The Outside Blog

Adventure : Jan 2012

Best for Getting Wet

I was initially skeptical about H2O Audio's Surge Sportwrap 2G Waterproof Headphones, since anything that can be immersed in water “for an unlimited amount of time” must sacrifice something in the sound department. And these do, but as I swam laps in them, with some good music taking my mind off the arm-slapping monotony, I was forced to admit that the sound quality was perfectly acceptable, especially for $50. And it turns out that they are designed for much more vigorous use, like surfing or paddling, when you might get your head stuck in the spin cycle. I didn't love the sport band—its cord protrudes at the base of the neck and pressed into my skin when I looked upward—but it did remind me that the headphones were still connected to my noggin. I also liked the coiled cable, an idea that shouldn’t have taken this long to come to sport headphones, given that we had one on our home phone in 1970. Pair these with one of the company’s Amphibx waterproof armbands ($50–$60) for your iPod and you're good to go.

Price: $50

h20audio.com

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Best for Women

All of the models I've reviewed, of course, are gender neutral, but Subjekt, recognizing that women’s ears aren't as big as men's, built their HerPhones to be 40 percent smaller than average earphones. My high-school-aged daughter wears them regularly, and while she's a little uncertain about their ability to withstand teenage wear and tear, they pump out Strokes tracks reliably enough to make her swoon. And at $25 a pair, they get my vote. Another solid option is the Micro-Blaster ($100), an in-ear monitor from Nixon that has a similarly small profile, emits plenty of bass, and sounds nearly as good as headphones twice the price.

subjekt.com

nixonnow.com

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Best for Kids

A 2010 study by the American Medical Association found that the number of teens suffering from hearing loss has risen by a third since 1995. Chances are good that portable music players are at least partly to blame, which is why earphone maker Etymotic Research has come out with a kid-specific in-ear monitor. The ETY-Kids 5 creates a seal in small ears for noise isolation, allowing them to listen at lower volumes, and, failing that, comes with a lower maximum output that limits damage even if they try to crank the volume. Good luck modifying listening behavior in teens, but if you get to them when they’re young you might make a difference.

Price: $49

etymotic.com

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Best Overall

I’ve owned my soft, foamy Jays' v-Jays headphones longer than any other earbud or headphone in this test, and I reach for them first for a very elementary reason: They sound perfect. Plus, at only two ounces, they're travel-friendly and collapse into a shape you can fit in your coat pocket. I've even taken them running: the old-time foam pads sit comfortably on your ears and stay in place even when you sweat. But it’s their booming bass and clarion highs that really get me, blending to create a full, fluid sound. The only drawback: the swivel balls that make them flexible are prone to breaking off if you stuff them into one too many messenger bags.

Price: $90

jays.se

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User Profiles

There are close to a billion social-media feeds, more than 250 million websites, and 600,000 mobile apps. Whether you’re a wanderer or an adventure athlete, these are the ones you need to know about. Plus: Five essential outdoor tech tools for explorers of all types.

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