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Gear Review: UnderwaterAudio Swimbuds Sport Waterproof Headphones

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Several weeks ago, I reviewed the Underwater Audio Waterproof iPod, which I came upon over the course of several weeks of pool time thanks to a metatarsal stress fracture. The waterproof iPod may not have saved my life, but it has definitely saved my sanity, such as it is, over the course of hours of pool running, which if you haven’t had the pleasure, is great exercise, but is also as exciting as watching paint dry.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by UnderwaterAudio (UA) and asked if I would be interested in checking out their new waterproof headphones (disclaimer: UnderwaterAudio provided me a pair of the beta model for review free of charge). The Swimbud Sport launched last week and offers a wide array of options so that you can find the best possible fit. I’ve taken a few photographs of the different earbud attachments.

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My favorite, by far, are the blue ones, though it took me a little while to get the right fit–once they were in place, they are magically comfortable and provide terrific sound quality. Bear in mind that wearing any earphones while swimming is going to be different from wearing them on dry land as far as the sound is concerned–there is competition from things like air bubbles. The tree-shaped ones provide a slightly better seal, but they were not nearly so comfortable for me. They go pretty far into the ear canal, and protrude out under my swim cap, which after about 40 minutes started to get very uncomfortable. The blue fins still protrude but less so. It’s very easy to switch the attachments, so you can change them out as needed for different activities. UA recommends the trees for swimming, the blue fins for other water sports, the clear ones (which come in 4 different sizes as you can see) for running or biking since they allow you to hear ambient noise from traffic vehicular or pedestrian, and finally the mushrooms for general wear.

One of the other signature features of the UA swim buds is the short cord, as you can see in the photos above. The cord measures 1.3 feet from end to end. This is ideal for clipping the iPod to your goggle strap. It also might work for women who wish to attach to the top of a swimsuit strap; I found it not quite long enough, but I didn’t spend much time fiddling with this–I just went back to the goggle strap, which worked well, even during flip-turns. If you don’t want to attach to your goggles, however, UA also includes a 3.25 (1m) cord extension that makes these headphones more broadly useful–you might use them to run in the rain, for example, or to paddle board, surf, etc.

My trouble with the first pair of UA earbuds was less due to the attachments, though there were fewer options and they were less comfortable. Instead, it was the wires, or rather one wire, which basically disintegrated after about 2 weeks. To their credit, the UA customer service team responded to my email in just a couple hours dropped a new pair in the mail the same day that I contacted them, even though that day was a Saturday, and I had my replacements in no time. The new Swimbuds Sport come with a 1 yr warranty just in case.

The new headphones seem to be higher quality all around. They sound great, and the different attachments mean that they’ll appeal to a more diverse audience–not only will they fit into lots of different ears both large and small, men and women, pierced and unadorned, but they’re more widely adaptable for different activities. Sometimes you might not want a lot of noise isolation, if, for example, you are using them to run and want to hear what’s going on around you. Other times, such as while swimming laps in a pool, noise isolation and a tighter seal is more desirable. The kit comes in a cool black mesh pouch, which allows air circulation but also means that you can carry the different attachments in your gym bag. It also cuts down on packaging waste, which I appreciate.

The UA website offers the Swimbuds Sport alone ($70) or bundled with their signature waterproof iPod Shuffle ($175) You can also find them at Amazon. These Swimbuds are not cheap, but so far, I am happy with them and consider them worth the price. Comfort and sound quality make these worth checking out, or they might be a great suggestion for the swimmer on your Christmas list (with the iPod, of course!). Previously, I would carry two pairs of earbuds to the gym: one for the pool and one for everything else. I don’t feel the need to do that now. The blue fins are comfortable enough to keep wearing.

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Ian Barbour; All headphone images taken by the author].

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