Product review: H20 Audio Interval (for 3rd gen iPod shuffle)

Curiosity and a 20% discount enticed me to buy the H20 Audio Interval housing and headphone combo in the week leading up to my 8,000 meter swim. I had wanted a swimming headphone system since seeing the H20 Audio products in the Apple Store, but I was an early adopter of the 3rd generation iPod shuffle and there’s almost no accessory products on the market for that device. The 3rd gen iPod shuffle has a different headphone plug to allow for the small control buttons on the cord: volume, next track, and voice-over. Leave it to Apple to create yet another plug incompatible with the older headphones or even the iPhone headphones. This means accessory makers are much less inclined to spend the development and manufacturing funds to make a product. H20 Audio announced their Interval product in August, they are one of the only third party makers of a 3rd gen iPod accessory, and one of the only waterproof housing and headphone products. Does it work? That depends on your ears.

I used the Interval for most of my 8,000 meter swim. Though it started out audible, after ten minutes I couldn’t hear a thing. In fact, every flip turn would dim the audio just a tad more until it was inaudible. I followed the instructions provided by the maker – wear the Interval on my headphone strap, under the swim cap, using a snug fitting ear canal tip. I did all that. And yet once water traveled under the cap on the flip turn the music disappeared. I finally gave up and did my 3.5hrs of laps in quiet.

A week later I tried it again, this time bringing every headphone tip poolside with the intention of trying the myriad of ear canal tips provided. For the tips that fit and stayed in place I could hear the music until the flip turn and then – gone. I finally gave up and left the device poolside.

Later, when I tried to use my shuffle again it stopped working. There was no water damage at all – the H20 Audio Interval does not leak, so kudos to them for making a sealed product. I had my shuffle replaced at the Apple Store under warranty for failing, then discovered my shuffle headphones were also dead from my sweat trickling into the in-line controls. I took the Interval to one more swim and the right earphone was dead. Thus my frustration with the shuffle and all its related accessories has been very high.

I returned the H20 Audio Interval to the manufacturer in San Diego and in their email with the RMA information was the line, “Please Note: In the unlikely event your return involves an iPod or iPhone please be sure you include the device with your return so we can test it on our end. We cannot process your claim unless the device is returned to us with your armband or case.”

I replied, “Thank you. Though you must be high if you think I’m sending you my iPod.”

I sent them the Interval and within a day I received confirmation that the unit was defective and they would send me a replacement immediately. They get points for communication and rapid response. It did cost me $10 to ship the defective product back to them with the required tracking number, so the 20% discount I received from belonging to the LA Tri Club has been pretty much eaten up.

Back to the pool for another hour swim and I brought the Interval with me, determined to make the thing work.

Finally, after the commerce roller coaster, here is my impression of the Interval: it’s better than nothing.

The flip turn is still the weak spot for the Interval’s headphones. Once water slips past the rubber ear gasket the sound disappears. Also, water seems to pop the headphone diaphragm in such a way that requires removing the earphone and tapping it once or twice to clear the water and pop the diaphragm back into place. This seems to happen whether you use a swim cap or not. In general music in the pool for long swim workouts is nice, and if you’re doing laps broken up into sets then in the ten seconds between sets you can clear the water and tap the plugs to clear the water out. This might not be an issue for some people, but this was the case with me and my ear canal shape. To their credit, H2O provides a wide array of ear tips to try, and I tried them all. Your mileage may vary.

When the music is audible it is clear with good range reproduction. I could make out lyrics, bass, drums, and guitar. There’s not a lot of thump going on, but certainly enough bass response to find a rhythm. Higher notes work better, which is why the H2O Audio product also works as a metronome – these click tracks can be downloaded from different web sites to time your arm turnover to an audible beat. For example, I’m a big fan of www.swimsmooth.com and their Mr. Smooth animation. The animation has an adjustable slider to change the arm turnover, and finding your best arm turnover rate can be learned using a click track. For this, the H2O Audio product is perfect.

Overall the product does work. It’s unobtrusive to wear on the head, I barely noticed it was there until I had to pop out the earphones and tap them to wake them up. For $100 it’s a bit steep for most recreational swimmers, but if you’re doing Masters swimming or training for an Ironman with long hours in the pool all week long this is a nice product to keep you company.

One final note – I’d be remiss in mentioning that no Ironman or USA Swimming race (pool or open water) is going to allow you to wear this on race day. There was huge benefit in doing the 8,000 meter swim in quiet. Endurance training is as much about conditioning the mind and body. If you can’t figure out ways through the boredom without music race day is going to hurt a lot more. But used sparingly, products like this can alleviate the grinding repetition of long miles.

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2 responses to “Product review: H20 Audio Interval (for 3rd gen iPod shuffle)

  1. Aa long as you’re doing technology reviews, do you want to comment on the mini video camera you used for your road trip to San Diego?

  2. good to know. i’ve been looking into it myself, half-heartedly of course. i think i’ll wait…our noses are both extra wide, so i’d be foolish to think my ear canals are much different from yours. ;-)

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