Review: Aquapac 100% Waterproof Headphones
Pros: The best pair of depth-rated waterproof earphones we’ve yet tested, capable of producing the sort of good sound quality we’d expect from peer-priced earphones, either above or below water. Silicone tips form stable seal with submerged, average-sized ears, providing you with the ability to hear (waterproof case-covered) iPod music up to 10 feet underwater. Black, neutral looks and included keychain cord manager and buoy are both appreciated.
Cons: Ear tips aren’t made for small- or large-canaled ears, and no ear stabilizers are included as offsets. Once their speakers are exposed to water, which can happen accidentally with a tug underwater, audio will be muffled until you quickly dab them off with a towel, forcing you to turn up your iPod’s volume to hear your music. No gold plating to protect against water corrosion over time. Rubber cord produces noticeable microphonics, which are noticeable when used on land.
Two weeks ago, we reviewed Fire Fox Technologies’ Liquid Frequency Waterproof Headphones (iLounge rating: C-), a pair of in-canal earphones that were—at least by name—capable of being submerged in water. But during our testing, Liquid Frequency turned out to be more of a splash-ready, “water-resistant” earpiece than a truly underwater one: its silicone rubber tips fluttered in our ears, and the earpieces went dead temporarily after even brief submersion.
Aquapac’s 100% Waterproof Headphones ($40) offer an at least somewhat superior alternative. Above water, they look and sound much like a pair of Sony’s popular MDR-EX71s, which is to say better than acceptable for their $40 price, but not sonically stunning. With a single size of black silicone tips—ones that are about the same size as the EX71’s “middle”-sized pieces—they fit snugly in average-sized ears, and pop out of smaller ones, which is to say that women and kids are especially likely to have fit issues. There’s a reason Sony and others include several sizes of silicone tips; Aquapac only includes two pairs of the same-sized ones.
If you can get them to fit snugly in your ears, you’re in for an underwater treat: the 100% Waterproof Headphones sound the same underwater as they do above water, which is no mean feat by waterproof headphone standards. H2O Audio’s larger competing offering (iLounge rating: B-) sounds comparatively poor above water, and Fire Fox’s Liquid Frequency starts to have issues under water. Rated to work properly at depths of 10 feet, Aquapac’s design does pretty well both above and below the surface, assuming of course that you’re using a waterproof iPod case alongside it. Though the company uses a rubber cord with some microphonics issues (touch the cable, hear it in the earbuds) that are noticeable if you’re just walking around and listening, the design’s good in the water, whether you’re just above the waves or significantly underneath them.
There’s only one exception to that rule. Like the Liquid Frequency design, Aquapac’s earphones rely upon their silicone tips to form a seal with your ears that prevents water from getting in. Because the silicone’s stiffer than what Fire Fox used, it doesn’t flutter in your ear, so you shouldn’t expect water intrusion unless the earbuds get tugged or otherwise fall out on their own. However, since this can happen inadvertently if you’re doing something active in the water, the ideal pair of earphones would be impervious to all water exposure.
Despite the 100% Waterproof branding, Aquapac’s earphones apparently aren’t meant to be drowned—placed underwater without your ears to protect their drivers. Do that and the resulting audio will be muffled and muted, though not inaudible: turning the iPod’s volume up significantly will let you hear your music, less clearly than before. At that point, you should hope that both earphones are equally wet, or else you’ll have one earphone blaring while the other isn’t, a bad idea for safe listening. Alternately, you can get the music to come back to near-perfect sound with a quick dab against a dry towel on shore. We needed to leave the Liquid Frequency earphones to dry for hours before their sound came back after submersion, so Aquapac’s a couple of steps ahead there.
It’s a step behind in important frills, though. While we liked the fact that it comes with a headphone buoy-slash-keychain, which you can wrap the 100% Waterproof Headphones around while not in use, we found that the buoy had a tendency to pull off the silicone tips, and wasn’t as necessary as some of the other touches we would have preferred: gold metal connectors to prevent long-term water corrosion, like the connector on the company’s waterproof MP3 Player Case, and more ear tip sizes for the earbuds. These would improve Aquapac’s longevity and versatility quite a bit. We also would like to see some optional ear stabilizers in the box to render earbuds less likely to fall completely off the ears of active users, but we have yet to see a really great pair of these for above-water use, let alone underwater purposes, so this is more of an ideal than a necessity.
Overall, there hasn’t yet been a truly excellent pair of depth-rated waterproof headphones for use with iPods, but Aquapac’s 100% Waterproof Headphones are certainly the best we’ve yet tested: they sound as good above water as they do below it, don’t make average-sized ears feel uncomfortable during normal use, and bounce back quickly from even accidental complete submersion. Though they won’t fit everyone, and some cable microphonics make them less than ideal for out-of-water use, we found them good enough to generally recommend to our readers, and a better multi-purpose waterproof choice overall than anything else we’ve seen.