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 submergibility.
While this review looks solely at Dry Buds, 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?
The Dry Buds offer a somewhat different and, from our perspective, somewhat less appealing set of choices relative to the same-priced Flex. On a positive note, Dry Buds are guaranteed for 10-foot submersibility, three times the depth of Flex and very similar to assurances made for slightly more expensive earphones. Dry Corp also goes beyond H2O Audio in including not just three sets of silicone rubber ear tips, but also a sealable plastic carrying case for everything, which is handy to manage the Dry Buds and tips while reducing cable tangling. Like Flex, Dry Buds have an in-line cord manager to help you adjust the tension of the earphones on your head, and though they’re not offered in a range of colors, few people will complain about the neutral black color scheme selected here.
At this point, there isn’t a lot more to like about Dry Buds. The earphone housings are made from hard plastic in a bulging, bone-like shape that is even more rigid than H2O’s design for Flex, with inflexible stems that protrude from the housings’ bottoms to keep the cables firmly inside. Because of the stems, the Dry Buds tended to pop out of our ears after we pushed them in. The silicone used in the tips is thinner and a little cheaper-feeling than H2O’s, and the headphone plug is a vertical facsimile of Apple’s prior-generation plugs—relatively easy to connect to all sorts of devices and cases, but not protected in any way against strains, tugs, or water intrusion into the headphone ports of cases.
The best way we can describe Dry Buds’ sonics is “ever so slightly better than flat,” which should be noted as unsurprising given the low price point here, but not particularly great overall. Music is very midrange-focused, with less treble sparkle than Flex, and only modest hints of bass, contributing to a sense that Dry Buds render music and other audio adequately rather than wonderfully or otherwise distinctively. Between their tendency to pull out a little from our ear canals, the ear tips, and the drivers, we found the Dry Buds to sound a little more distant and plain than their rivals. As with Flex, however, they had no problems during submersion and use in water when paired with a waterproof case; Dry Corp’s own case worked just fine to keep an iPhone 4 safe during testing.
Overall, Dry Buds offer an inexpensive, reasonable-sounding, and respectably depth-certified waterproof earphone option with so-so housings and few standout features. They merit a limited recommendation, largely because their low price point makes them about as close to disposable as waterproof headphones come these days, so you won’t have many tears to shed if you want or need to replace them.
Company and Price
Company: Dry Corp
Model: Dry Buds
Compatible: All iPads, All iPods Except iPod shuffle 3G, All iPhones