Earbuds for Swimmers: In the Ear or Through the Skull?

Are Earbuds or Bone Conduction a Better Path for Underwater Music?

inner ear
noise entering cochlea. Getty Images

Swimmers who want to listen to their favorite music while enjoying a dip have a few options, including earbuds, very much like the sort you might use to listen to your iPod, and a form of headphone that conducts sound through your skull. Both work on much the same principle as the earbuds and headphones you've used on dry land, but with important differences. 

Ear-Free Earbuds for Swimmers

Ear-free earbuds for swimmers allow them to listen to music without jamming often ill-fitting buds into their ears.

Ear-free earbuds and headphones use bone conduction to deliver sound by transferring it directly to the inner ear, bypassing the outer ear and using the vibration of bones in the head to create the sound. Vibrating bones deliver the sound to the cochlea and...voila! The swimmer hears sound underwater.

Bone-conduction technology sounds more like an obscure science experiment than a legitimate method for music delivery, but it is not as new as you might think. The technology has been around for more than 40 years in the form of hearing aids. Since 1977, more than 100,000 people suffering from hearing loss have been fitted with bone-conduction devices to improve hearing.

Top-Rated Ear-less Headphones

There are several models on the market for swimmers. One of the most common comes from one of the 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 is considered the first to make these devices compatible with water sports. There are few bone-conduction headphones and speakers on the market, so here are some of the highest-rated underwater devices:

The Finis Duo is an underwater MP3 player designed to transmit sound directly through the cheekbones to the inner ear. An integrated clip design secures the Duo to goggle straps to rest on the cheekbones.The device supports unprotected MP3 and WMA files and includes a USB magnetic dock for universal data transfer and charging, 4GB of flash memory, and a lithium-Ion rechargeable battery with up to seven hours of life.

Audio Bone 1.0 headphones offer a 45-day money-back guarantee after purchase. The Audio Bone 1.0 headphones are IPx7 waterproof. 

Beker is more of a speaker on the back of the head than it is headphones; the device is attached to a strap that can wrap around a swim cap. Beker has enough memory for up to 1,000 songs, and a fully charged battery can last up to eight hours. It is compatible with Windows and Apple devices, so you can download your favorite playlist from any device. 

When you are choosing any waterproof playback device for your swim, make sure you do your research first. Look for three things: price, warranty, and whether it will impede your performance. Perhaps getting earbuds or bone-conduction headphones past your coach and into the swimming pool is the first hurdle to pass.,