We've seen some interesting waterproof music players before from companies like Sony and Finis, but Apple hasn't created its own iPod aimed at swimmers just yet. That's why Underwater Audio developed its own process for waterproofing the iPod Shuffle, turning an already sleek gadget into a more durable MP3 player. As someone who's been forced to retire an iPod Nano in the past after a mishap involving a kitchen sink, I was certainly curious to see if the upgraded iPod could live up to its claims.
What you get
The Waterproof iPod Shuffle and Swimbuds are bundled together at a price of US$165, which knocks about $14 off the cost of purchasing them separately. I received a purple iPod, but Underwater Audio also offers them in the same colors as Apple: silver, slate, blue, pink, green, and yellow.
With the bundle, you'll receive:
- a waterproof iPod Shuffle (fourth generation, 2GB)
- Apple earbuds
- USB charging cable
- iPod Shuffle instructions
- a pair of Swimbuds headphones
- four pairs of silicone ear pieces in various sizes
- a 39-in (99-cm) extension cord for the headphones
- a one-year warranty on the iPod itself
Not surprisingly, Underwater Audio was reluctant to give too many details on its proprietary waterproofing procedure. However, a rep did say it involves two separate processes, and the device is never opened during them. I'd imagine it's a similar method to Waterfi's, where two compounds are pumped into the case: one to protect the electronics from water and one to protect them from corrosion.
It's still an iPodIn case you're wondering as I was at first, no this is not a different brand of waterproof MP3 player or a knock-off masquerading as an iPod Shuffle. It's the exact same device you can pick up at any Apple store, but with one key added feature and a price difference of about $100. The only outward difference is some clear residue that has seeped out from the on/off switch and the seams around the clip on the back, but it's barely noticeable.
Other than that, it functions exactly like a typical iPod Shuffle. The buttons on the front change tracks and control the volume as usual, though the lower ones are a bit harder to press due to the waterproofing. The switch on the top cycles between on, off, and shuffle modes, while the button next to it activates the VoiceOver feature, which tells you the song or playlist you're currently hearing or the battery's status.
To fill it with music, all I had to do was connect it to my computer, open iTunes, and start building playlists. It may sound like a minor point, but just using iTunes to add songs was kind of a relief. In the past, I've dealt with far too many waterproof MP3 players that force you to use the manufacturer's software, so one that involves a more common program (albeit still the original manufacturer's) was much easier to deal with. That certainly won't appeal to everyone, but if you've ever owned an Apple product, then the setup will be more familiar.
First impressions on dry land
Aside from its signature style, the Shuffle is practically the definition of a no-frills modern music player. It's small, durable, and attends to your audio listening needs, but the lack of a screen, mediocre storage size, and limited features ensure it isn't going to replace the music player on your smartphone any time soon. However, it's still a reliable device for activities where you're constantly in motion, like jogging or weightlifting, so a waterproof version just adds swimming to that list.
The accompanying Swimbuds do seem to dull the audio quality a bit, so the highs and lows of a song don't resonate quite as well as with ordinary earbuds, but that's pretty typical of waterproof headphones in general. They're comfortable enough to wear, but if you're not in the water, you're better off using Apple's earbuds or a different set of headphones entirely.
Time to get wet
According to the manufacturer, the waterproof iPod can withstand depths up to 200 ft (approx. 70 m). Theoretically you could take it scuba diving, but the Swimbuds' instructions do warn that using them any deeper than 10 ft (3 m) could cause injury. Since I don't have ready access to scuba gear anyway, I had to settle for a local pool to try the iPod out in the water.
After wading into the shallow end with the Shuffle held over my head, I started with the highly scientific process of dunking it in the water and seeing if it still worked. As expected, the iPod seemed completely unaffected by the water – no real surprise there. The whole device remained watertight whether the headphones were plugged in or not. The audio through the Swimbuds also sounded much clearer underwater, but that's pretty standard for any waterproof MP3 player.
Once I was satisfied it could definitely withstand a short depth underwater, I put on a pair of goggles, fitted the iPod to the strap, and swam a few laps across the length of the pool. I had a little trouble with keeping the headphones in place at first, but that was easily solved by removing the ear guards and tucking the cord beneath the strap to the goggles.
Even though this clearly wasn't Apple's intention, the clip on the back of the Shuffle is perfect for attaching it to a pair of goggles or, as my fiancée noted, a swimsuit strap. Once it's clipped onto something, it holds on firmly and presses flat against the wearer, providing very little water resistance while in motion. It never felt like it was about to jostle loose and sink to the bottom. The only real trouble I had was memorizing which direction the buttons were oriented after I'd clipped it on, so I could change tracks in mid-stroke.
At one point, I dove down towards the bottom of the 9 ft (2.7 m) deep pool and immediately understood why the Swimbuds' instructions advised against using them at greater depths. The music sounded so muffled that it seemed like it was coming out of a tunnel, even after equalizing the pressure in my ears. More worryingly, both silicone earbuds felt as if they were being forcibly pushed straight into my ear canal. Swimming back to the surface, the sound and pressure went back to normal, but I certainly wouldn't advise trying to listen to music while doing any deep sea diving.
Altogether though, the iPod Shuffle spent about an hour in the water and still looked and functioned as if it had just come out of the package. Not that I would store it in a glass of water or run it through a washing machine, but Underwater Audio seems to have taken great care in ensuring that no water damages the electronic components in the case.
Like I said, as far as MP3 players go, the iPod Shuffle is about as basic a music player as you can get. Now the waterproof iPod Shuffle on the other hand is such a useful gadget for swimming that I'm surprised Apple isn't selling its own version already. With a tiny size, simple tactile controls, and a solid clip, it's already perfectly suited towards other physical activities, so why not swimming? You don't really need a screen or a huge library of songs if you're just swimming laps or sitting in the water for a short time. The spike in price might deter some, but if you're a regular swimmer who needs a reliable MP3 player for listening to music or catching up on an audiobook, then you should definitely consider Underwater Audio's waterproof iPod Shuffle.
If you want to try them out for yourself, Underwater Audio is currently selling both the waterproof iPod Shuffle and Swimbuds through its website.
Product Page: Underwater Audio