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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Creative Outlier Pro

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The Creative Outlier Pro buds are almost the perfect wireless gaming earbuds for me. They’re cheaper than the JBL Quantums, lighter, last longer, and the ANC is stronger… and even now I’m writing that I’m questioning myself for picking the JBLs over them. But those objectively positive features of the Outlier Pro are just one part of the wireless bud puzzle, it’s the more ephemeral, subjective experience of actually using them on a day-to-day basis that has them falling just short.

If I had just used them for a short time, picked them up for a quick game on the Steam Deck, or played some music while working, I’d have been more impressed. But having used them consistently for a longer period of time has only highlighted the friction points. 

And it’s the basic controls that have really rubbed me the wrong way. Touch controls are not my favourite things on headphones or earbuds; I don’t care about the aesthetics of a protruding physical button as I know exactly where the controls are because I can feel them through my fingers. But touch controls on an unseeable device jammed in your ear can be a bit of a lottery.

Sadly, there are few buds with physical buttons out there now, but some still manage to do the touch interface well. The Creative Outlier Pro buds, however, do not. 

Outlier Pro specs

Drivers: 10mm
Frequency response: 20Hz–20,000Hz
Weight: 0.24oz | 7g
Connection: Bluetooth 5.2
Battery life: 10 hours (ANC on) | 60 hours from charging case
Price: $80 | £68

For a start there’s a very specific area to hit on the flat outward facing surface of the buds, and that’s not always super easy to nail when you’re not able to see them. Then you have to double tap for play and pause, which is just crazy as it’s the single most common control you’ll ever use.

Single tap, people. Just one input, it’s simple.

And then there’s volume control, which is split between left and right buds for up and down. Honestly, having to use both hands to go adjust the volume is a pain, and I’d rather just get the phone out of my pocket, or hit the physical buttons on the Steam Deck instead.

One last bugbear probably says more about me than the Outlier Pro buds, but I constantly found myself trying to put the wrong bud in the wrong hole in the charging case.

These are the ergonomic frustrations that meant I struggled with the day-to-day use of the Creative earbuds. But, while they are definite annoyances, they’re the sort of issue that you’ll internalise over a relatively short period of time when you’re actually using them. You’ll learn, as I did, not to worry about adjusting volume; you’ll learn to make a game of trying to insert the relevant bud in the correct slot of the case; and you’ll learn to deal with the frustration of double-tapping.

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Because the actual audio, the actual experience of listening and gaming through the Outlier Pro earbuds is almost enough to completely offset those ergonomic issues.

The 10mm drivers are strong and deliver an excellent, detailed sound. And that active noise cancelling is the best I’ve experienced on any headset. The bass is well delivered, too, offering enough oomph so you know it’s there without crashing into the mid or high tones and muddying the overall sound.

The standard, flat EQ allows for your gaming soundscape and musical experience to be clear, but is still punchy.

The battery life is outstanding as well. It can deliver double the ANC-on time that the JBL Quantum TWS is able to, and the charging case will go on for days. While I may have issues getting the buds in the right way around, the case is a stand-out part of the package. The slightly squashed metal cylinder feels good in the hand and isn’t too big dropped into a pocket, or secreted in your Steam Deck carry case either.

My only technical problem with the Outlier Pro, when it comes to gaming, is that I’ve found no way to enable the specific Bluetooth low latency mode for gaming when connected to either the Steam Deck or a gaming laptop. On my phone, with the companion app, it’s a simple switch in the settings screen, but it doesn’t seem to be available outside of that.

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But, so long as the last time you used them via the app you did enable the low latency mode, it will remain on when you then plumb your buds straight into a laptop or Steam Deck. Maybe the Type-C dongle of the JBL Quantum TWS is a touch tighter on latency, but not enough so you’d really notice without listening to them side-by-side. 

Gunshots and other game audio link up well enough that I’m not concerned about the fact I don’t have either a wired connection or a dedicated app that I have to fudge into the Deck’s Linux-based OS.

All of which makes the Creative Outlier Pro buds a great set for gaming, but with certain ergonomic caveats. I love them when I don’t have to actually interact with them. When I can ignore them and concentrate on the music or the game I’m playing, they’re excellent sounding buds. When I have to actually do anything with them they frustrate the hell out of me.

The Verdict


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Creative Outlier Pro

Technically excellent, the Outlier Pro buds sound great and deliver a feature set to rival any of the higher priced wireless earbuds, but those ergonomic frustrations have me regularly reaching for an alternative.

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