H2O Audio was founded on the idea that we shouldn't be prevented from listening to music just because we like water sports. The idea is to waterproof your iPod to give you access to your tunes when you're taking a dunk -- swimming, diving, surfing, kiteboarding, wakeboarding, windsurfing or kayaking. Perhaps if Thorpie had've been using one he might not have got bored with that black line so quickly! On the market locally since 2004 and in the US since 2002, H2O Audio is now on its third generation of cases, with most iPods covered and the 2nd gen Nano housing coming out in Decemeber. H2O Audio housings are only available for iPods, with one exception designed specifically for scuba divers: the iRiver iFP-300 Series case.
All H2O Audio housings include silicon ear plugs, designed to custom fit your ears, and a sports pro armband (which can also be purchased separately for $29.95). The H2O Audio Waterproof Headphones are sold separately for $49.95. You can also buy a swim belt ($49.95) and other accessories not tested in this review. All are available online via H2O Audio Australia, Apple and speciality surf/skate stores.
The patented technology behind the waterproof case is impressive indeed and includes the Commander Scroll Wheel control assembly (allowing you to maintain function of the iPod click wheel in the water or while wearing a glove); a dual-hinge, locking draw latch designed to generate uniform compression for a watertight seal up to 3 metres (and which won't open on impact); and the rubber boot keeps its grip on the H2O Audio Headphones for use in the water while still allowing use of any headphones you like on land.
The waterproof headphones feature a standard 3.5mm audio jack, watertight speakers (made for complete submersion) and are designed with an adjustable frame to stay secure during the most active water sports. All headphones include four silicone earplugs as standard, and although these are not supplied separately if they got lost you can contact H2O Audio for more. These plugs are designed to be cut to suit your ears.
Assembling the housing is quite straightforward. The headphones do need some work to get to fit to your head/ears -- the removable silicon earplugs do help to keep water from freely flowing in and out of the ear canal during use. The standard pair are quite large, however you can cut the barbs down to a suitable size.
The arm band is made from black neoprene -- it's quite stylish and very comfortable to wear. It also includes a plastic window over the controls section for easy access. Even through the window iPod controls work as usual.
Swim with my iPod, how weird is that, you say? Admittedly the experience is scary the first time you try it but the manufacturer assures us the arrangement is watertight and promises to replace any water-damaged device. Every product is inspected and tested in a pressure chamber before being released to market. There have been over 30 million units sold globally, with the USA reportedly only replacing two iPods in that time as a goodwill gesture (the company believes those units were more likely damaged due to user error as opposed to product faults).
Nonetheless, H20 Audio Australia supplied us with a 1st generation iPod Nano to test with the housing. In our first test, we went bodysurfing at our local break. Duckdiving, swimming in the water and catching a wave all worked fine. The sound faded in and out and at times only one ear worked but this may have been due to a hurried assembly (it was 38 degrees and the water was beckoning). The headphones plug in via the rubber boot and fit snug into the housing. This is the bit where you'd most expect them to come apart or leak but everything fit well and we had no water at all in the housing when we exited the surf.
Physically the armband worked great, the cords didn't impede swimming at all. Duckdiving under waves was where we most expected the ears to fall out or the sound to waver but all remained intact. If anything, we found the sound to be slightly clearer underwater -- perhaps because it was quieter there without the crashing waves. The headphones fit very tightly and although the surf wasn't big enough to test it, we didn't get the impression that the rubber boot would release at all.
In our second test, we took the rig to the pool to stare at the black line. We tested for all strokes: free, back, breast and fly. As long as you have the armband on with the headphones attachment facing upwards all strokes work unimpeded. Again the sound faded in and out but with regular use we're sure this would improve. The sound was also clearer with some strokes than others, but again butterfly is a noisy stroke! (Expect to see the H2O Audio housing in a pool near you soon with the company sponsoring the national swim team, who are reportedly now using the accessory while training.)
The third test: snorkeling. We swam around a reasonably shallow reef area, just off our local seaside rock pool. This was a great experience, removing that eerie silence that comes with swimming around just below the surface for long periods of time. Being submerged most of the time meant the sound quality was fairly stable and it was certainly nice to have music while checking out the pretty fish.
Overall the H2O Audio housing and headphones add a new dimension to water sports, giving those of us previously deprived of the joys of music while exercising the opportunity to join our jogging and spin class rivals. If you don't expect superior sound quality and are happy just to have tunes with you wherever you go, H2O Audio has some great accessories for you.