Bone-conducting underwater MP3 player saves me from terminal physiotherapy boredom

I had hip surgery back in January to correct a weird and unsuspected birth defect, and while the operation was a smash success, my physiotherapy regime calls for six months' worth of deep water running, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: wearing a float-belt and running up and down a pool full tilt (without touching the bottom) for 40 minutes three times a week. This is as dull as you might imagine, and my physio recommended buying an underwater MP3 player and passing the time with podcasts and audiobooks, which was a swimmingly good idea, as it turns out.

However, buying an underwater MP3 player has been more complex than I'd thought. I started with a Speedo Aquabeat, which is about the worst-designed piece of consumer electronics I've ever owned. Not only does it crash every single time I use it, it also requires some kind of proprietary Windows crapware to create custom playlists if you want to do something really complicated, like listening to all the numbered tracks of an audiobook in order. After the Aquabeat crashed with seemingly terminal finality, I tried something else.

Something else being the Nu Dolphin, a semi-generic Taiwanese device that at least supported complicated use cases like "Play these tracks in order." However, the Dolphin's headphone seal turns out to be pretty fiddly and the second time I used it, it filled up with pool water and died forever. And yes, I did, in fact, carefully screw the headphones all the way in. Go figure.

The third time turned out to be the lucky try: Finis's SwiMP3 is an ugly, clunky, weird answer to the question, "How can I listen to audio in the pool?" but at least it works.

Finis's design is markedly different from Speedo's or the Dolphin: rather than building a waterproof device with a gasketed 1/8" headphone jack for charging and listening, the Finis embeds its controls directly on one of the earpieces, these being sealed, teardrop-shaped pieces of plastic that are intended to be held against your cheekbones by the straps of your swim-goggles. Yes, the SwiMP3 conveys your MP3s to your head by means of bone conduction, which is so science-fictiony it practically sells the product right there.

A wire runs between the earpieces, and midway along that wire is a standard USB plug with a dustcover. It's nominally waterproof, this cover, but doesn't have much by way of a positive clicking lock when you shut it, which leads me to suspect that you can get it wet without killing the device (though the instructions warn you to ensure that it's dry before you plug it into your computer). I haven't tried it, though.

The SwiMP3 shows up on your desktop as a USB mass-storage device (that is, like any USB thumb-drive). You make playlists by sticking MP3s in folders; each folder is a playlist and the files play in alphabetical order (there's also a shuffle mode). Music organizers generally recognize the SwiMP3 automagically -- I've been using Banshee with it, which is handy, since that's also what I use for all my desktop music.

The controls are small, and have a bunch of different functions depending on how you use them -- for example, the next-track button is also the volume-up button (but only if you press and hold it down). This could be better thought through, but I don't do a lot of track management once I hit the water.

How's the sound quality? Well, bone-conduction is pretty top secret, super-spy, but it's no audiophile's delight. Out of the water, it works less well than the in-the-ear headphones used by the Speedo and Dolphin (though unlike these products, the sound actually emerges reliably). Underwater, the sound is actually much improved. I like it, overall -- having my ears free saves me from collisions with other denizens of the pool's slow-lane, who are a blundering, crash-prone lot. And pristine audio quality isn't that important with spoken word, which is what I bring to the pool.

All told, the SwiMP3 is the least-worst product in a pretty amateurish race, but it does have the distinction of being the only product I tried that actually worked.



  1. That’s a tall order, making a sound-generating device that is both functional and waterproof. A swimming pool is a nasty environment for an electronic device with wires. I’ve helped to build a couple underwater robots, and it’s no picnic.

    I wouldn’t think there would be a big enough market to pay for the top-rate engineering such a product needs to be successful. Which your experience has borne out, I guess.

    1. Ahh yes, you mean the awe inspiring Bone Fone, which came in casette and radio only versions. A pretty lousy device, the sound quality was crap, but the ads are funny to read now. A good friend still has a couple of them in the original packaging. If they ever had a chance of taking off, it was certainly squashed when Sony introduced the Walman.

  2. Cory,
    Did you ever find a MP3 player with the ability to save your pause position in a podcast/ebook through a shutdown?

  3. I swim with a SwiMP3 three times a week, and I agree that it isn’t for audiophiles, but it saves me from intense boredom.

    However, as a note, it actually improves sound to wear earplugs. I wear them anyway so it wasn’t much of an adjustment, and though you will lose your newfound aural awareness, it does help.

  4. Thanks for reviewing these! I’ve been considering an underwater mp3 player, but have not found a really reliable review before.

    Alas, I’m a moderately serious lap swimmer (1-3k if I can actually get my ass to the pool) and none of these sound like they’d hold up, or that I’d want to listen to my workout music on them.

    Maybe the next generation…

  5. You know, in my youth I was a distance swimmer and lifeguard (Bloor JCC in the house!). Back then we didn’t have fancy waterproof mp3 players or even radios. On long swims, you simply learned to sing to yourself or have a conversation in your head. For me this was actually a very useful skill to learn, a sort of “mindhack,” if you will. Now, if I’m doing anything tedious that requires minimal close attention, I can easily switch into “head mode” and not even notice the passing of time. I can often get a lot of unrelated thinking done, and it can also be very restful.

    (I know, I know…walked to school in the snow, made our own fun, wicca good and love the earth, and woman power, and I’ll be over here…)

      1. I had the finis for about a year and I thought it was great for boredom while swimming my laps. I found that under water the sound was great, it stayed on well and was amazing for what it made to do while in the water doing lap after lap. It conked and Finis was impossible to contact to get it replaced which was very disappointing.

  6. I swim for about an hour 3 times a week and while I like the idea of listening to books while doing so, I don’t think it would work for me. I spend most of the time crossing the pool thinking “OK, now is this lap 44 or 46? Wait, maybe it’s only 42. Arrgh! Time to turn, let’s say 44.” Listening to a book would either cause me to never remember anything or I wouldn’t listen to the book.

    1. (also replying to seyo)

      I used to do the same thing, try to remember laps. AAARGH!!! Now I have two different strategies and one failed strategy. First, if I’m counting, I swim in sets of 5 laps or 10. (A lap, to me, is 1 trip up and back to where I was) Then stack them up. Much easier to remember that way.

      Second strategy is that I KNOW how fast I swim and when I’m pushing it or being pokey. So I just look at the clock and swim for 30 minutes, take a break, swim another 30 and totally disregard laps. I like this strategy better. Who cares if I swim 47 or 49 laps? What matters is that I exerted myself for an hour.

      The failed strategy I mentioned was a punitive one. If I was doing a group of 5, I’d have to reset at 0 if I forgot what lap I was on. Well, that felt like punishment on top of reluctance to even be there swimming and trying to fight off midwinter depression and extra pounds. So I dropped that plan after about a week.

      Screw that – if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna have fun. Now I make it like a little battle in the water for an hour of my day, because, like Charlie Sheen, my goal is to declare ultimate victory!

  7. Yes! I was just searching the ‘nets for a good recommendation for a waterproof mp3 player. This seemed to top the list, but I still had some consternation about dropping $120 for such a specific use player. Although this doesn’t seem to be the most glowing endorsement, it puts to rest some fears I had. I’ve bumped up to about 5 hours a week in the pool, and while I’m perfectly capable of coping, I really love music and was hoping there was a solution out there for me.

    This post couldn’t have been more timely! Thanks Corey!

  8. Hey @RichSPK, I definitely remember the Bone Fone! It was a portable radio that showed up either right before or right after the Walkman. At least I think it did. In any case, here’s what it looked like — the cover was bright blue.

  9. “Likewise lacking in thought is the physical design of the earpieces, which lack any sort of notch or divot or even a flat place for the goggles’ elastic to rest against. ”

    Cory, I see in the photos that each ear piece has a clip that slips over the elastic band of your goggles. The photos at the Amazon link you posted confirm that.

  10. So you need one with $5 of accelerometer and gyros built in that will count up laps as you change direction and insert a count into the audio stream, or notify you after a set number of laps.

  11. I have used a SwiMP3 for a few years. They really do help with the boredom. I used to stop swimming after 20 or 30 minutes because of boredom or fatigue, but now I can last longer. There is an unexpected effect of the music forcing better pacing, which helps to control fatigue.

    I do feel the bone conduction is a bit lame. I find I get better sound if I just position the speakers over my ears.

    And Cory – their support site ( does say that you should not use the device if you lose the cap. I swear when I last looked at this, they said it was fine, but now they say that chlorine will damage it eventually, so I guess they have some reports of damage.

  12. “My physiotherapy regime calls for six months’ worth of deep water running…wearing a float-belt and running up and down a pool full tilt (without touching the bottom)”

    Ummm…dude, it doesn’t sound like you’re swimming; you’re running in place with your head out of the water. Don’t you just need something to keep your MP3 player dry? I’ve seen people use cheap cases and even ziploc bags.

    Or there are the H20 Audio cases—their cheapest one is like $30 for an iPod Shuffle and you could use any earbuds (w/o an inline control) or get one of their water resistant headphone sets.

  13. I have this mp3 player and it does work well, but it’s hard to keep the ear bone phones in place, fyi.

  14. Cory

    Have you looked at H20? I know people who have the shuffle sets (case and phones) and train with them on a regular basis. One guy clips his onto his goggles and is very happy with that.

    I am looking to buy some kit for shoulder swim/physio. Unfortunately as I am in Canada – apparently they must be delivered by courier-de-bois and then dog sled teams to my igloo – the cost is high.

    (in glaciate Ottawa)

  15. I am also in physical therapy and have been for about nine months. It’s alternately painful and deadly dull, but I swapped one of my sessions per week for horseback riding which is a big improvement over traditional PT, whether on land or in the pool. It’s way more fun and I get to be outdoors. Don’t know if it would be helpful for your particular condition, but if you’re interested, physical therapy on horseback is called “hippotherapy.” Like the pool running, it can work the muscles used for walking/running without putting too much weight on your joints. My insurance doesn’t cover it, but it ended up being about the same price as my copay for regular PT.

  16. I love this thing, with a major reservation. It really helps pass the time when listening to music (which does indeed sound great), but I am unable to swim laps while listening to an audiobook or podcast. My head going into and out of the water creates too much noise to hear all of the dialogue no matter how high I turn up the volume. Using earplugs help, but not enough to follow an audiobook. Has anyone else had this problem? Any solutions? I bought this specifically to listen to audiobooks while swimming laps.

    1. “I love this thing, with a major reservation… My head going into and out of the water creates too much noise to hear all of the dialogue no matter how high I turn up the volume. Using earplugs help, but not enough to follow an audiobook. Has anyone else had this problem? Any solutions?”

      YES! There is a solution to this, if you don’t mind looking goofy and slower lap times.

      I use the SwiMP3 and had the same problem. The bone conduction works very well – when the units are submerged. Coming up for breath breaks that connection and the audio quality. It’s horribly distracting.

      My solution was to switch to a snorkel & mask. (Goggles can still work, but the sturdier strap on my scuba mask works better with the drag from the snorkel.) This allows me to keep my head – and the bone conduction units – underwater the whole time so that the audio quality & volume stays constant.

  17. How deep can they go? I do a lot of work SCUBA diving, and I’m always looking for an underwater mp3 player that can go below 15 feet (and work in salt water), and yet I haven’t found any good ones yet.

  18. Yay for options! The Swimp3 is great, but bass is kinda wonky.

    Thanks for intro-ing these to the general public, mebbe now I can stop doin’ freebie sales reppin’ for the company at the local pool…

  19. I really enjoy using the Finis SwiMP3 because the bone conduction technology allow me hear music even when my head is underwater. I think this waterproof mp3 player is ideal for swimming and doing laps on the pool. I made a blog on Finsi SwiMP3 waterproof mp3 player and describe the general Pros and Cons.

  20. Hi Cory,

    I had the same issue of needing to swim for rehab, and found the best solution was from H2O audio. I have the H2O Audio Interval, which is a waterproof case and waterproof earphones for the Ipod shuffle 2g. Looks like this: Unfortunately, they no longer sell these. Now they sell a model for the Ipod shuffle 3G, shown here:

    These are awesome! The waterproof earphones not only sound great, but also keep water out of your ears. The case is waterproof, and lets you operate the shuffle.

    They also sell a cheap case for the Ipod Shuffle 2g, shown here: this is meant to be paired with their waterproof headsets. all in all, I’d recommend the Interval system, as it’s all in one.

    If you are feeling a bit spendy, and want the coolest solution, you go here: and get a fully waterproofed Ipod shuffle 4G, which they modify to be completely waterproof, or a Sansa Clip that’s waterproofed. These are awesome, and if I wasn’t cheap, I’d get one of these just for the great double-takes I’d get at the pool.

    I tried the Finis, and the sound sucked compared to these much better options.

    Good luck and heal fast, I love your books!

  21. I guess this will have to do until we have one with wireless direct-to-brain transmission.

    I have to say though I love the cheapo-gadget (and Android) “make it USB mass storage” approach to syncing. Certainly better than, well, basically any manufacturer-supplied syncing utility short of iTunes.

  22. I use a Drycase with waterproof headphones with my iPhone all the time. it is 100% waterproof and uses a vaccum seal to keep out the water. I do not really swim with it, but do go in the ocean, paddle board and just keep in in my pocket while I swim.

    you can get them at

  23. The problem I have had, with in-ear headphone units, like the Interval, is that the drag from the water tends to tug the earbuds out of the ear canal.

  24. I’ve Owned almost all of the underwater MP3 players. I swim an average of ten miles a week and in triathlon season I will do 10 mile days. I have tested them to the extremes.

    My favorite 3 or 4 years ago (I’m using favorite very loosely) was the H2Audio case for the ipod. It doesn’t work well for laps, but it does give you full functionality for watersports like surfing. I still use it when I surf. They have Phelps pushing it on their website, but I didn’t like it when he was pushing it 3 years ago. I have not tried the new model, but they have been “redesigning” underwater ear-buds for years and I have yet to see one that really works for lap-swimming.

    I can say positively without a doubt that the SwiMP3 is the best worst product of them all for lap swimming. In ear headphones do not work underwater. They rely on sealing a pocket of air inside of your ear for sound to travel conventionally through the canal. Even a modest sprint makes this impossible without the extreme discomfort of very tight fitting ear-buds. Bone conduction is the way to attack the underwater hearing problem without an unreasonable amount of pain.

    Like I said, I have tested these units to the extreme. I am on my fourth pair of SwiMP3’s. Why 4? They only have a lifespan of about one year and then you’ll lose sound on one side. A few months later you lose sound on the other side. I’m guessing that it has something to do with chlorine and seals not getting along. The one that I am using now has been going strong for over a year now, so they may have improved the build quality.

    I don’t want to complain too much. Finis replaced each faulty unit at no cost to me and was very prompt about sending me a new one. Each time I told them that another one broke they sent me whatever current model of the SwiMP3 was available. The original SwiMP3 that I paid for only had 128mb of storage. The one they offer now has 1GB.

    I do wish they would upgrade the sound quality.

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