Splish, splash, are you dripping with cash? Waterproof headphones are an absolute must if you're a regular swimmer, letting you add some tunes to your exercise routine, no matter how many meters you are underneath the water.
While grabbing a top-notch pair of headphones for dry land is a relatively simple task, swimming headphones require a little more research. You can't just use a pair of wireless earbuds, as, not only are many not truly waterproof, but Bluetooth struggles to provide a reliable connection underwater.
What to look for in swimming headphones
This has lead to the rise of so-called 'SwiMP3' players, that bundle a waterproof player with a pair of waterproof headphones. You wear the whole device with you in the pool, but there are a couple of complications with this use case.
Firstly, these devices need to meet the IPX8 standard, meaning they can be submerged in water that’s at least one meter deep (ideally 3m if you are swimming in deeper pools).
Another thing to bear in mind is that chemicals in the water, especially chlorine, can affect the device’s ability to charge over a period of time. Typically, the charging points can scale up like a kettle especially if you don’t clean them after each swim. This can limit the lifespan of waterproof headphones.
Instead you will need to load music (either MP3 or WMA files) onto the device’s storage via your computer. In order to keep its physical size down, the capacity of SwiMP3 players are usually reasonably small (2GB or 4GB): however, that should be enough to store hundreds of songs, more than enough for even the most dedicated swimming session.
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Most importantly, you will also need a player that can be securely attached to your head so that the force of the water doesn’t knock it off as you are swimming. Generally, players either attach to a pair of goggles or underneath a swim cap depending on the design (the Exeze WMR is the only one for which you will need a special headstrap).
Finally, it’s worth seeing how comfortable you are using these waterproof headphones before you get into the water as they can be slightly cumbersome to set up. Bear in mind too that you may need to stop your music during your swim to talk to other swimmers or the lifeguard.
Here we look at five very different players for the swimming enthusiast looking for entertainment while they exercise.
The best swimming headphones at a glance
- Finis Duo
- Exeze WMR
- Exeze Rider
Undoubtedly the leading SwiMP3 player on the market, the Duo waterproof headphones come from a US company that’s famous for its high quality swimming accessories. Two colors are available: black/acid green (pictured) and dark grey/mint.
What’s great about the Duo is that it uses bone conduction technology to transmit sound underwater via your cheekbones. This saves you having to fiddle around putting headphones in your ears which can easily come out while you’re swimming.
Large buttons are provided on one of the ear pendants – including fast forward, rewind, shuffle and play/pause – and sound quality is remarkably clear and loud underwater (you can’t use the Duo on land).
Charging is via a magnetic, USB-based dock although you will need to clean the very small charging points on the device out regularly as they can get clogged up.
The second generation player from Exeze, the WMR now comes with a fully waterproof earphones socket.
Various sizes of earplugs are provided but the large white earplugs are recommended for swimming as they can be pushed in further (although we still found they came out when turning in the water and pushing off the wall). Alternatively, you can plug your own waterproof headphones into the 3.5mm audio jack.
To attach the MP3 player there are two options. For running you can use the separate armband provided, while for swimming Exeze offers a separate pair of goggles with a larger headstrap as an optional extra (surprisingly, they are reasonably good quality). Although it is possible to attach to your existing goggles, the player is quite large so it doesn’t stay in place very easily.
Battery life is poorer than with other devices but because Exeze use the audio jack for charging there isn’t the problem of the points becoming damaged as with some MP3 designs. A bank of control is provided for fast forward, rewind, volume up and down. However, as with most underwater MP3 players these are quite fiddly to use in the water.
Unlike the Exeze Rider, sound quality is good both in the water and on land although you will need to turn the volume up while you are swimming. We used the armband for running and found it worked well although we had to use separate earphones as the ones provided have a very short cable.
The great thing about the i360 SwiMP3 player is that, much like the Exeze WMR, it can be used either on land for running or in the water for swimming – this is more than just a pair of waterproof headphones.
A number of different sized and shaped earbuds are provided (the longer ones for swimming, the shorter ones for land use) and there’s a robust Bulldog style clip for charging the device. The flexible plastic cable wraps around the back of your head with the two black control units lying over the top of each ear.
Underwater, sound quality is much better than we expected using the longer earbuds, although the i360 had to be fastened securely under a cap and goggles to ensure it stays in place. The device’s volume also has to be turned up a lot higher than on land.
One small problem is that the buttons on the top and bottom of one of the control units are very small which makes it difficult to use the fast forward, rewind and play/pause functions during swimming.
The key difference with the Exeze Rider is that it comes with an integrated 3.5mm audio jack so it’s possible to pair with a separate waterproof pair of headphones if you prefer.
The main unit attaches to the back or side of your goggle’s strap with a coiled lead running from the audio jack to the earphones supplied. These are designed to clip around the back of your ears and rotate into position for the optimum listening position.
However, they are quite fiddly to put on in the water which is a major inconvenience (Speedo had a similar, more expensive, product called the Aquabeat which has now been discontinued). During testing we found that the earbuds rotated out of position and that the sound was a little echoey both in the water and on land.
On a positive note there aren’t the potential problems of the charging points becoming scaled up as there are with other products, because charging is via the audio jack rather than exposed connectors.
So what happens if you have a waterproof MP3 player that doesn't feature Bluetooth? For you folks we recommend Swimbuds. These in-ear earbuds are more or less the gold standard when it comes to wired headphones in the pool. They're not necessarily the most durable waterproof headphones on the market, but they're relatively inexpensive and are super simple to setup and use.