In principle, Creative’s bone conduction headphone debut can be described as quite successful: That’s because the Outlier Free+ feel good to wear, have a long battery life and are designed to be quite robust.
The one change they don’t offer is a solution to the basic physical problem of bone conduction sound transmission: the sound tends to be rather midrange-heavy. However, if you are only looking for a bit of background sound during a workout or if you want to hear yourself as naturally as possible in the room during video conferences or phone calls while enjoying a fairly airy wearing experience, then you would definitely enjoy the Creative Outlier Free+.
- High wearing comfort
- Long battery life
- Adjustable ear hooks
- Mid-range heavy
For a long time, the company Shokz was a rather lonely leader in the field of bone conduction headphones. Although the concept behind them was already established, it has since become more commonplace. Now, the multimedia manufacturer Creative is aiming to take a market share from the pioneers.
The two models from Creative are called “Outlier Free+” and “Outlier Free Pro+”, the main difference between the two is that the Pro version has 8 GB of storage space for an integrated audio player that can even be used to listen to music in water thanks to IPX8 certification, while the Outlier Free that we are testing in this review only have IPX5 protection against dust and splashes of water.
Unfortunately, we could not find out the size of the diaphragm. Strictly speaking, it is irrelevant; in the end, the only thing that matters is which frequencies reach the bone (more precisely: the temporal bone) via the transducers (the sound transducers at the end of the headband) and, ultimately, the ear. The manufacturer states a typical hi-fi frequency response of 20 Hz – 20 kHz for the Outliner Free+.
Connection to an external player is made via Bluetooth 5.3. A2DP, AVRCP and HFP are supported as Bluetooth profiles and AAC or SBC are used as audio codecs. They are also capable of simultaneous connection with two devices, so you don’t need to take the headphones off to swap devices (this means that the signals are not mixed, i.e. added together, but the player from which audio playback was last started is always used).
Like many of their competitors, the Outlier Free are constructed as a single headband that is placed around the head and rests on the ears while pressing against the temples. Charging is via a polarised, magnetic USB cable that docks on the inside of the right earpiece.
A full charge cycle fills the battery with enough reserve for ten hours of playtime and takes two hours. Ten minutes of quick charging provides enough juice for a full two hours.
The battery and control sections are behind the ears, in front of the ear sit the two transducers from which the vibration energy emanates; this reaches the cheekbones first and, from there, goes into your ear. The front ends of the earpiece are movable on the Outlier Free+, and this enables you to optimise the point of contact on your temples.
On the underside of the right earpiece, there are three small rubber buttons, and these are used to trigger the operating functions. These include switching on and off, activating the low-latency mode, volume, phone and playback controls, and activating Bluetooth pairing.
After a short period of familiarisation, your fingers will find the three buttons with reasonable reliability – however, this principle of groping “blind-behind-the-ear” is not without the risk of operating errors.
Bone conduction sound transmission does not come close to the sound quality of classic dynamic membrane drivers, and the Creative Outlier Free+ (unfortunately) do not improve this. Due to the nature of the design, the sound image becomes quieter, and the spectrum is significantly cut when passing over the bone so that you end up with a rather thin and mid-heavy sound.
However, the sound is transformed when you use the earplugs that are supplied – although it doesn’t matter whether you use the manufacturer’s earplugs or any other pair of earplugs. Because as soon as you close your ears, the sound becomes much more bass-heavy and muscular. However, this was accompanied by a noticeable loss of treble.
Anyway, wearing earplugs is diametrically opposed to the actual advantage that is offered by open-ear headphones: namely, a very airy and open feeling while wearing them. Where bone conduction over-ears can score points is when making phone calls and for all other applications where the audio material tends to be in the mid-range – for example, with audiobooks and acoustic music.
So, if you want to listen to an exciting novel or have an unpostponable phone call while you are out on your jog, the Outlier Free+ will do the job just fine. However, the voice quality that arrives on the receiver side is not necessarily suitable if you want to have a lengthy conversation. Fortunately, there is no danger of listening at too high a volume because, at a certain point, the headphone’s self-resonance kicks in and they tickle your temples with every bass drum until they make you laugh. At that point, colleagues in the office or people around you become aware of your presence because there is already a little bit of sound penetrating to the outside world through the vibration of the transducers.
With their new Outlier Free series, Creative are venturing into the exciting field of bone conduction earphones. And their debut is basically a good one, as the handy Ear-Free headband is robust and up to scratch as far as operation goes.
Physically, though, Creative can’t perform miracles, and so the Outlier Free+ suffer sonically from a somewhat quiet and mid-range-heavy playback quality. Don’t forget that the principle originally comes from military technology and is primarily intended for voice radio in very loud environments. Immersive listening fun is not really possible, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t take an audiobook or a bit of background music with you on your jog with the Outlier Free+. Video conferences with the Creative Outlier Free+ are really great because they are almost imperceptible to wear and your ears will have good control of your own voice in the room.
- Ear couplingOpen-Ear
- Transducer principlebone conduction
- Frequency response (headphones)20 - 20.000 Hz
- Weight without cable32 g
- Cable length60 cm
What's in the box
- 1 pair of silicone earplugs
- Magnetic clip on charging cable
- Available in Matte Black and Lime Green
- BT codecs: SBC, AAC
- BT version: 5.3
- BT profiles: A2DP, AVRCP, HFP