My video review:
Disclaimer: Creative Outlier Air were sent to us free of charge in exchange for our honest review. We thank team Creative for this opportunity.
I own few over-ear headphones and some of them can be used on the go, but in the summer time over-ears are such a pain to use, especially the ones with leather ear-pads, nobody likes sweaty ears.
Wired IEMs are coming to the rescue and those work perfectly fine with a dedicated DAP. How about the folks that use their smartphones without a headphone jack? True wireless IEMs will come to the rescue for them.
You probably already know how much I value audio fidelity, but I’m OK with the fact that 99% of folks around me are not as critical so why bother with dedicated electronics and cables when you can have true wireless freedom at affordable prices.
I already reviewed the first true wireless IEMs from Hifiman called TWS600, but I think it’s time to test something truly affordable and great sounding as well, please make room for the Creative Outlier Air.
Outlier Air came in a small and simple cardboard box without additional padding or foam. Inside you’ll find a nice metal charging dock, the ear-buds themselves, a USB type-C cable, an extra pair of silicone ear-tips (M size, compared to S sized ones from the factory), there’s a world wide warranty card, a user manual and that is basically it.
Looks & Build Quality
I will first start with the bad things. Outlier Air uses a non-standard and super-short ear-nozzle, I’m sad to report that any other third-party ear-tips will not work with them, you can use only the small or the medium ear-tips from the package, deal with it. If those are non-standard ear-tips, why not put more of them in the package? At least a pair of simple silicone tips in S, M, L sizes and maybe some memory foam ear-tips as well.
Apart from that I really dig how they look and how they fell inserted in my ears. The docking case is made out of metal, it looks simple and stylish. I love the opening mechanism, just push gently on the right side and it opens, a much clever design compared to the clunky TWS600. On the outside there are 4 LEDs that will show the battery level of the docking case, if the L and R ear-buds are charging and if the case is charging, really easy to remember because of the icons on the case.
The ear-buds themselves are gorgeous looking, really smooth lines and soft to the touch. Again, I love the looks a lot more compared to TWS600 from Hifiman, Outlier Air is also smoother to the touch.
The absolute best part for me is the comfort level, Outlier Air is a small to mid-sized earbud and the inner part is not abusing my ear-canal and ear lobe like how TWS600 are doing, therefore Outlier Air are much more comfortable and I can wear them for hours and hours.
The ear-buds have a led circle on the outside with a red or a blue color, red means it’s bad, blue it’s good, joking of course, please check the manual, those colors are put there for many features (battery level, pairing/unpairing, subsequent pairing, etc). I also like that the space between plastic molds of the earbuds is basically invisible, they were quite annoying on TWS600. Really, design wise there is nothing to complain about, they just scream quality. I just wish Creative would use standard sized earphone nozzles, that would be a killer feature as I have probably the biggest ear-tip collection (~about 25 pairs) for my unusual ears, would love to use my ear-tips, but maybe next time (Hint! Hint!).
Technology Inside Outlier Air
Oh boy, this is where it gets super interesting and want it or not a comparison with the Hifiman TWS600 is happening.
First of all, Outlier Air are IPX5 rated, means they are dirt and sweat-proof. The cool part is that the dynamic driver is made out of graphene, I’m shocked nobody used graphene until now in an earphone. It is super lightweight and super stiff; behind the diaphragm a neodymium magnet will push and pull that driver to create sound waves.
Second cool fact is that they use the SBC, AAC Bluetooth protocols and the Qualcom aptX to boost the audio bitrate up to 352 kb/s, that is still lossy but it is much better than both SBC or AAC, combine that with Bluetooth version 5.0 and you’ll have a stable Bluetooth connection.
Third cool fact is the battery life of the earbuds, at medium volume they should last up to 10 hours of play time, add another 20 hours from the charging dock. By comparison the $300 Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless are offering up to 4 hours and the $200 Hifiman TWS600 are offering up to 5.5 hours of playtime, 10 hours of playtime? Yes please!
On each earbud there is a microphone and when making calls both will work to create a stereo effect for the caller.
The coolest part of all is of course the price, Outlier Air will cost you just $80/€80/£75.
Tips on using the Outlier Air
Both ear-pieces have just a single button in the middle. A short press on any of the earbud will pause of resume your music, double press on right bud for the next song, double press on the left one from the previous song, hold on the right on to increase volume, hold the button on the left one to decrease it. When music is not playing double press the button to engage Siri or your Google Assistant.
When someone’s calling a tap will answer and later end the call, a two second hold will reject the call.
If something is not working properly (can’t pair, accidental disconnects or others), put both earbuds in the case and hold both buttons for 5 seconds to reset them to factory settings.
Any of the ear-buds can be the master or the slave earbud, the first to connect to your Bluetooth enabled device will be the master device. In case you want to use just a single ear-bud just put another one in the case and it will automatically disconnect. Since both ear-buds have their own mics, you can call anyone with a single ear-bud, neat!
I used them in three different setups:
- Connected to my desktop Aurora R7 PC and playing a game or two
- Connected to my smart TV
- Connected to Android smartphone and streaming Tidal Hi-Fi
Outlier Air paired nicely with my desktop PC and as always, I decided to check some youtube videos and play a match or two of HotS. Sadly, my PC has BT version 4.2 and doesn’t have aptX support. Immediately I noticed a jump backwards in terms of sound quality and overall cleanness. They worked OK with my desktop PC, but lacked a bit of clarity. I’m sad to report that while watching youtube videos the lip-sync in not perfect, some milliseconds of lag are clearly visible, its not annoying but it is there.
With my TV they worked better, perfect lip-sync, did some test runs on Gran Turismo Sport and I’m glad to report they worked much better, the sounded clearer as well and never dropped the signal. Watching movies at nigh with them is a really a nice feature that I recommend to yourself. Kids or wife are sleeping and you can’t watch a movie? Problem solved with some true wireless earbuds like these ones.
There is a big potential with this one, you can basically use it with any Bluetooth enabled devices: home consoles, portable consoles, audio players, TVs, PCs, laptops and so on.
Last but not least I tested them connected to my smartphone that is Bluetooth 5.0 and aptX compatible. Well, I’m actually quite surprised how clean and how powerful the sound is. Probably the nicest thing is that they have some serious punch in terms of sub-bass and mid-bass. They are quite full and engaging sounding with a small emphasis on bass and midrange. I was actually very surprised to hear crispy cymbals and a clear treble definition. My first impression is more positive than the one I had with TWS600 from Hifiman.
My phone shows a stable aptX connection so I fired some Tidal Hi-Fi (16 bit lossless tracks) and took a serious listen.
When it comes to bass I was quite surprised to hear sub-bass notes even going down to 30 Hz in the Invisible Sun track by The Prodigy. The punch was there, the good layering was there. Bass was not wobbly; it had a nice control and grip. Hell, it even punched nicely with a pretty good kick into my eardrums. I’m glad to report sub-bass is not lacking in presence like it was on TWS600 and when called for it can be easily spotted.
Mid-bass performance is actually great, among the best parts of them for sure. It has a little bit of bloom, sounds quite powerful, spacious and quite layered. I like that is doesn’t sound like a cheap sub-woofer and actually sounds quite controlled.
For this price point I am astonished how clear and deep reaching is the bass. I moved to medium sized ear-tips so I can have a better seal (better seal = better bass response) and fired some electronica tracks.
There is almost nothing to complain in terms of bass response, for a 80 bucks true wireless earphones they are sounding marvelous.
Moving on to the midrange area is done in a smooth fashion with a single drop in the frequency area.
Surprisingly, the voices and string-based instruments are sounding clear as well, they are quite defined with some clear leading-edges. Outlier Air is not on the dry, boring side but more on the warmish, uplifting side. As a result the sound is a bit heavier, fuller, meatier and quite natural as well. I really like that they do not push forwards the midrange and it is on the same level with the bass and treble. So the voices will never be detached from the songs and that is great to have.
Midrange performance is quite good, I’m glad I never experienced nasal or shouty metallic voices with them, I think they sound fine in this department. As of right now I consider them just mildly warm and inviting sounding without a drop in the frequency area.
In terms of treble there are performing normally, taking into consideration a dynamic driver. There is a dip and there is a rise, just a mild one that is not bothering me too much.
I think the best part of the treble is that cymbals and tambourines are quite biting and quite sharp. I didn’t expect at all to hear clear cymbals, especially at this price. The upper treble is quite impressive, I’m hearing small nuances that normally some mid-range $250+ headphones should provide to me.
Treble most of the time is smooth, but it isn’t laid back, it isn’t dirty, harsh, sibilant or muddy sounding. Not the cleanest treble but still goes towards a clean presentation with quite some impressive detail retrieval.
So, as whole Outlier Air is not rounded sounding and I mean without roll-off in the sub-bass and upper-treble area and are actually sounding quite linear and extended to me in terms on frequency response.
They sounded impressively good to me, especially at this price point. If they would cost $250 I would definitely be harsher with them, but at their price, seriously is quite difficult founding their Achilles heel.
I told myself, what the heck I should definitely measure them and check if my ears can be still trusted.
I used my desktop PC as the source and the MiniDSP E.A.R.S. (Earphone Audio Response System) to measure their performance.
Aaaand voila! Here is their RAW (without smoothing applied) frequency response. I repeat myself; this is their RAW measurement! I can’t take my eyes from it, they measure Perfectly…I don’t even need to apply a 1⁄6 or 1⁄12 smoothing how majority of headphone manufacturers (all of them maybe?) are doing. They have zero serious dips and they have zero short bursts up or down.
As you can see their sub-bass, mid-bass and midrange performance is perfect, just a mild boost in the mid-bass area for an uplifting and engaging performance. Treble is great as well, very small deviations from linearity and as I expected – very good upper treble and even sub-sonic treble. So again, treble is clear, defined and extended.
In terms if frequency response there is nothing to complain about.
Checking their waterfall chart you can see that the sub-bass, mid-bass and upper treble is a bit boosted and there is a longer decay in the sub and mid-bass area, but that is normal behavior for a dynamic driver, they all do that.
What more can I say, until now I am blown away by their linearity and quite clear and well-spread sound.
V. Transient Response
With the medium sized ear-tips I am having a better seal and with that the sound delivery was quick and agile. The overall performance is quite speedy and the notes have the right amount of force to them.
The slam is not the best I’ve heard, but at this driver size (5.6mm more exactly) this driver can’t move more air mass, it is limited by the driver size/surface area. But, with all that, Outlier Air are not sloppy and are not boring. As a matter of fact, I consider them faster sounding than the Sennheiser Moment In-ears and that my friends says a lot about them.
Decays of the notes is on the quicker side, so everything will not linger too much around the listener, from fast electronica to big sopranos the decay of the notes was shorter so not a lot of time to appreciate a longer vibration of the violin.
VI. Detail Retieval
As I already mentioned they sound quite clear and layered. There definitely is some medium class detail retrieval. I presume the aptX codec wakes-up a little those tiny micro-details as I was not hearing those on the TWS600 from Hifiman. All in all, they sound clear, hidden detail can be spotted in the recording, cymbals are clear but not harsh. Dang! Everything sounds pretty good with them.
VII. Soundstage Size & Depth
In terms of sound there is just one drawback and that is the soundstage size. Outlier Air are not up-front sounding mind you, but also not creating this 3D and out of the head experience. They sound like a typical mid-range IEM with small to medium sized soundstage. Yes, they lack a bit of spaciousness and air around the notes, but they are never overcrowded sounding, are never muddy or on-stage sounding. There are many things that are saving them, I am personally Ok with a small do medium soundstage size and not as impressive depth.
VIII. Background Noise
Connected to my PC they had some background noise, especially when music is paused there is a little bit of hiss, strangely when my PC engages something – an intensive CPU task the noise becomes louder.
With my TV that noise is nowhere to be found, clear and precise, no hiss no nothing.
With my smartphone when I listed to Tidal Hi-Fi again the hiss level is about as low as it can be. But when making a call there is a little bit of noise. I think it depends on the wireless version and Bluetooth codec of the sender, my PC is garbage in terms of BT, my phone is much better in terms of BT technologies and as a result sounds clearer as well. It really depends on the source, they might or might not have background noise, you will need to test that for yourself.
IX. An interesting Comparison
Creative Outlier Air ($80) VS Hifiman TWS600 ($200)
And here goes out of the window my friendship attitude with Hifiman, inhale, exhale, repeat.
So, in terms of build quality both are pretty nice, but Creative case is metal made vs plastic on Hifiman. The Outlier earbuds are smaller and lighter, they have a sleeker design and they don’t push towards my ears as much. Comfort level is higher with the Creative earbuds and the design is sleeker as well.
Where TWS600 are scoring great points: the ear-tips selection, Hifiman is offering 9 pairs of ear-tips with them and the most important part is that the nozzle of the earphone is standard sized so third-party ear-tips (like my 25 pairs) can be used with them, I am very much into SpinFit and memory-foam ear-tips and I can use those with TWS600 but can’t with Outlier Air.
In terms of technology I will say that the TWS600 are not aptX enabled and their battery life is up to 5.5 hours VS 10 hours on Outlier Air.
In TWS600 defense I will say that they have a much more stable Bluetooth connection and they transmission distance is longer as well. In my flat at about 15 meters away and two concrete walls between me and my phone the TWS600 were still holding quite nice with just small interruptions but with Outlier Air the signal was severely dropping.
Now in terms of sound, I will first drop a frequency response chart of TWS600.
Please compare this one with the one I put for Outlier Air above. There is nothing more to say about it…Outlier Air are more linear, truer to the recording, are clearer sounding, more coherent sounding. They are also more life-like, more natural, a bit warmer and fuller sounding as well. In terms of sound Outlier Air are better in every respect.
If Outlier Air would cost $150, I would be totally OK with that and I would recommend them, if they would cost $250 I would be harsher about their tech and sound but I would be OK with that as well.
Now, at $80 Creative Outlier Air is an instant-buy recommendation, I can’t fault anything in terms of their design and sound quality. I’m blown away by what can be achieved nowadays with such a small price to pay. These are keepers for me, I would be taking them to my trips and to the gym, thanks Creative!
Oh, Creative Labs, if you are reading this, the higher priced model (if that model will ever exist) should have aptX-HD, LDAC and standard sized earbud nozzle.
Creative Outlier Air can be purchased from their webstore or from your nearest Amazon store.
- Simple and functional packaging
- Excellent fit and finish, very good comfort levels
- Awesome battery life
- Wide Bluetooth codec support
- Wide and linear Frequency Response
- Sound natural, tonally rich and engaging
- No harshness/brightness whatsoever
- Clear and transparent sounding, good detail retrieval
- Can be used with a wide variety of devices (Smart TVs, laptops, desktop PC, tablets, smartphones and so on)
- Can’t beat this price to performance ratio
- Non-standard earbud nozzle
- Just two pairs of S and M sized silicon ear-tips
- Sources: Xiaomi Mi Mix 2, Alienware Aurora R7, Lenovo ThinkPad T430, Sony Bravia 65XE9005
- DACs: Matrix Audio Element X, KECES S3, Burson Swing
- Headphone amps: Benchmark HPA4, Erzetich Bacillus, Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk2
- IEMs: IKKO OH1, FiiO FA7, KZ AS16
- True Wireless headphones: Creative Outlier Air, Hifiman TWS600
- Full-sized headphones: Hifiman Arya, Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S
- Wireless headphones: Master&Dynamic MW65
- Loudspeakers: KEF LS50W
- Interconnects: QED Reference XLR, Aune AL3 XLR
- Power Cables: Isotek EVO3 Premier
- Balanced Power Conditioners: PLiXiR Elite BAC 400, KECES BP-600