It’s a beautiful long weekend and you’ve decided to join your friends up at a cottage, nestled in the back country, on the edge of a gleaming lake. Immediately upon arriving, you all decide to test out the waters, a cold shock to the system before a long night of camp fires, drinks, and merriment. Before jumping in, someone sets up a Bluetooth, water resistant speaker connected to their cellphone and favorite streaming service. And splash! With a less than graceful cannonball, water spills onto all the electronics left on shore.
While this particular scene may not have happened to us all, a significant fear of any consumer is getting their electronics wet – from the rain, dropping it in the bathroom, or anywhere else. The world is filled with unfriendly territories for our cellphones and speakers. It brings up an important question: are waterproof electronics a valuable investment and are there any drawbacks?
What is IPX?
IPX stands for Ingress Protection or International Protection, the global standard by which items are measured in relation to their waterproofing. ‘X’ in IPX is a placeholder, one that is filled a numerical level depending on how much liquid a designated item can be exposed to without fault. IPX is also used in relation to solid protection – from the amount of dust exposure your device can take to its handling by tools and fingers. All associated levels are commonly defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission. For our purposes today, moisture and liquid defenses range from IPX0 to IPX8:
- IPX0: The device has absolutely no protection against water;
- IPX1: The device has minimal protection against vertically dripping water;
- IPX2: The device is protected from vertically dripping water when it’s tilted between 0 and 15 degrees;
- IPX3: The device is protected from sprays of water for up to a tilt of 60 degrees. At this point, the device will probably survive those dastardly spring showers;
- IPX4: The device is protected from sprays and splashing from all directions;
- IPX5: the device is protected from low pressure projected water, like a bathroom or kitchen faucet;
- IPX6: The device is protected from powerful sprays of water. Maybe not a firemen’s hose, but feel free to use your device as protection against a super soaker;
- IPX7: The device is fully waterproof and can be immersed into water up to three feet; and,
- IPX8: The device is fully waterproof over and above three feet.
On the latter two, there are additional considerations to keep in mind. Salt water may interact differently with your device than fresh water, especially once evaporated. As well, when submerging a device underwater, getting liquid into its internal electronics isn’t the only problem – you have to start thinking about atmospheric pressure. The further you dive into the ocean, for example, the more force is being exerted on you and everything with you. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to travel to the depths of the Mariana Trench any time soon to take a selfie or listen to a podcast.
IPX and Your Speaker
Strictly speaking, the difference in components between your regular, run-of-the-mill speaker set for use indoors and those that can be deployed poolside without fear of splash damage are not particularly vast. Each are comprised of three main speaker pieces: drivers; crossovers; and, the cabinet or housing. Where these begin to divide is the types of materials used and associated manufacturing processes. For example, indoor speakers will often employ steel as internal framing, while waterproof speaker producers are attracted to materials that aren’t susceptible to rusting or corrosion, like aluminum, brass, or even stainless steel. For the diaphragms, described in our previous blog post as the membrane inside your speaker that moves to provide sound, waterproof speakers will have one made out of a robust substance like mylar or rubber, while household variants often use only paper. To build a waterproof case, robust materials like plastic covered in a polypropylene finish are sealed together using liquid leakage preventing, watertight Teflon or similar product. In essence, your waterproof speaker needs to follow a simple rule to live up to its name: use strong, waterproof components, that are sealed away in a body that’s completely isolated from the outside world.
But how’s the sound from waterproof speakers? Is it up to snuff? As always, the answer depends on what you’re buying and how you’re using the device. Splurge on a top of the line model, built with premium materials and it’s unlikely you’d hear a difference at all. That’s because, as we mentioned, the process for building both indoor and water-ready speakers is surprisingly similar. But if you decide to go for a lower end model, not only can the sound be less than fantastic (as it would for indoor variants), but you might also have purchased a device that isn’t as “waterproof” as it seems. Of course, context is everything. Waterproof speakers are competing with those meant for inside a home or building, without immediate risk of getting wet. With that, the latter can use components and materials that are built for sound first, durability second. In addition, most waterproof speakers are wireless and sound degradation over Bluetooth remains an industry wide problem. To compensate, some companies have opted to integrate digital solutions like aptX, a compression system that works to prevent data loss over wireless signals.
Regardless, waterproof electronics and speakers are an exciting development in this space. While we may not be swimming with a full virtual reality headset in the years to come, there is certainly nothing that should stop you from picking up a waterproof speaker for those days at the cottage or summers on the beach. When someone tells you to stay dry, you can finally reply with “I’m good, thanks!.”
Be sure to tell us in the comments how you used your waterproof speakers this summer!