SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - After you've joined the music revolution and plunked down $250 for an Apple iPod mini, it's easy to become quite protective of the little gizmo.
The device has got all of your Sheryl Crow and U2 tracks tucked safely inside and heaven forbid you should drop it in the ocean as you jog along the shore. Or consider the possible digital disaster if the iPod slips out of your jacket and into wet slush while you're snowboarding.
The folks at San Diego-based H20 Audio have come out with a sealed waterproof housing that they claim will make your iPod mini a little more robust and weatherproof without a loss of access to the player's many functions.
In the final analysis, the product didn't live up to its billing.
The SV Mini ($149.95) is made of rugged clear plastic. The iPod mini fits snugly inside, held in place by some well-positioned rubber pins. A headphone jack inside the housing plugs into the device, and a set of white, waterproof earphones that ship with the sheath connect to the outside.
That connection is protected by a gray rubber fitting that prevents water from touching the earphone plug contacts.
Apple's click wheel, which allows the user to select songs, adjust volume and create playlists on the fly, can be manipulated when inside the SV Mini. Five buttons on the outside of the housing depress little plastic nubs inside that make contact with your iPod.
The manufacturer says this airtight solution will keep an iPod mini dry down to 10 feet of water. We'll see.
I first tried the unit by stuffing a loaner iPod mini with tunes and heading for the ski slopes. I'd planned a little snowboarding at South Lake Tahoe's massive Heavenly Mountain Resort, and a few hours worth of tunes would be ideal for the session.
Even with thick snowboarding gloves on, I could power on the iPod mini and scroll through the songs to set up a playlist. I had it finished and the earphones on before I slid off the first ski lift.
I cranked up the volume and headed down the hill. The sound quality with the provided earphones, which have funnel-shaped nubs that go deeper into the ear for underwater excursions, was passable but no substitute for Apple's original earphones.
About halfway down the hill I pulled over, took the SV Mini out and stuffed the whole unit deep into the snow for about two minutes. Would it keep the expensive little iPod mini safe and dry? I had my answer a little while later when I removed the iPod from the housing at a lodge restaurant.
Yes. It was bone dry.
I also tried the unit underwater, thanks to the hot tub at my local health club. I sat in warm water for about 20 minutes with the SV Mini unit holding the iPod mini submerged about half the time. Oddly, the sound quality underwater using the "waterproof" earphones was better than the sound quality above the surface. Go figure.
I dried off and checked the iPod to see if it needed the same. Unfortunately, it did. The unit wasn't soaked by any means, but there were three or four large drops worth of water on the Apple unit. Even one drop is too much when you're talking about a $250 digital music player.
I dried off the player and took it home. A few days later I repeated the underwater test, this time in the tub. Again, water had accumulated inside of the housing after only five minutes.
My verdict for the SV Mini - splash and snow proof: maybe. Waterproof at minimal depths for a very short period of time: not.
There remains only one certain way to keep your iPod mini dry. Don't get it wet.
(Other options for waterproof tunes, by the way, appear to be slim to none. The closest thing to a solution comes from a company called Finis, which sells SwiMP3. It's an underwater MP3 player that slips over the back of the head with earphones permanently connected around the sides. The device sells for $249 and only holds 128 megabytes worth of tunes.)