This is a review of the Shokz XTrainerZ open ear bone conduction headphones for swimming, cycling, and running. We are seriously impressed with these headphones as a safe option for cycling, and as a way to relieve the tedium of long training swims.
Headphones for Swimming AND Cycling
Although I don’t talk about it much on this blog, I am a pretty serious swimmer. I think it is a perfect exercise to combine with cycling, as it prioritizes the upper body. And I know that many other cyclists also include swimming in their workouts. For example, triathletes combine swimming and cycling training (plus running). So, I think these headphones target an important market.
However, an hour of swimming laps is deadly boring compared to an hour of negotiating mountain trails on a bike. Or even negotiating city traffic on a bike. However, throw in some music or a podcast or an audio book, and swimming laps can suddenly become a lot less boring. In my case, I like to learn Spanish while I swim.
The Challenge of Headphones in the Pool
The key problem with headphones in the pool is that Bluetooth does not work in the water. Water molecules are denser than air; so this obstructs the frequency at which Bluetooth works.
This means you have to carry your music source with you in some way, and usually connect via wires that terminate in buds in your ears.
The problem is that there are hardly any options to do this. For the past few months I have been making do with a SYRYN MP3 player, which is available at a bargain price, and works fairly well. You attach the little player to the back of your goggle strap, and plug the headphones deep into your ears. The sound in the open air is very poor, but it is fairly adequate when your head is underwater.
However, there are two downsides to the SYRYN. The first downside is that you have to really plug the ear buds deep. Most of the time this is OK, but it is easy to get water wedged in your ear canal. Also, you cannot hear a thing if anyone talks to you in the pool.
The other downside with the SYRYN is that it cannot double as headphones for cycling. The sound outside the water is poor.
So the great thing about these Shokz XTrainerZ is that they fit the bill for both swimming and cycling, without having to plug your ears in either environment. They are completely waterproof in up to six feet of fresh or salt water. Also, built right into the slim-line design is 4 GB of MP3 storage (which should be good for about 1,200 songs).
The Challenge of Music on a Bike – Safety Issues
The obvious problem is that if you have your ears plugged, you might not hear the car behind you. For that reason, open ear bone conduction headphones are the obvious choice for cyclists who want to be safe. That is exactly where the market leaders in bone conduction headphones come in: Shokz (previously known as Aftershokz). I got my first pair of their headphones on a KickStarter and I have never looked back.
The Evolution of Shokz Bone Conduction Headphones
I have been a fan of Shokz headphones for many years, mainly due to the safety factor. As open-ear bone conduction headphones, they leave you in touch with your surroundings, all the time. I have owned many iterations of these headphones, and have noticed that the products just keep on improving all the time. I got a set of the very earliest version, and they were safe, but the sound left quite a bit to be desired. Well, I am here to tell you that things have improved vastly since then.
With this model, not only do you have functionality in the pool and on the bike, but you also have sound that sounds like regular sound, not like bone conduction. The technology has made massive strides in the few years since it was launched.
Performance of the Shokz Headphones in the Pool
These headphones can be operated in two modes: General, or Pool. Out of the water the two modes sound pretty much the same, but in the water, the Pool option works better. In terms of sound quality, having your head immersed does not impact the sound negatively at all. In fact, it is better under water.
When I first tried these in the pool, I was worried that they would fall off. The fit on the back of my head felt loose and comfortable, but would they stay on my head once I was swimming? Especially because I don’t usually wear a swim cap.
Well, I was very pleasantly surprised to find no issue at all with the headphones staying on. My routine is 1 lap breast stroke, 1 lap backstroke, 1 lap crawl, repeat. There were no problems with any of these. Every ten minutes I throw in a fast-as-I-can-swim crawl sprint, and even then, the headphones did not budge.
Music and Sound
In terms of listening, I found the sound to be crystal clear and easily loud enough. This is despite the fact that the pool was blasting out its own sound track. I was easily able to focus on my Spanish language lessons. And the one-hour swim was over before I knew it.
Listening to music in the water is an interesting experience. If you didn’t know it, you would think you were wearing regular headphones, not bone conduction. The music is clear and quite lovely. What is noticeable is that the quality of the music, especially the bass, actually improves when your ears are submerged. This means the quality can be a bit uneven if for example you are swimming breast stroke, where your head is constantly coming out of the water and then submerging. However, it all helped to keep me entertained and not notice how much exercise I was doing.
All in all, I was blown away by how much these Shokz XTrainerZ headphones bring to my swim experience.
Putting Music on the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
I put this off for several days, because I have had such totally miserable experiences with trying to transfer Apple Music. (Now I have liberated myself from Apple.) Thanks to those psychological scars, I have a bit of a phobia about attempting to get audio files onto gadgets of any kind.
Well, another pleasant surprise was in store for me. To transfer files, I simply plugged the headphones into the proprietary charging cable, and plugged the USB end of the cable into my computer. Immediately, my computer opened a directory called XTRAINERZ. It was absolutely easy to simply copy or drag the MP3 files of my choice onto the headphones.
Apart from MP3 files, these headphones also support WAV, WMA, FLAC and AAC formats.
Design and Build of the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
I have always liked Shokz, and they just keep getting better. Like all their premium models, these Shokz XTrainerZ headphones are made of flexible and durable titanium. This makes them super tough, as well as very flexible. This makes for a secure fit and comfort at the same time.
This particular set is ultra premium, with a very high quality feel to it. And it’s soft and comfortable on your head.
Battery Life of the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
These Shokz XTrainerZ headphones take 1.5 hours to charge, and a single charge will get you through 8 hours of swimming or cycling or running. This is surely enough for the training needs of any triathlete. If you forgot to charge them up, even a 15-minute top-up will get you through a pretty long bike ride or swim session.
The Shokz XTrainerZ headphones ship with a very nice silicon carry case. This is kind of essential for me, as I carry a lot of stuff to the pool. I need something to keep these headphones separate and safe.
Related Post: Best Headphones for Safe Cycling
How to Operate the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
The operational buttons are minimal. You have 3 buttons in a group, plus one button on its own. In the group of 3, the central button is Power On and Off, plus Play and Pause. The two buttons around it are for Volume Up and Down, and Next or Previous. You can also use these buttons to check battery level at any time that the music is not playing. I think that is a very useful feature that I have not found on other headphones.
The fourth button stands alone, and is used to switch the EQ mode from “General Mode” to “Swimming Mode.” It is also used to switch play mode, with the available choices being “Normal/Repeat/Shuffle.”
Button Combos on the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
Combinations of the buttons can access more advanced features, such as switching the language, opening and closing folders, and going to the next folder. This is for organizing the content on the device. I have not tried this because I really don’t feel the need to get this complicated. But I could see it would make sense for training purposes for advanced athletes. For example, you could have a warm-up music folder, a high-performance music folder, and a cool-down music folder.
Bottom Line on the Shokz XTrainerZ Headphones
These are not cheap headphones. On the contrary, they are premium headphones, and the price reflects that. But for your money, you get a beautiful product that doubles as safe cycling headphones, as well as excellent swimming headphones. Both of these are usually very hard to get, and in this case, you get both. So if you are both a cyclist and a swimmer, we believe these are an outstandingly good product. Speaking for myself, the Shokz XTrainerZ headphones are my new go-to headphones for all uses except sleeping.
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