Review: H2O Audio H1 Waterproof Headphones
Pros: A very nicely designed pair of waterproof headphones that can be submerged and used comfortably underwater at depths of up to 10 feet. Two pairs of ear flanges are included; coiled cord design retracts and expands to virtually any type of use without tangle potential. Sound quality is good underwater.
Cons: Though billed as appropriate for waterproof use, really only meant for underwater enjoyment. Sound quality is poor above water, with flat, distant audio that lacks for bass and detail.
Ideally, waterproof headphones would be equally easy to use above and below water, but at the moment, they’re not: very few options are available, and they’re limited in utility. The best of the options we’ve tested is the H2O Audio Series Waterproof Headphones ($40), which are essentially made for one purpose - to enable you to safely hear your music underwater, up to depths of 10 feet. [Editor’s Note, December 21, 2007: In late 2007, H2O renamed these headphones to H1, contrasting them with the newer model H3.]
The good news is that they do that single task quite well. Each set of the headphones comes with two pairs of gray rubber flanges that channel the audio from the unit’s waterproof speakers into your ears. If you lose or damage one of the flanges - the former more likely than the latter - you have three more to use. You can also pull off the flanges and wear the headphones entirely without them - they’ll still work, and the sound won’t change too much. Thankfully, H2O’s designed the neckband to hold well enough to your head and ears that the flanges aren’t what keeps the Waterproof Headphones attached; there’s soft pressure around the back of your head from the white plastic, and you can turn the earpieces on an angle that best fits your ears. This design is visually better than neutral, leaving you looking pretty good rather than goofy.
It’s also worth a note that H2O’s cord design here is a winner. Coiled and thin, the cord measures out at a mere 16 inches in length under normal conditions, expanding to around 52 inches when pulled. Consequently, the headphones won’t tangle you up when you’re underwater or outdoors, and will work equally well if you’re using the iPod with an armband, pocketing it, or wearing it on a swimbelt - all of which are plausible alternatives given that H2O has designed the headphones to work with its latest iPod, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle cases, plus their armband and swimbelt accessories, as well as any third party case. The plug isn’t guaranteed to provide waterproof protection for your iPod when used with a non-H2O case, but the headphones themselves won’t short out in the process.
The only non-trivial problem with these headphones is actually a fairly important one: they’re nowhere near as good above water as they are below it. Submerge yourself and you’ll hear sound pretty much the way you’d expect to hear it with normal earbuds, but stand up on a surfboard or try to jog with these headphones and you won’t be impressed. We had no complaints when H2O was billing an almost identical design as “underwater” headphones and selling them only with underwater cases, but as a more broadly “waterproof” offering, a good number of users will feel strongly underwhelmed by the sound quality. Above water, audio sounds flat, distant, and lacking for both bass and detail in a way that no audio connoisseur will abide without complaint; the only question is whether anyone really has a better option.
Having taken a few headphones out in the rain and actually fried them, and knowing that the same fate (or worse) would befall any pair of standard headphones we’d submerge in water, there’s a definite reason we’d recommend H2O’s Waterproof Headphones to our readers: they’re an option that works safely, as promised, at 10-foot depths underwater. They’re also inexpensive and well-made enough to be worthwhile for occasional use, and an especially good addition to the underwater cases we’ve tested from H2O and Otter. That said, they’re a far less than ideal solution if you’re not planning to use your iPod exclusively underwater with them, and will disappoint you if you spend equal or greater portions of your listening time above the waves or on the slopes. If they had been billed as “underwater” headphones, we would have felt comfortable with a modestly higher level of recommendation; as “waterproof headphones,” our limited recommendation should be read to mean that they’re right for underwater use, but less appropriate for others.