As twin followups to last year’s impressive Surge waterproof earphones, H2O Audio’s new Surge Sportwrap ($60) and Surge Pro ($100) offer different spins on the earlier theme. Both are packed with numerous rubber and new foam eartips to help the earbuds get a comfortable seal with your ears; Sportwrap has an integrated headband designed to support the original Surge’s dynamic driver earbuds on your head for running, surfing, and other applications, while Surge Pro uses new and improved balanced armature audio drivers for what H2O claims to be superior sound quality. Both are designed to be used with waterproof cases or armbands, sold separately, and can be submerged to depths of 12 feet without problems.
We’d love to be able to say that Surge Pro is worthy of its $40 premium over the standard Surge and Surge Sportwrap versions, but we can’t; regrettably, H2O’s more expensive earphones may pack better drivers, but they haven’t been tuned properly here. Though we did find them to deliver crisper sound than the standard Surge, they were actually too sharp, with decidedly less rich bass and the sort of overemphasized treble that may assist those who are trying to hear audiobooks while they’re working out, but won’t lead to better-sounding music. Similarly, the initially impressive array of eartips turned out to be a little less exciting when we actually tested the underwhelming foam eartips H2O has chosen, which didn’t feel as if they were as firmly attached to the canalphones as were many of the Comply eartips we’ve tested with competing, non-waterproof earphones.
Surge Sportwrap is another story. From a sonic standpoint, it doesn’t offer any major advantage over the original Surge, and it carries the same price tag. The idea is simply to provide a more stable mounting solution, as Surge’s dangling earbuds were susceptible to the normal yanking pressures that cords invariably are subjected to during certain types of workouts, and Sportwrap does a fine job of reducing this strain. H2O’s headband is designed to keep the cord wrapped in a hard plastic band around the backs of your ears and your neck, and uses rubber-covered arms near your ears to hang the earbuds at just the right length for insertion into your canals.
Sportwrap’s primary issue is that the headband is a one-size-fits-all design without much give, and though we had no problem getting the earbuds in, we weren’t totally thrilled by the pressure used right behind our ears to keep the headband on. While the rubber arms soften the feel of the plastic handband, users with larger heads will feel the clamping Sportwrap uses to stay in place. Some users—particularly those who have struggled with less firm waterproof earphones—will be totally fine with this compromise; we found it to be a little off-putting, and would have preferred a slightly modified mounting solution.
Overall, Surge Sportwrap rates a little under its excellent predecessor, and Surge Pro falls considerably shorter, as it is more expensive and doesn’t deliver the sort of audio quality we’d expect from a $100 earphone, even one where the waterproof feature merits a $10-$20 premium over the inherent value of the earphones themselves. Consider Surge Sportwrap if you’re looking for strong sound quality in a waterproof earphone and are willing to compromise a little on comfort for added stability during workouts; we’d only recommend Surge Pro to those who really need added intelligibility in their audio, and not to serious music fans, who will find the standard Surge to be a better-balanced, if less defined earphone for the price.
Company and Price
Company: H2O Audio
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone*, iPhone 3G/3GS