What Are IP Ratings And What Do They Mean For Your Earbuds?

Last Updated on 9 January, 2022 by Sourav Roy

Wireless earbuds are some of the best things you can have, both for listening to music and watching movies. More often than not, you’ll find yourself taking them outside, even during rainy conditions. So, it’s important that you know how to keep them safe from water, and that’s where you have to learn what an IP rating is. In this post, I’ll go into details about the different kinds of IP ratings and how much they can protect a pair of earbuds from environmental hazards.

What Are IP Ratings

At a glance, the IP rating on your wireless earbuds tells you a lot about their protection against dust or dirt, as well as their water resistance. Now, let’s dig deeper and discuss this rating system further.

 

What Are IP Ratings: A Detailed Explanation

Before I start talking about specific ratings, I’ll explain how the whole thing works.

The IP code is a three-digit number assigned to each device by the manufacturer. The numbers represent how well your gadget can protect against particles or liquids entering it; the first ‘X’ indicates its protection against foreign solids like dust. The second ‘X’ indicates its protection capacity against liquids like water. Some IP ratings add an extra letter after these figures to indicate other types of protection, but this information isn’t always necessary for consumer electronics.

Additionally, a separate rating called an “IK Rating” is reserved for showing how much protection a device can use against impacts. Most earbud manufacturers don’t provide this information, though. So, you should get the best earbuds from a brand known for its product durability if you’re prone to dropping things.

 

First Digit Of IP Rating: Solid Protection

In this small table, I’ll talk about all the ratings for solid protection. However, note that you’ll only need to consider Solid Protection ratings that include protection against dust as an earbuds user. That’s because these devices are pretty small and generally well-sealed.

First Digit IP NumberIncluded Protection
XThis means that there's no information on the device's solid object resistance.
0No protection against solids.
1Protection against solids around 2 inches (50mm).
2Protection against solids around 0.5 inches (12.5mm).
3Protection against solids around 0.1 inches (2.5mm).
4Protection against solids bigger than 1mm.
5Dust protection for 2-8 hours.
6Maximum dust protection.

Most earphone manufacturers don’t test for larger objects, which is why you’ll usually find such products rated either IP5X or IP6X.

 

Second Digit Of IP Rating: Liquid Protection

The second digit says how waterproof a device is. Unlike the first digit, which examines the amount of foreign material that enters a device, the liquid protection is determined by angle, intensity, immersion, and pressure. In other words, this rating considers the many diverse ways that water may enter your gadget. These ratings might not always include all tests; for example, a device with an IPX7 rating for full water immersion may not withstand IPX6 tests, which include powerful water streams.

Second Digit IP Number Included Protection
XThis means that there's no information on the device's solid object resistance.
0No protection against water.
1Around 10 minutes of protection against drizzling rain.
2Around 10 minutes of protection against drizzling rain at a 15° angle.
3Around 5 minutes of protection against medium rain at a 60° angle.
4Around 5 minutes of protection against water splashes from all directions.
5Around 3 minutes of protection against water sprayed from a nozzle. (e.g. from a sink)
6Around 3 minutes of protection against heavy rain or high-pressure water jets.
7Around 30 minutes of protection against water immersion of 3 ft (1m).
8Custom rating. The manufacturer usually provides the exact level of immersion and length of time. Better than IPX7.
9This one isn't used for consumer products, but it's still worth mentioning. It generally means protection from very hot, high-pressure water jets.

Most of the best earbuds will come with IPX6 or IPX7 ratings.

Recommended Reading: Headphone Buying Guide- How to Find the Perfect Headphones?

 

Liquid Protection: Water-Resistant Vs Waterproof

While both terms may seem similar, they’re significantly different from each other. It’s best to know the difference clearly to get earbuds that better fit your needs.

 

Water-resistant Earbuds

When all tests of liquid protection are passed with just a little water, earphones are said to be “water-resistant” and usually rated under IPX5.

However, depending on the manufacturer’s definition, “water-resistant” may also apply to cases when there’s minor contact with liquid. This means that you should take extra precautions if your device is labelled as water-resistant (such as avoiding taking it under water). Otherwise, your device could damage when in contact with more than tiny drops of liquid.
The most common example of “water-resistant” earbuds are those that let you sweat while they’re in your ears without getting damaged.

 

Waterproof Earbuds

If your earphones are properly waterproof, they can be submerged in liquids without any damage. This is typically labelled as IPX7 or IPX8 ratings, although a manufacturer may apply a different rating depending on their device’s performance. You should know that in most cases, only the outside of the earbuds is protected against water; the inside of the driver would still get damaged by drops or moisture since it is not protected at all. That’s why you’ll find that many waterproof headphones come with optional/separate silicon covers for further protection.

Recommended Reading: How to use earphones without damaging your ears?

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the same IP rating have any difference if the earbuds are wireless?

No. The protection is in the enclosures, so the lack of or presence of wires doesn’t make any difference.

Do neckbands with a good IP rating have proper water protection?

Yes, they do. Things like charging ports don’t interfere with the IP ratings as they can be sealed using flaps. Regardless of whether you choose a neckband or true wireless earbuds, the basics of the specific IP rating will still apply.

Is IP rating the only way to know water resistance?

Different rating systems exist for solid and liquid protection, but most manufacturers use IP ratings. For instance, there’s a rating system in the US called NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association).

If I want to shower or bath with my earbuds, which IP rating should I get?

You should at least get earbuds with an IPX5 rating if you want to shower, as that provides protection from water sprays coming from nozzles. You should get an even better rating if you want to bath, though, as that includes submersion in most cases, and I’d suggest IPX6 or IPX7 earbuds in that case.

Is the rating only for the drivers, or does it include other parts too?

The rating is for any part that could be damaged by water. Depending on the manufacturer’s definition of “water resistance”, this may or may not include drivers.

How bad is it to use earbuds with no waterproofing?

You can’t use them at all in any condition where water may fall on them. Earbuds with zero water resistance risk getting damaged by something as insignificant as sweat.

What's the minimum budget to get basic water resistance?

Best earphones under Rs 1000 usually come with some level of water resistance, and they can’t stand anything more than a light drizzle, though. You’d have to go for the best earphones under Rs. 2000 to get a good level of water protection.

What's the most cost-efficient IP rating?

Most high-end ones will have an IP67 rating, which is the best you can get in terms of cost-efficiency. This rating means that they’re totally protected against dust and that there’s also some amount of liquid protection. These are great for working out and outdoor use.

Recommended Reading: Active vs Passive Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Which one is better?

 

Conclusion

Now you know exactly what IP ratings are and how important they can be when picking a pair of earbuds or headphones.

With that said, do note that even if a pair of earphones is specified as waterproof or water-resistant, their safety claims might still vary with different liquids and conditions. For example, even though many headphones claim to be waterproof, they can’t really handle saltwater since it’s more corrosive than fresh water.

Now, if you consider everything I’ve shared, the earbuds you buy will cover all the kinds of usage scenarios you might end up in. Even better, you can enjoy great music as earbuds with good ratings usually produce excellent audio. That’s all for now. Good luck with your search.

Abir B.
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