The Creative Outlier Air true wireless earbuds seem to have it all. A massive 10 hour battery life, an IPX5 water resistance rating, volume controls, aptX codec support and even the latest USB-C charging. At £75 or $80 they are roughly half the price of Apple’s AirPods and a good deal cheaper than Galaxy Buds that they are more closely related to.
I was very excited to put them through their paces and also find out if I’d finally found the perfect pair of true wireless running earbuds!
The compact, premium packaging contains the charging case, the earbuds themselves, a USB Type-C charging cable, one set of larger ear tips to accompany the already fitted standard sized tips and a getting started guide that covers all the basics.
This is one of the largest charging cases I’ve come across for true wireless earbuds. It weighs 65g with the earbuds enclosed and measures 78mm by 44mm by 28mm. But I like the design and the build quality is very good with a mostly aluminium exterior with the Creative branding across its top.
One end of the case has the USB-C charging port and four status LEDs. You push from the other end to slide open the case. The battery status indicator lights up blue when there’s more than 30% and red when there’s less than 30% charge remaining.
The earbuds drop in the case and are held in securely with magnets. You do need to make sure they are properly seated, especially if you install the larger ear tips. They’re relatively easy to extract from the case, although the magnets do have quite a strong pull.
They are lightweight at 5g and average sized for this style of earbuds with a narrow end at the driver, that attaches to the ear tip – which should help with fit.
Their build quality is good with a matte black finish, which is the only colour option, the Creative logo on the front side, a microphone at the bottom side of each earbud and a very soft, flexible ear tip.
There’s a physical button on each earbud circled by a coloured LED. So no touch controls. This LED pulses red when returned to the case until it reaches full charge at which point it turns off. You can see the charging status of the earbuds with the case closed with the L and R LED turning off when fully charged, steady blue when there’s over 30% battery remaining, and red when charge is less than 30%.
The case charges via the USB-C port with the included USB-C to USB-A cable. The lightning bolt charging status led lights blue whilst the case is charging.
It’s refreshing to see this modern, more robust charging port that doesn’t care which way you insert the connector. There no fast charging though – the 380mAh battery takes up to two hours for a full charge, charging at 0.16A. The case provides two full charges for the earbuds which are already quoted at an impressive 10 hours. Bringing the total playtime to 30 hours.
The earbuds have a 60mAh battery and also take up to 2 hours for a full charge from flat.
All the wireless earbuds I’ve reviewed recently have a slightly different pairing process. The Outlier Airs are interesting, if a little confusing at first.
When you take the earbuds out of the charging case, the first one you remove becomes the main unit, and flashes red and blue to indicate pairing mode. In this case I removed the left earbud first so I choose Outlier Air L from my tablet’s Bluetooth settings. A few seconds later you receive another pairing request for the other earbud which you’ll need to accept. This earbud then auto pairs with the main unit. Both earbuds will pulse blue slowly while they are connected and not playing music. These lights go off when you start playback.
Next time, regardless of whether you take out the left or right earbud, your device should automatically connect to the whichever earbud you remove first, and then transparently pair with the other earbud.
And if you just take one earbud out of the case, either the left or right, your device will just connect to that earbud. If you later take the other earbud out it will automatically join them together. What’s more if you then return the main unit to the charging case, thus turning it off and disconnecting it, your device will automatically switch across to the other earbud. Your music will pause, you just need to start it playing again.
It’s a clever implementation once you realise how it works, and really does make each earbud usable on its own. This built in intelligence does mean that I couldn’t find a way of connecting each earbud to a different device, like I can do with the SoundPeats TrueFree+’s.
The earbuds don’t support multi-pairing so if you want to connect to another device, the most reliable method is to turn off Bluetooth on the device you’re currently connected to. Then press and hold the multi-function button on one of the earbuds that will become the main unit, for three seconds until is flashes red and blue.
If you don’t know what device you’re already connected to, you can still press and hold the multi-function button for three seconds and it will force a disconnection and enter the pairing process. You can then just connect across as before.
If you have any issues you can reset the earbuds by returning them to their case, and holding the multifunction buttons on the left and right earbuds for five seconds until both earbuds light blue.
There are audible prompts accompanying powering on and the pairing and connection status.
Fit and controls
Like many true wireless earbuds, there is a knack to getting a good secure fit. You need to insert them into your ears and then push and twist them towards the back of your ear.
Even with the already fitted, standard sized ear tips the fit is my ears was very good. They feel comfortable and I could barely notice them, also thanks to their light weight. I installed the larger tips which had an even more secure fit in my ears. The ear tips are very soft and flexible and where they attach to, at the driver, is narrower than other earbuds. This helps to create the most secure fit of any true wireless earbud I’ve tried so far, that doesn’t have a fin.
I tried them for running, one of the hardest tests for these wire free earbuds, and I didn’t even have to adjust them mid run. I still can’t say I was 100 percent confident that they wouldn’t fall out – I’d still love some optional fins, but there’s definitely been some considerable thought gone into their fit for sports.
There’s no touch controls as I mentioned earlier, but the controls are very well thought out.
If the earbuds have powered off, a one second press will turn them on. A single press on either earbud will pause or play your media and answer incoming calls. A two second press will end a call. During playback, a double press of the left or right earbuds plays the previous and next tracks respectively. If playback is paused a double press will activate your voice assistant.
And I’ve saved the best feature for last, you can adjust the volume by pressing and holding the left or right earbud during playback to decrease or increase the volume respectively. A very welcome feature that I haven’t seen in any of the true wireless earbuds I’ve tested so far.
I did find the physical buttons quite firm though, and it’s uncomfortable pressing them further into your ears every time you interact with them, especially adjusting volume which requires a fairly long press. Pushing them up rather than further into your ear helps a bit.
Even if you use the earbuds singly, you can still pause and resume playback, use your voice assistant and handle phone calls.
There’s no in-ear detection, so you’ll need to remember to pause your audio manually if you’re not returning the earbuds to their charging case.
Audio quality, battery life & performance
Creative aren’t a newcomer to the sound market – anyone my age and into this sort of stuff will remember their SoundBlaster PC sound cards around 30 years ago – the de facto sound card at the time.
Although cheaper than offerings from the most popular earphones brands, these still aren’t budget earbuds and with Creative’s heritage I was expecting good sound quality.
And I wasn’t disappointed. The 5.6mm drivers with a graphene diaphragm deliver very good clarity across the range and sound bright compared to other earbuds I’ve tried under £100 or $100. They don’t have the over emphasised bass a lot of earbuds have, especially at the budget end. Some may find this a negative point depending on what you’re used to and what music you like to listen to. Occasionally they sounded a little coarse especially at the higher end and at louder volumes. But I think overall you’d struggle to find a better pair of earbuds at this price point.
I would have liked an app to adjust EQ settings but on iOS at least, if you’re listening via the Music app you can adjust the sound to your tastes in the settings.
They support both the AAC and aptX higher quality audio codecs, although if you’re using an Apple phone or tablet you won’t have aptX support and not all Android devices support aptX. Both these codecs are superior to the basic SBC codec.
Although the earbuds have a good fit, they don’t have as much noise isolation as other in-ear earbuds I’ve tried. For me this a good thing, sometimes it can feel like you’re in a vacuum which I find disconcerting. It does mean there is some sound leakage at high volumes but nothing of major concern. The volume was still loud enough even in a noisy cafe, and running. There’s no active noise cancellation.
The earbuds support binaural voice calls, with audio coming from both sides. Voice calls sounded very good on both ends of the calls. And because of the non-excessive sound isolation, calls with both earbuds fitted were perfectly acceptable – I could still hear my own voice without it sounding too muffled. Watch the video to hear a test of the mics used for voice calls.
I still got audio sync issues with YouTube on iOS, as I have with all TWS earbuds I’ve tested. Netflix was fine, and playing YouTube on an Android tablet was also fine – so it’s an issue with YouTube on iOS.
Battery life was really impressive. I’m not sure about the quoted 10 hours – it’s not stated what volume that is at. But even at around 60-70% volume I got around 9 hours, which is twice as much as most other TWS earbuds I’ve tried. You could happily leave the charging case behind even going out for the day.
The earbuds use Bluetooth 5.0 and range was good. I had no dropouts in the next room around 10m away, although when I went just out of that range they broke up quite abruptly.
Their IPX5 “sweatproof” rating was certainly put to the test running in some unusually hot conditions by UK standards. As I mentioned earlier, I had no issues with the earbuds falling out, even in these sweaty conditions.
The Creative Outlier Airs tick nearly every box if you’re after a pair of true wireless earbuds. Battery life is excellent, as is their secure fit and comfort. Sound quality is very good and the controls are well thought out. I’m pleased to finally see volume controls built into TWS earbuds. And they’re versatile, allowing each earbud to be used singly for more casual listening or voice calls.
They aren’t perfect though. The buttons are very firm – it’s really quite uncomfortable interacting with when they are in your ears. Touch controls would have been nice.
The metal finished case feels very premium but it’s too large to slip in a jeans pocket. And there’s no wireless charging. But it is nice to see a USB-C charging port.
I think overall they justify their asking price with an excellent range of features and good balanced sound. I may finally have found an almost perfect set of running earbuds and I would have no trouble recommending them.
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Creative Outlier Air true wireless (TWS) earbuds: https://amzn.to/2XMWgnk
I believe the following links provide £5/$5 off purchase price:
Creative (UK): https://uk.creative.com/moolah?ref=reidg9138a
Creative (US): https://us.creative.com/moolah?ref=reidg3377j