H2O Audio Surge Review

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Reviewed Aug 2010

Details: Workout-oriented waterproof earphones with enhanced bass
MSRP: $59.99 (discontinued)
Current Price: $37 from amazon.com
Specs: Driver: Dynamic | Imp: 16 Ω | Sens: 106 dB | Freq: 18-20k Hz | Cord: 3.7’ I-plug
Nozzle Size: 6mm | Preferred tips: Stock Single Flanges
Wear Style: Straight down or over-the-ear

Accessories (3.5/5) – Single flange rubber tips (5 sizes), foamhybrid tips (2 sizes), and zippered carrying pouch
Build Quality (3.5/5) – The housings are made out of a tough plastic and feel solid but the dark blue L/R markings can be hard to see on the glossy black shells. Filters are absent from the nozzles as they would likely be ruined by water contact anyway. 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 as evidenced by perfect functionality after weeks of me bathing them in both (sorry!)
Isolation (3/5) – The supplied thick rubber tips provide excellent isolation despite being rather shallow-sealing
Microphonics (4/5) – Quite low when worn cable-down due to smooth plastic cabling; nearly nonexistent in over-the-ear configuration
Comfort (4/5) – The Surge comes with five sizes of u Comfort nusually thick rubber 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 as well as a bit of fidgeting but once sealed the earphones will stay in surprisingly well even during intense physical activity. They may not be as comfortable as a similarly-shaped earphone with silicone tips (e.g. Sennheiser CX300) but the stable fit is hugely welcome in a ‘sports’ earphone. Several days may be required for the cables to break in for over-the-ear wear

Sound (5.5/10) – The sound of the Surge is what surprised me most about the earphones – marketing phrases such as ‘bass amplified sound’ are usually the harbinger of doom when it comes to mainstream earphones. The bass of the H2O Surge, however, despite not being ruler-flat, is quite controlled and not at all intrusive. On bass-light tracks it stays completely out of the way and even with extremely bassy music it is still not particularly muddy or bloated. Low-end extension is average and the bass is not terribly impactful, meaning that it is heard more than felt. On the upside, the bass rarely intrudes on the midrange, which is slightly forward in nature, reminding me of the ViSang R02/R03. Vocals come across powerfully and smoothly. The 8mm drivers produce sound with surprising clarity though detail lags behind competitors like the Meelec M6 and Yamaha EPH-50. A few extra volume notches are enough to fix this – the waterproof drivers seem to require a bit more juice for optimum travel and speed.

The treble is equally smooth but slightly de-emphasized in comparison to the midrange. Harshness and sibilance are absent completely and the high end does roll off as expected from an in-ear in this price range, resulting in an unfatiguing sound. The general presentation is slightly distant, with vocals generally appearing more intimate and instruments placed farther back. Positioning is a bit vague but the earphones do at the very least give a sense of space. No, the Surge will not win any hi-fi awards this year, but keeping in mind the intended application both the sound signature and presentation are more impressive than I expected and compete easily with similarly-priced mainstream-sounding earphones such as the Sennheiser CX300 and UE MetroFi 220.

Value (8/10) – The H2O Audio Surge follows its intended application through and through. A variety of rubber and foam tips are included so that the perfect fit – which is crucial for stability, isolation, and sound quality – is easy to attain after the first few trials. The build quality is quite good and the crown jewel of the earphones – the ability to survive underwater – is in fact not a marketing trick of any sort. Being able to come home from the gym and simply rinse off my earphones under running water is an extremely liberating experience and one that I am likely to repeat over and over because the Surge really doesn’t sound bad at all. The mid-forward presentation works especially well for low-volume listening as the vocals remain plenty coherent without being distracting but the entire signature is competent and pleasant. The surge can be considered a good all-around earphone that just happens to be waterproof or a waterproof earphone that just happens to be a good all-rounder. Either way, it’s pretty darn good value for money for anyone who may run the risk of ruining their IEMs with moisture of any sort.

Pros: Waterproof, reasonably well-built, secure fit, smooth and competent sound
Cons: 2” strain relief may not work well with tiny players such as the Shuffle/Clip, rubber tips can take some getting used to


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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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