Best Waterproof Earbuds of 2020
Sometimes, powerful products come in unassuming packages, and such is the case with the Mpow M30 Bluetooth Earbuds. These impressive little headphones tick off all of the vital checkboxes for a truly great pair of waterproof earbuds: a fully submersible, IPX8 waterproof rating; a measured Bluetooth range of just over 100 feet; a lightweight, stable fit that is perfect for any athletic endeavor; and most importantly for our lead tester, a beautifully clean EQ that leaves plenty of room for a solid bass kick. The design includes a supple ear-fin that somehow manages to simultaneously block your inner ear from water and sweat while maintaining unmatched breathability. And thanks to the clarity and noise-canceling capability of the dual microphones, we were even able to take business calls during our bike commute.
At only four and a half hours, we do wish that the playback time was longer — mainly because we love the fit so much — and we found ourselves wishing we could listen to these all day. The touch controls can be pretty sensitive, so you have to be careful in adjusting the earbud to make sure not to accidentally pause or skip a track. The polyurethane drivers rattle very subtly, which is most noticeable if you happen to be exercising to a podcast or acoustic music. Although the case is not equipped with any quick-charge feature, it does carry up to four full charges, ensuring that you can enjoy your favorite tracks no matter how long your commute or workouts last. All of this, offered at an affordable price, made the Mpow M30 an easy favorite for our testing team.
The Kurdene Wireless Earbuds are a solid set of TWS waterproof earbuds at a great price, all wrapped up in a case that is noticeably smaller and lighter than the competitors. The earbuds are a fairly standard size and sit a bit further out from the ear than other models we tested, but still stick to the theme of being remarkably lightweight. These headphones sport an IPX8 rating, and even the case is IPX6 rated — so you don't have to worry about leaving it by the poolside. The earbuds can be used independently, with nearly ubiquitous touch controls (except for volume and track navigation, which are side-specific), and have an impressive playback time of nearly seven hours. The earpieces are also worth mentioning: you don't have to push them in very far to achieve athletic stability, thanks to a stiffer rubber "spine" that increases in-ear support and security.
The Kurdene earbuds have a clean EQ that is good enough for acoustic tracks but is treble-heavy and lacks any full-range resonance or deep bass kick. The driver — a "moving-coil, horn loudspeaker" — rattles around when running or performing exercises like box jumps. This can be very distracting and certainly detracts from the overall sound quality. The other major sacrifice of these price-point TWS headphones is their connection range, losing Bluetooth connection at 51 feet. So if you train in an Olympic-size pool (50 meters, 164 feet), plan on swimming a short-course (25 meters, 82 feet) to ensure you can keep your music playing.
Sound quality is paramount for any headphones, but it isn't often achieved, especially when it comes to earbud design. Fortunately for those in the market for a set of waterproof earbuds, the EarFun Free does not sacrifice a full sound for functionality. Don't be fooled by the size of the 6mm graphene drivers; these headphones offer a rich sound with a well-equalized, deep bass. The noise-canceling qualities are enhanced by a suction-cup like fit that secures them in place, providing full confidence to go for long trail runs in rough, mountainous terrain. If it just so happens that you get caught up in your listening and run through the six and a half hours of charge, a 10-minute, quick-charge feature will get you back in the game with an additional two hours of listening time.
Even though the waterproof rating is not quite as high as the Mpow M30, an IPX7 rating allows for full immersion up to three feet, which is plenty for a swimmer. These are not touch control earbuds, and it does take a fair amount of push to engage the controls — sometimes, we found it difficult to change tracks without pushing these uncomfortably far into the ear canal. The EarFun Free is also significantly bulkier than other earbuds we tested, sticking out farther than most, which slightly reduces breathability. The fact that they block any and all water ingress is surely a plus for a swimmer, but the lack of breathability may not be as welcome for those planning on using these mainly in a gym setting.
Are you the relentless multi-tasker who makes themselves available for calls even while in the gym or out on a run? Well, you don't have to sacrifice call clarity for athletic performance, thanks to the Anker Soundcore Life P2. It is true that these are designed with a "reduced pressure" fit in mind, as they seem to comfortably rest just on the edge of the ear canal and yet are still impressively stable. Unlike others we tested, these have microphones on the top and bottom of both earbuds, resulting in excellent call clarity on both ends of the line. With an EQ that is adjusted towards the higher end of the spectrum, we thoroughly enjoyed the quality of sound for listening to podcasts. But don't expect much by way of kick if you are a lover of hip-hop, despite Anker's claims that their BassUp technology "enhances bass by up to 43%."
We were similarly underwhelmed with the Clear Voice Capture (CVC) technology that is supposed to significantly filter out background noise. Instead, we found that the dual microphones were uber-sensitive — even the running water, while we were washing dishes, drew the attention of the person on the other end of the line. Similarly, we are a bit confused by the claims surrounding the waterproof rating on these. Even though the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds sport an IPX7 rating — which means that they should be safe to immerse in water up to three feet — the safety manual explicitly states, "[do] not submerge in water," and that "the product shall not be exposed to dripping or splash…" While this may be a case of read-the-fine-print, we will leave it up to you to decide whether or not to take them for a swim.
When you first pick up a pair of the TOZO T10 TWS earbuds, they look and feel waterproof. Your eyes don't deceive you — the headphones sport an IPX8 rating, and the case claims an even more robust IP68 rating, meaning that it is both water and dust-tight. With a slightly longer range (measured at 80 feet) than the Kurdene earbuds, these are another great option for swimmers. The slightly elongated frame makes them a little difficult to fit — particularly for smaller ears — but they are stable while on the move. Importantly for runners, the sound is consistent, with absolutely none of the "bouncing" that often occurs with tightly fitting or bulkier earbuds.
Although the TOZO T10 are powered by large, 8mm drivers, the sound is not very rich and even seems somewhat distant. We noticed a similar issue while making phone calls, with the receiving end sometimes remarking that we sounded like we were "calling through a tunnel." Even though they are stable enough for most athletics, the ear-cups fit tightly in a way that we don't want to wear them all day. But the greatest flaw is a relatively short playback time of only four hours. Fortunately, a 20-minute, quick-charge feature powers one hour of additional playtime, which should be enough to get you through the rest of your workout.
If you're anything like our lead tester, then you simply cannot get enough music in your life. While you cannot always have headphones in, if you are going to try, then the Skullcandy Indy is sure to offer fantastic, all-day comfort. These stylish, albeit bulky, TWS earbuds are incredibly easy to fit thanks to "stability ear gels" (i.e., oversized ear-fins.) Even though the earpiece rests gently just outside your ear canal, they are still incredibly stable — these headphones transitioned with ease from business calls to trail runs. They are definitely tuned to the bass-heavy end of the sound spectrum but have a very moderate EQ that compliments their fit for a surround sound-like quality. We particularly love the distinctly pocket-friendly shape of the case, one that is more vertically stretched than all of the other, egg-shaped case designs.
The first major flaw of the Indy — especially among a field of waterproof competitors — is the low-end IP55 rating. It is enough water resistance to withstand a little rain but should not be fully submerged. Practically, it is best to think of these earbuds as seriously water-resistant, rather than waterproof. Operationally, we had some pairing issues with these earbuds that required more than one reset to get them to pair with one another. It is also annoying that the left earbud links via the Bluetooth capability exclusive of the right. That means if you want to listen with just one, it has to be the right earbud. Even more unfortunate is that towards the end of our testing period, the touch control of the right earbud failed, prompting us to have to file a warranty claim — and to seriously take into consideration the durability of these TWS earbuds.
The iLuv TB100 Bubble Gum TWS earbuds have a fitting namesake. The case is about the size and weight of a pack of bubble gum, so you can easily slide them into your pocket before heading out the door. The earbuds, too, feel significantly smaller than many others, with the speakers comfortably covering the entrance to the ear canal — although it is important to mention that a smaller earbud does not guarantee that they will fit a smaller ear. The tight, stable fit results in a surprisingly deep bass that is well-balanced with crisp highs. The fit also affords a decent level of passive noise canceling — we were able to listen to podcasts clearly while cruising downhill on our bike commute.
Unfortunately, the sound quality does not extend to voice calls. The feedback and background noise was so bad for the receiver that it made it impossible to carry on a conversation longer than a minute or two (and this was tested while standing still.) The tight, suction cup-like fit also contributes to the sound "bouncing" when running. And the lower IPX6 rating precludes these from being worn while swimming. The manufacturer claims that the touch controls are "intelligent" and able to adapt to individual touch patterns. We found the touch interface to be both overly sensitive — it was repeatedly triggered by the strap of our bike helmet — and often impossible to restart playback without pulling our phone out.
If you are looking to take your TWS headphones on an extended trip away from a reliable power outlet, then you will surely be intrigued by the superior power behind the Vankyo X200 earbuds. Not only do they offer seven hours of playback time, but the heavy-duty case carries 200 hours of extra charge. As a real bonus for travelers, the case is designed as a 5V/1A power supply, meaning that it can double as a power block to charge your phone. The earbuds also have a relatively low profile and comfortable, close-to-your-ear fit — which likely contribute to their impressive call clarity.
Despite a large, 8mm driver, the sound output on these is pretty weak and is definitely better suited for voice calls and podcasts than musical tracks. More distractingly, the drivers faintly rattle inside the housing of the earbuds. Additionally, even though it is small in comparison to many other power blocks on the market, it is important to note that the metal case weighs four ounces — twice the average weight of all other headphone cases in this review. And, like the case, the headphones themselves are rather bulky and heavy. It is difficult to achieve a stable fit, as the earbuds seem to consistently work themselves out from the ear and require constant adjustment. So despite their IPX8 rating, we remain leery of taking these out for a run or swim.
JLab Audio products are marketed as the "official audio partner of Major League Soccer," and for good reason. The JBuds Air Icon is the touch-control version of their signature JBuds Air earbuds. The Air Icon has an impressive connection range, measured at 102 feet. This capability, coupled with seven hours of playback time, makes them perfect for working out on the soccer pitch or in the gym. The case is thoughtfully designed with a built-in charging cord, and don't be thrown off by the cord's obscure appearance — simply plug directly into any standard USB type-A charging block to charge the case. The case carries three full charges, and you can enjoy 1.5 hours of playback from a 15-minute quick-charge.
Unfortunately, their IP55 rating is only water-resistant, so make sure that you take these out before hitting the showers. The Air Icon comes with a variety of ear cups and fins to help you dial in that perfect fit. However, all but the foam ear cups are unnecessarily embossed with the JLab symbol, which severely impacts both their stability and in-ear comfort. These earbuds distinctly offer the ability to cycle through three different EQ options, but all fall flat of a rich sound. We are also disappointed with how much the sound is affected by movement. Particularly when running, the sound bounces so badly that at points, it seems like there is a "wawa" effects pedal dubbed over the song.
For those with particularly small conchas (the inset space around your ear canal), the OKG TWS Earbuds may just be the perfect fit. Their lightweight, low-profile design rests comfortably just outside the ear canal and seems to do the trick when many other models simply won't match the shape of a smaller ear. Even for larger ears, they seem to float just on the edge of the inner ear, making them fairly comfortable for all-day use.
But that same characteristic of fit makes them feel incredibly unstable, like they just might pop out of your ear at any moment. We were hesitant to run or workout in these headphones, and despite their IPX8 rating, completely avoided swimming for fear of losing the small earbuds to the depths. This "floating" fit, combined with small, 6mm drivers, unfortunately, results in a very low EQ. Music, podcasts, and voice calls all sound distant, and even turning up the volume won't help achieve a rich sound. These earbuds also only have three hours of playback time, no quick-charge feature, and no audible, low-battery warning — only an external LED light that will flash red when the battery is low (but you obviously cannot see this while wearing them.) So make sure to time your listening wisely, or risk having your music cut-out halfway through a song.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our sound-connoisseur and lead-tester for this review is Aaron Rice. As an athlete and a musician, he knows a thing or two about the intersection of sound and athletic performance. Whether out in the mountains on a long trail run or hard at work writing full-time for GearLab, Aaron fills his days with music and always seems to have something playing in the background.
This comprehensive review is the result of over 100 hours of side-by-side comparison of some of the top waterproof, wireless earbuds on the market. Our eclectic musical interests mean that we listened to a wide variety of music, not to mention the hours of knowledge gleaned from new and interesting podcasts. We wore these while working all-day from our home offices, listening to music, and conducting business calls. After the workday was through, we took them on long trails runs, mountain bikes rides, or wore them through sweaty, at-home workouts. And when we finished up our daily routines, we hopped right in the shower — of course, still while wearing these earbuds — in order to put their waterproof ratings to the ultimate test.
Analysis and Test Results
In order to accurately assess all of these waterproof earbuds, our team of experts devised a test-plan that covers six comprehensive and mutually-exclusive metrics: sound quality; athletic performance; comfort; waterproof rating; battery life; and ease of use. We apply a weight to each of these metrics appropriate to their importance in contributing to a truly great pair of headphones. For example, all of the headphones we tested include some level of waterproof rating, so this was not weighted quite as heavily in our consideration as sound quality or comfort. Our side-by-side testing allows us to compare each set of earbuds relative to one another — even if a pair of headphones ranks lower than others, it is worth considering that it may include just the right features to fit your particular wants and needs.
Waterproof rating is an important consideration for those of us looking to buy a new pair of TWS earbuds with athletic endeavors in-mind. But what good is waterproofing, or athletic performance, if your new headphones aren't able to produce a really quality sound? We listened to a wide variety of music — from bass-heavy dubstep and hip-hop, to acoustic folk tracks, to long-form podcast interviews — to gauge how deeply the bass kicks, how crisp the treble rings, and how a well-balanced equalization contributes to overall rich tones. We also put the internal microphones to the test and used our friends on the other end of the line to judge call clarity and quality.
A Quick-Guide to Noise Canceling Technologies
- Stands for "Clear Voice Capture," and is software-based.
- Designed for phone calls, it uses a computer algorithm to detect and isolate your voice.
- CVC filters out background noise, increasing call quality and clarity for the person on the other end of the line.
- Because the algorithm is intelligent, clarity will increase the longer you are on the phone.
- Stands for "Active Noise Cancellation" and is hardware-based.
- Designed to improve personal sound quality, it detects external sounds and "blocks" them with a counterwave that effectively cancels out the incoming sound wave.
- This is what you often see in noise-canceling, over-the-ear headphones, but is less common with earbuds due to certain design restrictions.
There is also Passive Noise Cancellation. Not really a technology in itself, it is instead the result of a shape that provides a noise-canceling seal over your ear canal and is very commonly used in earbud design.
While EQ preferences might vary depending on your musical interest, there are some very clear winners in this category. The graphene drivers and design of the EarFun Free — one that embodies the ideals of passive noise cancellation — resulted in a superior listening experience. The sound produced by these earbuds is beautifully equalized, resulting in clear highs, deep lows, and a rich mid-range. For those of us who love hip-hop, it is important to note that the EarFun Free is one of the few pairs we tested with bass that actually slaps, an uncommon quality for earbuds in this price range. Not far behind in our rating is the Mpow M30, with similarly punchy bass and notably crisp highs. Both the EarFun Free and Mpow M30 offer amazing call clarity, a testament to their well-designed drivers and well-placed microphones.
Of course, you want to listen to your favorite tunes while engaging in your favorite physical activity — why else would you be interested in the freedom of the truly wireless experience? TWS earbuds are convenient, and when combined with a waterproof rating, serve as the perfect companion to any athletic endeavor. We spent hours wearing these earbuds while out on long trail runs, working out with dynamic body-weight exercises, and riding our bikes. We judged fit and stability, considered sweat resistance, and made notes on how movement affects sound quality.
The Realities of Gear Testing in the Times of COVID-19
Our hands-on testing period occurred after the significant outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent closures and restrictions on public spaces. Unfortunately, this included any reasonable access to public water sources for swimming. But we plan to update this article with those notes as soon as it becomes safe to do so.
It may come as no surprise that, again, our two highest-scoring earbuds overall also scored highly in this realm — but for very different reasons. The Mpow M30 offers a fit that is not only stable, but the lightweight design is remarkably more breathable than its competitors. The EarFun Free has a suction cup-like fit, which nearly guarantees that it will stay in place for any type of physical activity. However, both of these headphones have some slight flaws with movement affecting sound quality — the drivers of the M30 rattle very subtly, and the sound bounces with impact for the EarFun Free. Alternatively, the Skullcandy Indy and TOZO T10 offer a stable fit, with absolutely no change in sound quality, regardless of how you move while wearing them. We were also surprised by the athletic performance of the Soundcore Life P2, a model that is particularly enticing for those who like to walk-and-talk.
Our hope is that you fall so in love with your new pair of TWS earbuds that you will never want to take them out. Maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but we do want to direct you towards a pair that offers all-day comfort, whether you're on-the-go or working from home. These are indeed waterproof earbuds, so we showered and dunked our heads to see whether or not water can get into your ears. We wore each pair for an entire workday to directly compare their ease of extended-wear. Since we all have ears of different sizes and shapes, we then adjusted scores based on available sizing options for ear cups.
Whether at work or play, our favorite for all-day comfort is the Skullcandy Indy. A well-designed ear-fin comfortably supports the weight of the earbud so that the job of holding the earbud in your ear doesn't rest solely with the ear-cup. We love any earbud that includes an ear-fin for this reason in particular — the fins on the Mpow M30 result in a similarly comfortable fit, ideal for all-day wear. Similar in design to the Indy, the Soundcore Life P2 achieves a fantastic, lightweight fit, even without the use of an ear-fin. The JBuds Air Icon are the only other set we tested that employs an ear-fin, but their rubber ear-cups are embossed with their logo, which is incredibly irritating to the ear canal. Fortunately, they come with a wide selection of ear-cups and fins, including a foam tip that is absent of this annoying design oversight. Although they don't present an overall great fit, the OKG TWS earbuds seem to particularly suit those with smaller ears that may have had a tough time finding appropriately sized earbuds in the past.
The whole reason you landed on this review, and not our other fantastic, in-depth review of Bluetooth earbuds, is their waterproof status. Waterproof ratings, commonly referred to as IP ratings, are clearly defined according to the International Protection Rating. However, manufacturers seem to include specific recommendations in their user manuals regardless of the IP rating advertised. But it is our duty to put these claims to the test — appropriate to their waterproof rating, of course — and we did so either by showering or subjecting ourselves to a dunk-test.
A Breakdown of IP Ratings
Below is a quick listing of IP ratings, in descending order of waterproof rating, associated with the earbuds included in our review:IPX8
- Immersion in water beyond 1 meter (3 feet), according to conditions defined by the manufacturer, which are generally a specified depth and amount of time.
- Immersion in water up to 1 meter (3 feet), according to conditions defined by the manufacturer, which is generally a specified amount of time.
- Capable of withstanding powerful water jets (i.e., high-pressure nozzle) from any direction.
- Capable of withstanding water jets (i.e., industrial kitchen sprayer) from any direction. Additionally, this rating includes dust protection.
We ranked each pair of earbuds according to their IP rating and then adjusted those scores according to specific manufacturer recommendations. For example, our favorite for waterproofing — the TOZO T10 — has an IPX8 rating, and the manufacturer website claims it has been tested as "waterproof for 1 meter deep for 30 minutes." But then, as if to only complicate things, the user manual explicitly states, "not for swimming." We found this to be a common theme across a number of the headphones we tested. Specifically, the earbuds from Mpow, OKG, and Soundcore all carry IPX7 or IPX8 ratings but state in their user manuals that their products are not designed for swimming or submersion. It is important to note that a Bluetooth connection will quickly be interrupted if you dive underwater — our testing corroborates that you will lose connection within less than a foot. But our testing revealed no significant issues related to waterproofing with any of the IPX7 or IPX8-rated headphones by dipping just below the surface. We always recommend following manufacturer recommendations, but we'll leave it up to you to decide whether to take your new pair of TWS earbuds out for a swim.
As with many modern conveniences, there are trade-offs. With TWS headphones, you may no longer be tied down by cords, but you are restrained by battery life. We tested the battery life of each of these while playing music at approximately 30% volume — a lower volume than the manufacturer tested-claims for playback time, a more realistic volume for the majority of earbud users. We then adjust scores based on the number of extra charges carried by the case and award bonus points if those cases include a quick-charge feature.
Interestingly enough, a lower streaming volume did not seem to increase playback time for all of the headphones we tested. Some, like the TOZO T10, EarFun Free, and JBuds Air Icon squeaked out an additional half- to one-hour of playtime — with the biggest gain coming from the Kurdene earbuds, earning an additional two-hours of playback. Many were right on the mark of their manufacturer claims, while others — most notably the iLuv and OKG earbuds fell one- to two-hours short of their claimed battery life. The most remarkable contender in this realm is the Vankyo X200 earbuds. Not only do these match claims of seven-hours of playtime, but the case offers an additional 200 hours of charge — that equates to 28 additional charges — and can also double as a charging block for your phone.
Ease of Use
One of the greatest advantages of TWS headphones is the ability to put them in and then walk away from your phone to go about your business. This is particularly important when it comes to waterproof earbuds because it means you can keep listening to your favorite tunes while swimming laps. With a few notable exceptions, the interface features and controls are fairly ubiquitous across the board — the main difference is that the EarFun Free, and Soundcore Life P2 are button-controlled, rather than touch-sensitive.
Because of this, we also assessed portability, which comes down to case size and shape. The Kurdene, Mpow, and especially the iLuv earbuds all have small, lightweight cases. But we particularly loved the shape of the Skullcandy Indy, which is vertically elongated and fits more comfortably in a pocket, even if it is slightly larger and heavier than those other three competitors.
But as stated above, it really comes down to pairing and, most importantly, Bluetooth range. To maintain objectivity, we tested this without interference of barriers — as stated above, the Bluetooth connection of all of these headphones will be interrupted below the water surface. The Mpow and JLab earbuds both lost connection at an incredible 102 feet, well exceeding their claims of 33 feet (10 meters.) On the other end of the spectrum, the OKG and iLuv earbuds have more limited ranges of 50 and 41 feet, respectively — although to their credit, this still exceeds their similar claims of 33 feet (10 meters.) But along the lines of restricted range, we noticed while working that often just your body is enough to disrupt the Bluetooth connection (for example, if you are bending over with your phone in your pocket.)
Wireless headphones are a fantastic new technology that helps separate us at least a little bit from our phones. Particularly from the perspective of athletes and those of us who commute via bike or live in rainy climates, that technology is made even better by adding a waterproof design. Not all of these wireless waterproof earbuds are created equal, and we hope that this comprehensive review has helped you plug into the pair that best suits your needs.
— Aaron Rice