Nowadays, we spent most of our lives surrounded by electronic devices.
We have our cell phones with us practically everywhere we go. Almost everyone working in an office has a computer.
It may sound too old-fashioned to call it the rise of the machines, but it’s a fact that computers and cell phones dominate most of our work and social lives.
The majority of people practically live their lives through these devices.
Don’t be alarmed. This article is not about the social, moral, and psychological implications of cell phones and computers in our lives.
We’re just pointing out the fact that although everyone uses them, not a lot of people correctly understand electronic devices.
And not the overly complicated things like underlying structure or intricacies of the circuitry of these devices. We barely understand the simplest things about them.
One of these elementary things is an IPX rating of any electronic device.
What Is IPX Rating and Why Is It Important?
If you don’t know anything about an IPX rating, this might be the first question that pops up in your head when you hear it mentioned somewhere.
IPX ratings might not sound familiar, but everyone knows what “waterproof” is.
You often about new phones being waterproof, while older people probably associate this word more with waterproof watches.
It’s a pretty cool feature in any electronic device which means you can dunk it water and it won’t get damaged.
You don’t have to worry about your waterproof phone if you get caught in the rain without an umbrella.
And like waterproof, you might have also seen many electronic gadgets with words like water-resistant and dustproof on the packaging.
This protection from the elements, like dust and water, is what IPX ratings represent. For almost every electronic device, there is an IP rating.
It’s usually present along with the specifications and features of a device. An IPX rating is especially important for instruments or equipment that is intended for outdoor use.
In IPX, IP stands for Ingress Protection, and X stands for a specific number (always two digits).
The word Ingress means entering something or the capacity to enter something.
So IP simply means protecting something from entering. That protection is provided by a mechanical casing or an electronic enclosure.
Some standard IP ratings are IP65 and IP66. There is no gap between IP and the numbers, so IP-66 or IP 66 are both wrong ways of writing an IP rating of a device.
Sometimes, there is an alphabet that follows the IPX rating, like IP69K, for additional information.
What this IPX rating represents, is how much an electronic device is protected against the elements.
For example, the IP65 rating means that a device is “dust-tight” or “dustproof”.
So if you have a cell phone rated IP65, you don’t have to worry about burying it in fine dust (Though if you can’t find it afterward, that’s on you).
You can even carry it through a sandstorm (I won’t recommend it, for your own safety) without any dust or sand accumulating inside the device.
An IP65 rating means that your phone is also relatively waterproof.
It’s essential to know about the IPX ratings so that you don’t expose them to the wrong elements and get them damaged.
If you take your “splash proof” phone down in the pool, it’s going to die.
If you are wearing your IP61 rated headphones in the rain, their chances of getting damaged are very high.
And it’s not just the device getting damaged that you have to take into consideration.
If an electronic device is electrically shorted due to water when it’s near your body, it can cause an injury.
Understanding and knowing the IPX rating is critical, especially for devices that are intended for outdoor use.
Devices that are frequently used outdoors have a much higher chance of being exposed to the elements.
The two digits following the alphabets IP in an IPX rating describe different levels of exposure to various elements that a device can handle without being damaged.
The first digit represents the degree of protection from solid objects. It is always between 0 and 6.
The second digit shows the level of protection against liquids. It’s between 0 and 8, and in some cases, 9K.
Let’s discuss the first digit of IP rating. It bears mentioning that you will never find an IP rating with a single number, like IP0, IP1, or IP6.
There will also be the second digit, and sometimes another alphabet.
In the IPX ratings below, the ‘X’ represents the missing number because, for now, we only want to discuss what the first digit means.
Protection against Solids
An enclosure’s protectiveness against solids from getting entry into a device.
Understand that these an IP rating doesn’t indicate protection against forced entry.
An IP4X housing might protect the device against a screw from entering the device. But it won’t be much help if you hammer a nail into the machine.
Not protected at all.
Though you will be hard-pressed to find a device with that rating, you can consider an open circuit or a bare wire, an example of rated IP0X.
Since anyone or anything can establish a physical connection with those.
This is the first layer of protection.
An enclosure with this rating will prevent anything with a surface area bigger than 2” (50 mm) from entering. Such housing would be enough to stop a hand from entering palm-first.
But if you tilt your hand sideways, you can put your hand through that enclosure. A decidedly unsafe example of this would be a toaster.
You probably won’t reach inside to teach the heating coil accidentally, but the body of the toaster can’t prevent you from deliberately entering your finger in (and getting burnt or electrocuted, the jury is still out on that one).
Enclosures rated for IP2X something, prevent anything that is about 0.5” (12.5 mm) in diameter and 3.15 inches (80mm) in length.
These enclosures prevent deliberate insertion of fingers, but you can push a screwdriver or cable tie through. A lot of heaters, even the ones that are safe to use in the bathroom (splash zone), are rated IP2.
IP3X enclosures stop the entry of objects that are 0.098” (2.5 mm) in diameter.
This narrow range means you can’t run thick cables directly through the housing; neither can you put a screwdriver or a ballpoint pen into the enclosure.
You may see this rating in glass door refrigerators, loudspeakers, keyboards, etc.
An IP4X enclosure can get tight for even small wires to squeeze through.
It will only allow objects that are less than 0.039” (1 mm) in dia.
It prevents even most screws from being inserted through the enclosure. You may find this rating on drones and outdoor LED lights.
This is where protection against dust starts.
IP5 is rated “dust-protected” (not dust tight). This rating means that dust may enter the device, but not in sizable enough quantity to hinder the device’s operational capability.
Much older and some newer cell phones had ratings that started with 5.
The ultimate protection against solids from purchasing entry in an enclosure.
It’s dubbed “dust-tight,” which means that no dust is entering the device.
A lot of new smartphones, cameras, and almost all security cameras intended for outdoor use, are rated IP6X.
Protection against Liquids
How safe, an enclosure is against liquids, is represented by the second number of the IP rating.
For example, an IPX7 device will be much more waterproof compared to an IPX3 device. The X here represents the protection against solids, the first digit of an IP rating.
The devices rated for IPX0 are not protected against water at all. They are not even protected against humidity present in the air.
These devices are provided enough protection in the housing that water falling vertically down.
The vertical part is essential because that’s how the devices rated IPX1 are tested. It’s protection against slowly dripping water.
It can be called water-resistant, and you will find lamps, indoor or outdoor temperature sensors with ratings like IP61.
Headphones, earbuds or speakers rated for IPX1 might handle a few drops of drizzle, but anything more and the device can get shorted.
This is why earbuds or headphones with this rating are not recommended for a sweaty workout.
This is also water-resistant (more like dripping resistant).
Devices with this rating are tested for water drips that are faster than the ones for IPX1 rated appliances, and at an angle of 15 degrees.
Dripping at an angle is supposed to make the entry of water easier in an enclosure, so IPX2 housing protects that (till 15 degrees only).
Some LED lights, water hardness testers, and a few outdoor sensors are rated IP62.
IPX2 headphones or speakers can handle water spraying down from an angle so that they may be suitable for light rain. But excessive sweat might still be a problem.
This provides much better protection against water. IPX3 enclosures are tested against water sprays, equating to a standard garden hose operated at low pressures, from angles up to 60 degrees from vertical. They can be called spray-resistant.
IPX3 rated headphones might fare better in the rain, but they are still not ideal against heavy sweat.
If you are trying to buy a pair of headphones or earbuds for a workout, you should look for one that’s rated higher than this.
IPX4 rated devices are much better at handling water. We can call them splash-resistant.
They have a severe advantage over the ratings before them, because unlike other ratings, IPX4 is tested from all sides to see if they can handle the water sprays and splashes.
When it comes to headphones and earbuds, IPX4 is the least sweatproof rating.
This rating is enough for speakers to handle a bit of rain as well, or water splashed from the side of the road.
Enclosures rated for IPX5 are tested against water jets.
It’s not as cool as it sounds. It simply means that water sprayed at a faster rate than a regular garden hose spray from all angles. Devices with this rating can easily handle heavy rain.
Speakers, headphones, earbuds with this rating can easily be used in outdoor events like pool parties.
But even though they can handle the rain and the splashes, IPX5 rated devices will not be able to protect against dunking in water.
If an object is immersed, the pressure from different sides makes it hard for the enclosure to prevent water from entering the device.
Simply a superlative to IPX5.
Devices rated for IPX6 can handle much more powerful water jets. Many times more water and at a much higher pressure, will not be able to enter a device rated IPX6.
This makes them perfect for headphones or speakers that you can take with you to the shower, but not the bathtub.
This is the first rating that can be indeed classified as waterproof, in the sense that devices rated IPX7 can handle being immersed in water.
Devices with this rating can handle being submerged in about 3 feet of water for 30 minutes.
If you go deeper, the water pressure will increase more than the enclosure might be able to handle.
So IPX7 headphones can definitely go into the bathtub. You can dunk IPX7 speakers there too, but we can’t promise the same sound quality.
These devices can be immersed in up to ten feet of water for a more extended period of time.
The manufacturer declares the exact depth and time of immersion possible.
If you have a pair of headphones with this rating, you can take them with you for a swim in the pool without worrying about them getting damaged.
What to Look for When Buying Waterproof Speakers/Headphones/Earbuds?
This depends on why you are looking for waterproof headphones or speakers in the first place.
Let’s talk about speakers first. With speakers, especially wooden speakers, the chances of rot due to humidity are a serious concern.
Such speakers should be adequately protected against humidity and water splashes, at least IPX4.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s completely waterproof. Too much exposure to heavy rain can let the water in and damage the circuitry.
An excellent example of sufficiently waterproof speakers would be the JBL VLA Compact series.
With an IP55 rating, they can withstand splashes around the pool and beaches because that’s as far as speakers should go near the water, in my opinion.
But there are also speakers available with IP68, one of the best waterproof ratings. You can dunk these speakers in the water (why would you want to do that though, is beyond me).
It’s also important to understand that IP68 doesn’t mean that it’s just as waterproof against water jets.
This is a bit of disparity in waterproof ratings. IP61 to IP66 is different. IP67 and IP68 are handled differently.
An enclosure that might handle submersion in water might not fare well against powerful water jets.
Though in most cases, IP67 or IP68 can handle heavy rains just fine. If a speaker is tested for both (water jets and submersion), its IP rating might be written like this: IP65/IP68.
So when it comes to speakers, if you frequent pools and beaches with your speakers, you should get something with a rating above IPX5.
Headphones and earbuds are different from speakers. Since you can take them anywhere with you, their chances of getting caught in the rain, or falling into a pool or a bathtub are much higher.
Even if we discount the external factors, sweat alone is enough to kill a headphone or earbuds with improper housing and inadequate IP ratings.
You have to understand that there is no specific classification for being sweatproof.
But if sweat is your only concern, any headphone or earbuds with IP ratings of IPX4 and above might be okay, though IPX6 would be much better.
For heavy rain, water splashes, and even in the showers, IPX5 or IPX6 would work well. If you want headphones for pools and bathtubs, IPX7 and IPX8 are best.
For high-quality waterproof earbuds or headphones, you should seek the rating of IP68.
For even more premium quality, you may look for IP69K, but that won’t be a cheap buy, and for most situations (no matter how much water is involved), it would be overkill.
Having a decent audio device is essential for listening, as well as making music.
If you are a music producer, you will mostly be working from a studio, so weatherproofing might not be too big of an issue for you.
But you play at events and parties; you might need headphones and speakers that can handle exposure to elements.
For outdoor use, it should be understood that even an IP68 rating doesn’t mean that the speakers or headphones will fare well against constant exposure to sunlight.
If you work out a lot, you will need sufficient waterproofing to handle sweat.
So whenever you are out to buy your next pair of speakers, headphones, or earbuds, make sure to check out the IP ratings on the packaging.
And go for something that matches your needs.