The name rings a bell from the 90s and is synonymous with SoundBlaster. The days of DIY sound card installs may be well behind us, but that hasn’t stopped Creative from innovating.
Not all their efforts have been successful, though, like the Super X-Fi headphones I reviewed last year, which were more hype than happiness. But with the Outlier Air, their take on the TWS genre, they are banking in a big way. It is a hot, new category that everyone wants a slice of and Creative does have a heritage of making headphones. So, can they bring some of the old magic back by doing something… creative?
In it to win it
The website is very creative with the jargon indeed. One of the headlining features on the Outlier Air is the use of a 5.6mm Graphene driver, which is the lightest and hardest nano-material known to man. To be used in a sub-₹10,000 pair of earphones, now that’s a big deal isn’t it! But the Outlier Air also differentiate themselves by being IPX5 certified and boasting a massive battery life of close to 30hrs. These sort of specs might be commonplace amongst the Bose, Sony and Sennheiser options, but as mentioned earlier, at this price point, they start piquing my interest even more. Packed in a case that’s considered larger than the competition, the Outlier Air doesn’t conceal its intentions to power through the music for long periods of time. Smartly finished in aluminium with LEDs on one side for displaying charge status, you slide open the drawer to reveal the earbuds that have an Amazon Echo-like illuminated ring around the edge. If you’re into Morse code, you can memorise what the different blinking lights are trying to convey and it should definitely be made more intuitive. Hopefully, you won’t need to decode the lights often once paired to your preferred devices.
A tight fit
Their design allows them to sit firmly inside the ear canal, creating a solid passive seal that, in some cases, will be even more effective than active noise cancellation! Two sizes of ear tips are provided and whichever you choose, the fit is comfortable and secure enough to not embarrass you while on a run. The profile of the Outlier Air is also slim enough to sit flush to your ears without jutting out like a piece of tribal jewellery. The only downside is their snugness without transparency mode means you have little to no directional hearing if you’re out on the street, and this might prove to be risky while navigating through traffic. You can choose to remove either L/R earpiece and the music will still keep playing, but you have to settle for this workaround to save a healthy sum of money. There is support for touch controls but they differ from tap controls. The entire round surface of each ear piece is a button to tackle various functions, but you need such a firm push to activate the button that it upsets the fit and pushes the already tightly fitted Outliers even further into your ear canal, making for an unpleasant experience. For the duration of the test, I ended up using my phone or watch to control volume and make track changes. Thankfully, Google and Siri can be summoned with just your voice and they work promptly.
From the first notes of I Want to be Ready by Eric Bibb, the Outlier Air impresses with a balanced sound that punches much above its weight. The fancy finger work on the acoustic guitar with a solid stand-up bass and the light as puff vocals are all woven together finely, without emphasising any of the frequency bands. Move to hip-hop and Ooh La La from Run the Jewels is rendered with power and authority with real weight to the bass without lacking definition or sounding boomy. It has a high fun factor and while the top-end can get a tad bit unrefined compared to the best, it’s certainly better than any sub-₹10,000 pair of TWS in-ears. Apt-X and AAC codecs are on offer and it does sound like Apt-X is working to maintain the resolution of the music ripped from CDs. Overall, the sonic signature is an enjoyable one if not a neutral one and Creative has judged the tonal balance just right, not favouring the frequency extremes.
Call quality is good for the user but not the caller on the other end. Lack of multiple mics to block out the ambient noise and the aggressive passive noise cancellation means that you tend to speak much louder than you should. Since you can’t hear your own voice, long calls are challenging and can cause discomfort. It will get the job done, just not effortlessly. Battery life is one of the trump cards of the Outlier and with 9hrs on the earbuds with an extra 20hrs in the charging case, you’re good for the longest marathon the world has seen. With its IPX5 certification, you won’t even have to worry about your liquid gold jamming the graphene inside the earbuds.
Not too many true wireless earbuds get the sound right, let alone at this price – and the Outlier Air deserves its five stars for this feat. It doesn’t do things like touch controls and handle calls too well, but it excels at its intended purpose of making music. No matter what genre you throw at it, it preserves the artiste's intention to the best of its abilities without adding much of its own, something many others do. They’re comfortable and light too, if a bit too invasive into your ear canal, but that is also directly related to why they sound the way they do. The graphene claims on their website seem to be true, after all!