If you swim laps competitively, or recreationally, you’ve encountered a problem that is unique to swimming up and around the black line at your local pool—no music! Unlike when you are on the treadmill, pedaling on the bike, or lifting heavy things up and down, having your favorite tunes there to push and motivate you has always been limited to whatever garbage, err, music is being played on the house PA system.

If you go to early morning swims, like I do, it’s usually silence. Just the splashing and heavy breathing that comes with pushing yourself in the water. Which, to be fair, can be very meditative and relaxing at times. It’s always great to be able to unplug, after all.

But there are times where you could really use the extra go-go juice that comes with having your favorite songs on speed-dial. When a good, high tempo beat helps you find your rhythm and finish your swim practice quickly and completely.

Luckily, swim manufacturers are finally starting to come out with some pretty decent music options for us water-bound athletes. While some of them still have a ways to go in terms of being able to produce ear buds that stay in the ear canal properly, there are still some very viable options out there.

Here’s what ya need to know before dropping some of your hard earned money on an underwater and waterproof iPod/MP3 player for your swims:

What kind of music conduction do you prefer? This sounds like a bizarre question, but the way that music is delivered to your ear is challenged by the fact that we are in the water! Not only is the passing water going to knock around your ear buds, but if you get water into your ear canal it will distort and muffle the sound. In one case, with a pair of headphones I could simply not get squared away properly in my ear, water got in there, leaving the music sounding as though it were coming out of the bottom of a tin can. Not awesome! While most underwater MP3 players have straight up ear buds that have been waterproofed, one brand, FINIS, came out with a player that transmits music through your cheek bone to your inner ear. Pretty cool stuff! The FINIS Duo is set up so that you don’t even need to worry about the headphones at all. For ear plug wearers, as well, this means you don’t have to decide between wearing earplugs or listening to music.

What format of music does it play? Now this is where things can get technically annoying. Some of the waterproof music players on the market only play WMA/MP3 files. Which isn’t a problem unless you have a butt-ton of music in iTunes like I do that is formatted in Apple’s preferred format, M4A. (Fortunately iTunes has an in-software tool that allows you to convert song format relatively painlessly; just takes a while to do it while taking up twice the space on your hard drive than it would otherwise.)

 

How will you be using it? Ear canals come in varying shapes and sizes, and as a result the ear buds, and how likely they are to stay in the ear canal, varies from swimmer to swimmer. While there are different kinds of headphones, from the small ear buds, to the wrap-around-the-ear headphone, to the bone conduction, giving you a number of options. For me I found that using my waterproof mp3 players while performing kick sets usually meant that they actually stayed in place, whereas once I got up to a decent clip while swimming the headphones would get jarred loose eventually, particularly on the push-offs, where we are really moving.