When Creative launched their first-ever true wireless earbuds, Outlier Air, in March 2019, it stirred up the local audio market with its insanely attractive price point of close to S$100, which in 2019 was very uncommon. Three months later, Creative Outlier Gold was launched, sporting identical design except in gold colour and supports Super X-Fi software.
Now after more than a year since their successful debut, the true-wireless earbuds market has exploded with such an exponential pace that you could easily get a pair of good-sounding buds for less than S$80 from other budget brands. As the months go by, the Creative true-wireless products become less attractive. The launch of Outlier Air V2 will hopefully put Creative back into the consumers’ purchase radar, though it might not be as easy to convince new buyers as before.
Comparing Outlier Air V2 to Outlier Air and Outlier Gold
Here’s a table to compare the differences among the three true-wireless models from Creative:
|Features||Outlier Air||Outlier Gold||Outlier Air V2|
|Battery Life (Earbuds)||10 hours (60 mAh)||14 hours (80 mAh)||12 hours (80 mAh)|
|Battery Life (Case)||30 hours (380 mAh)||39 hours (450 mAh)||34 hours (450 mAh)|
|Super X-FI||Not Supported||Yes, Software||Yes, Software|
|Bluetooth 5.0, QCC302x, SBC, AAC, aptX||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Water Resistance Rating||IPX5||IPX5||IPX5|
|Ear Tips||1 extra pair||2x S pair, 2x M pair||2x S, 2x M, 1x L pair|
|Colour||Black||Champagne Gold||Midnight Blue|
Interesting to note that while the Outlier Air V2 has identical battery capacity as Outlier Gold, the battery life is lower. I think this is due to optimisation of the wireless transmission power to improve connectivity performance. In terms of design, the Outlier Air V2 is slightly longer, the charging pins are also different, which means the newer earbuds cannot be used on the older cases. The charge LED indicator – now in green instead of blue – is also simplified with one to indicate battery level (green/amber/red) and charging. The shape of the earbuds look largely identical, as well as the various component materials, compared to previous generation.
One advantage of the new case is that it can easily accommodate larger third-party tips like Comply. The buds can dock securely without the need to manually push to connect the pins. Creative has also included additional sets of silicone ear tips with different shapes, depending on your preference. I definitely prefer the newer ear tips, as they seal my in-ears much easier than the first-generation and do not scratch my skin.
Another key change is the way the earbud LED behaves. On previous models, the earbuds LED will flash when there is no activity or audio streaming from the device to the earbuds. On the new Outlier Air V2, the earbuds LED will not flash once the connection is successful. One drawback is that you won’t be able to tell if the earbuds are powered on, but one could assume it is on. In any case, powering up the earbuds is simple: just tap on the sensor and it will wake up.
The other improvement is that the controls are touch sensor instead of click buttons. Touch controls have their share of disadvantages, like accidental triggers. For that, Creative designed the gesture such that a single-touch has no effect. To play-pause, double tap. To change track, triple tap on left (previous track) or right earbuds (next track). To change volume, tap-hold on left (reduce volume) or right earbuds (increase volume). To initiate Voice Assistant (Google/Siri), triple tap when no audio.
As one of the early sample recipients, I had the privilege of feeding back to Creative team on any issues faced during my review. I have to say that I have no major issues. Now, if you think that my review would be biased just because I got privileged access, you are half wrong. Let’s just say that I might be more forgiving in some functions, but I will share my opinions for you to align. After all, some aspects are rather subjective, for instance, ear tips comfort, or preference to touch controls, and even the different frequency response tuning.
Previously when I reviewed the Outlier Gold, I felt that the connectivity was at higher susceptibility to environmental interferences. In the case of Outlier Air V2, the connectivity is very much improved and on par with most of the TWS available in the market. Basically, there are no annoying drop-offs when using the earbuds over the past weeks.
I was intrigued by the different tuning Creative has applied on the Outlier Air V2. In that way, the first generation models may still appeal to consumers who prefer the sound. For me, I definitely enjoy listening to the Air V2 sound tuning more. Compared to the previous generation, the treble is a lot more sparkling, better controlled sibilant, less harsh. Percussion instruments are cleaner, better defined, vocals are less chesty, less hazy. What this also means is that they sound less full-bodied, more clinical.
As for the bass, sonically they appear to be identical to the Outlier Air/Gold, but because the treble on the Air V2 is thinner, it also affects the body of the the bass, making the Air V2 bass slightly cleaner, perceptually more prominent. The Outlier Air/Gold gives the impression that its bass is fuller due to the extension towards the midrange and the broader treble tuning.
I tried to do an EQ compensation on PowerAmp to illustrate how the Air V2 would sound on my Outlier Gold. Disclaimer: it is only an aural “simulation”. The real Air V2 definitely sounds better than the EQ “fake” version. But you can see what Creative has done: refining the mid-treble to be less harsh, less pushy, and lifting the presence for clarity.
As always, EQ-ing will not give you the exact sound matching. If only EQ can solve all sound tuning issues, I would not have to pay top dollar for premium headphones!
I cannot help but compare the Outlier Air V2 to the Sennheiser MTW2 because it is the most recent earbuds I have just reviewed. Between the two, the MTW2 sounds less cold, warmer and more ambience, while achieving similar brightness at the top-side. Musically, the Sennheiser reveals more details across the frequency. The Air V2 is a good copy of a V-shaped tuning with great treble controls.
Looking further back on my collection, the Earfun Air has similar tuning with a little more forward vocals, but Outlier Air V2 has more bass presentation and slightly more sizzling highs. Compared to the Audio-Technica ATH-CK3TW, the A-T has more prominent sub-bass with relatively warmer vocals, while Air V2 has thinner highs for clarity.
The Outlier Air V2 is sensitive in picking up sounds, so indoors work fabulously during calls. My voice is rather bright-sounding, above average from other earbuds. My wife told me that this is one of the better-sounding earbuds.
However, in noisy places, the Air V2 did not fare that well. It also picks up all the noises around me, so my voice could not be picked up unless I speak up loud, something which I am not comfortable with in public. Fortunately, I found a feasible method if I needed to whisper sweet-nothings to my other half: I remove the earbud with the active mic and talk close to it on my hand while listening with the other earbud in-ear. It might as well, since I find myself talking too loud when I wear both earbuds due to the strong noise-isolation.
When both earbuds are worn, only one earbud mic is used, and it depends on which one is the master. When you place one of the earbuds into the charging case, the mic will switch to the other earbud. On smartphones supporting Qualcomm True Wireless Stereo Plus (TWS+), the switching is quite instant. For normal Bluetooth, it would take time for the smartphone to handover the master earbud to the other side, so there would be a few seconds of disruption. And just like the previous versions, when one earbud is active, it will only play one channel instead of mono.
While most aspects of the earbuds remained unchanged, the best takeaway with the Outlier Air V2 is the significantly improved treble response to deliver a more comfortable yet clearer sound. The upgrade to touch panel lets me control playback comfortably without pushing into my ears. The minor design improvements on the case ensures better accommodation of larger ear tips.
With a special launch price of S$99, Creative is once again delivering a great value true-wireless earbuds for the audio consumers, offering a sound tuning that is easy to indulge and small important improvements that makes the Outlier Air a better version that we all deserve.