Sound Blaster Roar 2 (Black) reviewed using various Bluetooth connected devices. Review time also included USB connections to PC and PS4, as well as microSD functionality and analog AUX input. Specific sections refer to the optional Sound Blaster Roar 2 Carry-Bag and Creative BT-W2 USB Transceiver.
In a world full of competing Bluetooth speakers, it's rare that any one is able to distinguish itself above the rest. In the category of large portable Bluetooth speakers, however, Creative is seeking to break from the pack. With the Sound Blaster Roar 2, Creative is presenting a five driver, bi-amp design, that is packed with connectivity options, including aptX, USB PS4 support, speakerphone, and on-board microSD music playback.
If these features sound a little familiar, it's because they are shared with the 2014 hit Sound Blaster Roar. When it comes to blockbuster movie sequels, the rule is generally bigger and louder. With the Sound Blaster Roar 2 Bluetooth speaker, Creative has gone in a different direction -- smaller, lighter, and as tagged, sexier. With a 20% reduction in the overall physical foot print, the Sound Blaster Roar 2 is a smaller package, and yet, as promised, it's meant to be just as loud and offer even more features.
Right off, it's important to note that the Sound Blaster Roar 2 is, in large part, a refinement of the Sound Blaster Roar. The same 5 drivers in the original Roar have been put in the Roar 2 with a smaller and lighter (by .3 lbs) footprint, but happily, the Roar 2 design supports dual-orientation.
With the left and right drivers now on the same broad side as the subwoofer, the Roar 2 can be placed on its back for room-filling situations or stood up for more directed sound (especially good for video and game use). In addition to these changes, the Roar 2 now has a pair of very attractive passive radiators visibly facing out on the two small sides. Those radiators mimic in part the design of one of my favorite home theater center channel speakers, the Definitive Pro Center 1000. The radiators are also responsible for giving the Roar 2 a large injection of style, which is an area where many Bluetooth speakers attempt to excel but fall well short.
Setting aside the original Roar, and considering the Roar 2 on its own merits, it's easily a segment leader in my view. There is not only powerful sound available here, but there is also some room for delineation, making the Roar 2 good in very different situations. The Roar 2's suite of connectivity options, in practice, do more for me than a slew of speakers available at comparable and much greater prices.
For over a month I took the Roar 2 with me as I went all over the USA. From coast to coast, from hotel rooms to verandas, to offices and bedrooms, and even (I'm being serious here) to one funeral. I can't say it never quit, but it did sound great. In fact, I learned that under the right circumstances (working around the clock from a hotel room and having the Roar 2 connected to my phone and laptop while intermittently using the microSD slot to play music) it's a good idea to have the power cable on hand even though I normally just used the USB charging feature.
After such time, I have a few thoughts for new buyers. Charge the Roar 2 all the way after first opening the box (which is always good practice). Take the power cord with you for extended use or long trips (or if placed in a semi-dedicated spot). Get a small bag or case to protect the blocky shape during flights. Finally, get a 32GB microSD card, fill it with music (MP3s & WMAs), and keep it inside the Roar 2.
That last recommendation is such a big plus for me. I meant to do it right away, but put it off for the first trip or two. When you've got a phone with good service and plenty of juice, it doesn't seem as important (travelling abroad is a whole other story), but getting off a flight and getting into a hotel with X amount of time before a meeting or event -- phone, laptop, and tablet all depleted from the flight, airport and car ride -- and having that Roar 2 ready to deploy in a second using its own battery and music source, well it's just one slick way to do it. The Roar 2 has dedicated playback controls (and shuffle/repeat), so using the microSD card slot for music is easy even for the tech challenged.
Listening to the Roar 2 being able to handle the highs and lows of Rammstein's 'Liebe ist für alle da,' and take the nuanced steps of the heavily electronic 'Hotline Miami' soundtrack without sounding tinny or washing out detail with a distorted & hollow bass, makes it easy to hear why these drivers have been so praised. As ever in this kind of set-up, stereo separation is a challenge, which is another reason why I appreciate being able to stand the Roar 2 up when needed.
Having the Roar 2 lying on its back, filling a room with music played off of the microSD card while charging my phone, might seem like a recipe for missing an important call, text or email. And yet, the Roar 2 is smart enough that it can be paired with my phone while playing another source, and still pause or mute that source when I get a call. This allows me to use the fine speakerphone or switch to the handset on my smartphone -- all while resting assured that the Roar 2 won't make a peep until my call is completed, at which point the music will continue unabated.
All of this hotel room, multi-use stuff might sound droll, but with the Roar 2 excellent in a music (or audiobook, phone call, YouTube video, TV show, game, interview replay) setting, the pure, "hey put some music on" duty is easy. The only difference is that if it's a good sized gathering, I might toggle on the ROAR DSP to get that louder sound. At other times, like with very quiet dialog in a noisy setting, the TerraBass makes more sense, though really, the need depends on how far away the Roar 2 is from the ear.
For example, while listening to the raspy narration of Richard K. Morgan's 'Altered Carbon' streaming off of my phone, the TerraBass is a real helper with the Roar 2 set up across the room.
Indeed, the world doesn't run off of a microSD card. I'm often streaming music, audio books, and video to my phone (or PC and sometimes a tablet), and it's here where the fancy aptX (and AAC) wireless codec pays off. I get bummed out in situations where aptX isn't part of the package, so it's something of a must for me when it comes to music. NFC pairing is also part of the Roar 2 package, which is useful and would be even more useful if I elected to share the Roar 2 with other random people regularly.
It's easy to get a bit spoiled with the Roar 2. Naturally, it can be connected to a PC through Bluetooth or through the AUX in 3.5mm analog port, but a simple micro USB (included) cable works as well and shows up as its own device on the PC. With the Roar 2 around, using laptop speakers seems like such a shame, especially when streaming in 'The Wire.' Again, I can be hooked up to the PC via USB with the Roar 2 standing up and projecting sound towards me, and still get calls via the Bluetooth connection.
Connecting to a PC via USB also makes the Roar 2 a microSD card reader. I was on a trip testing out a new laptop and tablet, and I realized mid-flight that I forgot to load any music onto the notebook. Later, connected to the Roar 2, I recalled this problem and was about to fish out a SD to microSD card shell, when I realized I could just copy right off the microSD without even having to take it out of the Roar 2. A small victory perhaps, but nevertheless a function of smart design.
I grew so fond of the Roar 2 that I used it when streaming an episode of 'Catastrophe' while confined in a tiny bedroom on a hellish road trip with my significant other. Getting the speaker to stand up next to a laptop on a bed with two people in it, feels like a sure sign that something important has been accomplished.
Not unlike the PC, the Roar 2 can be used with a PS4 via USB. Since the PS4 normally only has optical, HDMI, and controller audio output, this is a really nice feature for the odd need. As a fighting game fan, I have had many times when I've set up a console and a monitor solely to play something like 'Ultra Street Fighter IV,' and this extra ability of the Roar 2 is really appreciated as 'Street Fighter V' looms on the horizon. The Roar 2 gets assigned to a user (much like a headset would be), and with All Audio set to output, the results are great.
There is also a way to go wireless on the PS4 via an optional accessory which I'll come to later.
Aside from running some 'FTL: Advanced Edition' through the Roar 2 during my travels, another big moment came during the 'Forza 6' review. I was playing the game pre-release for the review around the clock, and I wanted to mix in some college football. Ignoring the Xbox One's TV snap, I set up a 27" HP ZDisplay monitor through HDMI with a wireless Uverse receiver. That just left me one issue: sound. The solution I went with was to route the analog audio out of the Uverse receiver to the 3.5mm Aux in of the Roar 2.
In what I think is the Roar 2's oddest feature, the Bluetooth speaker can be used as an audio recorder. The audio gets captured to the microSD card. The controls are pretty basic. There's no screen or ability to organize recordings, but there is a way to switch the Roar 2 from external mic recording to speakerphone recording. I have to admit that I'd feel a little silly recording an interview with the Roar 2, but the playback part would certainly be audible.
I have some small issues with the Roar 2. The unit comes with two rubber feet for placing on the bottom thin side that I would rather have been built-in. (I left them off.) Bluetooth media controls are a bit limited if there's a microSD card in the unit. I was going to say that the powering On and Off sounds and connections are not always appreciated, but I found a way in the manual to turn them off. The three LED battery/charging lights seem standard for Creative, but could use a change. I also wish the unit came with a soft bag case. And on the cosmetic side, the looks of the Black version are, well, almost solid black apart from the dark metallic grey control strip. It's a look that grew on me.
The unit has its own USB host port for charging mobile devices. This is a bonus feature that I hope I won't ever need. The Roar 2 is 2.2 lbs, and with its 2.0" x 7.4" x 4.3" body, there is a solid feel that may surprise friends and family. I'd toss it lightly on a bed or couch, but I would not throw it around. The Roar 2's power cable is a more important accessory than it may first seem, as it not only charges the unit the fastest and is best for trying to use while charging, but it also yields the best overall sound performance at high volumes. Battery life is promised at 8 hours, and I've been able to best that number, but not by much.
Creative offers two kinds of cases as purchasable accessories for the Roar 2 -- a neoprene bag and silicone case. After some time with the Roar 2, I received the neoprene Sound Blaster Roar 2 Carry-Bag.
This reversible black and red soft case comes with two Velcro straps. One strap makes for a short hand hold while the other is shoulder length. The case itself is a snug fit, and the top hugs the Roar 2 without actually closing (like it would with a zipper).
I was dubious at first. I do think this is a pricey accessory, but product-specific cases usually are. It's a little too easy when taking the Roar 2 in and out of the case to accidentally turn it on. The two straps are nice, but whichever is not in use is likely to get lost. There is only one compartment, and the amount of protection gained is mainly of the cosmetic kind. It's an ok option, but I think the Roar 2 deserves better.
Another accessory that I decided to use with the Roar 2 is the Creative BT-W2 USB Transceiver.
This Bluetooth dongle is not specifically for the Roar 2. In fact, right now, I use it mainly with a pair of Sony Bluetooth headphones. What the dongle does is let me easily add a high-quality Bluetooth connection to whatever notebook or PC I'm using. There's no NFC, but there is a pairing button and light, and more importantly, there is aptX. The BT-W2 also works with the PS4 to add Bluetooth audio. The BT-W2 got along with the Roar 2 just fine, though, for the sake of the review, I also used the Roar 2 directly. Like the case, the BT-W2 is $39.99, but I love it as it frees me from the often crummy and temperamental Bluetooth audio that's built in to so many computers.
With the Sound Blaster Roar 2, Creative has refined a great, multi-purpose Bluetooth speaker into an even better package. Try as I might, I could find little to no fault with the Roar 2. It simply sounds great in a variety of situations and has a versatility that ought to embarrass hordes of other Bluetooth speakers. Looking beyond its great connectivity and feature set, I fear that using the Roar 2 in every possible situation will lead directly to its theft. The Roar 2 is so good, I feel like hording it away from envious family members and friends.