Shokz (which changed its name from AfterShokz in December 2021) is no stranger to the bone-conduction headphones field with a range of wireless headphones that are ideally suited if you hate the idea of placing earbuds in your ears while still desiring the freedom that over-ear headphones just don't provide.
In the case of the Shokz OpenSwim (formerly known as AfterShokz Xtrainerz), these are MP3 headphones rather than wireless, which means no Bluetooth connectivity and a fairly simple layout. That's both good and bad depending on what you need from them. If you're a swimmer, add an extra point to our rating and you'll be delighted. Everyone else though may need to reconsider.
They're a little expensive for what they offer because, well, there's no Bluetooth and you can't use them to take calls either. These waterproof headphones are solely designed with the audio experience in mind and, primarily, aimed at swimmers because they make most sense when you're underwater. Audio quality is pretty good for what they offer although - again - these aren't headphones for relaxing at home with. The Shokz OpenSwim are decidedly for the active user.
At $149.95 / £139.95 / $219.95AU, they're yet to drop in price since their launch in 2019 because there's not really a need for them to do so. Swimmers will greatly appreciate the Shokz OpenSwim while everyone else will probably go elsewhere. It's triathletes that are probably most confused about what to do next, but we reckon these will be worth it thanks to their immensely lightweight design.
Simple to slip around your head, the Shokz OpenSwim are best when paired with swimming goggles or a swim cap to keep them in place which makes perfect sense really. As they don't rely on Bluetooth connectivity, you transfer music across via your PC or Mac before use, meaning there's no need to carry anything extra around with you.
Eight-hour battery life ensures you should be good to go for even the longest of triathlon-based challenges or swimming sessions without worrying. Charging is conducted via a slightly unusual looking proprietary charger that encases part of the headphones within itself so that it can charge effectively. Unusual, yes, and we're sure someone will end up misplacing the charger eventually, but it does the job.
Thanks to bone-conduction technology, you won't have to worry about finding the right fit for your ears. Even better, there's no infection risk as can be the case for avid swimmers, and the Shokz OpenSwim couldn't be more comfortable. Just slot them in front of your ear and you're ready.
On the right-hand side of the waterproof headphones are four buttons for controlling the action. They're easy to press and far from complicated. One button dictates the mode button which lets you shuffle your music, set your playlist to repeat, or activate the in/out water mode which improves the quality of the sound when in the pool. The other buttons double up as volume as well as skip buttons and they're suitably responsive.
Audio performance is decent enough for such active headphones. Music sounds crisp, clear, and a delight for the most part. That continues wherever you're in the water or not (or dunking your head in the bath just for the sake of it). Obviously, this depends on switching over to Underwater mode, but that's a simple toggle away.
Other features are basically non-existent. There's no active noise cancellation (and we wouldn't recommend these for your commute), no voice assistant support, or the ability to take calls for obvious reasons. Because, yes, there's no Bluetooth connectivity.
It feels somewhat dated to need to plug your headphones into your PC to transfer MP3 files across. It's easy enough but there's some planning involved, especially if you ordinarily use streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music for your other music listening needs. The way the built-in file browser negotiates your files can be a little fiddly too meaning it's not perfect every time. When swimming, it makes sense that Bluetooth is useless but for other purposes, you may long for the back up of that sweet wireless connection.
Still, if you're a regular swimmer and want to enjoy music or an audiobook while you swim, the Shokz OpenSwim are quite a delight. They work well and you won't have to worry about waterproofing or any issues for your ears thanks to the bone-conduction technology. The moment you reach dry land, you'll long to be able to hook it up to Spotify to change things up but for a very specific purpose, these do the job well.
Price and release date
- Available now
- Priced at $149.95/£139.95/$219.95AU
- Available in Black Diamond and Sapphire Blue
The Shokz OpenSwim are available globally now. Priced at $149.95 / £139.95 / AU$219.95, they haven't seen any significant discounts since their launch in 2019.
Given that the Shokz OpenSwim headphones are a fairly original proposition in the headphones world, we can't see there being many discounts in the future although a choice of color scheme may help your chances here.
- Very lightweight
- Simple controls
- Proprietary charger
The Shokz OpenSwim are incredibly lightweight. Weighing just over 1oz, they slip around your head in a way that means you soon forget about them. Because they use bone-conduction technology, you also don't have to worry about finding the right fit for your ears. They simply fit just in front of your ears transmitting their sounds down your bones effectively. If you haven't used such technology before, it feels like magic in a good way.
It's particularly ideal when swimming as you won't feel constrained by earbuds or worry about them falling out. Certainly not when you slide the Shokz OpenSwim under your swim cap for safe keeping.
Alongside the headphones unit comes a charging cradle. Rather than simply using micro-USB or USB-C, the Shokz OpenSwim require a proprietary charger that you slot the headphones into to charge up. It's easy enough to do and a good solution to water leakage while swimming but we are a little worried about what happens if you lose your charger. The advantage of using something more standard means you can always find a replacement (and often already own one) so this could turn expensive if you're liable to misplace things.
When it comes to the controls, we appreciate their simplicity. There's a mode button for changing whether your music is on shuffle or repeat, and it doubles up as a swimming mode button to enhance your music. Elsewhere is the power button and volume/skip buttons. All of them are suitably tactile and responsive without overcomplicating matters. Sure, you might not be particularly impressed because they're nothing special but they simply just work. Sometimes, that's all you need.
- Great sound quality underwater
- Respectable elsewhere
- Some sound leakage
It's slightly awkward to rate the Shokz OpenSwim on audio performance because it's safe to say that these aren't meant to be headphones for listening in the sanctuary of your own home. They're truly active headphones, depending on the fact that you want some great background music while you swim rather than expecting you to be listening out for detailed mids and so forth.
By that nature, the Shokz OpenSwim do the job well. Switch to swimming mode and you'll be impressed to still hear clear music even when you're splashing around. We're not convinced anything is particularly potently done but the bass sounds suitably strong which is where you need it.
Don't count on noticing the subtleties of David Bowie's Under Pressure but do enjoy the fact that it still sounds attractive while you swim.
Predictably, there's no way of changing things around or adjusting the EQ with that sole distinction coming from the Mode button which changes things up a little.
As mentioned, the Shokz OpenSwim are a little prone to sound leakage out of the water so they're not a great bet when dealing with more conventional scenarios. That's hardly the point though. Simply being able to listen to music or audiobooks clearly is a big advantage when swimming, again highlighting just who their target audience is.
Battery life and connectivity
- Up to eight hours playtime
- Must use PC/Mac to transfer audio files
- No Bluetooth
As we keep mentioning, the Shokz OpenSwim lack Bluetooth support. That's inconsequential when swimming but it would have been useful for when you're out of the pool. Transferring files is done via your PC or Mac and the headphones support MP3, WMA, AAC, WAV, and FLAC. It's fairly easy to do as your computer recognises the headphones as a 4GB external hard drive.
However, depending on how you copy them across, the file system can get a little confused leading to files getting muddled up. That's no problem with a selection of music tracks but if you're trying to transfer an audiobook, you'll need to be aware of how you're doing it.
Shuffle is a little awkward too. It picks out tracks entirely randomly meaning you can end up having the same music track repeated frequently, even if you've used most of the 4GB storage space.
Battery life is fairly standard at eight hours, and is fine for the purposes of a few long swims and some sessions as you travel between venues.
Buy it if
You're an avid swimmer
These are essential headphones for regular swimmers. Whether in the pool or open-water swimming, you can't go wrong with the Shokz OpenSwim headphones, and they're immensely useful.
You want to avoid putting anything in your ear
Bone-conduction technology might not be as high-quality sound-wise as earbuds but if you hate the sensation of something inside your ears, these sound pretty great.
You want something lightweight
Again, if you hate bulky earbuds or headphones, the Shokz OpenSwim are a good way of avoiding this thanks to their slight design.
Don't buy it if
You want the best sound quality
The Shokz OpenSwim headphones are good for bone-conduction headphones but there are better options if you want to hear the finer nuances of your favorite songs.
You want a multipurpose pair of headphones.
Want headphones that work well while exercising and commuting? The Shokz OpenSwim are highly situational. You'll ideally need a separate pair for commuting.
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