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Sometimes I wonder what I'm getting myself in to before I do it, others I just launch in to it without a second thought. This latter habit is one which has found me preparing for two charity swims over the next few months, one being the Sport Relief Swimathon at the end of March (indoors), the second being the Manchester Great Swim in July (outdoors, in Salford Quays).
After a few weeks of swimming for between 60 and 90 minutes at a time I've found that while I'm not bored I tend to find that at the ends of the pool I'm stopping to rest for longer than I need to so I can evesdrop the gossipy conversations of the other women "swimming" so decided that as when I'm out running listening to music it helps me keep pace and distracted from the scenery around me it was worth looking to see if water proof MP3's were in my price range yet.
Happily for me they are and there are plenty of options, being slightly overwhelmed by the choices available I narrowed it down to the Sony product and this Speedo Aquabeat. I figure that Speedo are an expert in swim wear so chances are their product would be suitably water proofed.
I bought mine from Amazon for around £40 for this the original model. The MP3 comes with earphones - over hear bud styles ones which should help to make them more secure in the ear whilst swimming, three sets of different sized buds to make sure you have the ones which fit best, a USB charger/data cable, a net bag to keep it all in and an extension cable for the ear phones in case you need to secure the MP3 away from your head or shoulders.
Opening the box I find a small - large matchbox - rubber feel unit, grey buttons set in to a curved red 'frame'. One end has the headphone jack/charging port, the other is simply a smooth curved surface, the back has the clip enabling you to fix it to the strap of your goggles or costume.
The initial set up is very simple, plug it in to a computer and charge it up, I found that the first time this took just over 2 hours, the player automatically installed the appropriate drivers to my laptop. When it is fully charged the small LED on the front glows green, while charging it's red. Adding music to it is a very simple drag and drop process, either direct between folders or using the 'playlist builder' software which comes with the MP3. the box includes instructions to convert music purchased on itunes to MP3 so it can be played on this too.
I find that the player clips easily on my goggles when I wear them but unless placed in exactly the right place on the back of my head the extra drag from the unit pulls my goggles out of place making it rather uncomfortable, so usually I clip it on to the shoulder strap of my swim suit, I'm not particularly tall and don't have an unusually long neck so the ear phone cable is long enough to reach without pulling the buds uncomfortably while I swim, this is helped by the cable having a coiled section so it is kept fairly taut but still has some give to it. That said having bought a second costume lately I find that it's almost impossible to attatch securely to the newer one as it has thicker stitching on the straps so I prehaps need to get used to the more annoying goggle fixture.
One of the male swimmers who borrowed it said that for him the irritation of having it on his head was worse than listening to the gossipers, and even with the extension it wasn't the most comfortable fit when clipped at waist level - though Speedo do also sell an armband I would imagine that this for me at least would be even more of an annoyance due to the wires being so very much in the way of your arm movements.
The sound quality dry is decent, its not stunning but it's acceptable through the provided earphones, in the water as long as you manage to keep your earbuds in place the quality remains great, if however one comes out the water in the ear canal and in the bud itself will cause it to sound muffled - just like when pools used to play music through loudspeakers and you were listening to it from underwater. As these are designed for use in the water once they have got wet it's not a problem I tend to rinse the whole unit in the sink when I get home - obviously it would be a bad idea to let it all get wet without the earphone jack firmly in place!
For me the big downside to the unit is the earbuds, they fit comfortably and feel secure when I have the right size of covers on them, but the hooks which are designed to keep the buds more securely in the ear are too loose over my ears and are not solidly fixed to the bud so can move independently of the bud which means that unless I'm wearing a hat I'm uncomfortably aware of them moving around as I swim - if I tumbleturn I tend to find it pulls one of them out more often than not. If I don't get more used to them I plan on looking for an alternative set of water proof ear buds without the hooks. I also feel that this join is most likely to be the weak point in the set, the cable between the hook and bud must be under some strain with the two solid surfaces either side so I would guess it'll be the bit that splits, I'd actually have liked if the hook part was removable so you could choose if to use them or not.
The Aquabeat is advertised as having up to an 18 hour battery life, as yet I've not used it for longer than 90 minutes at a time and due to being fussy about my swimming music end up plugging it back in to my laptop to alter the tracks on it thus recharging it.
Operating it is very simple the front has two buttons, forward/on and backward/off, when turned on it has a green flashing LED, if the battery is low the LED flashes red and green. On the top is the volume control. To make turning it on easier in the water the forward/on button is textured with small raised dots while the other half is smooth. If you want to repeat a track you can do so pressing the backbutton for a second or two after the track as been playing for at least 15 seconds - but pressing it too long turns the whole thing off.
As I also scuba dive I would like it if this unit was rated as suitable for withstanding pressure but among the literature in the box with it there is no mention of its ability to accompany me on dives so I won't be risking it.
Overall I really like my Aquabeat, the sound quality is good, it helps me focus on what I'm supposed to be doing and strangely when I'm using it people seem to keep out of my way more - presumably because they think I'm less aware of my surroundings and more likely to swim in to them. The netbag is far bigger than it needs to be for just the MP3 and headphones, so I use it to keep my hat, goggles and locker token together instead of them being loose in my kit bag. My minor gripes about the ability to fix it to my swim suit reliably and the hooks on the ear phones have lost it that one star.