Creative Outlier Gold review

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The Creative Outlier Gold have big shoes to fill, and these $89 true wireless earbuds are a great deal for anyone who wants to comfortably enjoy their music for long stretches at a time. Both the case and earbuds are the same as the older Outlier Air but with a shiny gold exterior. Unlike their cheaper counterpart, the Outlier Gold feature Super X-Fi integration which makes your audio sound more realistic than before. These are a great pair of earbuds, and we’re going to find out if they outperform the more affordable Outlier Air.

Editor’s note: this review was updated on January 14, 2020, to account for a $10 price drop.

Who is the Creative Outlier Gold for?

An image of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds in the case surrounded by an army knife, bottle opener, and carabiner on a black surface.

These are a great pair of everyday-carry earbuds.

  • Budget buyers should get the Creative Outlier Gold. Creative has mastered the ability to produce affordable, high-quality products and continues its legacy with the Outlier Gold. This Super X-Fi enabled headset sounds great and makes few compromises for being a pair of sub-$100 true wireless earbuds.
  • Athletes should look into the Creative Outlier Air earbuds because of their IPX5 rating. Virtually no amount of sweating will damage the earbuds. Plus, the lightweight design makes them comfortable and unobtrusive, perfect for your training sessions.
  • iPhone and Android users should consider the Outlier Gold because both the aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs are supported. No matter what smartphone you have, you’re able to stream top-notch audio with these ‘buds.

What is the Creative Outlier Gold like?

An image of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds in champagne gold on a black waterproof bag.

The earbuds design is identical to the Outlier Air, save for the new gold paint job.

Aside from the fresh gold paint job, the Outlier Gold looks identical to the original Outlier Air. Teardrop-shaped housings are adorned with angled nozzles that curl into the ear canal to create a secure fit. The included small and medium ear tips are uniquely stout relative to other default ear tips, which saves precious room in the case. If you want a more substantial material, Comply makes true wireless memory foam ear tips.

Each earbud has an inlaid circular button and unfortunately, it requires a lot of pressure to operate just like the Outlier Air. I usually grab the top portion of the housing with my index finger to resist the push of my thumb, rather than exerting all that pressure directly into my ear canal. Once I got used to this awkward positioning, I really enjoyed the functionality of the comprehensive onboard controls. Holding the left button down for a few seconds decreases the volume while doing the same to the right button increases the volume. You can also access Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana by way of triple-tapping either button.

An image of the Creative Outlier Air charging case with the Super X-Fi logo in focus, surrounded by sunglasses and an army knife.

Super X-Fi processing is enabled through the SXFI app, which is available on iOS and Android devices.

The plastic and aluminum charging case is equipped with a USB-C input and sliding mechanism to conceal the earbuds when inactive. Another similar issue arises with the case, which has an unchanged shape from the Outlier Air: it’s still difficult to handle. There were many times where I accidentally dropped the case while trying to eject the interior tray and remove the ‘buds.

Using the Super X-Fi app

A screenshot of the mobile Creative SXFI app head mapping screenshot from the SXFi app.

Head mapping is the first step to setting up your Creative Outlier Gold via the SXFI app.

Just like the Outlier Air, the Creative Outlier Gold requires users to use the Super X-Fi digital signal processing app in order to get the most out of the earbuds. The app may be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store. Interestingly, the Super X-Fi technology only works with local audio and music files, so if you’re limited to using a music streaming service, the Outlier Air makes more sense to get.

This is a huge bummer, if you want a similar experience unhindered by streaming services, you may want to get the Super X-Fi amplifier. Depending on what music streaming service you use, you may be able to download songs and listen to them through the SXFI app for holographic audio. This isn’t guaranteed though as certain content is protected and will only playback on gated applications (e.g. Spotify).

If you do have a local library of music, you’re in luck and can proceed with downloading the Creative Super X-Fi app. Upon opening it, you’re prompted to create a profile and connect the Outlier Gold to your account. From there, you may enjoy your music through the SXFI app: that’s the only way to experience Super X-Fi technology with the Outlier Gold.

How do you connect the Outlier Gold?

An image of the Creative Outlier Air charging case emerging from a black dop kit.

Although the charging case is bulkier than most, it still fits in a travel bag.

Creative provides uniquely specific directions on its site, detailing the proper pairing method. When you first open the Outlier Air, remove both earbuds simultaneously. They should instantly flash blue and red, indicating pairing mode. From here, open your phone’s Bluetooth menu and select one of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds. This will dictate which earbud is the primary and which is the secondary. Don’t worry, there’s no wrong choice: this can always be reversed later; just be sure not to select both earbuds as this will require you to perform a hard reset to the earbuds.

The earbuds operate via Bluetooth 5.0, provide a 10-meter wireless range, and support aptX and AAC high-quality Bluetooth codecs. iPhone and Android users will all benefit from the codec support by way of less audio compression and latency. This is good if you intend to stream videos with the earbuds because you won’t encounter any perceptible audio-visual lag.

The initial batch of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds gave the company a rough start on its true wireless journey as many users experienced connection issues. That, however, wasn’t the case with our Outlier Air unit then and isn’t the case with our Outlier Gold unit now. I was able to walk well throughout some of my favorite, two-tiered coffee shops without a hitch. I did notice some skipping, though if there was a wall between my phone and the earbuds within the 10-meter range.

Battery life

Battery life is exceptional for budget true wireless earbuds. When subjected to our battery life testing, the Creative Outlier Gold lasted 10.3 hours on a single charge, leagues ahead of more expensive alternatives like the Jaybird Vista and Sony WF-1000XM3. The long USB-C case supplies an additional 1.8 charge cycles, affording you more than 30 hours of playtime. If you happen to listen to volumes quieter than 75dB SPL, you’re likely to get closer to Creative’s listed 14-hour battery life.

It takes about two hours to complete a full charge cycle for the Outlier Air earbuds and about 3.5 hours to fully charge the case. Unfortunately, there’s no mention of quick charging functionality, so if the earbuds are out of battery, you’re out of luck. To conserve energy, the earbuds automatically shut off after 10 minutes of inactivity.

What does the Creative Outlier Gold sound like?

Creative’s Outlier Gold earbuds have a more subdued bass response than before, which plays well to a wider range of music than the original Air true wireless earbuds. While lower frequencies still receive extra amplification relative to midrange frequencies, it’s unlikely to do much to make vocals sound “off” as a consequence of auditory masking.

Isolation properties are fine, just make sure you get a proper seal to your ear canal. There were a handful of times I carelessly inserted the earbuds which resulted in a poor fit. Not only did this severely hamper audio quality but, because these earbuds only hang on by the ear tips, it made the ‘buds more susceptible to falling out if I moved about quickly.

Lows, mids, and highs

An image of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds, one in the case and one out, with sunglasses in the back right corner.

You can listen in mono mode by keeping one earbud in the case.

Since the Creative Outlier Gold only uses SXFI technology with local files, I downloaded the song Enough to Get By by Daniel Gunnarsson in a lossless WAV format and played it directly through the mobile app, because I didn’t want to use the pre-uploaded song provided by Creative. I was impressed by the software’s ability to create a realistic representation of open space. I alternated between playing directly through the SXFI app and from Google Play Music; while the difference isn’t as drastic as switching the dedicated Super X-Fi amplifier on and off, it’s noticeable to the observing ear.

Super X-Fi technology is limited to local files; downloading protected works from a given streaming service may not be compatible with the SXFI app.

You can really hear the software’s effect during the chorus (0:40), Gunnarson sings, “Now I know what it means to grow old.” He holds the words “know” and “old” for a few seconds and his vocal resonance is more audible than compared to without SXFI processing. Granted, I was concentrating intently to hear this difference. In busier situations, say on a train or airport, it’s really difficult to hear the difference because of how external noise masks audio detail.

Microphone quality is passable

An isolation chart for the Creative Outlier Gold true wireless earbuds' microphone response, limited to the human voice band.

The Creative Outlier Gold has a microphone in each earbud, but attenuates the lower end of the human voice’s frequency range.

Both earbuds are equipped with a microphone, but only the primary microphone will relay your voice to the person on the other end of the call. Regardless of which microphone we tested, the vocal quality was just passable. There is major attenuation toward the low-end of the spectrum which can cause some voices, particularly those of the male persuasion, to sound “hollow” or unnatural. It doesn’t sound nearly as bad as the chart may lead you to believe, but I still wouldn’t use it for extended calls as my voice was frequently interrupted by sporadic static or popping noises.

Creative Outlier Gold microphone demo:

Related: How to read charts

How do the Creative Outlier Gold compare to other true wireless earbuds?

A picture of the JLab JBuds Air Sport resting on a bike tool with a bike helmet in the background.

Even if you don’t plan to exercise with the earbuds, you’ll enjoy the stable connection and fit afforded by the cheap JBuds Air Sport.

The Creative Outlier Gold is a unique product with one important limitation: Super X-Fi functionality. I was sufficiently disappointed to discover the earbuds only support Super X-Fi technology when played through the SXFI app, and that streaming services aren’t guaranteed to play kindly with the technology. Seeing as many of us rely on various platforms for our audio playback, it seems the Outlier Gold may be a much more niche product than the original Outlier Air.

It’s still an excellent bargain, though. Battery life is superb and the sound quality is better than that of the Creative Outlier Air thanks to a tamer low-end response. The aluminum charging case is remarkably lightweight given its size, and it’s easy to forget the earbuds are being worn. With so many true wireless earbuds and model updates coming down the pipes, it’s hard to maintain a firm foothold in the market, but Creative’s managed to stay relevant among the big leagues (e.g. Apple, Sony, etc).

The Outlier Gold is yet another excellent headset from Creative, proving that premium bargain headsets do exist.

If you’re ok with spending a bit more, the Samsung Galaxy Buds are a smart alternative. Each earbud is outfitted with a touch control panel and wing tip design for a more secure fit than provided by the Outlier Gold. What’s more, the charging case is significantly smaller and can be wirelessly charged atop a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone. Battery life isn’t nearly as good, but the water-resistant earbuds look great and have better microphone quality.

Related: Plantronics BackBeat Pro 5100 review

Alternatively, if you want a comparably priced pair of workout earbuds, the JLab JBuds Air Sport are solid. They feature an earhook design, which keeps the ‘buds in place during all sorts of athletic activity. Plus, they support the AAC codec, so iPhone users can enjoy high-quality, lag-free streaming. Each earbud has a small touch-capacitive panel that supports a menu of call and playback controls. Plus, they’re $30 less than the Creative Outlier Gold.

Should you buy the Creative Outlier Gold?

An image of the Creative Outlier Air earbuds in front of the charging case with the USB-C input in focus.

Listeners get more than 10 hours of playback, which is remarkable for budget earbuds.

It depends. If you’re someone who has a collection of audio files on your smartphone and never stopped buying music with the advent of streaming services, then the Creative Outlier Gold earbuds are a great way to experience your library in a whole new light. If, however, you’re like me and most of my peers who no longer remember what it’s like to own music, then you may as well save a few bucks and get the Creative Outlier Air. That said, the ~2.5 additional hours of battery life and tempered frequency response may justify the Gold over the Air for you without the SXFI bells and whistles.

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