Review: H2O Audio Flex Headphones
Company: H2O Audio
Compatible: All iPods except shuffle 3G
Depending on the ways you use your iPod, iPhone, or iPad, the very idea of waterproof or water-resistant headphones may strike you as either brilliant or ridiculous, but there's definitely demand for them: some people rely upon Apple's devices to provide music during runs in the rain or laps in a pool, and these days, iPads and iPhones alike sometimes even provide navigation assistance in boats. Once you've sealed your device in a waterproof case, water-safe listening gear lets you actually hear whatever it's playing -- and in some cases, actually talk back using an in-line microphone.
Today, we’re reviewing the latest batch of water-resistant and waterproof earphones from four different companies. Three of the earphones compete directly against one another: H2O Audio’s Flex ($30) and Dry Corp’s Dry Buds 100% Waterproof Headphones ($30) are extremely affordable options from established makers of waterproof cases, both silicone-tipped canalphones stripped bare of frills in order to hit their price points. By comparison, Monster’s new iSport Immersion ($180) is the most deluxe waterproof earphone we’ve ever seen, packed with frills and engineered to deliver superior sound to H2O Audio’s premium 2010 model Surge Contact—at more than twice the price. Finally, Scosche’s activeWraps II ($30) take yet another approach, using a hard plastic headband and earbuds while promising sweat resistance rather than submersibility.
While this review looks solely at Flex, these four headphone options collectively raise several important questions that, when answered, will lead you to know which product—if any—is right for you. What level of water resilience do you really need? How concerned are you about comfort and/or having your headphones tugged off during normal use? Does sonic quality matter to you? And what sort of interaction do you hope to have with your device?
Understanding Flex is relatively simple: as the lowest-priced earphone in H2O Audio’s waterproof lineup, Flex is offered in the widest variety of colors—gray-accented pink, green, blue/red, and black versions—and packaged with the fewest extras: there’s nothing more in the package than three sets of differently-sized rubber ear tips, and a little black rubber adapter to let Flex’s headphone plug seal properly in the oversized headphone ports of H2O Audio’s waterproof armbands and cases. H2O promises only three feet of water submersibility—enough to jog, swim, or surf, but not to dive—and seems to have designed Flex specifically for less than ideal comfort: cords come straight down from the glossy plastic housings inside reinforced rubber jackets, so they’re flexible but not shaped to match the curves of most ears. If you’re concerned about accidental tug-outs, you’ll find them to be more likely here than in better-designed waterproof earphones. Flex’s only protection against that is an adjustable cabling manager that can be slid up the earphone wires to help them grip your head if so desired.
In addition to its tested ability to work without problems in water, the good news with Flex is that the sound quality is more than acceptable by $30 earphone standards—and quite possibly a great pick for users who are concerned about hearing their audio over low-pitched ambient sounds. H2O has picked drivers that are focused on highs and mids rather than lows, which some people might characterize as bass-deficient but others will recognize as solid for intelligibility of voices and presentation of detail in songs. We found that music through Flex sounded crisp and easy to hear even when we were using the earphones in the water, and if you’re trying to hear audiobooks or podcasts, this would be a good model to select. On the other hand, if you’re hoping for rich bass or any other frills, such as an in-line microphone, remote control buttons, or an included case, Flex doesn’t offer any of those things.
Overall, Flex is a good entry-level option for users in need of basic waterproof headphones. Given the realities of athletic use, earphones with high intelligibility have extra value, and Flex’s low price point, color variety, and compatibility with H2O’s popular waterproof case/armband solutions are also positives that contribute to its appeal. The design isn’t going to blow anyone away on sonics or comfort, but we’d easily pick Flex over Dry Buds on both counts for the same price. Flex is worthy of a B+ rating and our general recommendation.