Swimming laps in the pool back and forth-back and forth. As you’re swimming you hear the splashing of waves against the lane barriers and sides of the pool. Exhaled bubbles rush past your ears in loud succession. If you were running, you would be listening to your favorite tunes, picking up the pace with each new song, rather than listening to your breathing and nearby road noise. In fact, like caffeine, music is indisputably a performance enhancing “drug.” To help pick up the pace of your swimming workout, Finis (pronounced fin-ees) applied a revolutionary technology to the lap pool to deliver the SwiMP3v2. The SwiMP3v2 allows the lap swimmer to bring their favorite music into the pool with them with surprising audio quality.
The SwiMP3v2 is the second version on the market from Finis, but substantially lighter and more streamlined than the first. The unit consists of two “earpieces,” though counter intuitively these pieces do not go over the ear and may be better referred to as speakers. Theses speakers actually go over the cheekbone forward of the ears, underneath your goggle straps. The speakers themselves actually use bone conduction (used in the professional diving industry to communicate with SCUBA divers for decades) in this new application to the lap pool.
Your ears hear in two ways: through the air via the outer ear, and through bone conduction to the inner ear. Have you ever put on ear plugs at a loud concert, to find that you can still hear the music (though not as loudly), no matter what level of hearing protection you put on? Sound is actually vibrating your skull and making its way directly to the inner ear, vibrating the fluid and creating the sound you hear despite the ear plugs. Dive medics use this physiological phenomenon in combination with a tuning fork to actually distinguish between inner and outer ear problems related to diving. A tuning fork is placed near the ears, then placed directly on the skull in several locations to determine which is louder. In a person with normal hearing, above-water through the air sound conduction is louder than bone conduction. What all this means for you, the swimmer, is that you can actually hear your music below the water based on a well developed technology that Finis first applied to the pool in 2004.
Bringing my favorite music into the water turned out to be easy. As an iTunes user, I connected the device to my Mac by pulling off the USB protective cover and connecting the device directly to my computer (no patch cords needed). I then proceeded to drag and drop music files onto the device from an iTunes window to the SwiMP3v2 window. Connecting it to a pc was just as easy. The Finis website contains “walkthrough” instructions for iTunes on the Mac and pc, as well as for software they provide. I found that the 256 MB storage capacity was ample to transfer my normal running mixes, and left the device connected to my Mac to fully charge the battery, which took only one hour, though the manual indicates the lithium ion battery can take up to 3 hours to charge, if fully expended. I also found some great instructions on creating “beats per minute” music mixes to tailor the music to your specific workout in the product video, which is probably nothing new to regular iTunes users. Once fully charged, the battery has 8 hours of life in it out of the box—more than adequate for a swimming workout. I ejected the unit just like any removable drive once I had moved my desired music, and charging was complete—indicated by the green light ceasing to flash—indicating a full charge. Lastly before the pool, I switched the unit to shuffle play by holding down the “next / vol +” and “next / vol -“ together. The unit was ready to get wet!
Before donning the unit, as in low visibility polluted water diving where you can’t see anything as you move through pea-soup water, I visualized the controls so I could “see” them in my mind’s eye and find them without needing to stop my workout and take off the goggles to actually see them. No one likes to “break the pace” once their workout has started! With the control speaker on my left check, the volume controls are forward, and the power button is located towards the back of your head. Pressing the volume up/next button quickly advances to the next song, while holding it down for at least a second adjusts the volume, and so on. The volume button towards the top of your head intuitively will increase volume, while the one closer to your feet lowers it.
When donning the unit I found that no adjustments were necessary for my goggles to put them on. I simply placed my goggles on normally, and slip each earpiece upward and under the goggle strap, pulling them back down with a fingernail underneath the strap clips to allow the straps under each clip to secure them. Once the straps were all the way under the clips, the speakers over my cheekbones, I would tuck the USB dongle.
I typically tuck the USB dongle under the strap behind my head to ensure the unit is as streamlined as possible, and it doesn’t flop around. Interestingly, the web site notes that if you lose your USB port cap, that the unit still won’t be damaged in the pool by fresh water exposure, though I can tell you in working with underwater audio and photo electronics that salt water would do a number on it eventually. The cap’s only purpose is to keep the electrical connection dry so you may sync or charge the unit with your computer without a lot of drying beforehand (and of course the aforementioned corrosion if you are a salt water swimmer).
Swimming with the unit surprisingly did not involve any time consuming goggle strap adjustments during my workout. Once the speakers were in place, they stuck to the side of my cheeks well, and never fluttered in the current—even when doing flip-turns, pushing off quickly from the side of the pool, or high cruising speeds from use of fins. Volume adjustment was a little tricky, as it seemed to get louder when under the water (without any air between the speakers and my cheekbones) versus being exposed to the air. Sound quality was very crisp and clean below water, but when breathing with one speaker out of the water, sound on occasion would become muffled or slightly distorted. At the right volume level, I could hear my music well during turns and laps, above and below water.
Overall, bringing my music into the pool seemed to shorten how long my workout seemed to be—even though my workout duration remained the same. The end of my workout seemed to come much faster! As with running with a music player, my speed improved considerably.