Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: H2O Audio Flex headphones

I spent a lot of time last year focused on race day preparation. All triathletes  deal with the grind of long hours on race day with only your prior training to keep you mentally focused. Being a "pack of the pack" racer means I have to be ready for a longer grind than most. So I spent most of last year preparing for those conditions which meant forgoing a lot of the creature comforts most people enjoy during training like watching TV during hours on a trainer or even as basic as listening to music during long runs.

Now that I have completed a long race, I can rely on that experience and add some enjoyment back to my longer training sessions. That means spending time with my iPod again. After purchasing a pair of H2O Audio's Surge ear buds early last year for swim training, I've been using them exclusively whenever I listened to my iPod. While the Capture case didn't quite live up to my expectations for my desired use (heavy swim training) the Surge ear buds provide great sound quality and can be used in any weather conditions.

A couple weeks ago, H2O Audio got in touch with me to let me know that they were releasing the Flex, a new set of ear buds not aimed directly at the swimming crowd, but rather designed for all-weather use. Being that I will be running about 100x what I did last year, and running is literally the worst sport they could possibly have made the 3rd leg of triathlon, I jumped at the chance to try them.

When I first got them, i wondered what was actually different between the two sets of ear buds I now  own. So I started by taking the new ones for a run at the gym, and then another outside. The fit and feel of the Flex is exactly like that of their more expensive kin, down to the smallest detail. Putting them side by side, they look almost identical and come with 3 different sizes of rubberized plugs to fit a variety of ear sizes. The medium works for my left ear, while the small works best for my right. If 3 sizes isn't enough "Flex"-ibility for you, they're compatible with the Pro Fit kit which offer 9 different sizes and styles of ear plugs. The Flex are also available in 4 different colors (black, blue, green, and "power pink"), and I went with the blue, though the power pink was a close second.
This picture is MUCH better than the one I took
So we've covered look, feel, and comfort of the Flex; so how about the sound quality. I can't say it's as good as the Surge, but the only way you're going to really notice the difference is to really crank the volume up on your input device. At lower volumes, both the Surge and the Flex have very similar sound quality. When you bring the volume up a bit, you wouldn't notice much of a difference if you're listening to say John Denver or Barry Manilow; not that I'd ever do that (Copacabana FTW). But if you're into rap, R&B, or any pop/rock song released after 1990, you'll eventually start to notice a difference. For songs heavy in bass, or with wide range of notes going on at once, there's more warmth in the tone of the audio from the Surge's drivers that you don't get from the Flex.

Now that's not to say the quality of the Flex's audio is bad; in fact it's definitely better than the ear buds that came with my iPod. It's more of a matter of getting what you pay for in the sense that a more expensive pair of headphones should have a better sound. There'd be a real problem with the cost/value proposition of the Surge if it didn't have better sound than the Flex.

Speaking of the weatherproofing, testing the flexes in winter made this really easy: I took them out in the rain, and I took them out in the snow. And I sweated on them; alot. Then I took them in the water. I didn't test them beyond the 30 minute submersion rating given on the package, because I didn't to risk breaking the new headphones I'd just gotten. The Flex did meet all of the claims on the package and the website, and provided the same quality of sound throughout.

I have a history with electronics ruined by water, most notably my old iPod Nano (and the headphones I used with it) in the torrential downpour at Paddy's Road Race 2009. Having headphones I don't have to worry about is the nice thing about owning the Surge, and I can now say the same about the Flex as well.

I give the Flex a solid 4.25 out of 5 trees. It's a great value for the price point ($29) and it has so many features of the Surge. I just found myself still wishing it had the richness of sound that the Surge provides. I may be a bit snobbish on this point though, as I review surround sound audio headsets for video gaming, so I spend a lot of time with ultra-premium headsets.


- You know when the best time to find out you're a little bit claustrophobic is? I don't know, but it sure as hell isn't during an MRI. I have had several CT's so I imagined the MRI to be like that. I didn't imagine it to be what sounded like really loud lasers from a sci-fi movie firing at me while I'm on a bed with my upper half stuck in what felt like a coffin. I'm literally getting flushed thinking about it right now.
Fortunately, I was able to lie still for the half of the test I was able to complete, and the tech's told me the images are good. In fact, they even let me see the pictures of my brain. Pretty amazing. They also said that I'll probably need to finish the test, but that the Dr. will likely prescribe me some medicine that will help me relax enough to finish the test.
- We leave for Vegas tomorrow. Between finishing up the Wheelworks Multisport year-end newsletter and prepping for the trip, I haven't had much time to work out since the race. I'm getting in the pool tonight, and I'll be doing a ton of walking in Vegas. Plus I'll try to fit in at least a little time in the fitness center


  1. Hey Ben, Bob D. here from Timberman. Haven't been reading for a while, but just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I just signed up for Mooseman 70.3! Hope we can do some training together. Where are you staying?

  2. Bob,

    That's awesome! I'm really excited to be doing that race! I heard part of the bike is HARD, but once you're over the hills it's a lot easier. We haven't picked a place yet. We haven't paid yet either. That's the stuff on the agenda for the week after Vegas. I havent even been looking to be honest yet. Where are you guys at?

  3. Enjoy Vegas! Mmmm, warm weather...

  4. Haven't picked a place yet either. I'll scour some hotels locally and let you know. Been a real slug since Timberman - gained 10 lbs since the race. Bright spot is my back is strong again. Need to start training! Going to do an hour on the spin bike today!