Freestyle Audio Fusion DMP Waterproof MP3 Player
Music can be a great motivator when you're working out; just go into any gym and you're sure to see tons of people sweatin' to the oldies with MP3 players. However, for water babies, this capability has been largely limited because these devices aren't usually waterproof. There are a couple of companies that have come up with creative solutions to the problem, such as and H20 Audio's SV iMini, but these waterproof players and housing apparatuses haven't met with much success. Now, the Freestyle Audio Fusion DMP Waterproof MP3 Player is giving it a go, setting its sights on surfers, wakeboarders, snowboarders, and swimmers. The pricey flash-based player is submersible in up to 10 feet of water and is available in 256MB ($159.95) and 512MB ($199.95) versions. All in all, the Fusion DMP delivers as advertised but needs some work in the design department.
At 3.5 by 1.6 by 0.7 inches and a mere 0.8 ounce, the Fusion DMP certainly won't act as an anchor in water. While we appreciate the light plastic casing, we worry about its durability; a nasty drop or collision could easily crack the delicate case. The player has an ergonomic shape and is easy to operate one-handed if you want to use it on dry land. The design and interface is minimalist with just four buttons: an off/on/play/forward and a rewind button on the left side, along with a volume up/down button on the right. There's a small LED light on the face of the device that blinks different colors to indicate the status of the player, but there's no LCD to show track information or the like. This is not a big issue, however, considering the nature of the device. We suspect your mind will be on more important things such as your next wave or maneuver, rather than what album the current track is from. The headphone/USB jack sits atop the Fusion DMP, while a lanyard hook sticks out of the bottom.
In terms of accessories, Freestyle Audio includes a neoprene armband for the Fusion DMP that tightly holds the MP3 player in place and comes with strategically placed holes so that you can access all the function buttons and plug in your headphones. Speaking of which, the included waterproof earbuds leave a lot to be desired. The earplug-style 'phones are uncomfortable and didn't fit snugly in our ears. They often fell out and were a constant source of frustration. We found out later that you can trip the plastic fittings without ruining the buds. This should help most people achieve a better fit, though if your ear canals are small, they'll probably never fit quite right. Luckily, you have the option of subbing in your favorite pair when you're not in the water, which we definitely recommend.
In addition to the armband and the waterproof headphones, Freestyle Audio includes an installation CD and a USB cable for transferring tunes. The latter is also the only way you can charge the device since an AC adapter is not part of the package. To get your MP3s onto the Fusion DMP, it's a simple matter of dragging and dropping via Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder. The company says the 256MB player holds approximately 80 songs or 8-plus hours of music, and the 512MB version holds 175 songs or more than 15 hours of tunes--plenty of variety for a day or two in the water. Unfortunately, MP3 is the only format supported.
We took the Freestyle Audio Fusion DMP Waterproof MP3 Player out for a dip in the cold surf of Pacifica, California, with mixed results. First, it takes some trial and error to find the best setup as to not have the headphone wires get in the way of paddling or pushing up on your board (we found behind the head to be the best scenario); Freestyle Audio was smart enough to make the headphone cord long enough so that it wouldn't restrict movement. Next, you have to press down on the rubber control buttons to skip to the next track or to adjust volume, and that's even harder to do when your fingers are numb from 50-degree waters. Sound quality was OK but not great. We have a feeling the poor headphones are the major culprit as tunes sounded somewhat muffled and muted. When we subbed in a set of, sound quality improved dramatically. Overall, tunes sounded crisp, with good mid- to high-end clarity and very little background hiss. Bass, however, was lacking.
It was great to listen to music between sets, and the Freestyle Audio DMP Fusion was definitely a conversation starter as other surfers in the lineup asked about the device. While we love the idea of being able to listen to music while surfing or partaking in any action sport, it's important to remember that safety is an issue. It's crucial to be aware of your surroundings; if you have the Fusion DMP pumping tunes into your ear, you may not hear another surfer calling you off a wave, resulting in a bad wipeout or a brutal tongue-lashing.
In CNET Labs' tests, the Freestyle Audio Fusion DMP Waterproof MP3 Player turned in a mixed performance. Transfer speeds averaged a painfully slow 0.39MB per second. However, battery life fared much better; lasting 42.8 hours, the Fusion DMP is one of the top players in the juice department.