Wireless earbuds have really taken off in the past few years and recently I’ve started looking for a good pair of my own. At CES 2019, Creative Labs had on a set that intrigued me. The Outlier Airs are a pair of exercise branded wireless earbuds that offer up a lot of the features I was looking for. Creative Labs was nice enough to provide a pair for me to test out and they are, in all honesty, great for its price with one or two features that I feel could really use some improvements in future iterations.
The Outlier Airs are Bluetooth 5.0 (yes 5.0) wireless earbuds that have a nice 60mah battery in each one. Creative Labs says you can get up to 10 hours per charge, which is great. I was looking for long lasting earbuds and 10 hours is plenty for my needs.
Each earbud has an outer ring that glows blue or red depending on the operation or notification and each has a hidden button near the bottom of the outer shell. More on the button in a bit. On the earbuds are a few pogo pin connectors that recharge the battery they are inserted into the case.
Inside are 5.6mm graphene coated drivers deliver really, really good sound. The bass are pronounced and the highs are definite with voices from videos, music, and games coming in nice and clear. The mids are a little inconsistent with some music holding up better than others. It’s a warmer set of sound that you’ll get and while I’m not an audiophile, I was very pleased with what I heard. They are definitely better than a few of the lesser costing Bluetooth earbuds that I own from companies like Anker and MPOW. By far, the Outlier Airs are the best sounding wireless earbuds in my collection, but I don’t own the Apple or Samsung ones to compare them with.
Game wise, you definitely don’t want to use them to listen to with because of the slight delay. I tested a few action and strategy games to see how off they were and while slight, you do notice the sound is a tad bit off from the video. Movies and online videos are no problem with the voices and sounds syncing up to them without an issue. But for games, the Outlier Airs aren’t the earbuds a great choice for that. But, that’s OK as they are really made for exercising and general usage.
Fit wise, they did really well in my ears with little effort to put them in. They fit so well that they did a really good job at blocking out a lot of the outside sounds around me. I shook my head, well as much as I can as I’m currently injured, and they stayed in my ear. There was only one other set of tips of the same size included though so if these don’t fit you as well as they did me, you’re going to have to order some different sized tips to try and get a good fit. I would have liked to have seen a more selection of tips available in the package as not all ears are shaped the same and getting a tip to work well inside your ear can really make a difference in one's enjoyment of earbuds.
Support is there for Qualcomm aptX and AAC. That means you’re getting CD quality audio to these earbuds which is something I always look for in Bluetooth headphones. aptX works by reducing the bit rate, thus reducing the bandwidth needed to deliver wireless audio to the earbuds while keeping the quality of the audio. AAC is also said to have even better compression than aptX while also delivering high quality sound and the Outlier Airs support both reducing latency on both Android and iPhone devices as well as providing support for two great codecs.
For calls, each earbud has a mic so we’re talking dual mic for better sound pickup. I was pretty skeptical on earbuds being good for phone calls, but the Outlier Airs did better than I thought. When talking on the phone, the person on the other line said I sounded OK with some crackling here and there, but could understand me fine. He knew I was using something, but I was able to hold a 20 minute conversation without ever having him ask me to repeat myself. That’s a big win in my book considering where the mics are located in relation to your mouth. I wouldn’t use them in too loud of a setting, but for quiet areas or maybe areas with some minor noise, talking with them is solid.
Creative does brand these as exercise earbuds and they are sweat proof with a rating of IPX5. You can’t submerge them in water, but you won’t have to worry when running or being out in the rain. Just make sure they are dry before putting them back in the case to recharge.
It doesn’t have touch sensitive controls like other earbuds out there and this is the one major complaint I have with the Outlier Airs. You need an abnormal amount of force needed to press the buttons, to the point where it hurt my ears to try to use them to change tracks or bring up Google Assistant. You have plenty of controls at your fingertips from controlling music, the volume, bringing up a digital assistant, and call controls, but it’s just too much of a hassle to use the buttons accurately and easily.
It’s the biggest complaint I have with the Outlier Airs and one that I hope they can rectify in future iterations. I’ve taken to not using the buttons on the Outlier Airs for anything and control my music with my smartwatch or on my phone.
Pairing with a phone was pretty simple. The first one you pull out of the case will be the main unit, and that’s what you pair. The other one will pair automatically after the first one and I had no problems with my Galaxy Note 9. The Outlier Airs support multiple pairing and I was able to pair the set up with my Surface Book 2. You’ll have to manually disconnect the earbuds from one source before connecting them to the other and having the ability to pair to two devices is convenient even if you have to do a little manual process to disconnect from one and connect to another when you want to switch devices.
Distance wise, I walked away from my phone a good 40 feet before I heard any breakup. Now, this was line of sight and not behind any walls so your mileage will vary depending on far away and how many obstacles there are between you and your source. I didn’t experience any drop outs when the phone was both in my pocket or in my bookbag, but as with most wireless peripherals, your connection will be dependent on the product you use with it.
So does it get 10 hours of usage on a single charge? No, but it's not far off. I used my Galaxy Note 9, which supports Bluetooth 5.0 and I went through a whole work day without needing to charge. It wasn’t until I got home and continued using it for a few more hours that I had to pop them into the case to recharge. We’re talking about 8.5 hours or so. I seem to also get similar longevity with my Surface Book 2, which doesn’t have Bluetooth 5.0, but pairing up with a Bluetooth 5.0 device should get you the best performance.
When you need to charge it, just pop them in the case, which holds up to two more full charges. The magnets help line up the earbuds with the charging pins easier, but I did find that it sometimes didn’t fully connect to initiate a charge. It wasn’t often, but I would see on the side of the case where there are lights to indicate if an earbud was charging that one of them wasn’t lit it. I’d open it and adjust them a little and it would finally be seated all the way. So, you do want to make sure that they are charging before throwing the case in your pocket or bag or otherwise, the next time you pull them out they could be low on battery.
The case is a nicely designed aluminum case that slides out to reveal the charging ports. On one end are four lights. One light for each bud will let you know if they are charging. One light is for when the case is being charged. And finally, the last light will light up when the case is running low on battery. The case will take roughly two hours to recharge from a dead battery. Oh, and the case plugs into a computer via USB-C, which I’m very happy to see as micro-USB shouldn’t be used anymore today.
Putting the Outlier Airs inside the case will automatically turn them off, which is nice. You can even put one in the case, I recommend the secondary earbud, and it will turn off but keep the one in your ear on. Say you want to keep one ear open to listen to your surroundings, this is a great option to have.
There’s no pass through of voices unfortunately, so you can’t do something like say the Galaxy Buds and enhance a voice talking to you if you don’t want to take the Outlier Airs out. Also, there’s no detection if the Outlier Airs are in your ear so you can’t just take it out and have it automatically turn off without putting them in the case.
When not connected to a phone, the Outlier Airs will shut off after a few minutes but as long as it’s connected they will stay on even if there’s no audio coming from your device. This can be good or bad as some Bluetooth headphones have a very aggressive power saving mode where they will turn off after a few minutes of not having audio played. So, keep in mind that as long as they are paired and connected, they won’t turn off without manually doing it on the earbuds.
With no music or sound coming through the Outliers, you’ll get a blue circular glow on the outside of the buds. Just keep that in mind should you want to use them at night and should there be dead periods in your listening. You might disturb someone with that glow if they’re in the same room.
At $79.99, the Outlier Airs are priced really aggressively and have a lot of great features at this price point. Audio is great as well as the battery life. AptX and AAC support ensure solid Bluetooth audio quality. Controls need a lot of improvement though and it’s missing a Creative feature that I would love to have in these, Super X-Fi. The fit, for me, was great and they don’t seem to fall out with a lot of activity. If you’re looking for a good sounding, exercise-centric pair of wireless earbuds and can forgive the controls being a little hard to use, you can’t go wrong with the Outlier Airs from Creative.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
I've been reviewing products since 1997 and started out at Gaming Nexus. After writing for a few different sites that went under, it's nice to bring back a site that's not dependent on revenue and just wants to deliver news and reviews of products.
I'm married, and enjoy first person shooters, sports games, and real time strategy games.