright use.

 
Connectivity ports USB mode, bass config, and SD card buttons (play / record / navigate) Side port and mesh - the Roar 2 is really well built

 

I have no issues at all with any of the build – a solid and extremely well put together unit.

 

CONNECTIONS

 

Bluetooth

Connecting to the Roar2 couldn’t be easier – and there are a heap of options.  The easiest Bluetooth option was with my wife’s Android phone.  Turn on  NFC, tap the phone to the NFC indicator on the Roar2, paired – play music.  Simple and effective.

 

With my iPhone 5S it was equally as simple. Press the connection button on the Roar2, go to the Bluetooth screen on the iPhone 5S, select “SB Roar 2” when it appeared.  Instant pairing.  The nice thing about the 5S as well is the battery indicator for the Roar2 which appears in the iPhone’s top panel.

 
iPhone connected - note battery icon in top right Exploded view of speaker configuration (Creative photo)

 

Another thing which is nice about the Bluetooth on the Roar2 is that you can have two devices connected at once. So I was able to sit with my daughter – and take turns exploring our libraries. The Roar2 is an ideal device for sharing with a friend.

 

As far as distance goes, Creative say up to 10 meters (open space), but I was getting a lot more than that. In fact I was getting close to 15m with three walls between, and the connection was rock solid stable.  YMMV – but I love the overall Bluetooth quality Creative has built in.

 

Aside from Bluetooth, you can also connect via USB (more on that below), via 3.5 mm aux input, and you could also use a micro SD card – although for this you are limited to 32 Gb cards (class 4 or higher) and MP3, WMA or WAV up to 16/48.  Regretfully I had no smaller suitable cards available to test the SD system.

 

Aux Input

For this I just used one of my Fiio players, and it couldn’t be simpler.  Connect its lineout to the aux-in, select your track/album, press play on your DAP – instant music.  Control is all done via the DAP, although you still control the volume using the front buttons on the Roar2.  It’s probably not a feature I would really use that often (the aux-in), but it’s nice to know it’s available should you ever need it.

 

USB input

With the USB audio, it’s a simple matter of plugging in the USB cable, ensuring the switch on the Roar2 is set at USB Audio (instead of mass storage), and then waiting for the driver to load (windows).

The device shows up (in the windows sound stack) as “Sound Blaster Roar2” speakers, and then it is a simple matter of selecting it as default, and playing music.

 

I tested briefly with a Debian stable based Linux distro (MX-14) on my netbook, and the Roar2 wasn’t recognised when plugged.  I didn’t have Bluetooth support configured on MX-14 either, so this was not tested.

 

SONICS

 

So I listed above my preference for a detailed but neutral sounding unit, with a good bass representation. To test the sonics, I decided to treat the Roar2 like I would for any other headphone review.  So the following is what I hear from the Roar2.  YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline).

 

All of the following testing was performed with the Roar 2 in its horizontal (lying down / speaker up) position – and Bluetooth connectivity via my iPhone 5S. Terra bass was on – I just prefer it that way (read about it in the Other Features section).

 

Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

 

Thoughts on General Signature

If I was to describe the signature in a few words – I’d choose the words “neutral”, “clear” and “balanced”.

 

My daughter and I actually played some test tones to see where the audible range was.  Emma (12 yo) helped me because I know at 48 my hearing tends to suffer from ARRO (new term – age related roll-off).  Anyway we could hear tones down to 50 Hz and up to around 16 kHz – but after that, it pretty much disappeared.  You could still feel the side ports vibrating at around 20-30 Hz but no really audible volume.  So they have a similar range, and also a similar tonal balance to my JBL LSR 305’s.  The JBL might be slightly brighter – but I consider this an amazing endorsement for the Roar2.

 

The mid bass and lower mid-range has a little warmth, but it’s equally matched by the slight emphasis on upper mid-range, and the result is a well-balanced and exceptionally clear overall sound signature.

 

Overall Detail / Clarity

I used Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” as there is a lot of micro detail in the track, and the recording quality is excellent. Balance was really good – the cohesion between bass guitar, vocals, and the sharper pitch of electric guitar and cymbals was really good. Micro detail was very good also – with snare and cymbals easily heard, but not too prominent or peaky.

 

Sound-stage & Imaging

Normally I’d try to use Amber Rubarth’s Binaural album to test headphones – but for speakers it wasn’t appropriate – so I fell back to using Amanda Marshall’s track “Rain” and Lorrena McKennitt’s “Dante’s Prayer”.  Both were able to give me really enjoyable dynamic presentations – but the Roar2’s limitation is the close proximity of its speakers, and as such – the ability to project a sense of spatial staging or imaging suffers accordingly.  There just isn’t the separation or localisation you get from a true stereo image projected by separate headphones or speakers.  For all that though – the sound is very open, and equally as enjoyable. Just don’t expect this speaker set to act like a headphone or pair of well-placed speakers.

 

Bass Quality and Quantity

I already knew I wasn’t going to get a lot of low bass with the Roar2, but it was worth trying my usual tracks anyway.  “Muddy Waters” by Mark Lanegan is a track that I usually use to test impact and also bass bleed. The Roar2 was clean and clear, but lacking really visceral impact.  It didn’t stop the track being quite enjoyable though.  Next was Lorde’s Royals – and this really did highlight the missing bass below 50 Hz.  The track was decidedly lean.

So definitely not a speaker for bass lovers, but what about some other electronic music? I first up tried Little Dragon’s “Little Man” – and this was much better.  The mid-bass was well represented, and this track (while again leaner than I’m used to) was thoroughly enjoyable.  I finished with AVB’s “This is what it feels like” (trance) – and again, doesn’t have the visceral impact, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that the Roar2 actually presents the track well. Once you get used to the slightly more “polite” presentation – it’s different but not bad at all. The good thing is that the bass is clean and clear, and well defined.

 

Female Vocals

60-65% of my music revolves around female vocals – be it jazz, pop, rock, electronic, or even opera.  I’m an unabashed fan.  For me the sign of a successful headphone, IEM or speaker is how successfully it conveys emotion and timbre with my female vocalists.

 

First up is always Agnes Obel – as some of her recordings can become quite strident or shouty if the mids aren’t quite right.  The Roar2 was downright gorgeous (euphonic definitely!) with the track “Aventine” – Obel’s vocals were sublime, and the contrast with the cello was enough to give the track some enjoyable dynamics.

 

And this was a trait that was repeated with every other female artist I tried. Yes – there could have been a little more low bass to make things perfect – but the vocal presentation itself was incredibly clear, and sweet. London Grammar was excellent (Hannah’s vocals were intoxicating), and both Feist and FaTM had good dynamic contrast between mid-bass and vocals. Florence’s new album (How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful) was really good with the Roar2 – and Emma and I actually played through half a dozen tracks before I realised I was still supposed to be taking notes.

 

So big tick from me for female vocals – what about the male counterparts?

 

Male Vocals

Missing low bass aside, I find the Roar2 really good for my rock and acoustic tracks. 3 Doors Down “Away from the Sun” was up first, and the vocal presentation is exceptional – deep (slightly warm), with good timbre. Plenty of upper end detail too.  Classic rock was exceptional with the Roar2 – especially acoustic classic rock, and standouts for me included Seether’s “Immortality” (unplugged) and the Eagle’s “Hotel California”.  People familiar with my reviews will know that Pearl Jam remains my litmus test. Vedders vocals were deep, rich and had plenty of texture. Good detail throughout as well.

 

Short Genre Specific Notes

I’ve already covered Rock above.  For Alt. Rock – both Floyd and Porcupine Tree were presented well, with a lot of detail and cohesion throughout.

 

Jazz was generally good, although the double bass could have used just a little more substance, but again the overall detail presentation was extremely good. Blues (Bonamassa) was exceptional, and that little upper mid-range lift seems to really bring guitar to life.

 

I’ve already covered EDM and Electronic in the bass section – and while it wasn’t ideal, I still enjoyed a lot of my electronic music.  This is not going to be a suitable speaker for “big bass” fans though, so it depends on where your tastes lie.

 

Pop / Indie were again very good (for my tastes), and with Indie in particular (Band of Horses and Wildlight), I could have listened for hours. Somehow the Roar2 just ticks my boxes with its sonic signature.

 

Classical and Opera were pretty good – just lacking some depth with the really low notes on piano and cello, but very good with orchestral pieces otherwise. Netrebko and Garanca were heavenly.

 

OTHER FEATURES

 

There were some features I didn’t get to try because I didn’t have some required hardware (connectivity with an Apple Mac, or playing from an SDXC card). I also didn’t try the sleep mode (not one my wife would approve of). But what I did try included:

  • Using the Roar2 connected to the phone to make a call (as a speaker phone). I did this when calling one of my clients, and the audio was crystal clear and clean. The inbuilt mic picked everything up well – and when asked, my client said that he had no issues hearing me.
  • Accessing a micro-sd card in mass storage mode (USB connection).  Worked easily and I was able to perform any function on the card as if it was plugged into the PC (this was with a 64 Gb card).
  • The bass enhancements – “Tera-bass” and “Roar” mode. Pushing the appropriate button once cycles the differ modes. Tera-bass adds a little intelligent bass boost – which is useful especially for quiet listening – but I generally found I simply left the button engaged all the time.  Roar mode seemed to be more like again switch – just making everything louder, so I really didn’t use it much.
  • iPhone / iDevice battery meter. When connected with Bluetooth, both my iPad and iPhone display a small battery meter in the top panel of the screen (see photo) which tells you how much battery the Roar2 has left.  A nice touch.
  • I also installed the software suite for the Roar2 from the Creative website. To me this simply installed single button options for Creative’s DSP frequency alterations, and I really didn’t find any I liked.  For me personally, I’d just use an EQ from the device I had connected. Some people may like it – but I personally found it clunky, and the options chosen for tweaking the sound were not what I’d consider “upgrading it”.


     
  • Charging a device via the USB DC out.  Brilliant! I took it into work a week ago, and my iPhone was down to 20%. On a whim I decided to try it out, and it worked really well. Best part, I could continue to play the Roar2 via Bluetooth, while it was charging the iPhone.  Less than a couple of hours later, the iPhone was almost 100% and there was still plenty of battery left on the Roar2 as well.

 

BATTERY LIFE / RECHARGING

 

Creative advertise up to 8 hours playing time, and I haven’t been able to get to the bottom of the battery yet – although I have spent a lot of hours with it. At the end of the day (or 2-3 days depending on how much I used it), I’d just put it on charge for 2-3 hours, and I’d be back to full again. Although I didn’t wind the battery right down, I’d suggest the 8 hours stated by Creative would be pretty accurate, and I’d peg recharge time (wal wart) at about 2.5 hours.

 

CREATIVE LABS SERVICE

 

My review is a little later than the others because the first Roar2 arrived DOA. It wouldn’t switch on. I wasn’t perturbed – things happen – I’ve had it with other audio gear before. What tells you a lot about the company though is how they handle the situation. Lucas followed up with prompt contact, gave me some troubleshooting options to try, and when it was clear the unit needed to be RTB, he immediately dispatched a replacement, plus prepaid packaging to get the first unit back. Communication at all times was clear, friendly and professional. The impression it left on me was lasting.  I would definitely buy a Creative product with no hesitation – this Company is serious about customer service.  Bravo.

 

VALUE & CONCLUSION

I’ve seen the Roar2 advertised at as low as $170 USD on Amazon, and anywhere between $170 and $200 elsewhere. For the features, build, and sonics, it is an absolute bargain IMO.

 

If I go back to my original check-list, the Roar2 has definitely ticked the box for me on sound quality and overall signature, connectivity, portability, battery life, ease of use, and overall value. The only question marks I have would be on the weight (it’s a great size – but it is a little hefty), and the missing sub-bass. Neither are really a detraction for me personally, but in case they are important to you, it would pay to audition first.

 

The Roar2 has a wonderfully balanced sonic signature with very good clarity and overall sound quality. It has a host of features, and as a portable Bluetooth speaker for a small gathering, heading away to the holiday home, or just chilling with friends, I haven’t personally heard any better options for the price.

 

I would have absolutely no problems recommending the Roar2 based on my time with it.  

 

FINAL THANKS

 

My thanks go again to Lucas and Creative Labs for giving me a chance to use and review the Roar2.  It really is a wonderful unit, and full credit for the thought which has gone into the overall design. Now if any of my fellow Kiwis is interested in taking the Roar2 for a test drive, I’ll see what I can do to arrange to get this one to you for a couple of weeks.

 

9 Comments:

I love Creative. The driver downloads and such back in the day were so horrific I wanted to stomp my PC into pieces.  Since Windows 7,8,and now 10 though all is well...which is good since they have been feeding audio tweakers like me for years. Good stuff! Nice review as always!
Great review with really nice pictures! Thanks!
I agree that Roar 2 does really well on female vocal. I actually bought another one unit of Roar 2, and DIY a cable to use the AUX input to setup 2x Roar 2 in stereo setup, and I was blown away by how these 2 little speaker sound full and rich.
HBB - yep, I can remember the old days of gaming and the old SB16 driver suddenly glitching in the middle of a game - usually when you were just starting to make progress.  Nostalgia :) I agree though - I've never had issues in the modern Windows era - and some of the sfx that Creative have brought out have been very impressive.
 
Bram - thanks. Brilliant idea for putting them in stereo my friend!
Wow, talk about jack-of-all-trades in such a compact footprint!  Great review Paul!
Fantastic review.
Great review! Looks like I'll be picking one of these up for my girlfriend for her birthday!
Great review. Now I'm certain I'll get this by the Holidays. 
while i didn't try the roar 2 and iam pretty sure it won't disappoint, i tried the jbl charge 2 and the denon envaya mini while the roar 2 seems to give mre features but they are pretty good.
 
specially the jbl charge 2, its pretty solid for the price and sound amazing ..
and very nice review btw !