IP what? Explaining water and dust resistance for audio gear

what is ip water resistance headphones speakers ue wonderboom waterproof header

If you’ve ever gone online shopping for a new set of earbuds, a smartwatch, or even a new smartphone, you’ve probably encountered a cryptic code that looks like this: IPXY, where the X and/or Y are sometimes replaced by numbers, e.g. IPX5. This is commonly referred to as an IP rating. Manufacturers will usually toss that cipher into their descriptions at some point as a measurement of how water and dust resistant their products are.

But what exactly do these numbers mean, and how should they apply to everyday use? We’re here to help you crack the code with a step-by-step explanation of this oft-used, but seldom explained technical rating for water and dust resistance.

What is IP and IPX?

IP, IPX, or IPXY are all references to a standardized rating for how well a product can prevent solids and liquids from entering, and thus possibly causing damage to, your electronics. Officially, IP stands for “International Protection” marking because the standard was developed and is maintained by the International Electrotechnical Commission. But it’s more commonly referred to as Ingress Protection. The two numbers that follow the letters IP indicate what kind of protection you can expect.

The X is the solids/dust protection level, from zero to six, where zero means no protection whatsoever, and six means it’s dust-tight: No dust can enter at all, even after exposure for up to 8 hours. Because very few consumer devices are designed to keep out dust (presumably it’s just not something people usually need), this part of the IP rating is often left out. That’s why we most often see an X after IP e.g., IPX5 — it means there’s no rating for the solids ingress portion.

The Y is the liquids protection level from zero to eight, where zero means no protection whatsoever, and eight means it can withstand being immersed in water, usually up to a depth of three meters, for up to at least 30 minutes. Technically, there is a ninth level of liquid protection, but it isn’t used for consumer electronics products. There is no “X” level for water protection, so you’ll never see an IP code expressed as IP2X, for example — it would be IP20 if no water protection is offered.

What does it mean for me?

If you’ve already guessed that an IP68 rating is the best you can get for protection from both dust and liquids, congrats, you just aced the first quiz! But in between IP00 and IP68, there’s a lot of variety, so let’s take a look at some specific examples. We’re going to focus on just the liquid protection here, because both level 5 and 6 of dust protection more or less amount to the same thing: IP5 means that some dust might get in, but it won’t cause any problems, and IP6 means no dust gets in at all.

IPX2

samsung galaxy buds full review 6
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

With IPX2, your device can withstand a small amount of dripping water without being damaged. Since most of us don’t place our gadgets under leaky faucets very often, in practice this translates into “moderately sweatproof.” When we reviewed Samsung’s Galaxy Buds truly wireless earbuds — rated for IPX2 — we found they easily survived a 10K run while wedged in the ear canals of a very sweaty person. Do not try to wash these products under running water — it’s better to wipe them with a damp cloth.

IPX4

Bose SoundSport Free
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

IPX4 offers decent protection against splashing water. Keep in mind, this isn’t waterproofing — you shouldn’t dunk IPX4 products in water — but it is an excellent degree of protection for ultra-active workouts, or even long marathons in inclement weather. Most earbuds, whether wireless or wired, aimed at sports and active lifestyles are IPX4 rated and should have no problem coping with regular use during these activities. Bose’s SoundSport Free truly wireless earbuds are IPX4 rated. Again, don’t submerge these products.

IPX6

SBode M400 review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

IPX6 concerns itself with protection from powerful jets of water, which means you can probably take them in the shower with no serious side-effects, but don’t make a habit of it. Do not actually put them under the water, e.g. don’t go swimming, or expect them to necessarily survive an accidental encounter with a toilet bowl. IPX6 rated products like the Sbode M400 Bluetooth speaker make perfect poolside companions.

IPX7/8

samsung galaxy s10 plus vs apple iphone xs max

If you’re a complete klutz and have been known to drop your phone, camera, or watch into bodies of water both indoors and out, don’t settle for anything less than IPX7. This will protect your gadget from accidental kerplunks in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, while IPX8 allows for the same time period of protection in even deeper water (with the exact depth to be specified by the manufacturer).

Bluetooth speakers designed for the water like the UE Wonderboom or the JBL Boombox will be rated as IPX7 at least. As of 2018, all of our top picks for ebook readers boasted this rating, making them far better vacation companions for water adventurers. The Samsung Galaxy S9, S10, and iPhone XS and XS Max are all IP68 rated, which means no dust will get in, and water will have a hard time too. These products can be safely rinsed off under gentle running water, but always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

If a product is IPX8, does that mean it’s also good for IPX1-7 too?

No. As annoying as this is, each level of IPX protection is its own standard, which means that unless a manufacturer states otherwise, you can’t be certain that a product which can withstand an accidental dunking, can also deal equally well with powerful jets of water. Sony’s XBR-510AS headphones, for example, are specifically labeled as IPX5/7, which means they are both moderately splash-proof, and they can survive accidental immersion.

To be safe, always check to see what the manufacturer is willing to state in the product specifications. For instance, Apple states that the iPhone XR is IP67 rated to a maximum depth of 1 meter, for up to 30 minutes. But if you read the fine print, there are a few caveats:

iPhone XR is splash, water, and dust resistant and was tested under controlled laboratory conditions with a rating of IP67 under IEC standard 60529 (maximum depth of 1 meter up to 30 minutes). Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear. […] Liquid damage not covered under warranty.

The clear takeaway here is that you should not take this rating as an invitation to shower or swim with the iPhone XR.

Does IPX8 mean it’s waterproof?

No. The term waterproof is more of an ideal than an actual rating. A product that was genuinely waterproof would be one that never lets water in, under any circumstances. Because that’s almost never the case, we tend to talk more about water resistance. IPX7/8 are intended as ratings for the survival of a gadget after a certain kind of short term or accidental immersion in water — they are not an indicator that your product is meant to be used continuously under water.

In fact, even when you see products (usually watches) that have a water resistance mark (WR) e.g., 30M, that’s still no guarantee that it will survive in the water. Unless otherwise specified, these products aren’t individually tested, and only one brand-new example product needed to pass a very basic water immersion test in order for every watch of that design to bear the WR mark.

Level Protection Against
X No data available
0 None
1 Dripping water
2 Dripping water when tilted at 15°
3 Spraying water
4 Splashing of water
5 Water jets
6 Powerful water jets
6K Power water jets with increased pressure
7 Immersion, up to 1 m depth
8 Immersion, up to 1 m or more depth
9K Powerful high temperate water jets

Wikipedia

For true underwater use, where you would take a product snorkeling or SCUBA diving, you should be looking for divers’ rating based on the ISO 6425 standard for divers’ watches. These products are individually tested, and must perform at depths that are 25 percent deeper than the number claimed on the dial. Watches with these ratings are typically guaranteed by the manufacturer to survive repeated use at these depths for prolonged periods, as well as being able to handle the changes in pressure that accompany the act of descending to and ascending from those depths.

Water resistance rating Suitability Remarks
Water Resistant 3 atm or 30 m Suitable for everyday use. Splash/rain resistant. Not suitable for showering, bathing, swimming, snorkeling, water related work, fishing, and diving.
Water Resistant 5 atm or 50 m Suitable for everyday use, showering, bathing, shallow-water swimming, snorkeling, water related work, fishing. Splash/rain resistant. Not suitable for diving.
Water Resistant 10 atm or 100 m Suitable for recreational surfing, swimming, snorkeling, sailing and water sports. Not suitable for diving.
Water Resistant 20 atm or 200 m Suitable for professional marine activity, serious surface water sports and skin diving. Suitable for skin diving.
Diver’s 100 m Minimum ISO standard (ISO 6425) for scuba diving at depths not suitable for saturation diving. Diver’s 100 m and 150 m watches are generally old(er) watches.
Diver’s 200 m or 300 m Suitable for scuba diving at depths not suitable for saturation diving. Typical ratings for contemporary diver’s watches.
Diver’s 300+ m for mixed-gas diving Suitable for saturation diving (helium enriched environment).  Watches designed for mixed-gas diving will have the DIVER’S WATCH xxx M FOR MIXED-GAS DIVING additional marking to point this out.

Wikipedia

What if my product doesn’t have an IP rating?

You’ve probably already noticed that plenty of devices can survive an encounter with water or dust, even if they don’t come with an IP rating from the manufacturer. There’s a good chance you’ve been for a few sweaty runs with your non-rated Apple AirPods, wiped them off, and experienced no problems at all. Sometimes that’s due to good design, and other times it’s luck. An IP rating is your only true indication that a manufacturer has designed the product to perform under those conditions. But keep in mind — it’s not a guarantee. Always check your product warranty for what is and is not covered. As we saw with the iPhone XR, even with an IP67 rating, Apple’s warranty doesn’t cover liquids.

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