Creative Creates Budget Audio Against Sound Giants Like Bose, B&W
Creative is typically been known as an IT brand aimed at the PC market, similar to companies like Logitech, but the company is reshaping its image and pointing its speakers at the consumer end of the market starting with releases this month.
Its promise is to deliver top-tiered speakers with “remnants of a high end sound system” for a budget price and enhanced connectivity, according to Creative’s product marketing manager, Lip Hwee Tan.
The self-professed “audiophile” who also works as an acoustics engineer for the company, touted the strength of the latest range of speakers compared to its expensive counterparts like Bose, B&W and “that egg-shaped thing that costs almost a grand.”
The 2011 range of speakers – the third generation of its kind – focuses on wireless sound, separated into three categories: speakers, headsets and portable players. While wireless sound isn’t a new phenomenon, Creative is differentiating itself from the pack with its connectivity options that extend beyond the limitations of current iPod docks.
Continue onto the next page for a hands-on with some of the products.
Creative is sticking with Bluetooth while other brands move toward Wi-Fi and AirPlay connections, though Tan defends the stance as being “future-proof” as “wireless’s most common denominator is Bluetooth.”
He added that going with Wi-Fi would have meant using large Wi-Fi components. Though not to shy too far away from the pack, he also adds that “as we speak, we are working on AirPlay compatibility.”
Creative is pushing into audio-visual market ground by creating set-ups to complement home entertainment, though Paul Seow, regional sales manager, isn’t keen on categorising the company that way just yet.
“Creative’s success is also sort of its failure,” he says of the company’s strength in the PC accessory market. Where Creative typically has that typecast, he’s looking to see the company grow out of that tunnel-vision and push into both that IT and the consumer electronics marketplaces simultaneously.
Onto the actual products, the general aim is to mimic the quality of the high-end brands while making the sound system upgrading process simple, wireless and future-proof.
The headline act here is the ZiiSound D5x and D3x. The upgrades on last year’s D5 and D3 single-piece speakers can connect to any Bluetooth stereo source and to each other to create a multi-purpose and customisable set up.
On its own, the D5x isn’t the best standalone speaker compared to docks like the B&W Zeppelin and Edifier Breathe (though performs beautifully for a $349 system), but when connected to a DSx subwoofer (for $179) the sound is greatly boosted to give rich low-end without sacrificing on crisp detail in vocals.
The D5x achieves this by automatically detecting the sub’s presence and sending all the low-end frequency down to the sub and concentrating on mid- and high-end sound. The subwoofer itself is made up of three 6.5 inch drivers that have been set up multi-directionally to follow through with omni-directional bass that responds quicker than a heavier 10 inch driver – the result is subtle but noticeable, and provides great sound quality.
Another plus here, as Tan puts it, is that none of Creative’s competitors speakers “have the capacity to wirelessly connect to a subwoofer” directly from the speaker.
On the downside, you need to connect a bunch of speakers together to maximise sound quality. But then again, the ability, simplicity and affordability of doing this make these new speakers a welcome addition to the home entertainment system on a budget.
It’s not all stationary audio though – Creative is releasing a range of new headsets that feature ‘invisible’ mics for hands-free telephony.
The top model – the WP-450 – is the premium option, though won’t be available until around September. In the meantime, the WP-350 is coming this month, featuring noise suppression for high quality voice calls without interference. There’s also the miniature option (with less impressive wireless performance), the WP-250, that is set to be released for $79.
The WP-350, the middle-grade option, is similar in design and functionality to similar products like Nokia’s BH-905i (RRP $349.95) but at a lower cost point.
The more desktop-oriented speakers fall under the same wing of high tech under the ‘budget’ banner, with the ZiiSound T6 2.1 speakers mimicking the set up of Bose’s $600 Companion 5 multimedia speaker system, though selling for $500.
Creative has also launched new ultra-compact, ultra-cheap wireless mp3 players with the Zen Style M300. A somewhat primitive fascia (compared to multi-touch screen devices that have flooded the market today) with touch sensitive buttons and a TFT screen lets you select your music and play it from the device’s memory or a microSD card and stream it wirelessly around the home.
It can be used on the go or in the home as a tiny media hub (and a cost-effective one, sitting around the $70 mark).
While the market for iPod/iPhone docks and wireless speakers is hot, Creative has struck at the market with cost-effective variants that it hopes will capitalise on a bit of complacency on the part of the big audio companies who rule the premium-priced roost.