Earbuds for Swimmers: In the Ear or Through Skull?

Is it better for swimmers to listen to music through their skulls?

inner ear
noise entering cochlea. Getty Images

When I use the term ‘earbuds,’ it is with a little hesitation. There are earbuds for swimmers on the market that allow them to listen to music in the ear and through the skull. Yes, through the skull! There is a lot of talk about products that allows swimmers to listen to music through their skulls, which lead me to a couple questions: Is it safe and how does it work? Are ear-free listening devices really worth the hype?

Should swimmers choose in-the-ear or ear-free music headphones? As you can see, there are many things to consider. The industry is not short on options for swimmers who want to listen to music in and out of the pool. Which ones are the best?

Ear-free Earbuds for Swimmers

Ear-free earbuds for swimmers allow athletes to listen to music without jamming an often ill-fitting bud into their ears. Instead, ear-free earbuds and headphones use bone-conduction science to deliver sound. How do bone-conducting devices work? Bone-conduction headphones are designed so that sound is delivered directly to the inner ear, thus bypassing the outer ear altogether. Bone-conduction technology uses the vibration of bones in the head to create the sound. As the bones vibrate, the sound reaches the cochlea. Voila! You have music directly in your ear.

Bone-conduction technology sounds more like the result of an obscure science experiment than a legitimate method for music delivery, but it is not as new as you think.

Bone conduction is actually a technology that has been around for nearly 40 years in the form of hearing aids. Since 1977, more than 100,000 people who suffer from hearing loss have been fitted with bone-conduction devices to improve hearing.

Top-Rated Ear-less Headphones

There are a couple different models on the market for swimmers.

The most common comes from one of the very first companies – Audio Bone (2008) - to embrace bone conduction technology in sports headphones. Since Audio Bone first released its sport version, other companies have jumped on board. Finis followed not too far behind in 2009, and it is considered the very first to make these devices compatible for water sports athletes. There are still very few bone-conduction headphones and speakers on the market, so I did a little digging and found some of the highest-rated underwater devices out there.

Finish Neptune V2

The Finis Neptune V2 is an underwater MP3 player. The audio player is designed to transmit sound directly through the cheek bones instead of the outer ear. The MP3 player has 4GB of storage, which is equivalent to 1000 songs or 60 hours of music. The Finis Neptune V2 media player is waterproof up to 10 feet. You won’t have to worry about losing the sound during an event. When the battery is fully charged, the player delivers up to 8 hours of music. You can attach the MP3 player directly to your goggles so that it does not interrupt performance. The cost for the Finish Neptune is about $160.

Audio Bone 1.0 Headphones

Audio Bone 1.0 headphones will set you back about $140.

The company offers a 45-day money-back guarantee after purchase. The Audio Bone 1.0 headphones are IPx7 waterproof and available in eight different colors. This particular model is the company’s top seller.


Beker is more of a speaker on the back of the head than it is headphones. Beker is a new company that began as an ambitious start-up. The Beker device is attached to a strap that can wrap abound a swim cap. Beker has enough memory for up to 1,000 songs, and a fully charged battery can last up to 8 hours. Beker is compatible with Windows devices and Apple devices, so you can download your favorite playlist from any device.

When you are choosing any “waterproof” device for your swim, make sure you do your research first. You want to know three things when you shop: how much, is there a warranty, and will this impede my performance?

Perhaps getting headphones in the pool in the first place depends on whether or not you can get them past the coach.