Swimming is dull. It may be incredibly good for you, but does anyone actually enjoy completing 30 laps of a swimming pool? Of course not, which is why you badly need some entertainment to keep you going. Cue the OpenSwim headphones, which use bone conduction technology and an open-ear design. How does all of that work in a pool? The main problem is Bluetooth, which does not work in water. The OpenSwim gets around that problem by basically being an all in one sealed device. Essentially, it’s a very slick waterproof MP3 player.
If that's a blast from the past, the way the OpenSwim headphones work is anything but. Like all of Shokz’s products, the OpenSwim headphones use bone conduction technology.
We've been putting a pair to the test for a while now to see if they're worth your cash. You'll find the Shokz OpenSwim (under their old name, AfterShockz Xtrainerz) at the top of our list of the best swimming headphones. Read on for our full Shokz OpenSwim headphones review.
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Shokz OpenSwim review: price and availability
Until early 2022 the Shokz OpenSwim were called the AfterShokz Xtrainerz. Nothing has changed since the manufacturer re-branded itself and the identical product still has the official price tag of $149.95 / £139.95 / AU$219.95 on its website.
Shokz OpenSwim review: design and fit
At 29g OpenSwim weighs almost nothing. It boasts an IP68 waterproof design and it can be totally submerged in two metres of water. You can tell this just from holding OpenSwim, which are extremely light and flexible, with an all-in-one design that has no openings, not even for small microphones of a kind that you would normally find on headphones like these.
On the right side of the temple there are three buttons, one for switching on the product and two for altering the volume and, using long presses, for skipping back-and-forth between tracks. On the skin side are four tiny gold connectors.
Unlike most headphones, which charge up via USB-C cables or similar, OpenSwim uses a 20cm cable with a USB-A connector at one end and a small clip-on charging cradle on the other that snaps around the control panel. It's a bit of a faff, and the cable is easy to lose, but it’s very easy to use and its requirement is understandable for a product that needs to be completely waterproof.
During our tests we found the OpenSwim to be incredibly easy to wear, and so lightweight that we barely noticed it in or out of the pool. It didn’t slip when we went swimming, not even when going underwater, though you might have to tweak its position after a dive.
Shokz OpenSwim review: sound and features
OpenSwim uses bone conduction technology. Instead of sending soundwaves to eardrums, bone conduction headphones like OpenRun send it straight for your inner ear. Effectively they send low frequency sound along your jawbones to get there, hence the tech’s name. Instead of tiny speakers, OpenSwim uses tiny transducers, which here are inside a completely sealed unit to remain waterproof.
When used out of the pool the OpenSwim work like any other pair of bone conduction headphones in that they allow you to hear your surroundings while you go for a run, which is typically what they're proving popular for. Do that and OpenSwim sound pretty good, with no annoying vibrations, but they do lack a little volume if you're running around busy streets. Again, that's no different to most bone conduction headphones.
Where they do differ from their rivals is that they can work on the water, of course. However, it's a bit fiddly to do. You can simply march into a pool just wearing the headphones, but when your ears go underwater the sound quality is awful; you can't hear anything. The accessory that changes all that is a very simple pair of earplugs that are supplied with the OpenSwim. Put these into your ears and the sound quality improves immeasurably. In fact, with the outside world blocked out and, crucially, the sound of water lapping at your ears, OpenSwim sounds terrific with both music and voice, both of which have just enough bass. However, if you don’t get on well with earplugs then perhaps OpenSwim is not for you.
We were also impressed by how long they lasted; we were able to visit a pool every other day for over a week and didn’t need to recharge them. They go for about eight hours on one charge.
The big drawback of OpenSwim is how you get music onto them. With no Bluetooth on board, you're going to have to find a bunch of MP3 files to drag and drop onto the product while it's attached to a computer. You can do that using the supplied charging cable, which doubles as a sync cable, but still – do you have any MP3 files? Probably not, which means you're probably going to be using OpenSwim with podcasts.
Shokz OpenSwim review: verdict
The really weird thing about living with OpenSwim isn’t the bone conduction technology they use to send soundwaves to your inner ear, but the way you get music onto them in the first instance. Going back to MP3 after years of streaming and Bluetooth seems like a strange regression. So ingrained are we with streaming that we’re not convinced many people will even know what an MP3 file is. Yes you can still purchase them for music, and they are really available online for podcasts and radio shows.
If you can get used to dragging and dropping files onto the OpenSwim prior to each swim and, crucially, you don’t mind wearing earplugs when swimming, then you’ll love their excellent sound quality and the way they can make a 30-minute swim fly-by. We just wish they had Bluetooth for using outside the water and were a little louder.