With the rapid rise of true wireless earbuds, you’ve likely considered cutting the cord altogether. After all, this is as convenient as on-the-go listening gest. While the market is well saturated with fine products, the Creative Outlier Air stands out from the rest on the high-value, low-cost nature of the earbuds.
Editor’s note: this review was updated on December 17, 2019, to address the Amazon Echo Buds release. While our review unit performed well regarding connection strength, users have reported Bluetooth pairing issues.
Who is the Creative Outlier Air for?
The Creative Outlier Air is for general consumers who don’t want to be tethered by wire when out and about. Standalone battery life is excellent for bargain true wireless earbuds and can carry you through nearly an entire workday. Its IPX5 build can endure most workouts and unpredicted downpours alike. If you want some of the best true wireless earbuds for a reasonable price, the Creative Outlier Air is for you.
What’s it like to use the Creative Outlier Air?
The Creative Outlier Air earbuds and charging case are lightweight and compact, making it easy to transport them in a purse or pocket. Pushing the inner portion of the charging case out reveals the earbuds, which are magnetically attached to the charging pins. I was doubtful about the fit since the housings are slippery, but my doubts were quickly quelled after wearing them for an hour. Each earbud houses what Creative describes as a 5.6mm graphene driver. However, this isn’t graphene through-and-through; rather it’s either a sort of coating laid atop the driver itself.
If you’re navigating a high-trafficked area or exercising outdoors, simply engage mono listing by placing one earbud back in the case. This way, you can stay safe while still enjoying your music while working out or just walking about. If you do choose to exercise with the IPX5 water-resistant Creative Outlier Air, be sure to let the earbuds dry off completely before placing them back in the charging case.
The secure fit and IPX5 rating make these a great all-purpose option that can double as workout earbuds.
One of the earbuds’ few drawbacks is the amount of force required to press the on-board control buttons. Sure, it’s great that you’re afforded call, track skipping, and volume controls all from the earbuds, but it’s odd how much effort it took to answer a call or access Google Assistant. This may very well loosen over time, though.
How long does the battery last?
Upon testing, we were able to squeeze a whopping 7.78 hours of playback from the 60mAh batteries found in the Creative Outlier Air earbuds. Although this is less than Creative’s boasted 10-hour standalone battery life, it still outperforms most other true wireless earbuds we’ve tested. The 380mAh charging case provides an additional two charge cycles, carrying you through nearly a full day of listening. Charging takes up to two hours, and the same applies to the USB-C charging case. If you like the build and style of the Outlier Air but wish they had a bit more juice per charge, the Creative Outlier Gold earbuds are a great alternative. For just $20 more, you get 10.3 hours of playtime before the earbuds run out of juice.
How do you connect the Outlier Air to your phone?
Initial pairing for each set of true wireless earbuds is a little different. For these, just remove both earbuds simultaneously and one of the circular indicators will alternate between red and blue, indicating pairing mode. Your phone’s menu will register two options: Creative Outlier L and Creative Outlier R, choose the one with the blinking LED. This is now the main unit, while the other is secondary.
Both aptX and AAC high-quality codecs are supported, which reduces latency on iOS and Android devices.
The Bluetooth 5.0 earbuds have a 10-meter wireless range and stayed connected through two layers of walls during testing. What’s more, the earbuds support both aptX and AAC high-quality codecs. Not only does this reduce latency on both iOS and Android devices but it affords improved audio quality over the standard SBC codec.
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, we were unable to recreate the issues many people were having. We’ve 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 to reassign a primary unit
To reassign which is the main unit, place the desired secondary unit into the case. Doing so automatically designates the active earpiece as the main unit and requires up to 10 seconds to take effect.
How do the earbuds sound?
These sound like a fun pair of earbuds that put bass before clarity. As depicted by the frequency response chart above, bass frequencies (pink) are going to be 10dB louder than midrange frequencies (green). This means that 100Hz sounds will be twice as loud as 1,800Hz sounds. There is a bit of auditory masking between the two ranges; however, the emphasized treble response (cyan) aids in reproducing a seemingly clearer sound.
While the bass response may be overpowering at times, the reproduction of three-dimensional space is quite impressive. Instrumental separation is easy to hear which may not be surprising seeing as it’s the same company that brought us the Super X-Fi amplifier.
Media playback becomes significantly less clear when in a noisy environment. I took these out to my local coffee shop and could hear nearly everything around me. Increasing the volume counteracted this a bit, but doing so isn’t always the safest choice. Seeing as these are relatively affordable true wireless earbuds, it’s worth picking up a pair of third-party ear tips to improve isolation.
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Lows, mids, and highs
The song Man On Fire by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros is a great example of how well the Creative Outlier Air recreates a realistic sense of sound. At 0:29, the guitarist walks down the fretboard playing individually plucked notes as lead singer Alex Ebert vocalizes a melodic “oh.” The light drum and tambourine hits are distinguishable from one another and you experience a sense of spatial awareness that isn’t replicated as well by true wireless competitors.
There are some drawbacks to the Creative Outlier Air’s sound signature: at 3:16 a triangle hit comes through clearly, but vocal “ohs” are underemphasized and muffled by the overpowering kick drum strikes. Remember when I mentioned that certain midrange frequencies will sound half as loud as bass notes? Case in point: Jade Castrinos’ echoing vocals at 3:26. The harmonic resonances of her voice are completely masked by the underscoring drums and guitar.
Is the Creative Outlier Air good for phone calls?
Absolutely. Unlike many true wireless earbuds, the Creative Outlier Air relays call audio through both the left and right channels. Additionally, each earbud is outfitted with an integrated microphone, which works well enough to relay the human voice. It’s not as good as something like the AirPods (2019) or even the Samsung Galaxy Buds, but it does the trick.
Not how the chart above depicts notes below 160Hz as quieter than higher ones. This means if you have a low register, most males, you won’t sound quite as clear as someone with a higher-pitched voice. For reference, 160Hz is the lowest end of my voice’s fundamental frequency range.
Creative Outlier Air microphone demo:
The example above was recorded while an industrial fan and dehumidifier were running in my apartment just ten meters from me. Even though the machines are slightly audible in the recording, they’re significantly quieted by the microphones. Safe to say the Creative Outlier Air’s ability to attenuate such loud, low-frequency noises is impressive.
How does the Outlier Air compare to other cheap true wireless earbuds?
It outperforms other true wireless earbuds under $100, so much so that it’s reigned champion among the competition since its release. That’s a general measurement of the earbuds, though; if you want something more specialized, say exclusively to keep you motivated during a workout, then the JLab JBuds Air Sport may be a better pick. These are $69, feature an IP66 rating meaning rock climbers can use them without worrying about chalk damaging the internals, and they have safety features like Be Aware mode, which allows ambient noise in. You’re sacrificing aptX support with the JLab JBuds Air Sport, but the earbuds support AAC, so iPhone users can still enjoy reliable high-quality streaming. If you like the idea of the JLab JBuds Air Sport but want to remain earhook free, the new JLab JBuds Air Icon ‘buds are a comparably priced alternative.
If you want something that’s more of an AirPods alternative in terms of aesthetics, we’re fans of the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air. Again, no aptX support but connection strength is reliable thanks to the Bluetooth 5.0 firmware. What’s more, the sound signature features a more modest bass response, making them more versatile across varying music genres.
Again, if you enjoy just about everything the Creative Outlier Air has to offer but wish they had just a bit more battery life per charge, the Creative Outlier Gold is a smart alternative. These earbuds integrate Creative’s Super X-Fi technology for realistic reproduction of 3D space, but its usage is limited to local audio files and must be streamed via the SXFI app.
How does the Creative Outlier Air compare to expensive true wireless earbuds like the Apple AirPods Pro?
The Apple AirPods Pro are Apple’s debut noise canceling true wireless earbuds, and Apple switched up the design formula with these: listeners now benefit from dedicated nozzles that actually block out external noise. There’s a significant price disparity between the Apple AirPods Pro and the Creative Outlier Air, about $170 difference.
If you’re an iPhone user looking for earbuds to enjoy in the long-term, the Apple AirPods Pro is an investment worth making. The noise canceling is effective and only outperformed by the Sony WF-1000XM3. Battery life isn’t nearly as good as the Creative Outlier Air, you get 5.1125 hours of playtime, but that’s the sacrifice for good ANC and all of the sensors packed into the AirPods Pro.
Of course, the cost of the Apple AirPods Pro is impossible to ignore. If you’re someone who doesn’t care for noise canceling, hands-free access to Siri, or pressure-sensitive controls, you may as well save your change and get the Outlier Air. For those who view cheap total wireless earbuds as a stepping stone to something more premium, though, I advise biding your time and saving for the AirPods Pro.
The Amazon Echo Buds are affordable smart earbuds with noticeable compromises.
On the other hand, the Amazon Echo Buds are smart true wireless earbuds with Alexa integration and retail for half of what the AirPods Pro cost. You do, however, get what you pay for: the battery cell depletion is uneven between the left and right earbud, the case uses microUSB charging instead of USB-C, and sound quality isn’t great. The earbuds are IPX4-rated and benefit from Bose noise reduction technology, which works nearly as well as some true wireless ANC units.
Should you buy the Creative Outlier Air?
Yes. The Creative Outlier Air is a bargain for true wireless earbuds. Sound quality is solid and both aptX and AAC high-quality codecs are supported. Additionally, battery life holds up among the competition. If you’re looking for a pair of true wireless earbuds that can do it all and do it well for less, then the Creative Outlier Air is a brilliant choice.
Read up on our list of the best true wireless earbuds
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