In a world of ultra-connectivity we’re often looking for ways to close ourselves back off again from it all. Breaks from social media, burying your head in a book; these are both good ways to go about it, but today’s number one way of cutting yourself off from the world around you is headphones. While audiophiles might sneer at the way things have gone, most people don’t really like cables anymore, with Bluetooth leading the way.
Along with cables, it’s seems as though people don’t want to actually look like they’re wearing headphones any more either, and we’re now firmly into the year of the truly wireless earbud. Besides the Apples and Beats of this world, Creative – perhaps best known in PC gaming circles – have joined the fray, and with the Outlier Air they’ve put all of their audio knowhow into a pair of wireless earbuds that are more than capable of taking on the big boys.
First impressions count, and the Outlier Air immediately sell themselves with the curved brushed-metal case that they come in. Emblazoned with the Creative logo, one end features a USB-C charging socket, along with a set of blue LEDs that show whether you’re charging the built-in case battery, the earbuds themselves, or both. From that same side a draw then slides out giving you access to the earbuds themselves.
Each earbud is fashioned from smooth, solid-feeling black plastic, with a curved channel that sits into your ear canal. The body of each Outlier Air features a helpful L and R, the Creative logo, as well as a tiny mic input, while the outside of each earpiece sports a circular button surrounded by an LED light that indicates various states such as connectivity, charging and if you’ve paused your music.
The buttons take on multiple functions, allowing you to pause your media, as well as skip it forward or back. You’re also able to access your digital assistant and answer phone calls, though as with many true wireless earbuds there’s no volume control. Pushing the somewhat firm buttons in while you’re wearing them can be a little uncomfortable – they are fitted right into your ear canal – but unless you’re a serial skipper it’s a momentary issue.
They look great. I’m personally as far away of being a fan of Apple’s Airpods as it’s possible to be – they look like you’ve been involved in a sweet shop disaster and there’s an Imperial mint stuck to a candy stick hanging out of your ear – while Creative’s design is exactly what it should be; cool, modern and understated. The glowing circular LED really adds to the look, and while they’re not often lit when you have them in, they look deliciously futuristic when you do.
On top of its striking looks, the Outlier Air manages to be exceedingly comfortable. As someone who often struggles to get a decent fit from earbuds – I’m forever swapping between different sized tips in an attempt to get a decent seal – Creative’s earbuds just fit right in, and thanks to the soft silicone tips I had few instances where I needed to readjust them. They stay put too. Whether walking, running, or lying down they stayed exactly where they needed to be. I have to admit to initially feeling some trepidation about how much they’d move around but they’re so stable that you’ll forget that they’re there.
The total battery life is touted to last thirty hours, with a ten hour lifespan in the earpieces and an additional two full charges from the case battery. My time with them played out to somewhere close to that; I’ve given them an absolute hammering in the gym each day for the past three weeks, and when walking around town, and I’ve only had to fully charge the case once. Compared with similar earbuds it’s a truly excellent performance – it’s double the life of Airpods and longer still than the considerably more expensive Powerbeats Pro – and one which takes away many of the worries that regular earbud users will face. Nobody wants to find they’re out of juice do they? Well, with the Outlier Air chances are you won’t be.
That lengthy gym time was totally trouble free thanks to the earbuds being sweatproof, and with an IPX5 waterproof rating you can probably get them wetter than that without too much worry. I got caught in the rain a couple of times, and the Outlier Air just shrugged it off. They coped much better than the rest of me at least.
After all that, it’s reassuring to be able to tell you that Creative’s audio knowhow has translated to an excellent audio performance. There’s plenty of bass, but it thankfully doesn’t overwhelm, while the top end is crisp and clear. There’s a tiny 5.6mm graphene driver at work here, and not only does the use of this ultra-strong material contribute to the fantastic sound production it does so while sucking up less power, contributing to that impressive battery life. If I was being particularly picky, I’d love to see support for Hi-Res audio rather than just AptX, AAC and SBC codecs, but even without that the audio reproduction is deeply enjoyable.
Connectivity is often a question mark for wireless earbuds, and the Bluetooth 5.0-equipped Outlier Air acquit themselves exceedingly well. Wandering around the gym with my phone on a bench saw them capable of a decent twenty metres or so range, and the audio only began to drop out before that with a major blockade like a wall in the way. There have been a few moments where the connection has been dropped, perhaps once or twice a day even with my phone nearby, but it did little to diminish my experience with them.
Value-wise it’s hard to beat the Outlier Air. With a RRP of £75 there’s little out there that can match it for design, sound quality, features and battery life. The closest is the Jabra Elite 65t but they’re a good chunk more at £130 and last a measly five hours. There’s also the Klipsch T5 True Wireless, which is much closer in terms of features, but is far less stylish than Creative’s offering.