We’ve not done a group test at TRI247.com for a while, and this was an interesting one – underwater headphones to make those training lengths melt away! We had the opportunity to look at four of the top models on Amazon and see how they stood up.
On test were two traditional in-ear models, the i360 and the Sony NW-WS414 and two bone conducting units, the Finis Duo and the recently launched Aftershokz Xtrainerz.
If you have not considered music for swimming, we have a guide to get you started HERE.
|i360||Sony NW-WS414||FINIS Duo||Aftershokz Xtrainerz|
|Playback Time||10 hours||7-12 hours||7 hours||8 hours|
|Charge Time||3-4 hours||1.5 hours||3 hours||< 2 hours|
|Waterproof||IPX8 (3 M)||IPX65/68|
(2 M for 30 minutes)
(3 M for 30 Minutes)
(2 M for 2 Hours)
|Supported Formats||MP3 and WMA||MP3, AAC, PCM,|
|MP3 and WMA||MP3, WMA, AAC,
What’s in the box?
i360 – Dry land and swimming ear buds, mesh storage bag, USB charger
Sony NW-WS414 – Dry land and swimming ear buds, mesh storage bag, Adjustable security band, USB charger
FINIS Duo – USB charger
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – USB charger, swim ear plugs, carry pouch
i360 – Glossy exterior on the ear buds with well-spaced buttons and a sturdy, rubberised non-tangling neck strap
Sony NW-WS414 – Matt finish is attractive and the neck strap is thick and non-tangling, with a rubberised finish. Buttons are nicely raised and features two rocker buttons for volume and track skipping.
FINIS Duo – Solid if a bit plasticky feel to the sound pieces, buttons are large and rubberised. The neck strap is a little flimsy feeling. Rubberised temple grip to keep the units in place.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Tactile, matt rubberised finish on the sound units and the neck strap, minimal buttons nicely raised.
i360 – Clip-on USB charger and charge-indicating LED. A simple peg like clamp that seems to fit securely.
Sony NW-WS414 – Clip-on USB charger and charge-indicating LED. More like a docking station for your headphones, nice and secure.
FINIS Duo – Clip-on USB charger and charge-indicating LED. Magnetic base feels secure and snaps into its charge position.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Clip-on USB charger and charge-indicating LED. The charger clamps securely around the charging ports and continues the minimalist feel to the product.
Ease of use – putting music on
i360 – Simply drop and drag music tracks from the computer (Mac or Windows) to the player’s music folder.
Sony NW-WS414 – Simply drop and drag music tracks from the computer (Mac or Windows) to the player’s music folder.
FINIS Duo – Instructions warn to make sure your trash bin is empty before plugging into your computer. Simply drop and drag music tracks from the computer (Mac or Windows) to the player’s music folder.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Simply drop and drag music tracks from the computer (Mac or Windows) to the player’s music folder.
i360 – Decent sound quality on dry land with the dry ear buds. In the water the sound is a little less crisp, but still perfectly acceptable. Best used with a swim cap to ensure the buds stay in place or water can creep in as you turn, swim faster or knock them as they catch the drag in the water.
Sony NW-WS414 – The best sounding out of the water with the ambient sound feature turned off. With it turned on sound is a little thinner, but still great. In the water the sound is again great and the included swimming ear buds feature a special membrane to retain a pocket of air to keep the sound quality as high as possible. This was the loudest on test, but at the expense of being able to pick up on ambient sounds.
FINIS Duo – Really only works in the water. The sound pieces need to be held in place with your googles strap. In the water the sound is pretty decent, but if you use them on dry land they lack any depth or bass. These are definitely for in the pool only.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Very enjoyable sound both in and out of the water. They are designed to be used swimming and sound really good with the supplied ear plugs and the water mode turned on. On dry land the sound is nice and clear again. At high volumes sound remains clear and undistorted. While not as loud as the Sony unit, it still allows you to hear ambient sound much better.
Fit and Comfort
i360 – Once fitted these were pretty snug and stayed in place whilst running and in steady swimming. These really benefit from being held in place under a swim cap. Putting the phones on is a little fiddly compared with the Sony and the Aftershokz as they tend to twist awkwardly until you get the hang of them, not unlike trying to pack away a pop up tent! Once you work it out though, you’ll be fine!
Sony NW-WS414 – Simple to fit and not as fiddly as the i360’s. Snug fit both in the water and dry land and stayed firmly in place with the neck strap keeping things secure as the Sony has a thicker neck strap and stayed comfortable on a longer run too.
FINIS Duo – The most fiddly to fit as you need to thread your goggles strap through the left and right sound pieces and wiggle them into place to get the transducer in the correct position. The biggest sound pieces on test which can stick out on smaller faces and be an issue for the more style conscious!
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – The easiest to fit and remained in place with no issues. The lightweight unit stayed snugly in place and there was no ear fatigue as the sound pieces are not being forced into your ear canal. Stayed in place whilst swimming, tumble turning and running on dry land. Long-term, these were the comfiest in and out of the water. They stayed tightly round the neck when not in use and of course, as they do not go in the ear, when you stop the music it’s the same as taking out your in-ear headphones.
i360 – Shuffle play, standard and fast volume up and down.
Sony NW-WS414 – Folders for music, track repeat and shuffle play, 3-mode ambient sound monitor.
FINIS Duo – Track repeat and shuffle play.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Water and land sound mode, track repeat and shuffle.
How you will use the phones – Other use/versatility
i360 – Works well in water and dry land, suitable for swimming, running and general listening.
Sony NW-WS414 – Works well in water and dry land, suitable for swimming and running and general listening.
FINIS Duo – Only works best in water.
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – Works well in water and dry land, suitable for swimming and running, cycling and general listening.
i360 – £44.99
Sony NW-WS414 – £79.00
FINIS Duo – £94.49
Aftershokz Xtrainerz – £139.95
- A well priced set of headphones that you can wear for swimming and general use
- The units feels quite solid but the shiny gloss finish could soon look scratched and worn
- The onboard memory is great, allowing around 2,400 tracks of music
- At nearly half the price of the next tested model you would expect it to have flaws, but if you were buying on price alone, this would be a very solid choice
- It’s well packaged and sounds way better than the price suggests.
- From a major brand you would expect a solid offering and the Sony delivers in terms of build and sound quality
- In and out of the water, 1,200 tracks of music capacity is a lot of training music!
- You could wear these for long periods feeling comfortable and secure that they won’t fall out
- Out of the ear they wrap nicely around your neck without dropping off.
- Being the only headphones here that are only really suited to underwater use and not dry land puts them at a bit of a disadvantage. However, the in-water sound quality redeems it if you can forgive the looks and the plasticky feel and build, size and slightly fiddly use, needing the goggles strap to secure them.
- The most expensive model here, but it feels like a solid, well-built piece of kit
- The sound works a treat in and out of the water and its minimal design makes it a very attractive unit
- It lacks a few notches of top end volume on dry land compared to the in-ear models, but it’s plenty loud enough in practice
- It’s hard to fault it as an overall package; 1,200 music tracks is around 100 albums and I don’t think I listen to that many all at once!
From testing, out the four units it was clear that there are two main stand-out headphones for use with swimming, The Sony and the Aftershokz offered more in terms of build quality, feel and usability. Sound quality was probably a little fuller on the Sony but in terms of general use the Aftershokz would be a better option from a safety point of view. Its ambient noise capability beats the Sony and would be a better option for running and if you wanted to, cycling or in fact any activity where sound awareness is crucial.
Despite being under water, all of the headphones tested did work surprisingly well and it was an enjoyable experience listening to music whilst swimming. If you picked any of these units you would not be left unhappy, but for me it was the Aftershokz that I kept going back to as it ticked so many of the boxes.
The Aftershokz had a snug fit that never felt like they would fall off. With no music playing you could leave them in place and they felt comfortable as they did not hinder your ear canal. The Aftershokz also benefitted from a minimal design and made all the other headphones seem a little bloated comparison. When you try out the Xtrainerz, I feel you will want to spend the extra money over the Sony model – though that is a tough call, as both models really did perform well.
The benefits of the bone conducting technology in this test put the Xtrainerz ahead in safety and practicality. As a technology it’s very cool and way better than I expected. It’s a product I will definitely consider buying. As the best all-rounder, the Aftershokz were just a level up from the other units tested, from the minimal and solid design to the technology offering a safer music listening experience.