Monday, January 20, 2014, 10:03 pm PT (01:03 am ET)
Review: Underwater Audio's waterproof iPod shuffleUnderwater Audio's special — and expensive — iPod shuffle treatment lets users listen to their tunes while swimming without the need for bulky cases or waterproof bags.
It's pretty scary when your iPod goes for a swim, even when it's intentional.
Underwater Audio is one of several firms to offer waterproofing services for Apple most portable player, the iPod shuffle. Currently, users can buy a brand new, pre-treated shuffle from the company, or send in their own unit for waterproofing. Both options are expensive, however, with a new model coming in at $150 and the mail-in service priced at $120. That's without waterproof headphones.
For those who swim for exercise, the price of entry may be worth it, as case and bag solutions are bulky and cumbersome to wear in the water. Underwater Audio's waterproofing technique leaves the shuffle untouched, allowing for maximum in-water wearability while maintaining access to button controls.
We'll spare you the suspense: it works. But there are a few things you need to know before buying.
For the purposes of this test, we used a bundle including a new waterproofed shuffle and Underwater Audio's Swimbuds earbuds.
This isn't the first iPod intended for underwater use. Other companies have done it dating back to around 2006. What makes this iPod special? There's no case. There's no special headphone cable with rubber gaskets, screw threads, or other traditional means of keeping water out.
Here, it's an iPod. That works. Under water.
In exchange for a totally waterproof iPod, users need to be diligent with after-use maintenance. A key to this type of specialized treatment is to rinse the iPod off with tap water. You want to rinse away any chlorine, salt, or dirt that may have gotten on it while in use. Rinse out the headphone jack, too. If there's anything left on it, it could abrade away the waterproof coating.
You also don't want to use a case on it, as any dirt, grit or pocket lint could get trapped between the case and iPod and wear off the coating.
In our tests, we found that the unit works best if you clip it to the headband on a pair of swim goggles. Swimming with a long cable or an iPod strapped to your arm for example, could be uncomfortable or pull the earbuds out of your ears. The original iPod clip is quite strong and offers enough for casual laps and pool scenarios. For rough-water swims and other activities, a more secure strap may be needed.
The controls are a little stiff as a result of the waterproofing treatment and require a firm press to work. This doesn't detract from the experience, though. When you're swimming, you don't need to change tracks nearly as often as you might when you're above water. Out of water, we are easily distracted and prone to changing tracks before the music ends unless it's a really good song. Don't ask us why we have less than really good songs on our iPod.
You need a good seal for the earbuds to work well. This is true above water for noise isolation and good bass. Below water, this is important for all of the same reasons, but also for duty as an earplug. Underwater, the earbuds sounds really good. In order to get a good seal, we used a small amount of vaseline on the earbud tip.
The Swimpods consist of a short cable, ear hooks, and the sort of soft rubber three-barbed ear tip that you find on Etymotic headphones or swimming ear plugs. This design is effective for sound isolation and to keep water out of the ear canal.
We've swam with the unit both indoors and out. We've listened to music and audiobooks. We once listened to all 3 hours and 32 minutes of the NPR radio dramatization of The Empire Strikes Back. And we did all this when we aren't avid swimmers. This is to say, the Underwater Audio iPod Shuffle works, works under different depths when I dove to the bottom of 15 feet, and works for long periods of exposure to water.
As mentioned above, a waterproof iPod shuffle does not come cheap. At $150 for the earbuds and iPod bundle, or $120 for waterproofing your own iPod and $30 for the Swimbuds earbuds separately, it probably makes sense to get the bundle if you swim a lot.
It's a good idea to charge the iPod occasionally, and rinse it off after use in the pool. Keeping it clean means the waterproof protection will last longer.
Score: 5 out of 5
- Waterproof iPod
- Music appears to have a beneficial effect on training / exercise
- Stiff controls take getting used to
- Theoretically possible to wear out waterproof coating
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