When Creative announced its new Sound Blaster Roar speaker, a couple of features stood out as unusual. The in-built siren and the "life-saver mode" that plays loud noises to keep you awake seemed at odds with its main focus of premium quality audio. Gizmag put the portable Bluetooth speaker through its paces.
The first thing I noticed about the Sound Blaster Roar while unpacking it was its weight. At 1.1 kg (2.5 lb), this is not a device you'll want to drop on your foot. Not only would it hurt a lot, but you'd also run the risk of damaging the Roar's good looks, which is the second thing I noticed. The Sound Blaster Roar is very easy on the eye. It's all understated blacks and greys, sleek perforated aluminum and smooth curves.
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Creative was aiming squarely at the high-end of the portable speakers market when it announced the Roar. As we mentioned when we first featured the device, it lines up alongside the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker and Jawbone's BIG JAMBOX. It's not as pricey as those options, but in terms of look and feel, it certainly holds its own.
A quick glance at its specs will tell you that the 57 x 202 x 115 mm (2.2 x 7.9 x 4.5 in) Roar has three 3-inch drivers for mid-range and bass which are powered by one amplifier, and two 1.5-inch high-end drivers that are powered by a second amp. The specs will also tell you that the Roar is equipped with a veritable smorgasbord of features.
Creative has done its level best to squeeze as much functionality into the Roar as possible. Of course, you can pair it with a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth, but you can pair a second device, too, meaning control of the speaker can be shared. The Roar can also be used as a speakerphone when paired with a smartphone.
There's a 3.5 mm auxiliary input jack and, if you install the appropriate software on your computer, you can use the Roar as a USB computer speaker. There's a microSD slot from which you can play music and, when the device is attached to a computer, it doubles as an SD card reader. It's also possible to record audio that is running through the speaker onto an SD card. Finally, the Roar has a USB output port that can be used to charge another USB device, such as a smartphone.
The various connection ports and their associated controls are located on the rear of the Roar. It should be noted that the ports and SD card slot are uncovered, leaving them potentially susceptible to dust and dirt if you plan on using the speaker outdoors.
So what about those "Alarm" and "Life-saver" modes? The alarm is more of a siren. You can arm it by flicking a switch and then set it going by holding down the alarm button for three seconds. The result is what sounds like the siren on a police car and its volume can be adjusted as required. Although when it would be required I don't know. The Life-saver mode, meanwhile has two settings: one that will play a variety of sounds randomly at full volume and one that will do so at three-quarters volume.
I've no doubt that some people may have uses for those two functions, but I'm not one of them. In short, these features are so bafflingly niche that I can't help but wonder what the reasoning was behind their inclusion. Based on the multitude of other functions, I can only guess that it was part of Creative's desire to build the Swiss Army Knife of portable speakers.
Having neatly circled back and re-established that the Roar is primarily intended to be a portable speaker, now's a good time to discuss the device's sound quality. After all that, it's a relief to say that the Sound Blast Roar sounds utterly superb. The balance and clarity produced by this speaker is nothing short of outstanding.
Creative has used all of its years of audio experience to create a piece of hardware capable of producing a remarkable, room-filling sound and then delicately programmed it to take advantage of the hardware. The vaunted "Roar" function makes a noticeable difference when used, increasing the volume and the expansiveness of the sound.
When using the Roar as a Mac/Windows computer speaker, the Sound Blaster Control Panel software provides a means of adjusting the sound to your preferences. Some presets are provided for listening to music, watching movies or playing games, but you can also delve into the master sound options and the EQ. If using the Roar with a mobile device, it's just a case of pairing the two pieces of kit via Bluetooth and you're away.
Battery life is, of course, key where portable speakers are concerned. Creative promises 8 hours of continuous battery-only playback using the Roar. I always assume these figures are based on a best case scenario and that normal day-to-day use will give you a slightly curtailed figure. What a pleasant surprise it was, then, when the Roar gave us a good eight and a half hours of continuous, battery-only, Bluetooth-paired use at various volume levels. The device takes about 3 hours to be fully recharged.
Creative offers a carry-bag for use with the Sound Blaster Roar. It's netted, so as not to dampen the sound, but doesn't provide any padding for protection in the event of being dropped. It's mainly to help with portability, coming as it does with a hand strap and an additional shoulder strap.
The Sound Blaster Roar treads a line between the sublime and the slightly quirky. It's sound quality and battery life are really impressive and, once you've familiarized yourself with the device, it's straightforward enough to use. The variety of functions is also pretty good, even if some of them may seem a little redundant. What you have, in short, is a superb portable speaker with a variety of input options and some handy functionality for use with a computer.
The Creative Sound Blast Roar is listed for US$199 by Creative and is currently being rolled out globally.
Product page: Creative Sound Blaster RoarView gallery - 10 images