There was a time when Bluetooth headsets were all the rage. It gave business execs a look of importance, and fitness enthusiasts really enjoyed wire-free music while training. But, I can still clearly recall Bluetooth headsets' early days, when sound quality was mediocre and it was impossible to walk down the street and not have one's own body blocking audio transmission.
Those days are long gone, and Bluetooth headphones only keep getting better. It is one such pair of headphones that we got to review. The Outlier is Creative's newest pair of Bluetooth headphones, and in compliance with current industry standards, has all the essential features, including the ability to talk to people, play music via Bluetooth 4.1 and near field communication (NFC).
What sets the Outlier apart, however, is it's a pair of headphones with many faces. Apart from Bluetooth connectivity, the Outlier can be connected to a device via USB, supports microSD cards of up to 32 GB in capacity (making it a music player on its own), and if the built-in 200mAh battery, rated for 10 hours of playback, runs dry, there is always the option to plug in a 3.5mm aux cable into the left ear cup and crank up the tunes like a boss!
Out of the box
The first thing to notice about the Outlier, even before powering it on, is how loud it is. The pair we were given was black, which came with orange rings on it. Creative also supplied five additional pair of rings, giving the impression that they are for style and can help today's youth express their individuality. That, however, is only partly true. Creative said the rings help adjust the headphones' acoustics. With the rings on, the headphones deliver a neutral sound, while without them, the sound is tuned towards bass. The Outlier is also available in white, which we prefer over the black.
Also in the box is a manual, a quick-start guide, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a stereo audio cable.
Out and about
Weighing in at about 100 gram (93 without the rings), the Outlier is pretty light, sitting on the ears for several hours without pressing down on them. The only occasion for discomfort is when the ears start sweating. The ear pads are made of a type of leatherette Creative claims is like human skin, which is what makes them comfortable.
The right ear cup is where all the buttons are placed. On the face are a little LED and a multi-function button that let users answer/end calls as well as play/pause music. Around the top and bottom left corners of the ear cup are the previous/next track buttons and the volume control buttons, respectively. We found the previous/next track buttons really hard to use. They're placed close to the headband, as a result of which, one tends to knock the headphones off just a little bit — minor annoyance, but an annoyance nevertheless.
Between these two sets of buttons is the microSD card slot, and the opposite face features a three-way toggle switch that lets users switch between Bluetooth, USB audio and microSD card playback. Under the ear cup is the input for the microUSB connector and the left ear cup is where 3.5mm jack input is placed.
The headphones feel well-balanced and the build-quality is top notch. Even thought they are light, the headphones feel well put-together, and despite having spent a week inside a cluttered backpack the owner has no regard for, still look good. The faces of the ear cups feature a glossy finish. They are a fingerprint magnet and scratches come to it like moths to a flame.
The acoustic rings are well-finished, too, but putting them on and taking them off the headphones without dislodging the ear pads is a skill that needs some learning.
Once paired via NFC, reconnecting the headphones to the phone requires holding down the button for a few seconds until the LED turns blue and starts blinking. Switch it to USB audio and the moment you plug it into your computer, the drivers are automatically installed. MicroSD card mode works as expected, although it only plays MP3, WAV and WMA files.
To use the headphones like a wired pair, leave it switched off, plug the cable in and crank it up.
Out of this world?
The sound quality and representation are very subjective things, and depend on what one is listening to, how well it's mixed, mastered and whether they have been listening to it all their life and know every nuanced detail of the song.
We listened to three songs (The Last, In a Sentimental Mood and Pride of Lions by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra on YouTube) with and without the rings. While at first listen with the rings on, the music seemed a little bass-heavy, we truly understood how deep the bass response is after taking them off. Either way, the sound feels full and rich across the spectrum (obviously stronger at the low-end with the rings off). The sounds are well separated and everything sounds like it should.
The playback is loud when cranked all the way up, but not loud enough to give the eardrums that feeling of being scratched by a sharp object (it's called the threshold of discomfort, by the way).
The fit is snug enough to cut out most of the background noise without pressing down on the ears, and the call quality is pretty good, too. We tested it out on a regular cellular call and on a WhatsApp call over 4G as well as Wi-Fi connections, and the person at the other end (the author's mom, who's always complaining that she can't hear her son over the phone) found his voice clear and without interference. The incoming voice was clear as well, and having a conversation over the Outlier was a pleasant exercise.
Out with it
So, what do we think? Is it a buy or not? That depends on whether one cares about what others might think. Visually, the Outlier is small and loud. Unless one switches to a pair of colour-coordinated rings, they are a little hard not to notice. The word "Outlier" written across the head band just above the ear cups doesn't do much in maintaining a discreet profile either. The headphones look a tiny bit disproportional to the size of the head on a rather well-built person. Fortunately, while wearing them, the user willl not be able to notice any of this, unless standing in front of a mirror.
The Creative Outlier carries an MRP of Rs 6,499, but, from the looks of things, can probably be picked up online for less.