Freestyle Audio SoundWave Waterproof MP3 Player Review

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My name is Claire, and I have a problem. With digital audio player addiction. I swear, I have like forty of the things. I don’t use many of them…just my iPhone, and my old 60GB fourth-generation iPod jolts me awake to the melodious sound of DragonForce every morning. That doesn’t stop me from collecting more and more players, though…so when Julie offered me the FreeStyle Audio SoundWave waterproof MP3 player, how could I resist?

Turns out that resisting would have been pretty easy, had I known what I was in for.

I wanted to like this thing, I really did – the waterproof feature meant that I could take it in the hot tub or to the beach without worrying about it getting damaged, whereas I generally keep my iPhone in a Ziploc bag in such situations. While that’s a nice feature of this little guy, it’s just not enough of a reason to buy it.

With that in mind, let’s see what we have here…

What’s in the box

soundwave

The SoundWave comes with everything to get you started:

  • 2GB MP3 player
  • 3.5mm-to-USB charge and sync cable
  • Waterproof earbuds
  • Earbud covers in various sizes
  • Elastic armband
  • “Floater” black vinyl thingy (I have no idea what this is actually for)

On the outside

At first glance, the SoundWave is pretty unassuming – it’s small, blue, and has rubber-coated buttons and a very tiny OLED display. It has little textured grippies on the side and a belt clip on the back. Strangely, even though the clip has a little note printed on it that it’s not meant to be removed, there was a second belt clip in the box.

This is all fine and dandy, until you go to use the SoundWave for the first time (after, of course, charging the non-removable battery via an available USB port on your nearest computer).

It turns out that those little rubber-coated buttons are a real pain in the butt to press down. They’re simply too small, and the rubber that covers the buttons isn’t raised enough to find it easily with your thumb. Not only that, but I had to press down hard to get a press to register. I quickly discovered that pressing down with the tip of my fingernail seemed to work best.

While this is bad design in any situation, one needs to remember that this player is specifically designed for active use in the water. I would given up a little of its compact size in order to have usable buttons – not to mention that other miniature players (the Sansa Clip and iPod Shuffle 1G/2G come to mind) have fully usable buttons in a compact form factor.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is no discrete audio control on this player. This is a huge mistake in my opinion – a music player must have an easily accessible volume control. Instead, you have to press the “Vol.” button and then use the track skip/search buttons to change the volume.

Thankfully, while the very mediocre earbuds are waterproof themselves, the 3.5mm tip that plugs into the SoundWave appears to be pretty standard – it doesn’t have a rubber sheath or anything, so I’d imagine you can use a different set of earbuds or headphones with this player without impacting its waterproof capability.

On the inside

As mentioned, the SoundWave is waterproof. It also sports 2GB internal storage, and FM tuner, and, oddly enough, an assortment of preloaded tracks. I have since discovered that I’m not a big fan of Led Zepplin, Van Halen is as awesome as I already knew they were, and The Police’s “I’ll Be Watching You” is actually pretty creepy when you think about it. Incidentally, The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” was also included – side note: watch Magical Mystery Tour if you get a chance. It’s…interesting.

You don’t just get a variety of classic songs, either – I also got to hear tracks from everyone’s favorite train wreck, Britney Spears, as well as Ricky Martin and Kelly Clarkson. I’m not entirely certain that the SoundWave ships preloaded with music, however – the only player I’ve ever purchased that came with (undoubtedly not-quite-legal) preloaded music tracks was purchased straight from China on DealExtreme, so this could have just been how my demo model shipped.

Music commentary aside, let’s see what this thing is like to use.

Using the SoundWave

Per my earlier observation, the little tiny buttons were obnoxious to press down. Not only that, but they’re only “labeled” with a little raised icon on each one – difficult to see, and difficult to use. I had to read the manual to figure out how to navigate the player’s menus, which was a little annoying.

The SoundWave shows itself as a run-of-the-mill removable drive, so you can drag-and-drop songs onto it to your heart’s content. You can also use Windows Media Player to sync it with your media library.

Once you get songs loaded up and the battery fully charged, you can start listening to your music in waterproof bliss. Kind of.

The player boots up with FreeStyle’s tagline, “Take Your Music There” scrolling across the OLED display. You can then navigate to the FM tuner, the digital equalizer, the settings menu, and (of course) your music.

This is another area where I think the SoundWave falls a little short. They tried to fit way too much information on that teeny-tiny display.

Let’s take a look at the Sansa Clip:

When a track is playing, you get some basic info…

  • battery life
  • track number/total tracks
  • song info – artist, title, album
  • graphic bar showing position in song relative to length of song
  • repeat
  • shuffle

Hit the center button the player, and you can see a nice-looking graphic visualizer of the currently-playing track.

Not so on the SoundWave…instead, a playing track shows you the following:

  • thin graphic equalizer bar
  • song title
  • track number
  • total tracks
  • bitrate
  • file format
  • equalizer setting
  • battery life
  • current position in song
  • length of song
  • a cryptic icon indicating the repeat mode

And, best of all, the top left corner of the screen is completely wasted with a music note icon. You can see the two side-by-side below:

comparison

Not only that, but the display itself is lower-resolution than the one in the Sansa Clip, so text is overly large on the song title (and scrolls by interminably slowly – it shouldn’t take half the duration of a song just to see the whole title).

Most of the information displayed is completely unnecessary, like the bitrate, file format, and equalizer setting. Even the repeat icon is unclear in its meaning, because the SoundWave has multiple repeat options (normal, song, folder, artist, etc.)

The menu structure is odd – there’s no clear way to get to the repeat settings while a song is playing, and there’s no apparent way to move back and forth between levels in the menu structure while a song is playing. I had to read the manual just to figure out the basics of the player, which is pretty inexcusable in 2009.

After trying to futilely navigate through the player for a few minutes, my thumbs started getting sore from having to press down so hard on the buttons to get them to respond. I eventually gave up and rather irritatedly threw the thing on the floor so I could finish writing up this glowing review.

I wanted to like this player. Really. Sandisk has proven that you can use a tiny screen on a tiny player and still have spectacular usability, even for the most noobish of users. Freestyle, unfortunately, didn’t come through. At all.

And, at $89.95 MSRP, I would recommend you save your money and just buy a Sansa Clip (buy.com has 1GB refurbs for $15 shipped) and a box of snack-size Ziploc bags (about 99 cents if you buy generic).

 

Product Information

Price:$89.99
Manufacturer:Freestyle Audio
Pros:
  • Waterproof
Cons:
  • Horribly stiff buttons
  • Cluttered display
  • Unintuitive navigation
  • Price
Posted in: Audio, Video, TV Gear

16 comments… add one

  • Dan June 5, 2009, 4:14 pm

    Claire’s review is so right! I tried the Freestyle Waterproof MP3 Player and found it to be a real pain. First, the controls are hard to use and navigate and the LCD screen is all but impossible to use in the sun. I got it so that I could listen to music while I swim, so easy viewing and button control is important. I also have to mention that the earbuds are very uncomfortable (actually painful) and the sound quality is so not there. I sent it back a while back and picked up a Swimman Waterproof iPod Shuffle and Headset ( see it at http://www.swimman.com ) . It is the bomb! Works great, just like a Shuffle, but is totally waterproof! Headset sound is great and earbuds are really, really comfortable. U got to try it!

  • Andy Chen June 5, 2009, 7:37 pm

    Goes to show how a good user interface can make or break something! Well done Claire.

  • Claire Strodtbeck June 6, 2009, 12:09 pm

    @Dan – good call on the Swimman! I read about those awhile back – that’s probably your best bet out of anything, because you can use it with pretty much anything. I love how lightweight the second-gen shuffle is (although I do wish it had a display). If that company waterproofed the Sansa Clip, that’d be perfect.

  • Ross Houser June 15, 2009, 6:08 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more on your findings about the Freestyle Mp3 player…it just really is an inferior product…I do give them credit for having an Mp3 player that does not require a case though!
    Another note…if your looking for a product that has proven to be reliable and millions have purchased them around the world…then you could go with the Swimman, I personally have one myself and they have managed to waterproof the Ipod Shuffle. The Swimman is waterproofed from inside so like the Freestyle there is no case.

  • Deirdre September 8, 2009, 2:22 pm

    I hated your review. It’s a freaking waterproof device. TALK about how it held up in the water. Did you even use it in the water? I have the swimman version of the shuffle. Its buttons are also difficult to press, probably because of what it takes to keep the water out of the device. Your review was not AT ALL helpful. Thank you for wasting my time. FAIL!!!!!!

  • Aaron September 30, 2009, 6:30 pm

    I have to agree with the above comments. I’m most disappointed in the quality of the headphones. My player is not even a year old and they no longer work. The earbuds are quite painful, as well. Buttons are difficult to press, but this also keeps me from pressing buttons accidentally. I am impressed with it being waterproof without a case. I was initially satisfied with the product, but since changed my mind as my unit is not functional without headphones. I can’t get a response from the company about replacing them. I’ve researched other headphones and they range up to $60 each!!!

  • Katerina October 1, 2009, 12:30 pm

    I don’t know how long everyone else has owned this device, but I have just passed the one year mark – get ready for trouble. Even though the battery is fully charged once you select a song, the time changes from 3:54 to 0:00 and that will happen across the board – Format Error – my a$$. It worked well for the first 6-8 months now it is just a problem. By the way, the website is non-existant just in case you wanted to call and complain.

  • reliability guy October 22, 2009, 10:52 am

    After 30 minutes of swimming test in the pool it became dead! Poor design! I can not believe some one can call device water proof with mini-jack socket for headphones! Not reliable at all!

  • Axel March 13, 2010, 11:16 pm

    The interface setup is a pain. The headphones that came with it were junk. The stupid piece of plastic film that gives the display 2 colors is strange. However, I used mine for 2 years working on the Colorado and San Juan Rivers and it still works. I have jumped into rivers with it on and even after I cracked the plastic case, it still worked in the water. I got my money’s worth.

  • George Doolittle November 15, 2010, 1:44 pm

    I have been dealing with a freestyle for awhile and find it difficult to deal with as noted in the opening review. A part of the problem is probably My inexperience at loading players with music from a computer via the USB port. Is there any website,etc that will give basic instructions for the best way to load the Freestyle Waterproof MP3 player with tunes? Any pointers, etc will be appreciated.

    PS: The freestyle website and San diego phone number are invalid. Anyone know how to get in touch with them?

    Thanks

  • Paulette January 14, 2011, 5:41 pm

    My Freestyle lasted just beyond the guarantee and then totally shut off….could be the reason no one can get a hold of anyone to complain…they’ve went out of business due to a defective product?!

  • John Goodrich May 11, 2011, 10:55 pm

    I’ve had my freestyle for over a year maybe two. The buttons are a pain, but if you wear it to work out like I do, it seems to work well. I’m a oldschool programmer and like copying files from disk to disk so it wasn’t a problem moving music around. The user interface needs some work, the buttons should be on the side letting them use the front surface for display. So yes there are some problems but mine has served me well.

  • Peter June 14, 2011, 4:59 am

    Interesting fact is that this MP3 player can still be purchased on Amazon while official Freestyle Audio page is not available any more. So in case of problems, what one can do about?

  • Scott November 16, 2011, 2:53 pm

    Underwater Audio makes a completely waterproof iPod shuffle. They take a normal iPod shuffle, the really small square kind and make it waterproof. I have one I use for swimming laps and use it all the time. Underwateraudio.com. Check it out!

  • Kevin January 17, 2012, 9:30 am

    Try that again (iPad auto misspells)

    I have to agree with most of your complaints. I think you must have gotten a refurbished device because mine did not one with songs per-loaded. In fact I think that would violate copyrights, loading and giving away thousands of copies of those songs. Maybe yours was a demo model or a return?

    One area where this little guy shines is underwater. You can swim laps while listening to music! A BLESSING! That’s what makes their earbuds special. The part that goes in your ear where the music comes out is fully waterproof. And the sound quality is quite good!

    Eventually I learned to use the controls, sort of.

    I purchased mine through eBay. Initially the sound stunk. It played in mono and then one ear bud when dead. I contacted the manufacturer and the man who answered (I think they may have been be a one peron operation at that time) wanted to know the name of he seller (company name) said sone thing about them “not supposed to be doing that”. He took my address and mailed me TWO sets of new earbuds, both which work great and play in stereo, as they should. It sounds like the eBay seller was selling recalled merchandise as new.

    Anyway, very happy with Freestyle customer service. AAA+++ they fixed me up even though I suspect it wasn’t really their fault.

    Again, this device is targeted for people who want to listen to music while IN water, maybe over their head. When I swim the body of the device is underwater the whole time, the earbuds most of the time. Been using it or a few years now. Still works great.

  • Jo July 25, 2012, 10:18 am

    Does anyone know where I can get replacement for the3.5mm-USB charge and sync cord? I have misplaced mine and I sure miss the my music during my swims.

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