I swim pretty early in the morning, and sometimes I just can’t shake whatever song was last playing in my car out of my head. I’ll sing it to myself over and over again, and by the end of the Masters workout I can get it stuck in the minds of everyone in my lane as well.
But growing up on swim teams and in the ocean, that was just how it was. The music stopped once you got wet. That was the only option. Save for that one crazy swim coach who liked to blare Hall and Oates during practice, I kind of figured that once water was involved, you pretty much had to stick to the music in your head.
Nowadays, I don’t think there’s a single place you can’t listen to portable music. I get headphones while I’m at the dentist for crying out loud. But underwater MP3 players add a whole new dimension to the portable music game. You can now listen to music while stand up paddleboarding, surfing and, of course, while swimming laps in the pool.
I’ve tried a few different underwater MP3 players, and the two biggest concerns are always the sound quality and the fit. It’s nice to be able to swim along while your favorite band serenades you, but the benefits to that are greatly reduced if it feels like you’ve actually attached the entire band to your head.
Here’s the 4-1-1: The Neptune MP3 player is waterproof to 10 feet, offers 6GB of storage and comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for up to 8 hours of continuous play time.
So what’s the biggest difference between the Neptune and other MP3 players around? Well, the sound quality is pretty impressive. You don’t place ear buds in your ears but instead place pads along your temples for bone conduction sound. There are two different ways to hear sound: either through sound vibrations through the air or through the bones directly inside our inner ear. This is one of the many previous challenges companies faced in designing underwater music players, because there is no air underwater (duh), and getting a comfortable, snug fit using bone conduction is incredibly tricky.
The Neptune speaks sit just in front of the ear on top of the sides of the cheek, and are comprised of two, half-dollar-sized yellow pads that vibrate the jaw bones and send vibrations to the inner-ear. If it sounds freaky or uncomfortable to you, it really isn’t—in fact, it’s actually the way that our mammalian friends under the sea hear one another.
I found the sound quality of the Neptune to be slightly clearer than in their previous MP3 iterations, especially the bass and vocal quality. The speakers clip easily to the sides of your goggles, and the display and control panel clips onto the back of the goggles. I had no trouble swimming through the water with the device on, which is a problem I’ve had with other devices. I only had to take it off once to readjust, but that was because I had been fooling with my goggles, not because the device had been knocked around.
There is a toggle switch on one of the speakers to more easily select songs, but it’s important to remember that when swimming with any underwater device, you’re probably not going to be able to sit there and select every single song you like or don’t like while you swim, it’s best to have a playlist you like already queued up before you jump in.
Once you get the Neptune loaded up, the controls are fairly self-explanatory. You can shuffle your playlists, play particular artists only, repeat songs, and even create a favorites folder of songs.
Loading songs onto the MP3 player and compiling playlists is very simple. You just plug the device into your computer via the charging cord and then drag and drop songs directly onto the device’s hard drive from there.
My one gripe with the device is one that has plagued many MP3 devices: iTunes compatibility. The Neptune will play most popular formats including AAC, MP3 and WMA, and while technically iTunes songs are most often AAC, they are protected and therein lies the rub. The Neptune is as close to completely iTunes compatible as I’ve seen with underwater devices, but if you have purchased songs on iTunes you have to convert them to MP3 files before transferring them onto the device. It’s a relatively quick, albeit extra, step, but if you don’t do it the device will freeze and not work properly.
There’s always a meditational quality to distance swimming, but having some music during my non-coached workouts has definitely helped me get in some good mileage, and having a device with some sound that is so clear is a huge plus.