Swimming is wonderful exercise, but most technology isn’t designed for underwater use. If you’re a runner, there are plenty of headphone choices, but what about swimmers? The selection of waterproof headphones are significantly smaller, but there is still a choice to be made. So today we’re looking at 4 of the best underwater headphones you can buy in 2020.
Normal headphones plug into your phone or mp3 player, which is not the best option when you’re underwater! So the 4 models we’re looking at all have integrated mp3 players - you just load them up with some tunes, and they’ll play without any external connection.
Let’s start with Sony, always a dependable brand with headphones. Their NW-WS413 waterproof headphones are extremely good for anyone who loves long exercise sessions - with a 12-hour battery life they are the longest-lasting headphones on our list. Moreover, if you do find yourself running them dry, a quick 3-minute charge will allow for 60 minutes of music!
While you’re using it, the NW-WS413 uses a headband-style design to hold the earbuds comfortably in place. Both the build quality and the audio quality are excellent - however some users have reported that the included rubber ear-tips can cause a noticeable drop quality with some ear shapes. The built-in capacity of 4Gb is not too bad, but could be larger - you may find yourself running out of space if you have a large collection, or prefer to use high-quality audio formats.
Sony have decided to use a unique charging cradle for their headphones - while this looks snazzy, and makes the NW-WS413’s easy to charge, it is a proprietary design. That means if you lose or break the charger, your only option is an expensive replacement - something to be aware of!
All in all, Sony’s NW-WS413 have a lot to recommend them. The high battery life is excellent, and the headphones are comfortable to wear and sound great. Just be careful to keep the charger safe!
Aftershokz have made a name for themselves with ‘bone conduction’ technology - these headphones don’t go in your ears as usual, but instead are placed against the skin above your cheekbones. There they send vibrations through your skull into the inner ear, allowing you to ‘hear’ without using your ears! You can find more info in our Kagoo Explains article.
The obnoxiously-named ‘Xtrainerz’ are the latest offering from Aftershokz - they are fully waterproof, with an 8-hour battery life and a 4Gb capacity. While neither are top-class, they will be good enough for most swimmers. The real benefit comes with the bone conduction tech - because they don’t sit inside your ears, it means they can easily be worn with goggles, swimming hats or ear plugs and won’t be uncomfortable or get in the way. Not having your ears plugged can also be helpful in retaining situational awareness, and avoiding problems like ‘Swimmer’s Ear’.
However bone conduction is a double-edged sword. Bone conducts sound differently than air - it struggles with high frequencies, while low frequencies come through more powerfully. This means the sound quality is unbalanced, and significantly less clear than the other headphones on this list. Unfortunately this is a problem of physics, not technology - still it is disappointing. Moreover, not having your ears blocked means there is no noise isolation at all - fine for a quiet pool, but if you’re trying to swim laps during a school swimming lesson, you might wish for something to block the sound!
Finally, the Xtrainerz are expensive - at £130, they are a significant investment. While there are no massive problems with the headphones, the price alone may be a dealbreaker. However for those that are serious about their swimming, these will serve you well!
JBL are well-known for their sports headphones, and the Endurance DIVE is their foray into waterproof swimming headphones. Their expertise shows in the design - the DIVE uses an ear-hook design, with JBL’s special ‘TwistLock’ technology to make sure the earbuds stay secure and snug while underwater. It works too - the DIVE is comfortable to wear for long periods, and the 8-hour battery life will mean you don’t run out of tunes before you reach land.
Unfortunately you might have to repeat your songs - the Endurance DIVE has a tiny 1Gb capacity, easily filled up even by a modest music collection. Touch controls on the side of the earbuds are handy, but several users report they are troublesome underwater, with swipes not registering. These are troublesome given the high price of the headphones - while not as dear as the Xtrainerz, they are still expensive for what they offer.
These headphones are best for those who desire a comfortable fit to their earphones, and don’t mind paying a premium - however people who want a wide variety of music while they swim may be best looking elsewhere.
Finally, if you’re not wanting to break the bank to enjoy your music while swimming, then consider the i360. This waterproof MP3 player/headphone combo is the cheapest on our list by a significant margin - 1/3 of the price of the Aftershokz Xtrainerz. However despite the budget cost, it has a massive 8Gb capacity and a battery life of 10 hours - both very welcome additions. It also has a special eBook mode, great for catching up on your reading while you swim!
That said, there are some problems with the build quality of the i360s - the quality is uneven, and users have reported that the earbuds come loose while swimming, requiring you to stop and re-insert them. The controls are also rather fiddly, with the buttons difficult to press while moving.
Despite these limitations, there is a lot to like with the i360. The sound quality is very good (if the earbuds stay in your ears) and the large capacity and long battery life make them a helpful companion on long sessions. There are a few quirks with the design, but for the price, it’s a great choice.