True wireless earbuds are on the up and up, and many models are on their second or even third generations. In order to be successful, a headset needs a good foundation; let’s see how the Creative Outlier Air, predecessor to the Outlier Gold, fares in 2020.
Editor’s note: this Creative Outlier Air review was updated on July 2, 2020, to make note of the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2 and JLab GO Air as competitive alternatives.
Using the Creative Outlier Air
Everything about the Creative Outlier Air, from the USB-C charging case to the earbuds, is lightweight. Initially, I was concerned by the size of the earbuds being too large. However, they proved secure thanks to the angled nozzles and array of silicone sleeves. Granted, the sloping shape of the earbuds makes it difficult to grasp them securely. There were a handful of times one or both earbuds slipped from my fingers to the ground upon removal.
One quirk of the Outlier Air is how much effort it takes to press the button on either housing for volume, playback, and call controls. Accessing Siri or Google Assistant requires a double-tap of the right earbud, which puts repeated pressure on the ear canal. On the other hand, changing the volume requires you to press and hold the button on either earbud. This puts prolonged pressure on the ear. Criticism aside, it’s a bearable nuisance. After all, these cost a reasonable $80 and merit an IPX5 rating, which certifies water-resistance.
Listeners with hearing impairments and those who need to be aware of their surroundings will benefit from mono mode.
Another useful feature is mono listening. This is automatically engaged when one earbud is placed back in the case. It’s great for those who are hard of hearing or who need to remain aware of their surroundings, such as during an outdoor run.
Related: Google Pixel Buds 2 review
Battery life and connection quality
The Outlier Air’s standalone battery life makes these some of the best true wireless earbuds available. You get 7.78 hours of playback on a single charge. It takes two hours to fully charge the case, which provides an additional two charge cycles. If you need something better, get the Beats Powerbeats Pro or Apple AirPods Pro. Each of those cost three times as much as the Creative earbuds, though.
Some listeners have reported connection strength issues, SoundGuys’ loaner unit demonstrated excellent connection quality. Bluetooth 5.0 firmware allows for a 10-meter wireless range. Additionally, aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs are both supported to reduce latency on iOS and Android devices alike.
Editor’s note: some users have run into connection strength issues. After discarding the results from the review unit and replacing them with the results from a separately-purchased pair, SoundGuys was unable to recreate the issues many people were having. SoundGuys also reached out to those more in the know, and the issues some have experienced seem to be limited to some early units. We would not recommend a product if it continued to display these issues.
How do they sound?
These earbuds appeal to a wide swath of consumers because of their bass-heavy sound signature. Bass notes sound about twice as loud as midrange frequencies (vocals and string instruments). This is often preferred by athletes and commuters alike to drown out ambient noise where isolation falls short. Even though the earbuds insert into the ear (unlike AirPods) a significant amount of environmental noise can be heard. Ultimately, this can degrade audio quality and may compel some users to invest in Comply memory foam ear tips.
Fortunately, the reproduction of three-dimensional space is impressive for a pair of cheap true wireless earbuds. In all fairness, this is the company that brought us the SuperX-Fi amplifier and SXFI Air, two products noted for their abilities to recreate a realistic sense of auditory space.
Creative Outlier Air microphone demo:
What’s more, taking calls with the Outlier Air is a pleasure because, unlike other true wireless products, audio is relayed through both the left and right channels. The integrated microphone in each earbud relays the human voice well enough while filtering out background noise as heard in the example above.
How do the Creative Outlier Air compare to other true wireless earbuds?
Creative’s bargain true wireless earbuds outperform any others in the sub-$100 category, including its own Creative Outlier Gold. What makes the Outlier Air so valuable is it’s affordable price and functional feature set as it’s near impossible to find a better, high-quality deal at this price. For $20 more, you can get the Outlier Gold and the main benefit to those earbuds is battery life: you’re afforded 10.3 hours of playtime as opposed to the Outlier Air’s 7.78 hours. What’s more, if you have an extensive music library, whereby you’ve gone ahead and purchased the music, rather than pay for a streaming service, you benefit from Creative’s Super X-Fi technology.
Of course, you can always depart from Creative’s brand altogether with worthy alternatives such as the JLab JBuds Air Sport and Anker Soundcore Liberty Air, both of which retail for about the same as the Outlier Air total wireless earbuds. The former is ideal for athletes searching for a dedicated pair of exercise earbuds, while the latter is better for those looking for AirPods alternatives.
Should you buy the Creative Outlier Air in 2020?
Listeners won’t be disappointed with the Creative Outlier Air, but there plenty of alternatives abound for a similar price. One of our favorite true wireless earbuds under $100: the Anker SoundCore Liberty Air 2. These earbuds have an advanced microphone array for excellent call quality, are IPX5-rated, and include a wireless charging case. Listeners who don’t care for high-quality codec support and just want something that works reliably and is compact should consider the $30 JLab GO Air earbuds.