TL;DR: Cough up the dough and get the Shokz OpenSwim. Don’t waste time on JBL (ugh), Sony or Pyle or anything else
If you want to swim with music, my caveats, explanations, and explorations on waterproof mp3 players for swimming that I’ve tried in the last decade, read on. Click on any image to expand
I’ve been swimming seriously (for joy, not competition) since 2013 and way back in 2014 or so I thought music would only enhance my experience, help me set a pace, and also entertain me and stimulate my brain as I did laps with an unchanging scenery. At my peak form, pre-pandemic, I was doing 2,000m in 1.25 hours (slow, slow) and I’m building back but you can only imagine that going back and forth in an environment, where only obnoxious humans change, can get a little too same!
Back in 2014 I bought my first music player and it was a no-name Chinese mp3 player for some $20. It worked until one day it didn’t. I didn’t seal the usb port cover fully and the electronic components drowned.
I then tried the Pyle (rated well, cheapish, easily available). Same problem. Water got in. Or maybe they just stopped charging one day. I honestly can’t recall.
By 2016 time I’d found a place in Bandra that sold the Sony NW-WS413SBM waterproof walkman.
Back then it was just over 5k retail with warranty. Initially my mac wouldn’t read it to transfer music, but a couple of resets and it finally became quite good at detecting it was an external drive. Until some time in 2018 it stopped holding a charge. It was just out of warranty, but Sony was amazing about giving me a huge discount on a fresh, updated piece (Sony NWWS413BM). So, all in all, I paid maybe 3k more for the upgrade.
Then came the pandemic. Pools were shut for 2 years in all of Maharashtra state, where I live. From March 24, 2020 until February 4, 2022, I didn’t get in the water. I mean, it wasn’t just me. Swimmers and athletes contemplated relocating to use pools elsewhere. The Maharashtra swim team was pretty much living in Gujarat!
When I got ready to swim again the Sony had given up the ghost. This happens if you don’t turn it on even once in two years.
At this point, I finally got the JBL dive. No link because, trust me, you don’t want it. WHAT A COLOSSAL WASTE OF MONEY this product has been.
Whoever designed it, approved it, and then released it to the public has never, ever even TRIED to swim with it. It’s the epitome of false marketing to call it a “dive” model and just glomming on a random name for a feature that actually doesn’t work. Perhaps because it is rated IPX7? That doesn’t mean you can swim with it. Seriously, use it as a bluetooth headset, connect it with your phone if you want and go run in the rain, but don’t bother swimming.
First: getting it into swim mode is next to impossible. My first time, I spent 30 minutes of my 45 minute swim time trying to get it to do the three taps to stay at “mp3” locked mode.
I watched video tutorials and practiced after that. Of three more swims, I managed once for a few minutes to get it in the right mode. That triple tap was impossible. After the second tap, the device has had enough and done what it needs to do (bluetooth pairing mode) with or without your third tap. I went bonkers spacing them and trying all kinds of rhythms and speed.
IF you get it into locked mp3 mode and it starts playing, you can change nothing. NOTHING. You cannot control volume, you cannot skip a track, go back, pause. Nothing. The playlist is locked. IF you can get it to actually go into swim mode.
It never worked again. I called JBL, trekked to their service centre and even the technicians could not make it work. They replaced the set, no questions asked, but would not let me open it in the centre and would not speak to whether this one would work. No surprises, dear reader: it didn’t. It’s a terrible design flaw and only after much research can you find reviews basically saying people have just thrown it away.
I haven’t even been able to give mine away; the quality of the ear hooks is so bad, they look like my cat chewed them (and she hasn’t, she has better taste). Getting the touch button to respond to anything is terrible. There are no controls for volume or shuffle or answer and the touch sensitivity is … well, it’s too good for itself which makes it too bad for a user.
So, finally, I bit the bullet and after researching the hell out of swim blogs, reviews, youtube unboxings and more, I decided the Shokz (formerly Aftershokz) were going to get my money. $150 in the US plus some ridiculous $9 for shipping and holy cow, this has only underscored that it’s better to go with premium the first time than to shaft yourself by going with second and third best numerous times.
The Shokz are FLAWLESS. They’re designed to stay put.
Bone conduction means you can get consistent sound when you go under the surface AND when you come up for air. I can hear bass. I can even listen to podcasts without missing alternate words when I surface — a major flaw with in-ear swimming mp3 players — because water still enters your canals when you dip and out. With earplugs in the ears, ambient noise and pressure stays the same. It’s wonderful.
Just like with the Sony, there is a dedicated button for start/stop/program. Long press the volume up or down for skipping forward and back a track. It’s got shuffle and repeat mode. You can press the middle button to check battery health as well.
The charger also doubles as the USB interface and no computer so far has had trouble reading it to load music.
Okay, now if you don’t already now this: BLUETOOTH DOES NOT WORK UNDERWATER. If you’ve been told (or sold something that says) it does, it’s an outright lie.
To load up ANY swimming music player, you’re going to have to physically load music files on to it like it’s an external drive. So, here are my tips on how to do that in an age of streaming services for music.
- Pay for and download the music and then transfer it from your computer or USB connected device to the headset.
- Get an audio capture extension for your browser and record the track while playing the music you want on youtube or some or web based app.
- Get two female stereo jacks and play music off your phone while recording it into a digital handheld recorder (I use a Tascam for work so I have one of them and I have a Zoom H1n both of which take a 3.5″ input) which I then transfer to the Shokz after normalizing the gain on Hindenburg because I’m an audio nerd and I can.
Pyle: 3 out of 5
Sony NW-WS410 swimming Mp3 Walkman series: 3.5 stars out of 5
JBL Endurance Dive: 0 bloody stars out of 5
Shokz OpenSwim: 6 out of 5
Disclaimers: I’m not being paid for this blog post but if Shokz wants to give me any gear, I’ll happily accept. JBL has never replied to my emails or reviews. Sony is a stalwart and their customer service is just tops. I’m an amazon affiliate and if you buy anything through one of my links, I get like 0.01% commission on it.