Creative Outlier Gold Hands-On Review: Excellent TWS earbuds for under US$100
True-wireless stereo (TWS) earbuds have come a long way in the last few years. Gone are the days of poor audio quality and short battery life, with many sets now boasting well over a day's use before needing to charge their charging case. While Apple, Sony and Sennheiser dominate the market with high-end earbuds there are a slew of budget options from the likes of Xiaomi and lesser-known brands like Dripp Dropp. Then there are mid-range models by companies like Creative, which you may know better for its Sound Blaster sound cards.
To date, Creative sells several pairs of wireless headphones under its Outlier brand, although the Outlier Air and Outlier Gold are the only two that can really be considered TWS earbuds by today's standards. Creative kindly supplied us with a pair of Outlier Golds to review, which we have been using daily for well over a month now. Please note that while Creative supplied the Outlier Gold free of charge, it had no say on the opinions in this review.
Please note that this is a hands-on review. While we shall discuss our experiences with the earbuds, we shall not be covering them to the depth that we usually do in our laptop or smartphone reviews.
Case & Design - Large, lightweight and a perfect fit
Having used wired in-ear and TWS earbuds for years, we were taken aback by the size of the Outlier Golds. While each earbud weighs just 10 g (0.35 oz), they are considerably more bulbous than even the Sony WF1000XM3. Unlike Sony's latest TWS earbuds though, most of the Outlier Gold earbuds sit within your ear, essentially just leaving the Gold rim exposed.
We had similar feelings about the charging case too, which measures 76 x 44 x 28 mm (2.99 x 1.73 x 1.10-inches). Again, it weighs just 54 g (1.9 oz), but its 28 mm thickness makes the charging case feel rather bulky when carrying it around in a coat or jeans pocket, for example. Minor gripe aside, Creative has finished the charging case in the same gold finish that it has the earbuds. Called Champagne Gold, Creative has opted for metal on the charging case, while the earbuds have an all-plastic build. Both have held up equally-well during a month's worth of daily use.
In our opinion, the Outlier Gold earbuds look stylish, with their Champagne Gold finish being pleasantly subdued. The real star of the show are their 5.6 mm graphene drivers, though. Hailed by Creative as combining low power-consumption with superior audio quality, the drivers sit behind a thin mesh, as is the case with most earbuds.
The earbuds charge via two pins found in the charging case, which Creative has protected with some small plastic nodules. Sandwiched by these pins is a magnet, which keeps the earbuds charging even if you are throwing the charging case about.
On the topic of the charging case, Creative has included four LEDs, one for each earbud, another for when the charging case is charging and a fourth for the case's battery level. The latter comes on when you open the case; displaying a blue LED when it has some charge and a red one when it needs charging. It would have been helpful here if Creative had included more colours here to denote different charge levels. The inclusion of Type-C charging is welcome, though.
Creative includes a Type-A to Type-C cable in the box, along with two sets of small and medium ear tips. Creative currently does not sell ear tips separately, although standard ones may fit. Alternatively, Creative may be able to supply some if you contact them directly. While we have encountered no issues with the ones that we have been using, one ear tip broke when we tried to put it on.
The Outlier Gold earbuds are also IPX5 certified, meaning that they are protected from splashing water, irrespective of direction. In practice, our earbuds have withstood sweat and rain, although we doubt that they would survive a dip in a sink or a puddle.
Overall, the Outlier Gold are well-designed and durable. We have had no issues with wearing them daily for several hours at a time. Both earbuds sit nicely against our ears and provide good isolation from background noise. We have had no issues when running with the earbuds in, either. They even stay in place even when taking off a jumper, for instance.
Connectivity - Bluetooth 5.0, aptX, AAC and awkward buttons
The Outlier Gold supports Bluetooth 5.0, along with the aptX and AAC codecs. Additionally, the earbuds can operate on SBC, but they will default to aptX or AAC depending on whether you have them connected to an Android smartphone or an iPhone. The earbuds also support Google Assistant and Siri.
Additionally, the Outlier Gold can transmit audio through both earbuds when on a call. While this worked well most of the time in our experience during our tests, we occasionally found that one earbud would refuse to work for some reason. Restarting the earbuds by putting them in their charging case resolved this. You can use just one earbud on a call if you want to, though.
Each earbud also has a button, about which we have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the controls are intuitive. A single press of either button plays or pauses music, for example, with a long single press on the left earbud reducing the volume. Correspondingly, long-pressing the right earbud increases media or call volume. Likewise, double-tapping the left earbud will take you back a song, while the same action on the right earbud will take you forward a song.
On the other hand, we wish that Creative had incorporated touch controls instead. In short, the buttons are a pain to use initially. Trying to press either button while wearing the earbuds is an uncomfortable and borderline painful experience. Simply, the force required to activate the button is so great that you will end up driving the ear tip into your ear canal. In our experience, tipping the earbud out slightly with our forefinger and pressing the button with our thumb is the easiest method of using the buttons. While not the simplest, it is painless at least.
Audio Quality & Range - Amazing audio quality for under US$100
Audio quality is one of the Outlier Gold's strong suits. Simply, these are some of the best earbuds that we tried in a long time. They have easily replaced our Sony WH-1000XM2, for example, over-ear headphones that have been our daily wears for the last eighteen months.
While the Outlier Gold cannot deliver the punch and soundstage that the WH-1000XM2 does, the clarity and bass reproduction that the earbuds reproduce belies their size. The Outlier Gold will impress regardless of the genre of music you throw at it. Whether it be classical, jazz, electronica, rock or hip-hop, all instruments sound balanced without overpowering each other.
Noise cancellation is surprisingly good, too. Creative does not mention that the Outlier Gold supports active noise cancellation (ANC), but the shape of the earbuds helps them block out background noise. We can easily sit in a busy coffee shop or on public transport without being distracting background chatter.
Likewise, the Outlier Gold offers decent Bluetooth range. The earbuds connect as two Bluetooth devices, which should not pose a problem for most smartphones or laptops. We can easily walk around our two-floor house without either earbud disconnecting, which we measured with a Huawei P30 Pro, Google Pixel 4 XL and Xiaomi Mi 9 SE. We did encounter some reception issues when using the Xiaomi Mi Note 10, but this seems to be an isolated and device-specific case.
One of Creative's selling points for the Outlier Gold is Super X-Fi. Marketed as "headphone holography", the SXFI app maps your ears to create a custom sound profile. Creative limits the software to its SXFI app, so it will only work with locally-stored music. It is unclear whether the Outlier Gold uses software or a combination of software and hardware to deliver Super X-Fi, though. On the one hand, Creative explicitly refers to the Outlier Gold using Super X-Fi software. On the other hand, it also states that all SXFI products include the company's SXFI UltraDSP chip.
Regardless, the SXFI app is pleasant to use and well-executed. The same cannot be said for Super X-Fi on the Outlier Gold, in our experience. Turning on Super X-Fi makes everything sound as if we are listening to it in 32 kbps, regardless of bitrate. In short, Super X-Fi only detracts from the audio quality that the Outlier Gold offers. If you are thinking of purchasing the Outlier Gold for Super X-Fi, then you will be disappointed. The earbuds offer excellent audio quality without any algorithms or software trickery, though.
Battery Life - Long, but perhaps not as long as advertised
Creative claims that the Outlier Gold should offer 14 hours of use between charges and 39 hours before you need to recharge the charging case. Creative defines these battery estimates on audio playback at a "moderate volume level", a statement that we can only guess at the meaning of.
However, we can easily get through a day and a half's work before we need to charge the earbuds. While we suspect we are getting about two and a half charges before we need to top up the charging case, the lack of a real charge indicator has conditioned us to charge it more frequently than we need to. The charging case charges quickly though, and both earbuds display a breathing red LED to let you know they are charging.
In short, you should not be caught needing to find a power outlet when using the Outlier Gold. You can monitor their charge status from within Android or iOS and they will notify you if they are running low.
Verdict - Excellent value for money
For US$99, you cannot go wrong with the Outlier Gold. Creative has created a comfortable pair of TWS earbuds that combine great audio quality with long battery life. While we are not a fan of the company's implementation of its renowned Super X-Fi software, the earbuds are now our daily drivers.
The Creative Outlier Gold belie their modest price tag with excellent audio quality and long battery life.
There are misses in other departments too though, albeit minor ones. The large buttons can literally be a pain to press, while the earbuds may not sit snugly against all ears. Additionally, the charging case could do with a more informative charge indicator, while it is a touch bulky.
So, why should you purchase the Outlier Gold over the Outlier Air, Creative's US$20 cheaper set of TWS earbuds? Well, both support aptX, AAC, SBC, Bluetooth 5.0 and USB Type-C. However, the Golds should last a few hours longer between charges and potentially up to a day's use longer before you need to charge their charging case. Creative includes one more set of S and M ear tips too. Another reason is the Champagne Gold colour, which is only available on the more expensive model. US$20 also buys you Super X-Fi support, which is not worth it in our opinion. The additional battery life, extra tips and stylish colour do, though.
Overall, if you are in the market for a new pair of TWS earbuds, we would recommend considering the Outlier Gold. They are comfortable, sound great and offer excellent battery life.