When researching wireless earbuds you are going to hear about the IP rating.
This International Protection rating (or Ingress Protection rating) is an industry standard that tells you how protected the electronic device is from the ingress of liquids (water) and solids (dust & sand.)
Ingress is a fancy word for “entry”.
Water, rain, sweat, spilled beverages, and more can spell a certain death for electronics.
But, with the proper IP rating your electronics will be protected.
Similarly – dust, sand, grime, and dirt can also damage your electronics.
These are the solids that the IP rating is meant to protect from.
Beyond that, why is a standardized terminology needed?
It’s because marketing speak like “waterproof”, “weather resistant” ,and “dust proof” are simply too vague and ambiguous.
As we’ll see, a jet stream of water is more likely to corrupt a device as compared to a splash or water droplets.
And water immersion (submerging your device – like when you drop a phone in a pool) is another scenario as well.
A “splash proof” rating is not enough to protect a device that is dropped in a pool.
These IP ratings are particularly important for wireless earbuds – because they are so small, they are worn in an area that can be exposed to the elements, and they are dropped quite frequently.
So, let’s dive in and understand what the IP ratings mean.
Forms of the IP rating
Normally an IP rating consists of two numbers, such as IP57.
The first number denotes the protection rating for solids (dust).
The second number denotes the protection for liquids.
But, you’ll see rating such as IPX7.
The “X” is used when there is insufficient data to assign a rating for the category.
For example, for IPX7 – there is no data on solids protection, but the liquid protection rating for liquids.
Here’s a real life example:
IP Ratings – Solids
The first digit of the IP rating indicates Solids protection.
- 0: No protection against physical contact and objects.
- 1: Protection from objects larger than 50mm. The classic example is you can’t stick your hand in the device – but perhaps a finger.
- 2: Protection from objects larger than 12.5mm. This would include fingers.
- 3: Objects larger than 2.5mm. This includes tools and thick wires, etc.
- 4: Objects larger than 1mm. Most wires (even small ones) and screws are an example.
- 5: This is the first solids rating that indicates dust protection. It doesn’t indicate no dust can enter, but it should not be enough to damage the device or keep it from working.
- 6: This level indicates it is Dust Tight – and no dust can enter.
As an example, an IP57 device has a “5” protection rating from solids – and is therefore dust protected.
IP Ratings – Liquids
The second digit of the IP rating indicates Liquids protection.
- 0: Not protected from water.
- 1: Protected from dripping water (vertical falling water drops.)
- 2: Protected from water that hits that product at up to a 15° angle.
- 3: Protected from water spray at any angle up to 60° from the vertical.
- 4: Protectd from splashing water from any direction.
- 5: Protected from water jets (small stream from a nozzle 6.3mm in size) from any direction.
- 6: Protected from powerful water jets (12.5mm nozzle size) – from any direction.
- 7: Protected from water immersion up to 1 meter in depth. For example, if you dropped earbuds in a sink full of water.
- 8: Protected from water immersion beyond 1 meter. The actual depth and time through which the device is protected will normally be specified.
For example, an IP57 rated device is protected from water immersion up to a depth of 1 meter.(The second digit defines the liquid protection rating.)
An IPX5 rating is common with earbuds, such as the Anker Soundcore Liberty Air earbuds.
As per the chart, these claim no dust protection, but are protected from small water jets at any angle.
Not All Devices Have an IP Rating
It is completely voluntary for a manufacturer to test their device for an IP rating.
In fact, some very big name products don’t have an IP rating.
The Apple AirPods claim no particular IP rating.
(But the new AirPods Pro have an IPX4 rating – meaning no dust protection tested, but they are sweat and water resistant to splashing.
By the way, the Echo Buds from Amazon also have an IPX4 rating.
IP Ratings for Earbuds – In Summary
Earbuds need protection from liquids, because they are small, they are often exposed to the elements, and they are often dropped.
A solids protection rating (dust) is less important for earbuds.
The IP ratings are an industry standard that manufacturers must determine by product testing.
We hope this information helps you pick the best earbuds for your purposes.
Understanding the noise cancellation features of earbuds is also an important consideration.