Around two months ago, I got an email from a company called Underwater Audio. We get whacky products solicited to us pretty often, but Matt, their rep, had something I’d never heard before — an Apple iPod Nano, that was completely waterproof. I’m not a big swimmer, but I do live in the perpetually damp Pacific Northwest; the combination was perfect, and I’ve had six excellent weeks thrashing Underwater Audio’s waterproof iPod.
Underwater Audio iPod Shuffle Features:
- Waterproofed Apple iPod Shuffle
- No case necessary
- Unique swim-specific headphones available
- Includes 2-year warranty from Underwater Audio
- Price: $139.99 and up
Unique – but will it sink or swim?
Ooph. Sink or swim? I need a vacation. Well, the Underwater Audio iPod and I adventured all over Washington, sometimes on two wheels and sometimes in boots; I trashed it in the muggy microclimate generated by some of the less-breathable shells I’ve tested, and I’ve let it get plastered with muck and grim on long cross country mountain biking trips. The iPod Nano really is the ideal companion for those who love music and the active lifestyle. I’d be quite curious to know if Underwater Audio had to jump through very many hoops to be able to resell an Apple product, but I’m certainly grateful that they worked it out – a waterproof iPod is a wonderful complement to the adventurers’ gadget selection.
So Underwater Audio’s proprietary treatment is, understandably, something of a secret – they’re the only ones in the industry taking a product as quality as the Apple iPod Nano and turning it into a rugged adventuring companion. Obviously there are numerous waterproof MP3 players on the market, but none of them have Apple’s sleek design or excellent music management software. The scuttlebutt is that they inject a special polymer directly into the Nano’s case, without opening it or damaging it in any way, that completely waterproofs the device literally from the inside out. There is just one trace of this process on my model, namely a harmless film left in the on/off switch.
One of Underwater Audio’s great decisions was that they deliver all of their devices in the original Apple packaging in a way that makes you feel like you’re still buying an iPod that’s never been touched by human hands – a small ‘waterproofed by Underwater Audio’ sticker on the case is all we have to clue us in. Apple has taken care to make the unboxing experience of their products a real pleasure, and Underwater Audio’s approach preserves that.
Part of the reason that we’ve had this model in so long for testing is that I’m not really a swimmer, and this is a product designed in large part with swimmers in mind. A buddy of mind is a college swimmer so I gave it to him to thrash; we have completely different music tastes and that was a bit of a struggle, but we worked it out. Anyway, UA has designed their accessories to cater to the needs of competitive and recreational swimmers alike. Their Swimbuds are designed to stay in the ear even in a rough turn in the pool and UA includes a super-short cord so you can simply clip the Nano (which, remember, has a built-in clip) directly to your goggles’ strap. It’s a brilliant, simple solution for swimmers and runners alike.
The first time I pushed the Swimbuds into my ears (and they come with three different sizes, by the way) I was decidedly unimpressed with the audio quality – anemic base and breathless treble. As it turns out, though, they’re not supposed to work well like this. I needed to jump in the pool! So (and my testing buddy confirmed this) I hopped into the water for a couple of laps and the Swimbud’s sound really came into its forte. The water provides a very slight pressure to keep the buds secure and does something incredible for their sound – the base was full and rich, while the treble was nicely balanced throughout the melody range. The take home message: don’t plan on using the included Swimbuds if you’re a solely terrestrial athlete, but amphibians and aquaphiles alike will appreciate the sodden sound quality of the Swimbuds.
There’s only one quirk to the Nano, and it’s a caveat of the classified waterproofing treatment that UA uses – the buttons are really, really firm. It’s still easy to change music and manipulate the controls, but the satisfying ‘click’ tactile feedback is gone.
- Virtually no perceivable outward difference between this and and untreated iPod Nano
- Original packaging is completely intact
- Swimbuds sound quite good underwater
- Accessories are perfect for swimmers – a very thoughtful design
- The iPod Nano is the perfect adventurer’s companion, and now it’s waterproofed
- 2-year warranty from Underwater Audio
- The buttons no longer physically ‘click’
The Bottom Line: Waterproof iPod Shuffle
It’s pretty ideal that this article is hitting right in the middle of the December consumerist fest, because frankly this iPod is that I want in my stocking this Christmas. It’s such a sweet, simple solution to the water damage issues that have plagued adventurers since the advent of portable electronics. Obviously it’s one of the few really excellent solutions for swimmers, too, but it has tremendous potential for land-based adventures when you never know when you’re doing to get drenched.
Buy Now: Available from Underwater Audio