H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport review: Bone conduction headphones for land and sea
The H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport is a unique pair of headphones from a pretty unique company. Only a few manufacturers offer waterproof headphones for swimming and even fewer focus on bone conduction options for water. Well, H2O Audio is one of them and the Tri Multi-Sport are bone conduction headphones that can spend as much time in water as they do on land because they are fully waterproof. In fact, as the name suggests, these headphones are intended for activities involved in a triathlon, which means you can run and cycle with them and then take them into the water.
As we will see, the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport are perfectly suited for their purpose, even if you only want to use them for one of these activities. However, they are quite niche. Many workout headphones are just as capable with more features if you’re looking for something for jogging. But, triathletes will be hard-pressed to find anything better for their needs than these, despite H2O Audio’s new options.
Few headphones are such compelling companions for swimming, cycling and running. After all, it’s in the name. Indeed, these bone conduction waterproof headphones are lightweight and comfortable, have an 8GB MP3 player when its Bluetooth connectivity isn’t working (because Bluetooth doesn’t work in water), and sound pretty good for their form factor. . Of course, they’re not perfect as the controls on the unit have issues registering certain presses, call quality is poor, and you’ll have to re-pair their Bluetooth connection each time. That said, triathletes won’t find better for their needs.
- Connectivity technology: Bluetooth
- Energy source: USB
- A special function: Built-in 8GB MP3 player
- Speaker technology: bone conduction
- Waterproof index: IPX8
- Source of music: Bluetooth, MP3 player
- Battery life: 6 hours
- Item Weight: 32 grams (1.13oz)
- Color: black and blue
- Light and comfortable
- Includes 8GB MP3 player and earplugs for water
- Decent sound quality for bone conduction headphones
- Controls are difficult to use
- Need to pair Bluetooth every time
- Call quality is poor
H2O Audio Tri Multisports
Price and availability
While the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport usually retails for $150, available directly from the H2O Audio website and Amazon, there is a newer version called the H2O Audio Tri Pro Multi-Sport with Playlist+, released in late March 2023 , which sells for just a bit more at $180. The Tri Multi-Sports reviewed here are down to $100 at the time of writing and may continue to see a lower price or steady sales.
Design and fit
Source: H2O Audio
Since the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport uses bone conduction transducers, wearing these black and baby blue headphones is a unique experience. For starters, they are very light, at just 32 grams / 1.13 oz. While headphones are generally lightweight too, putting them on is more like putting on a pair of sunglasses instead of stuffing something in your ears because they don’t fit in your ears. Instead, the transducers are placed in front of the ears, sending vibrations through the bones there (essentially the back of the cheekbones).
Since the headphones are so light, they are also quite comfortable to wear. I’ve compared them to sunglasses before, but anyone who’s tried different pairs knows that some can be a little too tight or a little too loose. Well, the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport seems to be perfect.
The Tri Multi-Sports buckle over the ears and around the back of the head and are tight enough to stay in place during even violent head movements. It may seem odd since they are one size, but they are designed to sit away from the back of the head to accommodate different sizes. That comfort and weight, not to mention the bone conduction technology, makes the Tri Multi-Sport pretty ideal for its stated purpose.
To that end, they are 100% waterproof with an IPX8 rating as they are meant to be used as much in the water as on a bike or while running. In fact, you can submerge them up to 12 feet underwater. Of course, the sound quality changes underwater, so H2O has included a pair of three-pronged earplugs for use in the water. A rubber leash is also included to connect the earphones to sunglasses, wetsuit or other places, so you don’t lose them.
The controls on the headset offer plenty of functionality through the use of three buttons all located side by side on the right side of the device. But, they are difficult to use – literally. Maybe it’s to keep the buds waterproof, but I have to apply a lot of pressure to register a press, and sometimes I have to try multiple times to get the Tri Multi-Sport to do what I want.
This is especially true when doing something that requires multiple taps, such as switching between Bluetooth and memory mode (i.e. the headset’s built-in MP3 player). Also, the volume down button requires extra pressure and sometimes a stabilizing finger behind it to register because it’s located on a part of the headset that’s no longer flush with my head. Imagine having to deal with this in the middle of a marathon.
Because the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport are intended for use in the water, they not only come with Bluetooth, but also have an integrated MP3 player with 8GB of storage. It’s about 2,000 songs. There’s a very good reason for that: Bluetooth works terribly in water. You basically have to keep your Bluetooth source a few inches from any headphones when you’re in the water, which makes it impossible to use most true wireless headphones, no matter how waterproof. Thus, this MP3 player, which also supports .M4A, is very practical.
As for adding MP3s to the Tri Multi-Sport, it’s actually quite easy. You have to use the company-provided proprietary cable for charging, but other than that it’s basically like moving files to an external hard drive. You can even separate the music by folders, which can be browsed via the controls on the unit.
A note about Bluetooth mode: I had to re-pair the Tri Multi-Sport more than once when I put it in Bluetooth mode, which is somewhat frustrating.
Audio performance and quality
The sound quality of bone conduction headphones, at least for now, doesn’t quite reach the same heights as good quality headphones, so it’s important to adjust expectations. These are, after all, meant to give you access to music while running, biking and swimming. And they’re meant to keep your ears free, whether it’s to hear your surroundings or because wearing headphones while running a marathon will get pretty gross pretty quickly.
With that in mind, the sound quality of the H2O Tri Multi-Sport is pretty good. Again, you don’t get the immersion you’d get from headphones, but there’s a decent amount of bass and a midrange that’s full enough to keep the audio enjoyable without getting muddy. They’re not very bright or detailed headphones since you hear their sound as vibrations going through your bones, but they’re bright enough. That’s the best way to describe the Tri Multi-Sport: good enough for its purpose.
The H2O Tri Multi-Sport performs well in water. They might not sound audiophile-level, but when you use the included earplugs, the sound quality is good enough to keep you motivated. When you’re not using the earplugs, they sound just as you imagine them – blowing and muffling, like something sounds in a movie when the main character falls underwater.
But, when using the earplugs, the sound becomes much tighter. The low end, while still a bit indistinct, is nice and full, and the midrange is surprisingly clear. The high end sounds a little muted, but remains present to enjoy everything you listen to. Songs from the 60s and 70s mostly sounded the same, for example, while more modern music seemed to sound a bit more like those older tracks. Using the earplugs also helps swimmers avoid massive sound changes when entering and exiting the water, although you will still experience some changes.
Finally, you can take calls on the H2O Tri Multi-Sport, although you probably don’t want to. When I tested this, my voice didn’t come out as clearly. I seemed far away and not very clear. Now imagine how it would sound in the middle of a race. It is better not to use them to take calls.
During the battery test, I ran the H2O Audio Tri Multi-Sport at 80% volume while playing music from its “memory mode,” aka MP3 player. H2O Audio advertises a battery life of four to six hours depending on usage. It lasted 6 hours and 20 minutes. It’s comparable to very good true wireless headphones (without an extra battery charging case, of course).
Just be aware that you won’t enjoy the last half hour of use if you’re listening to music, as the headset will remind you every minute or so that the battery is low, but it won’t tell you specifically how low.
Although you won’t find many other headphones aimed at triathletes, there are plenty of bone conduction headphones that can go in the water. The Shokz OpenSwim, for example, is completely waterproof and also comes with a built-in MP3 player (4GB in this case) and also costs $150. Of course, they are just meant for water. Shokz options for runners like the OpenRun and OpenRun Pro, $130 and $180 respectively, are both capable options for runners but have an IP55 rating and are therefore not suitable for triathlon type events.
Should you buy it?
At $150, the H2O Tri Multi-Sports are reasonable if not inexpensive for their intended use. So if you want something multifunctional that can go in the water and be used over long distances then these are more than worth it, especially with the included MP3 player. The Tri Multi-Sport (and its newer, more expensive sibling) are probably the best option for triathletes and anyone who needs a pair for use with and without water.
There’s really nothing to complain about if you’re comfortable with the bone conduction form factor, aside from the wonky controls. While this can be quite an annoying issue as you probably don’t want to fiddle with the headphones in the middle of an activity, it’s the only real downside.