Creative launched its first true-wireless earbuds in March 2019. Over the three years, Creative kept to the same design DNA and launched new models regularly. The tuning is largely similar, with some tweaking to improve the treble details and the bass balance. So far, I have tested all the past iterations except Outlier Air V3.
When the Outlier PRO is released, I expected the same line of improvements. It retails for S$119, maintaining the price point of the TWS with each new release. Turns out, Creative put on a different set of ears and re-tuned the flagship model completely. Does it sound “Pro” then? Well, you have to keep reading.
How Does Outlier Pro Compare to Outlier Air V2/Gold?
But first, I want to show you a comparison of the Outlier Pro against the previous Creative true-wireless earbuds. I have the Outlier Gold (essentially same as Outlier Air V1) and the Outlier Air V2. I did not review the Outlier Air V3.
The Outlier Pro earbud mould is redesigned with new faceplate that is flat, glossy, hence a larger area for touch controls. It uses the same ear tip design as the Outlier Air V2 and Outlier Air V3, which I feel is more comfortable than Outlier Air/Gold and supports third party tips like COMPLY. The buds are IPX5 water rated, so you can wear them for runs and sweat it out.
With larger earbuds comes a larger charging case which you can clearly observe in the above collage. After 3 years, Creative still retains the slide-out case design, which I felt is in need of a refresh, though Creative did add the wireless charging capability. The bottom of the charging case is plastic, which to me breaks the mono-block beauty of the case. It has been a common design compromise for metal cases, like the Earin A-3.
Operations on the Outlier Pro are similar to previous versions, but you can customise the buttons from the Creative app. By default, the triple-tap on the left earbud is to activate smartphone assistant. I changed it to go to previous track. For play-pause, double tap the right earbud; for noise control, double-tap left earbud. For volume control, press-hold left and right earbuds.
In case you miss it, Creative has removed aptX audio codec from Outlier Air V3 and Outlier Pro. If you are bent on having a better audio codec, then the Outlier Air V2 is the last true wireless earbuds from Creative that supports it.
Battery life is further extended to another new highs. With the charging case, the Outlier Pro can play up to 60 hours. With the earbuds alone, you can listen 15 hours without ANC, or 10 hours with ANC.
Call Quality of Creative Outlier Pro compared to Outlier Air V2
The Outlier Pro comes with three mics compared to two on the Outlier Air series. This has a significant impact on the mic quality. I tested in a controlled simulated environment and found that the Outlier Pro delivers a brighter louder voice capture. Background noises are also reduced effectively. Due to the brighter audio capture, you can still hear some background clips. Comparatively, the Outlier Air V2 mic is warmer, less bright, less loud. In a noisy environment, the overall sound on the Outlier Air V2 is more muffled and muddy. You can speak out loud for the mic to pick but it sounds less clear.
When testing in real world environment, the Outlier Pro seems to be easily interfered by moving air (a.k.a. wind). The audio mic gets overwhelmed and unable to pick up voices reliably. I only have the same advise: true wireless earbuds are generally not ideal for voice calls made at noisy outdoors, with the exception of very few models like Technics AZ60, Jabra Elite series. There are too many factors that results in poor mic performance, and the frustration leaves a bad experience.
Before making the call, you should set the preferred ANC or Ambient mode so that it will be enabled while at the call. Once you are in a call, you are unable to change the ANC modes.
Here’s the mic test video where I moved around the neighbourhood from the quiet area to the noisy coffee shop.
ANC and Ambient Mode Quality
The Creative app allows user to access the Outlier Pro and make customisation, including EQ and Noise Control. It is possible to adjust the amount of ANC and Ambient Mode.
The ANC level is slightly above average, the low frequency like engine rumbles are removed. The upper frequency is always the tricky one to clean up, and on the Outlier Pro, the hiss remains slightly audible. It is not an issue if you are playing music as the music would overpower the background noise.
For Ambient Mode, the ambient sound is comfortably open-sounding, with a slight peak at the mid-treble, meaning the fan noises sounded a little more “hushy”, while keyboard noises are slightly dull. As a whole, the ambient audio is not an exact replica of the ambience, but it does the job. But when audio starts streaming, the ambient sound is not very obvious, you can hear only sudden loud noises like vehicle horns, and that is probably the only use case that you need. For me, I would prefer that manufacturers offer various amplification levels, including over-amplification, so that I can decide if I needed to hear more of ambient sounds. Unfortunately, not many headphones have this nowadays.
We finally come to the most-asked question, justifiably so. When Creative names their latest TWS “Outlier Pro”, a lot of people are expecting another progressive improvement over the Outlier Air series. After all, Creative is using a larger 10mm graphene-coated drivers compared to 5.6mm on the Outlier Air V2.
Based on my listening assessment, it appears the tuning of the Outlier Pro is intentionally different. I find the treble is dramatically reduced in brightness compared to the Outlier Air V2. As for the bass, they are pumped up to be fuller, more sustaining, more meaty, the bass kicks are more cushy. Midrange has the warmth and detail without too cloudy, given the tamed treble and the cushy bass.
Throughout my decades of reviewing products, I have this belief that every product creator has a specific target audience, and may not satisfy all consumer groups. Personally, I find the Outlier Pro lacks the air that lifts the veil of sound. If I were to adjust the EQ from the Outlier Pro to approximate the Outlier Air V2, it would look like this:
I would have to:
- Reduce the bass, as the Outlier Air V2 bass is not so overpowering
- Reduce the midrange, as the Outlier Air V2 sounds less warm
- Increase the treble to bring up the brightness and instrumental clarity
Now, even if I can EQ to achieve the same frequency response, I cannot mimic the sound stage and instrumental layering details. Despite the tuning, the Outlier Pro has a more narrow sound stage, the bass is relatively more prominent. While turning up the treble, the Outlier Air V2 is clear but less forward, hence less harsh compared to my EQ-ed version above.
With the Outlier Pro, after lengthy listen, I feel that people with sensitive ears against treble and a love for warmer tuning will be able to appreciate it. When I take out the Audio-Technica ATH-CKS50TW earbuds to compare, the CKS50TW offers a little brighter treble, which I mentioned in my review previously that it gives better listening balance. The bass on the CKS50TW is stronger, since it is marketed as a “solid-bass” earbuds.
Similar to all previous Outlier Air series, the Outlier Pro supports Super X-Fi which you can enable through the SXFI smartphone app. Only music played from the SXFI app can be heard with the SXFI effects, which by now is less special given the avail of spatial sound and 3D surround audio from Apple, Sony and Meridien. I must say that the SXFI offers a more realistic out-of-head audio effects, but consumers seem to prefer surround sound that zooms around the head instead of in front.
- Bass: 8/10. Prominent but not too punchy.
- Midrange: 7/10. Strong presence and good warmth.
- Treble: 6/10. Veiled and lacks sparkle.
Creative has opted to tone down the treble and bump the bass on the Outlier Pro. This tuning will not win existing fans or casual listeners who enjoys clear treble. If you have owned the Creative Outlier Air series and find the treble too harsh and bright, then the Outlier Pro could give your ears a break. But personally I felt the treble could do a little more air.
I am underwhelmed with the Outlier Pro, given my fervent support for Singapore local brand products, but I suppose there will be people out there will appreciate a less aggressive treble and more bottom-heavy tuning. The ANC quality is on par with most good earbuds out there (except premium models of Sony and Bose). The Creative app that can customise the earbuds is also a right step, and with the low price point, Creative can still be a great value true wireless earbuds to own.