Review: Audioflood Waterproof iPod Shuffle
article & images by Nick Salazar
Jul 1, 2014
I've often opined that I think swimming is boring. In the world of triathlon, it's my least favorite activity. It's not that I mind the actual physical activity, but rather the incredible monotony of staring at the black line at the bottom of the pool, punctuated only by the "T" when it's time to turn. I've often searched for things to help cure that boredom: training aids, gadgets, novel training plans, etc. But one thing has always been the holy grail of pool gear for me: the waterproof music player. I've tried a lot of them, and even reviewed one: the Finis Swimp3. The Finis was a non-starter for me, because I just couldn't hear anything. Its "bone conduction" technology really didn't conduct on my bones, no matter how hard I tried.
I've also used (but not reviewed) another waterproof iPod, from Swimman (the waterproof the previous-generation iPod Shuffle). That one worked well enough, although it eliminated access to certain buttons. But the biggest problem I had is that I could never find any headphones to actually stay in my ears! They always fall out once I start moving.
Enter Audioflood. They're selling waterproofed versions of the latest-generation iPod Shuffle, a device barely the size of a quarter, and no thicker than a matchbook. They also have special, short-cord headphones, send with six different tips to help achieve the perfect fit. And even better, their waterproofing process does not restrict access to any of the device's buttons or functions: everything still works exactly as normal. More than that, you don't even have to maintain a seal between device and headphone port! You can plug and unplug to your heart's content, whether or not you're in the water. That's how it really should be.
How does it work?
If you're reading this website, I'm going to presume that you know what an iPod is and how it works. So we'll skip that bit. What you're interested in is how it works in the water. It's easy enough: you clip the Shuffle behind your head, onto your goggle straps. The short cord headphones have just enough length to comfortable get to your ears, without leaving a whole mess of cables to deal with.
And speaking of those headphones, they're maybe the biggest piece of the puzzle in terms of getting something you can actually use effectively. As mentioned, in my experience they've always been a barrier to entry, because one I start swimming, they just fall right out. The key, according to Audioflood, is having the right kind of tips and getting a good seal. No argument from me. Audioflood stocks a triple-flange tip that looks a bit like a Christmas tree. But what's better than their competitors is that they stock three sizes of triple-flange tips, where their competitors often have just one. There are also three standard dome tips, for standard use out of the water. The standard tips tend to sound a little better, and are easier to work with, but won't hold your ears as well if you're swimming laps.
In practice, I found the Audioflood headphones to work much better than any others I've tried before. Out of the box, they would hold on for about 100 yards at a time, but would inevitably unseat in my ears. For people like me with finicky ears, Audioflood has several suggestions. First, they recommend trying all the tip sizes, and also using a dab of Aquaphor or Vaseline if having problems with seal. In my case, even those things didn't help too much, but Audioflood had one more trick up its sleeve. In addition to their regular S, M, and L-sized tips, they also make intermediate sized tips (which you might call S/M, M/L, and L/XL). For me, the M/L was the ticket. That, combined with a little Aquaphor, gives me a really great hold that tends not to come out. My first reaction was to wonder, "why not just include these from the beginning?" But upon reflection, I can see a customer having a very hard time distinguishing the six finely-graded sizes versus just three macro-graded sizes. And in Audioflood's experience, there aren't too many users like me who need the intermediate sizes, but they're available for those who do.
How does it sound?
Underwater audio is generally a bit poorer than the above-ground variety, but it's not Audioflood's fault. That's just physics. Sound is created by compressions and rarefactions of air pressure, and underwater there just isn't a big volume of air. There are true underwater speakers that move sound as a pressure wave through water, but that's not how waterproof headphones work; they attempt to keep a bit of air open between the headphone tip and your ear canal, but there's obviously not a lot of volume there. Moreover, the physical requirements of the tips (specifically, that they seal out water) have a direct impact on the sound. You can optimize for a water seal, or sound, but generally not both. These are about as good as any other waterproof earbuds I've ever heard, just don't expect them to compete with something like a custom IEM.
In the end, this is still the best underwater audio experience I've ever had, even if it isn't flawless. My guess is that most users will have an easier time than I do, as I haven't heard my specific complaint echoed too frequently from others.
Great solution for the swimmer looking for some music