Last year has been a busy year for Creative, the audio veteran responsible for everything from sound cards to studio monitors. SXFI technology, as found in Creative SXFI Air headphones, has impressed with its excellent new take on stereo separation on headphones. And now it’s turning its attention to true wireless tops with the Creative Outlier Air, with significant effect. This is our Creative Outlier Air Review.
Although they don’t have the same SXFI technology that manages the over-ears, these are still a top-notch pair of cordless earphones, really pushing what’s capable of a ‘budget’ oriented set of truly wireless earbuds.
Creative Outlier Air Review: Design
If you’re unfamiliar with the form factor, the Creative Outlier Air earphones continue the tradition of other true wireless earphones. In essence, they’re entirely wire-free, with only the button area in your ear. They each have their onboard battery and can be recharged by plugging them into the included charging case.
The knobs are curved, dome-shaped, unlike the toothbrush look you get with the Apple AirPods or RHA TrueConnect. The buttons are black with gunmetal accents, with the charging case mainly that gunmetal grey color.
The y’re light and comfortable in the ear (though they do stick out a little for every viewer to look at), and hold securely in the ear canal, meaning you don’t have to worry about them falling out as you travel around. With an IPX5 water resistance rating, the Creative Outlier Air peaks will survive a sweaty workout or rainy day – just don’t charge them until they’re completely dry, or try swimming with them.
Each earplug also has a button in the outer shell. Depending on how many times you press each earplug, it can be used to control many different things, from playing to answering calls, and even activating your hands-free voice assistant, whether it’s the Google Assistant or the Siri helper on an iPhone. However, these buttons can be quite stiff and pressing them while the buttons in your ears are quite uncomfortable. A touch-sensitive pad would be more convenient, although we can imagine that omitting it is part of the attempt to reach a value-oriented price point.
The charging case itself is a bit on the thick side. It’s certainly not heavy with only 54 grams, but with about 7.5 cm x 4 cm x 2.5 cm (L x W x D), you’ll notice it better in a pocket than your phone thanks to its circumference.
The case charges via USB-C and has four indicator lights that indicate whether each bud is charging, whether the case is charging, and whether the case is charging the buds on the inside. By pushing one end of the case, a retractable spot appears to push the earplugs in, which magnetically clicks into place to turn them on.
Red and changing blue lights circle the earplugs of the Creative Outlier Air when you take them out of their housing. This indicates that they are ready to be found and paired by your Bluetooth device of choice, with the first bud paired being set for that session as an essential bud, should you want to go mono with a single earplug in. Reverse this is as simple as replacing the main button in the charging case and leaving the other connected.
The buds will turn off when you put them back in your case and will automatically be paired again when they are removed if they are within a range of 10 meters of an authorized Bluetooth device. It’s a consistently stable connection – we had no problems with dropouts during the entire test period.
The Creative Outlier Air earphones also use aptX over Bluetooth 5.0. This helps maintain a stable connection and is the key to keeping audio in sync with every video you watch on a tablet or smartphone. The buttons can also squeeze the best possible audio quality from the SBC and AAC codecs, giving you exceptional sound from digital files on supported devices.
Creative Outlier Air Review: Performance
When it comes to sound quality, the Creative Outlier Air earbuds are shockingly good. They offer great clarity but also bass power that we haven’t seen elsewhere in true wireless space. The re’s a risk that the medium may be overwhelmed at times. Still, Creative just about manages to keep everything under control for an enjoyable listening experience – the Creative Outlier Airs have a real ‘oomph’ that tends to be lost to other models in the true wireless category, using a 5.6mm driver with a graphic coating in each ear.
Depending on the device with which they are paired, they can go quite loud, but it is the feeling of stereo separation that is impressive. There is an excellent sense of space when listening, for example, to Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold,’ where the opening guitar harmonics resound as the pluckers, drums, harmonica and slide guitar weave around each other.
With the Neil Young theme in mind, Saint Etienne’s cover of ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart,’ with its synthesized keyboards and drums, resounding moody without a limp bass line. Hankies at the ready, and Elliot Smith’s vocal-only ‘I Didn’t Understand’ shows the fascinating insight the Creative Outlier Air earplugs are capable of, with Smith’s undulating vocals flowing smoothly, allowing you to hear the vulnerability in the voice of the tragic singer.
If you use the earbuds for conversation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised too – each button has its microphone, leading to clear conversations along the way. If the Creative Outlier Airs have a real failure, it’s with the way their fit can negatively amplify bone conduction. To be clear, it’s that feeling of hearing the sound of your own body through your ears – the thud of every footstep as you walk in with them.
If you’re sitting still listening, they’re fantastic, but if you take a brisk walk or (worse) hit the treadmill, it can be extremely irritating. Of course, everyone’s ears are a bit different, so for some people, it might not be such an obvious problem. But it is more noticeable here for this reviewer than in any earplug in recent memory, so it is at least worthwhile to exercise caution.
Creative Outlier Air Review: Battery Life
Battery life with the earplugs is also close to the top of the class – an incredible effort considering the price tag. According to Creative, you get 10 hours per charge in the earplugs and another 20 hours in the case (or two more full tops) for a total battery life of 30 hours. It’s a claim that also seems reasonable – playing at deafening maximum volumes, and we squeezed almost 9 hours out of the buds on a single charge. The case itself is also charged in about 2 hours – a not unreasonable amount of time, and that includes powering the buds if they are in the case at the same time.
Price and Availability
The Creative Outlier Air true wireless earplugs are a real bargain at just £74.99/$79.99 (roughly AU$140) when purchased directly from Creative. You pay more if you get them from somewhere like Amazon, so in this case, go straight to the source. With excellent sound quality and great battery life, that’s a steal, especially when compared to rivals like the Samsung Galaxy Buds or Apple AirPods, which, while smarter, cannot compare to the Creative Outlier Air in terms of sound quality.
Creative Outlier Air Review: Conclusion
Apart from the just mentioned external noise, the Creative Outlier Airs are otherwise a fantastic pair of true wireless headphones. They tick the three core boxes you’d need from the form factor – top-notch sound quality, a comfortable fit, and impressive battery life. The fact that they can do it at a very affordable price makes them all the more attractive.
The Creative Outlier Air true wireless headphones sound great and are only let down by a seal that exaggerates the sound of your steps.
- Comfortable fit
- Fantastic sound
- Solid battery life
- The case is quite big