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 actionWraps 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 actionWraps II, 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?
To the extent that actionWraps II is being pitched as a “sweat-resistant” headphone option rather than “waterproof,” and has a substantially different form factor, it’s not directly comparable to Flex, Dry Buds, or iSport Immersion: its earbuds sit outside of your ear canals rather than inside them, and Scosche’s headband wraps around the tops of your ears, relying upon direct pressure on the sides of your head to keep the speakers in place. Tugs on the white plastic cable are extremely unlikely to dislodge actionWraps II from your ears. An angled gray headphone plug provides strain relief and a shape that’s generally very case-compatible; a nice mesh carrying bag is also included in the package. These are the best things we can say about an otherwise forgettable design.
Regrettably, actionWraps II are some of the most uncomfortable earphones we’ve tested over the past several years, even by the standards of really inexpensive sport headphones. Thanks to the hard rubber Scosche picked to surround the white plastic earbud housings with, and the pressure applied by the frame, they put enough pressure on our heads and ears to cause fatigue in both within a minute or two of first use, and became progressively more uncomfortable as we wore them. Sonically, they’re modestly inferior to Apple’s free iPod and iPhone earphones, with reduced treble and less midrange definition. Consequently, they sound flatter and a hint warmer than Apple’s stock earbuds, while falling short of them in comfort.
As much as we can appreciate the need for athletics-friendly headphones, there’s nothing good enough about actionWraps II to merit a recommendation. While the $30 asking price makes them easy to afford, what you’re buying is mediocre sound quality in an abnormally uncomfortable package that has only two assets—resilience against sweat and accidental removal. Based on how these feel and sound, we’d sooner not put them on at all, and wouldn’t recommend them as even inexpensive options. Scosche has done considerably better with its midrange and higher-end earphone designs over the years, so we hope that it will revisit this old-fashioned headband concept with some design improvements in the near future.
Company and Price
Model: actionWraps II
Compatible: All iPhones, iPod 4G/5G/classic, iPod nanos, iPod touches, iPod shuffles, and iPads