Ever feel like your workout would go way smoother if you had a better playlist? Now, raise your hand if your go-to exercise is swimming. Listening to music and freestyling might seem like the last thing on your mind (hello, water damage), but that’s actually not the case.
“Depending on their IP rating, waterproof earbuds can work very well for listening to music during water sports or activities,” says Dr. Amy Sarow, Soundly’s Lead Audiologist and Editor.
Enter, waterproof earbuds.
Whether swimming is your main workout of choice or you’re training for a marathon, you’ll want to reach for a pair of waterproof earbuds more often than not. “A rating of IPX7 works in humid or moist environments or for swimming laps in the pool for 30 minutes or less,” notes Dr. Amy. “However, IPX7 is not meant for submerging in water beyond one meter or for long periods of time.”
Even so, if you’re engaging in regular physical activity (that produces a fair amount of sweat), waterproof earbuds can come in mighty handy. Waterproof earbuds are a great addition because you don’t have to stop streaming tunes or your hit pause on a podcast while engaging in physical activity in the water. Essentially, any sport where you might encounter water—like a hike near a swimming hole or winter skiing—makes waterproof earbuds a solid investment.
So if you’re looking to log a few miles on the treadmill and hit the pool after, you’ve come to the right place. Mixing in a pair of these buds will help your training (and motivation), but more importantly you’ll be ready for any physical activity. (FYI: For Apple fans, AirPods are not water resistant nor are they waterproof!)
And if you’re seeking waterproof earbuds that you can submerge, you’re in luck. “An IPX8 can be submerged in at least three feet of water for longer duration, while an IPX9 can withstand powerful water jets and has maximum waterproof capability,” says Dr. Amy.
That being said, are waterproof earbuds safe? It’s a good question to ask, and according to Dr. Amy earbuds are safe for use while swimming. “Earbuds designed for swimming and watersport use are typically equipped with earfins or shaped to stay put in the ear, keeping the ear dry,” she says. “Ensuring the right fit is important, which helps to keep a tight seal in the ear and keep water out.”
While water may not get stuck in your ears (thankfully!), it’s also important to be mindful of listening volume, too. “A good rule of thumb is to limit volume to 70% of maximum,” says Dr. Amy. “Keeping the volume below 80 dB is best to protect your hearing.” And, there are ways to limit output on your phone or mp3 player before you start swimming with earbuds.
After all, it’s important to be conscious of your hearing health before you splash around. But overall, your ears—and hearing—should be in tip-top shape with these devices.
How do these earbuds actually transmit music?
Waterproof earbuds might seem like the stuff of magic, but there’s a simple science to these devices.
To start off, manufacturers gear up their earbuds or headphones with a hydrophobic paint coating. Once water comes into play, this coat steps up to repel water particles and keep them from sneaking into the device's insides.
If you’re considering a device to use while swimming underwater, the technology is different. You’ve got three options:
- FM transmitter
- Analog set (aka, wire and plug)
Connection Method #1: FM Transmitter
An FM transmitter is ideal if you’re keen to fully submerge underwater while playing music, which means traditional earbuds are out. (Note: You cannot go under the surface with earbuds and stream music—Bluetooth will not work at all.)
So, how exactly do these headphones with an FM transmission work?
In the case of the Zygo Solo pair we recommend below, these bone conduction headphones connect to a separate FM transmitter device via Bluetooth. The transmitter will stay above—and away from water—with your phone.
Essentially, ultra-low frequency sound waves connect to the headset through the radio transmitter. And since these headphones are bone conduction, music will be directly transmitted into your head.
Connection Method #2: Bluetooth
Bluetooth earbuds are perfect for folks who swim above the surface and don’t want to worry about regular splashing damaging their earbuds. These earbuds can withstand water exposure and light submersion (think, up to 1.5 meters or 30 minutes of exposure to the elements). They won't keep your connection for lap swimming.
Connection Method #3: Analog (wire and plug)
Simple and easy, a plug-in pair of headphones or earbuds is right up your alley if: 1) you already own a waterproof mp3 player, 2) you self-describe as a casual swimmer, and 3) prefer an analog device to a wireless one.
This wired earbud simply plugs into a device and you can start streaming music or podcasts. While the earbuds will have a protective coating, you cannot fully submerge underwater with this device either.
Okay so, what should I look for in waterproof earbuds?
Regardless of budget, there’s a few things you’ll want to look for in a pair of headphones.
Keep these considerations in mind:
- Ear protection
- IP Rating
- Noise-canceling capability
- Connection type
- Battery life
Will waterproof earbuds protect my ears in any way?
Yes and no. Dr. Amy notes that waterproof earbuds can help keep your ears dry and help guard against swimmer’s ear. “A properly fitting earbud can help keep water out,” she says. “Drying the ear with a towel or low-heat hair dryer setting will help to remove any remaining moisture.”
But, remember: earbuds will not protect your hearing, “but safe listening levels allow you to enjoy music without damaging hearing.”
Which waterproof earbuds are right for me?
First things first: net out your frequency of use (aka, how often you plan on working out with these devices) type of use (open water swimming versus just splashing around or jogging in the rain), and settle on a budget.
As for a budget, decide on how much you want to invest in this product based on how much you’ll use it. If you’re planning on swimming several times a week, you may want a pair that offers more technology (like, an FM transmitter so you can fully listen to music underwater) or a longer battery life in between charges.
And to be frank, if you plan on doing some serious swimming (that may often involve submerging your full head) versus freestyling in a pool, you’ll more than likely want to option for headphones that use an FM transmitter or plug into a waterproof mp3 player or listening device, because Bluetooth will not work.
Once you confirm the kind of swimming you’ll be doing, then check out the IP rating* for each product you’re considering. That way, you’ll only truly be focusing on products that can withstand water and the duration you’ll use it for.
⭐ FYI: IP stands for Ingress Protection Marking, a system that rates the level of defense mechanical and electrical casings offer against intrusions like dust, water, and more.
After that, fit is everything: Do you want in-ear or a bone conduction device? What will feel comfortable to wear for an entire swim session?
With these factors at play, you should be able to choose a pair that best fits into your fitness routine and your lifestyle.
From top tier gear to budget-friendly options, we researched five solid options, scoured reviews, reviewed tech and specs, and important details that’ll make swimming enjoyable and more importantly, more fun.
Scroll on and get the inside scoop on the best waterproof earbuds.