With its Outlier Air V3, Creative hopes to break the true wireless headphone market with a feature-rich product at a more than contained price. However, the execution is not mastered enough to make it a must-have.
Creative is not the last brand to embark on the crazy adventure of true wireless headphones. With its models, and more particularly the Outlier Air V3 launched in September 2021, the Singaporean manufacturer is once again banking on price and a wealth of features to stand out in a highly competitive market.
For this third version, Creative is trying active noise reduction in true wireless headphones for the first time. The manufacturer also took the opportunity to rethink the acoustic architecture, improve the integrated hands-free kit and add wireless charging to the carrying case. The Outlier Air V3 also showcases its compatibility with Super X-Fi, the brand's 3D audio virtualization algorithm.
Manufacturing & Accessories
For its Outlier Air V3, Creative has kept its carrying case that opens and closes like a drawer. The counterpart of such a design is the consequent size of the case, which is about three times larger than that of Apple's AirPods. It consists of a green brushed aluminum body, a drawer and a matte black plastic base that is all too easily scratched and has many assembly marks. Even if the drawer has some mechanical play, the whole thing seems sturdy and the drawer will undoubtedly be able to withstand many opening/closing cycles.
Solidly magnetized inside the drawer, we find the two earphones entirely made of plastic rather "cheap" and taking again the color code of the case. They are each flanked by a tactile surface surrounded by an indicator light that shows the pairing status. Certified IPX5, the Outlier Air V3 can be used in rainy weather or during sports activities since they are resistant to water splashes and perspiration, subject to maintenance after each exposure.
Comfort & fit
Even for in-ear headphones, the Outlier Air V3 fits deep into the ear canal, which results in a lot of pressure that can quickly become uncomfortable. On the other hand, this ensures a perfect fit. It is also possible that, depending on the morphology of the ear, the earphones apply pressure to the concha, which can cause some discomfort or even pain. We therefore advise you, if possible, to try them before buying them.
The earphones come with three pairs of silicone tips of different sizes allowing them to adapt to a maximum of morphologies. However, changing the ear tips is far from being as simple as it often is with other true wireless models. Here, it is a whole gymnastics to master and which will undoubtedly be able to put your nerves to the test.
The Outlier Air V3 are very easy to use on a daily basis. Each earpiece has an easily accessible and fairly responsive touch surface for a full range of controls, including playback, call and volume control, and changing the listening mode. Most of these actions are also accompanied by voice prompts and beeps to make the headphones easier to use. Pairing is done right out of the box or by pressing and holding one of the touch surfaces for three seconds.
The Creative app, available on Android and iOS, is also particularly easy to use, as well as being complete. It contains various information such as the remaining battery level, but also an equalizer and noise reduction management settings. It is also within this application that it is possible to change the allocation of controls.
The headphones are compatible with Creative's surround virtualization algorithm, Super X-Fi. You will find on this link a complete test of this algorithm by our care. However, you should know that the implementation is far from simple since you have to download a third-party application (SXFI App) and that the algorithm only applies to audio files stored on the smartphone. It is therefore impossible to make it work with streaming platforms.
Although the Outlier Air V3 are relatively complete, some more advanced features are not integrated, including multipoint connection - which is still very rare on true wireless headphones - or automatic pause/resume playback.
In our test, the Outlier Air V3 exceeded Creative's already generous 10-hour battery life promise by 2 hours, giving a total of 12 hours of use per charge without active noise reduction. This puts them on par with the current champions in the field, the WF-1000XM4. And that's not all, because the Outlier Air V3 is capable of delivering 10 hours of battery life with noise reduction turned on, making it the longest-lasting true wireless active noise reduction earphones we've ever .
The transport box of the earphones is moreover able to provide between two and three complete additional recharges. It is therefore difficult to find yourself on the sidelines...
For voice pickup, the Outlier Air V3 has two microphones each. These do not do too badly in quiet environments, indoors and outdoors. The voice is correctly captured and remains intelligible despite a hazy effect and some traces of sibilance. In a noisy environment, such as near a crossroads or in the wind, the microphones show their limits and struggle to adequately isolate the voice from surrounding noise. In such cases, we advise you to pick up the phone directly if you want to be understood.
In Bluetooth communication, the audio broadcast latency is 240 ms: a significantly high value which, when translated into sound/picture lag, makes watching a video very uncomfortable. Like most recent models, these headphones are fortunately able to compensate for this delay on a large majority of video playback applications (Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube...). However, there is no compensation for other uses, including video games.
The Outlier Air V3 could have been a surprise by offering a good listening experience, but the result is unfortunately not up to the mark. The sound rendition offered by these headphones is cruelly lacking in control, smoothness and naturalness to properly appreciate your music.
The main reproach that we can make to these Outlier Air V3 is located at the level of the reproduction of the highs. Their too pronounced, too localized emphasis, and their lack of finesse give them a narrow, piercing and sparkling aspect. The phenomena of sibilance (aggressive reproduction of the sounds [s], [f] and [ʃ]) are omnipresent on the voices, the cymbal strokes are extremely pronounced and sometimes even aggressive.
The behavior of the Outlier Air V3 is quite similar in the upper mids and contributes to this observation. They are flattered in a too important way, too localized and their restitution is not very precise. The timbre of many instruments (voices, guitars, brass...) is thus altered and takes on an energetic aspect, but also a screaming one, which is moreover on the pieces particularly rich in harmonics (with guitars, saturated voices for example). The snare drum hits also sound very slamming, very "dry". This frequency zone corresponds to the peak of sensitivity of human hearing; these headphones can thus quickly become tiring to use over long sessions, even at a reasonable listening level. The equalizer present in the app allows to calm a little the protuberances at the level of the highs and the high-mediums, without making miracles.
The excess of energy in the second part of the spectrum also has a consequence in the perception of the stereophonic scene: this one extends in a rather generous way in terms of width, but cruelly lacks depth. The more subtle elements (reverberation, very discrete sources), usually positioned on more distant planes, are crushed in the foreground, which can sometimes cause problems of confusion on titles very loaded with sources.
As far as the reproduction of the first part of the spectrum is concerned, the Outlier Air V3s are much wiser, but not irreproachable. The bass is warm, quite well defined and the attacks are correctly reproduced. Nevertheless, the speakers suffer from a slight lack of hold after each impact, which can give the kick drum and some bass lines a little "sloppy" side. Moreover, the somewhat excessive emphasis in the bass/low-midrange and high-midrange forms a kind of dichotomy, a lack of coherence between the bass and the midrange.
Active noise reduction
Active noise reduction is not really the strong point of these Outlier Air V3, as the algorithm only attenuates the low frequencies by about ten decibels. This is enough to calm background noise, such as the sound of engines or the rolling of the subway, but not as much as what we find in the competition. The noise reduction then becomes almost ineffective once the low-mids have passed and gives way to a passive isolation that is just honest for in-ear monitors, especially for such an intrusive model. The conversations of proximity or the clicks of a keyboard are still perceptible, it is not possible to cut itself suitably from the surrounding noise, unless to mask it with music and by pushing on the volume of listening.
The mode of listening to the surrounding sounds is rather effective. The proposed rendering is relatively natural, which makes it possible to perceive the sounds and discussions around you adequately, and possibly to hold a conversation if necessary. The effect of the passive phonic isolation of the earphones in the high frequencies is still felt significantly, which prevents to locate in a perfectly instinctive way the position of certain sources (and potential dangers).
It's going to be hard for Creative to make a mark in the true wireless headphone market with these Outlier Air V3s. Indeed, they offer such a poor comfort and sound rendering that even an aggressive price does not save them from such shortcomings. They do make up for it, however, with an inordinate amount of battery life and a childlike grip. That said, we advise you to pass and look at the competition which offers much more capable products.