H2O Audio Surge Pro Mini Review

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H2O Audio Surge Pro Mini
Reviewed Apr 2011

Details: BA-based waterproof earphone from H2O Audio
Current Price: $51 from jr.com (MSRP: $99.99) (discontinued)
Specs: Driver: BA | Imp: 56Ω | Sens: N/A | Freq: 18-20k Hz | Cable: 3.9’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 6mm | Preferred tips: Stock single flanges
Wear Style: Over-the-ear

Accessories (2/5) – Single-flange conical silicone tips (5 sizes) & foamhybrid tips (2 sizes)
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The housings are made out of a tough plastic and feel solid. The cable is medium in thickness and sheathed in blue plastic. Small rubber sleeves take the place of strain reliefs on cord entry and a 2” long strain relief, designed to work with waterproof mp3 player cases, protects the 3.5mm plug. And yes, they will survive prolonged exposure to sweat and/or water
Isolation (3/5) – Quite good, especially with longer tips
Microphonics (3.5/5) – Bothersome when worn cord-down; tolerable with over-the-ear wear
Comfort (4/5) – The Surge comes with five sizes of unusually thick elastomer tips, which require some getting used to for those of us accustomed to silicone. Getting a good seal with them takes careful selection of the right size but once sealed the earphones will stay in surprisingly well even during intense physical activity. The housings are also very small and light – on par with the entry-level Flex model. Several days may be required for the cables to break in for over-the-ear wear

Sound (6.2/10) – H2O Audio’s dynamic-driver Surge and Flex models both managed to impress me with the competency of their sound despite the waterproof coating applied to the drivers. The single balanced armature transducer used by the Pro Mini is a bit less fortunate, losing speed, clarity, and articulation compared to all but the cheapest armature-based competitors, but still performs very well next to the other waterproof earphones I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. At the bottom end the Pro Mini lacks a bit of extension – those looking for sub-bass rumble and slam will probably want to stay away. On the whole, however, the bass is quite tight and punchy. Impact is decent for a single BA, falling just a hair behind the pricier Meelec A151 and Westone 1. Don’t expect Ety-like control out of these but they fare about as well as a consumer-oriented sub-$100 BA should.

Expectedly, the midrange is completely free of bass bleed. Detail and texture are decent but the clarity seems to drop a notch compared to my armature-based Apple Dual-Drivers and Meelec A151s as well as some of the more analytical dynamics in the price range. As a result, the mids of the Surge Pro Mini sound just a tad muffled. Balance-wise I would call the earphones slightly mid-centric in that no part of the frequency spectrum takes attention away from the midrange and the treble and bass both roll off gently at the very top/bottom. Both the midrange and treble are quite smooth even next to the darker-sounding Meelec A151. There is just a bit of sparkle at the top end but nothing that would make them harsh or sibilant except at the highest of volumes (which itself are impractical for reasons outlined below). Top-end extension isn’t the greatest either but quite reasonable for a single-armature design.

The presentation of the earphones is competent but far from outstanding. The soundstage is slightly below-average in width and depth. Arguably, soundstage size benefits from a shallower seal although using the earphones in their waterproof capacity rules out shallow fitment. Separation is generally good but the drivers seem to run out of steam on very fast and busy tracks. They are still quicker and more resolving than the dynamic drivers used in the Surge and Flex models but the spread in favor of the Pro Mini is smaller than I expected. Tonally, the earphones are fairly neutral – more so than the dark-ish A151s or the brighter Apple Dual-Drivers. There is one more thing worth mentioning – the Surge Pro Mini exhibits some sort of driver flex when inserted. Since it is an armature-based earphone, the effect cannot be driver flex in the traditional sense but the sound put out by the earphones does change dramatically if a lot of pressure is applied on them while maintaining an airtight seal. In their normal, non-pressurized configuration, the Minis are also extremely difficult to drive to high volumes. While they don’t benefit from a dedicated amp from an SQ perspective, they really are very quiet at my normal listening volumes. With the Cowon J3 – a relatively powerful device as far as portable players go – I often found myself cranking the volume to 25/40 or higher just to get reasonable volume out of these.

Value (8/10) – The H2O Audio Surge Pro Mini is a purpose-built underwater listening device that, like H2O’s lower-end models, sacrifices surprisingly little in the way of functionality and sound quality for the sake of shrugging off moisture. The single balanced armature produces balanced and neutral sound and performs remarkably well on all but the busiest tracks. The earphones do require a lot of power to get up to listening volume and the accessory pack is more modest than that of the cheaper Surge model but other than that I have no real complaints about the Pro Mini. For those in search of earphones that can withstand a large amount of moisture and still maintain a focus on accuracy and realism over thumping bass and tonal coloration, these are the ones to get.

Pros: Waterproof, reasonably well-built, secure fit, balanced and competent sound
Cons: 2” strain relief may not work well with tiny players, elastomer tips can take some getting used to, likes power


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About Author

Living in the fast-paced city of Los Angeles, ljokerl has been using portable audio gear to deal with lengthy commutes for the better part of a decade. He spends much of his time listening to music and occasionally writes portable audio reviews across several enthusiast sites, focusing mostly on in-ear earphones.

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