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I listened to music through my skull while swimming laps

CNET's Michael Franco tries out Beker, a waterproof bone conduction music pod. Did it make a big splash?

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
3 min read

As a regular swimmer, I can attest to the fact that doing laps in a pool can get boring pretty quickly. So when I got the chance to try the Beker waterproof bone conduction music player to add some beats to my routine, I lapped it up.

If you're not familiar with bone conduction technology, it basically funnels music to your inner ear by carrying it along the bones of your skull. Because listening to music this way means you don't have to plug up your ears, the technology has been proposed as a safer way for joggers and cyclists to groove on the go.

The people who invented Beker, now in the last days of its Kickstarter campaign, decided the tech was also perfect for using underwater.

So, how did it sound?


The author, about to swim his first musical laps with the Beker strapped to his head.

Jim Wilmot

The unfortunate answer here is just OK. I've never used bone conduction headphones before so I don't know if this is the case with all models, but the Beker achieves its effect by playing music pretty loudly behind your head. You can hear it through your ears as well as a little through your skull. It's kind of like strapping on an old transistor radio.

The sound improves once you insert swimmers' earplugs, so that helps you enjoy the music a bit more. I did feel pretty self-conscious knowing others in the pool might be able to hear my music as well. I thought it was going to be more of a personal listening experience than a pool party.

All of the splashing probably helped mask the sound, but I was still a bit uncomfortable cranking out tunes from behind my head while other swimmers were exercising in silence.

Once your ears are plugged up, the sound does indeed seem to come straight into your head from behind. It's a pretty tinny sound and it wasn't as loud as I would have liked, but it is the first time I was ever able to swim with tunes and that was a huge plus for me. It made the laps go by more quickly than ever, and I even squeezed in a few more over my normal limit. I did notice that the sound improved even more once my head was completely underwater, so this gadget might be better for divers than swimmers.

Beker also bills its device as one that could be used out of the pool, but because of the noise leakage and the fact that it sounds better with your ears plugged, I'm not sure I see much of an advantage over using this over a traditional music player with earplugs.

There are, of course, other options out there for listening to your tunes in the pool. There are waterproof cases and headphones that let you stream from your existing smartphone such as those made by DryCase; waterproof MP3 players with headphones, like this model from Aerb; and even another bone conduction model called the Finis Neptune, with earphones that pump the music in through your cheekbones. It should also be noted that Finis first came out with the underwater bone conduction technology in 2009. All of these other options have different pros and cons, so it would be well worth spending some research time before making a purchasing decision.

Still, the Beker is lightweight and easy to use, and there are no cords to worry about, so it might be a good choice if you're a lap swimmer. If you're interested, the Kickstarter campaign has a few days left. You can get a Beker for $72 (about £50, AU$103), which represents $38 (about £26, AU$55) off the eventual retail price.

Bekers are expected to ship in March. As with all crowdsourced projects, keep in mind that products don't always deliver as promised.