IP code is a classification standard that tells how resistant an item is to elements such as water and dust. But there are differences…
It’s an internationally accepted standard, used in standards IEC 60529 (International Electrotechnical Commission), ISO 20653:2013 (International Organization for Standardization), and others. It’s also known as the “IP Code.” IP stands for “ingress protection”.
Many headphones now have an IP rating. Understanding what all those numbers mean will help you take better care of your headphones.
Quick IPX Rating Explanation
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IPX Ratings Explained
The IP rating system consists of the letters “IP” and two numbers.
Quick example: IP57
The first digit (5) stands for particle protection like dust (0-6)
The second digit (7) stands for water protection (0-9)
- If there’s a number 0, it means an item was tested and has zero protection against that element.
- If there’s a letter X, it means an item wasn’t tested against that element.
IPX0 means no ingress or even moisture protection of enclosures
IPX1 means minimum protection from dripping water (equals to rainfall of 1mm/minute)
IPX2 means ingress protection from vertically dripping water (equals to rainfall of 3m/minute)
IPX3 means ingress protection from sprayed water (5-minute spray of low-pressure water jets from 50 to 150 kilopascals)
IPX4 means ingress protection from water splashes (10-minute spray of low-pressure jets of water from 50 to 150 kilopascals)
IPX5 means ingress protection from water projected from a spray nozzle (15-minute jet of water from a distance of 3 meters, at a pressure of 30 kilopascals)
IPX6 means ingress protection from strong pressure water jets (3-minute jet of water from a distance of 3 meters, at a pressure of 100 kilopascals)
IPX7 means ingress protection from continuous immersion in water up to 3ft (1m) for 30 minutes
IPX8 means better than IPX7, usually deeper depth or time in water (submersion that’s at least 1 to 3 meters deep, for the unspecified duration)
IPX9K means ingress protection against the water spray of hot water (using a high-pressure spray nozzle, at the temperature of 80°C or 176°F)
IP Dust Protection Ratings
Dust ingress protection code follows a similar numeral structure. The degree of protection that the enclosure (headphone) has against the ingression of solid foreign objects is rated from 0-6 (a “6” digit represents completely dustproof).
IP0X means no protection from ingress of small particles (dirt, dust, etc.) or incidental contact.
IP1X means protection against objects larger than 50mm, little protection (> 50 mm)
IP2X means protection against contact with fingers and similarly sized objects (> 12.5 mm)
IP3X means protection against thick wires, small screws, etc. (> 2.5 mm)
IP4X means protection against small bugs, ants, tiny wires, etc. (> 1 mm)
IP5X means protection against dust. It’s solid particle protection but not fully dust-tight. Some dust is let in but can’t do damage.
IP6X means complete protection against dust. Dustproof and complete protection against contact with solid objects (test duration of up to 8 hours, where the dust is forced into the device using vacuum).
Why Aren’t All Water-Resistant Headphones Tested for Dust Protection?
Manufacturers skip the additional testing to cut down the cost.
The logic is that if your headphones can survive full submersion, they will probably also deflect the bigger dust particles, thus being at least a little bit dust resistant.
Many headphones tend to have an IPX4 sweatproof or IPX7 waterproof rating. The latter doesn’t mean that the dust can easily gets inside the housing. In that case, the rating would be IP04 and IP07.
Of course, you should still take care not to roll your headphones in dirt.
Keep in mind that if you get IP6X rated product, it doesn’t mean it’s protected against all solid particles in all situations. Ratings are always tested in controlled environments.
In the best dust-tight rating, these devices undergo exposure to windblown dust for a test duration of up to 8 hours.
What happens to that intrusion protection if you drop your headphones on the floor or expose them to dust for longer periods?
Nobody knows. It’s good to know this despite the IP rating. Every electrical device requires some level of care.
How a device receives an IP rating?
To put an IP code rating on a device, the manufacturer has to put their device through various testing. Tests are performed by a certified independent company using standardized testing methods.
- At the facility, the manufacturer decides for what IP rating they want to test their product.
- Then, a product is placed on a dedicated rig where it undergoes special testing for that exact IP rating, blasting the product with water from different angles and using specific pressures.
- If it passes the test, it receives the rating. If the water/dust finds its way into housing, it fails the test.
Each test costs a lot of money, which raises the price of a device. So manufacturers carefully decide for which IP rating they want to test their devices.
Sometimes a device is unofficially water-resistant, but the manufacturer decides not to test it. Like OnePlus 7th generation smartphones. OnePlus stated that if those phones would have been IP tested, they would cost $30 more.
Is a device with an IPX7 rating also tested for IP ratings below?
Not necessarily. A manufacturer usually decides at what IP level they want to start the test. Some start from the toughest level, while the other start from the lowest level.
What does IPX4 mean? A device with an IPX4 rating can be classified as water-resistant, or more accurately, sweatproof.
Devices with such a rating can withstand 10 minutes of water splashing and spraying, mimicking heavy sweating and moderate raining weather conditions.
They offer decent protection for everyday use, either indoors or outdoors. This is also one of the most common IP ratings in headphones and earbuds.
Showering: it isn’t advisable. Sprays aren’t equal to water jets that come out of the showerhead.
Swimming: no, a device isn’t tested for full submersion, so it won’t survive going underwater.
Heavy rain: pouring rain could be too much for a device with an IPX4 rating to handle. It protects only against light and moderate rain.
IPX5 waterproof meaning: The tested device survives 15 minutes under a jet of water (12.5 liters per minute at a pressure of 30 kilopascals, from a distance of 3 meters). It’s considered splashproof or sweatproof but not fully waterproof.
Showering: while it’s still not advisable, you can shower with such headphones. However, don’t be surprised if they all of a sudden stop working. Additionally, you can wash them under tap water.
Swimming: no, this is still not a high enough rating to endure full underwater submersion.
Heavy rain: yes, it survives heavy rain situations.
IPX6 waterproof meaning: Is the first protection rating for headphones that survive powerful jets of water for 3 minutes straight (100 liters of water per minute at 100 kilopascals, from a distance of 3 meters).
Showering: yes, it’s safe to take a headphone with an IPX6 rating under the shower.
Swimming: no, you’re not quite there yet, as the water might still penetrate inside the headphones.
IPX7 waterproof meaning: The headphones can fully immerse in water, up to 1-meter (40 inches) depth for at least 30 minutes.
A headphone or even a waterproof speaker with this rating have a fully waterproof enclosure and can be used for showering, in heavy rain, and even dropped in shallow water. You can wash the device under a tap too.
An IPX7 rating means the electrical equipment inside the headphones is protected against immersion in water for up to 30 minutes in shallow water. Going deeper or longer in water is not advised and can damage your headphones.
Swimming: yes, you can swim with such headphones. Just be careful not to go too deep with it since it’s only tested for 1-meter depth (40 inches).
The headphones are fully submerged in water between 1 and 3 meters and can resist water for an indefinite time (determined by a manufacturer).
This is an improved protection level that upgrades the time and depth the headphones can stay underwater. These are fully waterproof and are suitable for all activity near and in water.
A device with such a rating can survive a pressurized jet of hot water from at least 4 angles. As if you’re steam cleaning it.
This is the highest rating for water resistance. At the moment, it’s still rare with only a few devices rated for it.
Keep in mind that while tests try to mimic real-life situations, they’re still executed in a controlled environment.
Waterproof vs. Water-Resistant
Due to vague marketing terms, customers tend to misunderstand the 2 terms. While both talk about water resistance, they aren’t equal.
This is the lowest level of water protection (IPX1-IPX6).
Headphones that are water-resistant (or splashproof) can prevent some amount of water from getting inside but can’t survive full underwater submersion.
Such headphones will work perfectly fine even after they get in contact with sweat or getting soaked under heavy rain. You can even take them under a shower.
Headphones with IP-rated enclosures of IPX6 or below are considered water-resistant.
Some headphones also use special hydrophobic nanocoatings to repel water. Essentially, when such coating gets drizzled with water, the water forms into droplets and slides off.
Headphones might have such coating on top of the housing, or they have coated internals, which prevents water from causing damage (creates corrosion/short circuit) if the water gets inside.
However, the latter is not included in the IP international standard.
This is the highest level of protection against water ingress (IPX7-IPX9K).
Waterproof means that the product stops the water from getting inside (it’s impervious to water).
Headphones with at least an IPX7 rating can go underwater for up to 1 meter (3.3 feet), or 3 meters (9.8 feet) if they have an IPX8 rating.
Such resistance to water is great if you like keeping your headphones clean and washing them thoroughly every once in a while under a tap.
Unfortunately, unless they’re wired, you can’t use them in the pool or for diving since Bluetooth doesn’t work underwater.
On the other hand, an IPX9K rating doesn’t deal with extra depth but with strong, high-temperature jet sprays. So far, there are no headphones that carry the highest IP rating.
How do they make things waterproof?
Manufacturers use different methods for protecting devices with electronic components.
- Adhesive. This is the most common technique for waterproofing smartphones and headphones. The adhesive is applied at the main seams of a device (like between a phone screen and housing). This methods allows for easy access to internals, since you only have to heat it up to lose its grip.
- Rubber gaskets. Rubber or silicone lips are usually added around ports and buttons to prevent liquids from entering the internals.
- Conformal coating. The internals are sprayed with a thin layer of acrylic or silicone to prevent accidental contact of the liquids from creating short circuit.
- Potted enclosure. This is the most rigurose methods of water protection, essentially filling up the internals with epoxy or silicone. While that provides the best protection from water and drops, it’s also impossible to make repairs on, and can also prevents normal heat dispersion from electronics.
How do they protect drivers against water?
Waterproof headphones (mostly earbuds) still require a hole to let the sound from a driver into your ears.
The solution is to cover the driver with a mesh that’s fine enough, so it doesn’t let the water through (under ideal specific conditions).
Are There Any Durability Standards?
The most well-known is MIL-STD-810G military standard. It’s a standard that the US Department of Defence uses to determine the ruggedness of equipment.
Some headphones, such as Jaybird Vista 2, are certified to have the MIL-STD-810G standard.
Testing involves exposing products to extreme temperatures (hot and cold), drops, acids, funguses, and even bullets.
However, the main problem is that these tests aren’t standardized. So, two devices with the MIL-STD-810G standard aren’t necessarily equally durable.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Is IP rating the Only Water Resistance Standard?
There are many different rating systems for water and particle protection, but the IP rating is the most recognized and used worldwide.
NEMA rating is similar to IP rating, though NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) is primarily used in North America while the rest of the world uses IP code.
Why is IP Rating Important?
It means that the product is tested to meet a certain level of water and/or dust resistance. That information reassures a customer not to worry if their product gets in contact with liquid or dust.
What’s the Minimum Water Resistance If I Want to Shower with my Headphones?
IPX5 is the absolute minimum liquid ingress protection rating you should look for. What does IPX5 waterproof mean? It means the headphones are protected from a jet of water from a shower. IPX6 or higher is even better with higher protection against the ingress of water.
The best waterproof headphones for swimming will also resist submersion in water since they have higher ingress protection ratings.