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Shokz, formerly Aftershocks, may be the dominant brand in the world of bone-conduction headphones, but they are facing growing competition and the Creative Outlier Free range of headphones could be the best alternatives on the market.

The new Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus are a particularly compelling choice as these are suitable for swimming thanks to the IP68 rating and built-in MP3 player while also being suitable for regular use with Bluetooth. The only Shokz headphones that are suitable for swimming are the OpenSwim, which have less storage and lack Bluetooth while costing more.

Specification

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus are wireless bone-conduction headphones designed for sports and outdoor activities. Key specifications include:

  • Drivers: Bone conduction transducers
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Bluetooth version: 5.3
  • Battery life: Up to 10 hours per charge
  • Charging: Proprietary magnetic clip-on cable
  • Built-in storage: 8GB
  • Water resistance: IPX8 (up to 1.5m depth for 40 mins)
  • Weight: 32g

Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus vs Outlier Free Pro vs Outlier Free

The main difference between the Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus and the regular Free Pro model is the adjustable transducers on the Plus version. This allows you to tweak the position of the bone conduction drivers for a more customised fit and audio experience. The Plus model is also 0.5g heavier at 32g total weight. Aside from these minor differences, the two models share the same specifications.

Then Creative has the non-pro models. These don’t have a built-in memory and are only IPX5 rated. Therefore they are not suitable for swimming, but still an excellent choice for all other sports.

Design and Fit

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus has a lightweight, flexible silicone design available in two color options – blue/black and blue/orange.

As a bone conduction headphone, the speaker drivers are built into the transducers that sit above your ear rather than sealing in your ear canal. This open, ear hook style design allows you to remain aware of your surroundings while listening.

Adjusting the transducers brings them closer or further from your ear, which impacts comfort and audio reproduction. With the transducers extended in the default position, the fit is light and comfortable. Bringing them closer intensifies bass and vocals but can cause discomfort over time.

As much as I can appreciate the benefit of the adjustable transducer, my main criticism of these headphones is the significant price difference between these and the non-plus model. I am not really sure a hinge in ear hook justifies the £30 RRP (33%) price difference.

Overall, the open fit is ideal for sports and outdoor use where situational awareness is important. However, it may not be the best choice if you prefer an immersive, sealed-in listening experience.

Sound Quality

As a bone conduction headphone, the Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus delivers sound by vibrating your inner ear as opposed to directing audio into your ear canal.

The sound quality is decent but lacks the fullness and immersion of traditional in-ear or over-ear headphones. The open fit limits bass impact, making it sound slightly muddy and imprecise. Mids are reproduced cleanly but have an airy quality. Treble is slightly subdued but maintains good presence and clarity.

Volume and audio profile vary based on transducer adjustment. Placing them closer intensifies bass and pushes vocals forward but can cause distortion at higher volumes.

All the above issues are true for pretty much all bone-conduction headphones. I’d say the only bone-conduction headphones that sound better than these are the £160 Shocks Openrun Pro, which compliment the bone conduction with a driver that is aimed towards your ear. Apart from being quite a bit more expensive, they lack the IP68 rating or on-board MP3, so they are not suitable for

In a quiet room, at moderate volumes with the transducer placed closer, I’d say these sound good for general use as well as sports use.

While audio quality takes a back seat to situational awareness and waterproofing, the Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus still delivers enjoyable sound for sports and outdoor use, and bone conduction is the best solution for all outdoor fitness. Just don’t expect an audiophile listening experience.

Sound Quality Under Water

Thanks to the IPX8 waterproof rating, the Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus can be used for swimming and other water activities.

I haven’t been swimming in about 20 years, so the extent of my testing was to take a bath and submerge my head in the water while wearing these.

Underwater sound quality remains similar to on land, with a slight dampening of bass and mids. Vocals come through clearly, and the audio is still very listenable while swimming (or taking a bath).

The IPX8 rating means the headphones can be submerged up to 1.5m deep for 40 minutes at a time. Just make sure to use the included microphone plug to protect the charging port.

Microphone

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus includes a microphone for taking calls on the go. Call quality is usable, but voices sound slightly fuzzy and lack clarity compared to traditional headphones.

The mic does a decent job of isolating speech from moderate background noise. However, very loud environments can overwhelm the microphone and make calls difficult.

While serviceable for occasional calls, the microphone quality isn’t up to par for regular voice calls or meetings. For that, you’ll want a dedicated headset.

Battery

Creative claims up to 10 hours of continuous playback per charge. This is suitable for regular sports use across a week or more of training. Quick charging provides 2 hours of playback from just a 10 minute charge.

The proprietary magnetic clip-on cable makes charging simple. Just attach the cable to the magnetic contacts on the underside of the headphones while not in use. I personally hate proprietary chargers, but I accept that on a waterproof device, this is an unavoidable necessity.

The 10 hours of battery life is a bit above average in this category and matches the OpenRun Pro, while beating the OpenSwim and OpenRun. It’s enough for most workout routines without having to charge too frequently and should be suitable for most endurance events, with the exception of Iron Man distance events (for most people).

Price and Alternative Options

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus has an RRP of £120.

Then, the other Outlier models are priced at:

  • Outlier Free Pro: RRP £90 – Discounted to £80
  • Outlier Free Plus: RRP £90
  • Outlier Free: RRP £80 – Discounted to £70

At this price point, it occupies a niche for waterproof bone-conduction headphones with onboard storage.

  • Shokz OpenSwim would be the best known competitor at £170 but these only have 4GB of storage and lack Bluetooth.
  • H2O Audio Tri Pro or Sonar Pro – £134

There is also the JBL Reflect Aero, which are not specifically advertised as swimming earbuds, but they are IP68 rated and can work for 30 mins up to 1.5m depths. JBL states they are OK with salt water too, as long as you rinse them off afterwards. These are priced at £120

Overall

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus delivers a unique set of features tailored for athletes and adventurers. The open fit bone conduction design allows situational awareness, while the IPX8 waterproofing enables underwater use. Onboard storage lets you work out phone-free.

While audio quality takes a back seat to practicality, it still delivers enjoyable sound for sports and outdoor use. Just don’t expect an immersive listening experience. The adjustable transducers do seem to help with sound quality significantly. I feel this feature incurs an unnecessarily high price increase but at the same time, I’d say these are the second best bone conduction headphones I have used. With the more expensive, OpenRun Pro being the first, which are not suitable for swimming.

While I have not used any other swimming-focused bone-conduction headphones, the Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus appear to be the best option on the market.  

For non-swimmers, the Outlier Free Plus would likely be a more logical choice due to the £30 price difference.

Creative Outlier Free Pro+ Review

Summary

The Creative Outlier Free Pro Plus delivers a unique set of features tailored for athletes and adventurers. The open fit bone conduction design allows situational awareness while the IPX8 waterproofing and MP3 play enables underwater use. I’d argue that these are the best choice for bone conduction headphones that can be used for swimming.

Overall
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  • Overall - 90%
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Pros

  • Bluetooth + Mp3 makes these suitable for all sports and regular usage
  • 10 hour batter life makes these suitable for most endurance events
  • Adjustable transducers make a significant difference in sound quality

Cons

  • £30 price hike from Outlier Free Pro
  • Bone conduction in  general will never sound as good as in-ear

Last update on 2024-05-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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