Review: H2O Audio Surge 2G + Surge Contact Waterproof Headphones
Two years ago, H2O Audio impressed us with its original Surge Waterproof Headphones -- the best-sounding and nicest-looking waterproof canalphones we'd ever seen. Since then, H2O has released a number of successor models, including an Interval-branded iPod shuffle case with Surge built-in, a Surge Sportwrap with a stabilizing headband, and a supposedly but not really better model called Surge Pro, but the most noteworthy sequels are its newest 2010 models: Surge 2G ($50) and Surge Contact ($70), the former a replacement for the original Surge, and the latter a breakthrough for iPhone users.
Three things should be noted up front about both of these models. First, they’re both genuinely waterproof—capable of being used in the rain, the shower, or even a pool—and though they can be plugged into most Apple devices without an issue, full protection obviously requires your iPod, iPhone, or iPad to be inside a waterproof case, too. H2O notably sells Amphibx waterproof armbands in three different sizes to accommodate everything from iPods to iPhones, but has not as yet released anything for the iPad, and we’ve only seen one waterproof iPad case from another company, notably lacking any way to connect headphones to the device inside.
The second point is that H2O has dropped one thing that was found in the original Surge’s package, but not in most of its followups: a nice zippered carrying case that was capable of holding Surge alongside the four extra sets of silicone rubber ear tips included with the earbuds. Third is that this omission helps the $50 Surge 2G to sell for $10 less than its predecessor, while the $70 Surge Contact sells for $10 more, adding both additional functionality and two more sets of ear tips: soft Comply-like foams in two sizes.
In Surge Contact’s case, the extra functionality is extremely significant—at least, it will be for some users. This model is the first waterproof headset we’ve seen with an integrated microphone and remote control box, dangling from the right earbud cord in the typical fashion. We weren’t sure how these features would actually work in practice, specifically, whether H2O had built them to withstand only a sprinkling of rain or full submersion, but in our testing, they turned out to be extremely robust: using an iPod nano with an Amphibx Grip, we did a series of recordings where the microphone was being used under normal conditions, then during light water exposure in a shower, then during direct exposure to a strong showerhead, and then afterwards to see whether the water could be shaken out.
Under normal conditions, and even in light exposure—the equivalent of running in the rain—the mic performed flawlessly, becoming temporarily unusable only for the period of time it was being directly held under a steady stream. Without shaking the mic off, audio became a little muffled but still audible; one or two quick flicks of the mic restored the sound quality to roughly where it was at the beginning. The remote control worked perfectly before, during, and after exposure; it is a one-button remote, so you don’t get volume controls a la the most recent Apple-developed three-button remote units, but you’re able to make, answer, and stop calls on an iPhone, as well as playing, pausing, and changing audio tracks on iPods or iPhones with it. Being able to do these things in the rain will thrill joggers and other outdoor exercise enthusiasts; that an iPhone can conceivably now make or receive phone calls in the pool or shower may well prove a draw for other types of users, too.
By comparison with Surge Contact, Surge 2G isn’t as much of an innovation; it’s designed to be a streamlined second-generation version of the original Surge. The shape has changed just a little to what H2O is calling a “sleek new aerodynamic design,” closer to teardrop-shaped rather than the first-generation version’s nugget-like body, which remains unchanged in Contact. Sonically, Surge 2G is very close to Surge, with modestly improved bass performance, but generally the same frequency response and sound signature as before. Surge Contact, which uses the prior earbud design, has just a hint less bass and remains very good by waterproof earphone standards; both Surge 2G and Contact are noticeably better in the treble department than other waterproof earphones we’ve tested, making songs sound more detailed, and they’re just as submersible and easy to restore to prime functionality with quick shakes as the microphone unit. Our only gripe apart from the absence of a carrying case is the quality of Contact’s extra sets of foam tips, which don’t have plastic cores and don’t feel as if they’re ideally suited to Contact’s body; the silicone tips worked and sounded better.
Overall, what H2O Audio has accomplished with these two new models is exactly what we’d hoped for: it’s delivering comparably excellent experiences to the original Surge model, with different advantages and price points. Surge Contact expands on the first Surge with remote and mic features that we loved, and Surge 2G drops the price while offering similar sonics, sleeker housings, and no carrying case. Neither is an audiophile-quality earpiece, but they’re as impressive as waterproof headphones come, and both equally worthy of our high recommendation; you can decide for yourself which if either is right for your personal needs.