These fully wireless headphones are a superb bargain, sounding better than much more expensive sets
- Sensational sound quality
- Rock-solid wireless connection
- Buttons are fiddly
Creative knows a thing or two about digital audio: it’s been making sound cards and computer music accessories for more than 30 years. It’s also developed a decent portfolio of headphones over the years, but the Outlier Air are its first fully wireless earbuds.
It’s certainly a timely release, as wireless audio is increasingly hot property. The Outlier Air arrive in the wake of Samsung’s third attempt at cracking the market and just as Apple releases its second-generation AirPods.
Creative Outlier Air vs Outlier Air Gold
Since my original review, Creative released the Outlier Air Gold, an upgraded version over the regular Outlier Air. Other than its alluring champagne colour scheme, Creative has bettered the battery life – the Outlier Air Gold last a phenomenal 39 hours, up from 30 hours of its predecessors. The buds also last 14hrs on their own, that’s a four-hour improvement over the regular Outlier Air.
Elsewhere, the buds feature the company’s Super X-Fi technology, which replicates a surround sound effect – similar to the SXFI Air over-ears. That’s not to say the regular Outlier Air can’t replicate the innovative effect, as they’re Super X-Fi certified, too. The difference, however, is that in order to get Super X-Fi working on the regular buds, you would have had to own a Super X-Fi-certified product in the past to ‘unlock’ its potential.
Aside from the colour, battery life and of course, Super X-Fi technology the two earbuds have the same features, connectivity and sound quality.
Creative Outlier Air review: What you need to know
The Outlier Air earbuds are “true” wireless earbuds, with no neckband tethering them together, nor a cord that trails to your smartphone. In that respect, they’re just like Apple’s AirPods and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds. What makes them different is the price: at £75, they’re far more affordable than most rivals, yet they don’t skimp on quality or features.
Creative Outlier Air review: Price and competition
At £75, the Outlier Air are some of the cheapest fully wireless headphones we’ve ever seen. For comparison, my favourite true wireless headphones – the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless – cost a hefty £279. I’m also fond of the RHA TrueConnect and Mobvoi TicPods Free, which can be had for £150 and £120 respectively.
If you’re keen on wireless charging, it’s also worth considering the Samsung Galaxy Buds, which will set you back £139. And, of course, we can’t forget Apple’s AirPods – that’ll be £159 to stay on Apple’s ecosystem.
For those on a tight budget, your best alternatives are the aesthetically pleasing Skullcandy Push at £101 or the KitSound District at £70, tying with the Creatives for the title of cheapest wireless headphones on the market.
Creative Outlier Air review: Comfort, connectivity and design
For the price, you wouldn’t expect an abundance of features, but the Outlier Air tick a lot of boxes. For one thing, these earbuds support the aptX codec over Bluetooth – something we’ve previously only seen on Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds, which cost four times the price. If your source supports it (and most Android phones do), this means you’ll get better audio quality using both the SBC and AAC codecs.
Qualcomm’s aptX chip also guarantees that, when watching videos, you’ll get perfect synchronisation between what you hear and what you see on your smartphone’s display, with no lip-sync issues.
The Creative Outlier Air impressed us with the stability of the wireless connection, too. When testing the RHA TrueConnect and Mobvoi TicPods Free, I experienced occasional dropouts, but there was none of that here. The left and right earbuds also stayed perfectly synchronised, something the Samsung Galaxy Buds struggled with.
Battery life is excellent by wireless standards. The Outlier Air will last ten hours on a single charge, while the charging case provides an additional 20 hours. That means you can enjoy 30 hours of music away from the mains, with occasional charging breaks – more than any other set of true wireless earbuds I’ve come across.
The charging case itself can’t be charged wirelessly, but its USB Type-C connector allows it to be fully refuelled from empty in less than two hours. Just note that the case is a little bigger than most competitors’, particularly Samsung’s offering.
The earbuds themselves are, design-wise, most reminiscent of Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless earbuds. That means they’re not particularly attractive, and sit conspicuously in your ears. Their size also means they’re not great for cycling, as they’ll channel a lot of wind into your ear canals, creating unwanted noise.
There’s also a physical button embedded into the outside of each earbud, which you can use to control your media, answer calls or trigger your smartphone’s virtual assistant. Generally, I prefer proper buttons to touch controls, but these ones are rather stiff, which makes them fiddly and uncomfortable to use.
Still, the Outlier Air are pleasant enough to wear, with some thoughtful design touches: they’ll automatically turn off when you pop them in their charging case, they won’t vanish from your phone’s Bluetooth list and they can be used independently from each other – issues that hindered the Sennheiser earbuds.
Creative Outlier Air review: Sound quality
The Outlier Air earbuds sound astonishingly good. I tested them with an Honor View 20 smartphone, which supports the Bluetooth aptX codec, and found they produced a wide, dynamic sound that’s every bit as lively and absorbing as the best earbuds on the market. For the price, that’s amazing.
Their soundstage and imaging are particularly impressive. Instrument separation is handled with ease, and dance tracks such as Le Youth’s “Dance with Me” sound gloriously wide and deep. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, Mobvoi’s TicPods Free and RHA’s True Connect all failed to bring out the best of this song: only Sennheiser’s Momentum True Wireless matched the Creatives.
Frequency response is very agreeable, too. The sub-bass on Rae Sremmurd’s “Powerglide” is sublime, with an ear-pounding bass rumble in that sub-60Hz region. There’s a bit of wobble between the 60Hz and 250Hz region, but it doesn’t ruin the effect, and there’s plenty of energy in the mid-range that helps the vocals in tracks such as Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake’s “Love Never Felt So Good” sound punchy and alive. By contrast, many other wireless earbuds push back the vocals and create a warmer sound signature.
Finally, the high tones extend with vigour, providing plenty of sparkle throughout Chromeo’s latest single, “Don’t Sleep” – and those with sensitive ears will be pleased to know that there’s less sibilance than with the Mobvoi TicPods Free or the RHA True Connect. There is, however, a slight softening at the top end, where the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless maintains a fluid, untainted high-end extension.
Creative Outlier Air review: Verdict
In the world of true wireless earbuds, the Creative Outlier Air are up against competitors costing two, three or even four times the price. Yet they hold their own and, in some ways, even better those rivals, offering a perfectly stable wireless connection, incredible battery life and – thanks partly to Bluetooth aptX – absolutely fantastic sound.