Review: Fire Fox Technologies Liquid Frequency Waterproof Headphones
Pros: Pretty good sounding water-resistant earphones that can be used above or below water - under some conditions - and include a coiled, in-line cord managed, gold plug-tipped cable. Design is aesthetically far more in keeping with iPod’s sleek looks than other waterproof earphones we’ve tested.
Cons: Rubber tips provide inconsistent seal from user to user; sound is weaker above water than under it, and tips may flutter in your ears when submerged. One earbud had slightly lower volume level than the other. Despite “waterproof” name, right earbud failed after some use underwater, and needed to dry overnight before it worked again; no depth rating suggests these are more of the “water-resistant” variety than fully “waterproof.” Inadequate ear reinforcement option for especially active users.
The distinction between “waterproof” and “water-resistant” is an important one: iPod accessories marketed as “water-resistant” are supposed to withstand modest splashes, while those called “waterproof” are supposed to keep working after submersion. This week, we tested Fire Fox Technologies’ Liquid Frequency Waterproof Headphones ($40), a new pair of in-canal earphones that can be used with a waterproof iPod case for “surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, riding watercraft,” or lounging around a beach or pool. Unlike competitors that specify the depth ratings of their water-safe earphones and iPod cases, Fire Fox doesn’t, and that should have been a clue - these “waterproof” canalphones are actually a step above water-resistant, but not truly waterproof.
Liquid Frequency’s appeal is obvious the first moment you see a photograph or remove it from the box: rather than using the large neckband design of H2O Audio’s Waterproof Headphones (iLounge rating: B-), Fire Fox’s design looks a lot like the smaller, popular canalphones released by companies like XtremeMac and Etymotic; there’s a translucent double-flange rubber tip on each earpiece, and they fit inside your ears rather than all over your head. “Finally,” the imaginary advertising voice-over would say, “you can enjoy your iPod in the water without looking like you’re wearing a head brace.”
H2O’s banded design, however, had its justifications. Earphones are quite likely to get knocked out when you’re, say, knocked off a surfboard or jetski, so optimally, you’d have the ability to reinforce them in some way. Fire Fox appears to recognize this; two black, back-of-ear-shaped stabilizers are included if you need them. You’re apparently supposed to insert the cords inside the stabilizers and mount them on your ears, but no instructions are provided for their proper use, and Fire Fox’s web site and box neither show nor mention them. By contrast with H2O’s stronger but more intrusive neckband design, we’d describe them as basically inadequate and not to be relied upon. Liquid Frequency also uses a coiled cord to expand to your preferred length, an in-line cord manager to keep the evenly-cabled earbuds as snug as you prefer in your ears, and a gold-covered headphone plug to resist corrosion; we found that all of these parts worked just fine.
That brings us to the canalphones themselves. There’s some good and bad news to share, so we’ll start with the good: for those who spend more time above the waves than under them, Liquid Frequency sounds pretty good - better than H2O’s earphones above water, though not quite the equal of the best sub-$50 earphones. Different users will find them to vary in sound quality based on how well the double-flange silicone rubber tips seal with their ear canals. Under water, they sound better - rivals of good sub-$50s - since their rubber tips are aided by water to get a better seal. That said, our feeling is that the tips here aren’t great: the single size doesn’t seal well in all ears, and their thin rubber fluttered in ours, leading to some discomfort when we submerged them in water. Truly waterproof earphones shouldn’t do that.
The more substantial problem was the one noted at the beginning of this review: despite being marketed as “waterproof,” we found that Liquid Frequency fell short in actual testing. Our right earphone sounded a little weaker than the left one before we went into the water, and by the time we came out of it - having exposed the earphones to full submersion - the right side wasn’t working at all. Overnight, the earphone dried and was back to working at less than full volume again, but the lesson was obvious: fall into the water and you might lose half your audio, perhaps more.
Overall, Liquid Frequency is a slightly below-average pair of earphones: they sound pretty good above and below water - a reason you might reasonably choose them over the H2O Audio offerings for certain purposes - but they can’t be relied upon for extended submersion, don’t have enough reinforcement for active users, and could really benefit from more and better silicone rubber tips. For the $40 asking price, water sports fans might be tempted to give them a try nonetheless; our feeling is that they should either be modestly re-designed or more appropriately marketed.