We’re not used to seeing the term waterproof when reviewing audio devices.
Instead, what we usually get is water-resistant. And while some devices with a particularly high IPX rating can even be submerged for some time, they still aren’t made for underwater use.
In this guide, however, we’ll be looking exclusively at headphones which are completely waterproof and can be used while swimming.
After all, if all runners and gym-goers can rely on music to keep them motivated, why shouldn’t swimmers be able to do it as well?
So let’s take a look at the best headphones for swimming the market has to offer!
- Good sound quality
- Limited storage space
Once you’ve got the IPX8 rating down, you start to see that water isn’t the biggest issue when it comes to using underwater headphones, but rather connectivity. Bluetooth does not work well in water and using the standard 3.5mm connection can lead to short-circuiting, in addition to being cumbersome.
That’s why we’re huge fans of the approach that Pyle PSWP6BK Flextreme takes. This device features an onboard MP3 player with its own 4GB of internal storage. And if this seems like too little storage, keep in mind that MP3 files are small and that the PSWP6BK Flextreme only has access to a single playlist of all the songs stored in it, so you’ll likely want to update the playlist from time to time to keep it fresh.
Not having your music come from your smartphone makes for a refreshing change of pace as it eliminates plenty of unwanted distractions. Furthermore, the sound quality here completely exceeded our expectations.
It’s a given that our expectations weren’t exactly high to begin with, what with these being affordable headphones and playing MP3 music, but somehow the PSWP6BK Flextreme makes MP3 sounds better than normal. We assume this has to do with circumventing the sound function of a smartphone.
The earbuds feature physical buttons, making them easy to use regardless of whether you’re swimming, running, or hitting the gym. Just make sure you use the proper ear tips, as this device comes with a total of six pairs – three pairs for land use and three for water use.
- Seal-Tight Headphone connector
- Bluetooth support
- No fast-charging
- Can’t be used without goggles
As we’ve already mentioned, Bluetooth and water don’t mix well.
But this doesn’t mean that there are no swimming headphones built around this feature.
Enter – the Stream 2 by H2O Audio. The Stream 2 is a player with its own internal storage, much like the Pyle. Once clipped to your swimming goggles, the Stream 2 is intuitive to use. In addition to sporting Bluetooth support, it is also compatible with iTunes, and of course, it can play music from its internal storage. The audio quality is good in any case.
What separates the Stream 2 from all the other devices in this guide is that the base device can be bought without any actual headphones. It’s just a waterproof audio player that can work with any pair of waterproof headphones. And thanks to the Seal-Tight Headphone connector you don’t have to worry about anything shorting out. Just make sure the jack is dry when you plug it in.
When purchasing the Stream 2 through the H2O Audio store, you can choose which headphones to bundle with it, if any. Naturally, all of them are waterproof, with the most affordable option running for only an additional $10.
The only bummer is the battery life, which lasts a respectable 8 hours but unfortunately takes 3 hours to charge.
We should also mention that the Stream 2 doesn’t magically make the problems that Bluetooth has with water go away. It’s just that most other manufacturers don’t even bother to include it because of these problems. The folks at H20 Audio are very upfront about this and recommend using the Stream 2 with an endless pool for the best Bluetooth experience.
- Option for increased storage
- Great sound quality
- Sounds worse underwater
Swimming headphones are a niche product, and as you’ve no doubt noticed, that niche is largely covered by lesser-known brands that perhaps don’t inspire confidence. All the devices featured in this guide are tried and tested, but don’t worry if you’re still hesitant. We’re busting out the big guns – the Sony NW-WS314.
Much like the other devices in this guide, the NW-WS413 is a 2-in-1 solution that houses an MP3 player and its own storage inside the device. It comes with 4GB of storage, although the slightly more expensive NW-WS414 features 8GB instead, in case you find this insufficient.
The batteries in these headphones can hold 12 hours of juice in them and only take 90 minutes to recharge from zero to full. What’s more, it only takes 3 minutes of charging to get an hour of playback, so they’re good to go even if you’re a forgetful person. The same Micro-USB connection used for charging is used to upload the music onto the MP3 player, and this requires no special software.
The device comes bundled with 4 pairs of regular ear tips, and 4 pairs of waterproof ear tips. On land, the audio quality of the NW-WS314 is incredible, and also complemented by extra features like an Ambient Mode. Using the waterproof ear tips, however, results in an overall worse sound, particularly in low frequencies. This is still the best audio quality you’re going to get underwater, but we figured it’s worth noting anyway.
And unlike the Pyle, the Sony NW-WS413 can switch between Folder, Playlist, and Album modes with the press of a button. Learning to use the buttons takes some time, but they’re intuitive enough. Plus, the voice prompts make it so you never have to guess what mode you’re in.
- Secure fit
- Bluetooth support
- Can’t be used without goggles
And now for something completely different, we give you the H2O Audio Sonar.
H2O Audio is focused on creating high-quality audio gear for swimmers, so if this is your cup of tea their entire catalog is definitely worth checking out!
What separates the Sonar from all the other devices listed here is that it’s a pair of bone conduction headphones. This means that the device doesn’t actually go inside your ears. Rather, the headphones sit right underneath your temples, pressing into the bones of your skull (it sounds painful, but it’s not). The device then gives off vibrations that pass through your skull and stimulate your inner ear.
This is invaluable if you’re suffering from some outer or middle ear problems. And since it leaves your ears unplugged, it also gives you more spatial awareness. It’s not like we’re using to hearing interesting things while underwater, but having that sensation removed completely can be unnerving, and bone conduction headphones help with that.
The Sonar clips onto swimming goggles, so much like the Stream 2 it cannot be used without goggles. It comes with 8GB of internal storage and also supports Bluetooth and iTunes.
While using it, one way to circumvent the limitations of Bluetooth underwater (which effectively only has a range of 4 inches/ 10 cm) is by hooking a waterproof smartwatch to your goggles. You can then stream music from your smartwatch without ever having the device go out of range.
How to Buy the Best Headphones For Swimming?
Swimming headphones are a niche product.
So niche that we wouldn’t be surprised if you’re unable to buy the ones featured in this video in some regions.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to bequeath onto you all you need to know to identify a good pair of swimming headphones for yourself.
Here are the most important things to keep in mind:
First things first, there’s the IPX rating.
While IPX7 devices can survive underwater, they can only do so at a maximum depth of one meter, and only for a maximum of 30 minutes. This makes them perfectly suitable for use around the pool, but we would not recommend using them while swimming.
For swimming, you’ll want your devices to be IPX8-certified.
IPX8 devices can function indefinitely in a 1-meter depth and that they can even go deeper than that (although how much deeper will vary from model to model, so it’s best not to test the limits yourself and not dive deeper than 1 meter).
For all intents and purposes, IPX8 is the highest IPX rating, as the more impressive IPX9K isn’t used for headphones.
As stated previously, Bluetooth doesn’t fare well underwater.
Waterproof devices that do use Bluetooth are the exception, and even then they have to be used in a very specific way to make them work.
So when it comes to swimming, searching for wireless options is often futile. Even the Bluetooth-enabled devices showcased in this guide still aren’t true wireless.
2-in-1 Headphones and Players
Because you can’t rely on Bluetooth, you have to use a wired connection. But whereas you can always connect your running headphones to your smartphone, you can’t do that with swimming headphones – you’d need a waterproof smartphone. IPX8 smartphones do exist, but we don’t recommend taking this route.
That’s why manufacturers had to resort to the ancient technology known as MP3 players to provide music underwater. This isn’t just some gimmick used by the devices showcased in this guide – all underwater headphones use this.
If you’re old enough, this can be pleasantly nostalgic – copying music onto an MP3 player does evoke memories of the 2000s.
There’s no easy way to say this but audio quality just doesn’t reach the same highs underwater as it does on land.
This is best portrayed through the Sony NW-WS314 and its noticeable drop in audio quality once you switch to waterproof ear tips. Granted, we don’t imagine anyone’s expecting audiophile-grade sound quality from these devices, but it can be a bit disappointing when you consider the price of these gadgets.
In fact, most manufacturers don’t make any claims about audio quality here, like they’re simply content to just have their devices work underwater and leave it at that.
Finally, you should also consider the shape of the device.
Strange as this seems, not all waterproof headphones sport a particularly hydrodynamic design. This is particularly bad when the device uses earplugs. If it always feels like the plugs are about to give way to water and you have to constantly readjust them, you may easily decide that listening to music while swimming is overrated and just give up on the idea.
Bone conductor headphones have the edge here, as even though they’re typically bulkier, they don’t rely on a fragile seal inside the ear canal to deliver music.
Headphones for swimming are as unique as they sound.
In most cases, they have to rely on MP3 players and internal storage to avoid using jacks and plugs and Bluetooth, all of which don’t fare well underwater.
Nevertheless, they can be used and they can bring all the added motivation to your swimming sessions that folks who are into other hobbies get.
You can even get all of this at a pretty reasonable price. While more affordable IPX8 headphones do exist, none of them even come close to the Pyle PSWP6BK Flextreme. Sure, it has some inconveniences, like limited storage and the single playlist, but overall it’s the complete package. Of course, if you’re looking for something more high-end, then we can only recommend the Sony NW-WS413 – it has everything that the Pyle has, only better! And for those looking to nab the best value, nothing beats the H2O Audio Stream 2.
In any case, we hope this guide has helped you make the wonderful hobby of swimming even more enjoyable.