IPX Ratings Explained (Meaning & Importance)

Over the past few years, there has been a significant increase in the number of waterproof and water-resistant audio equipment, especially earbuds, headphones, and speakers. 

To confirm their level of protection against water ingress, earbud and headphone manufacturers publish their earbuds’ and headphones’ IPX ratings. These ratings have become one of the major selling points. 

But what’s the meaning of these IPX ratings? And what kind of IPX rating is good enough for your needs? Is waterproof really better than water-resistant? What about weather-proof or sweat-proof?

In this post, you will find the answers to all the questions listed above. Read it till the end, and you will know exactly what to expect from a product based on its IPX rating, and what to look for based on your needs.

IPX Ratings

IP and IPX Rating – Meaning

IPX rating, or IP rating, is an abbreviation for Ingress Protection Rating. This rating gives us information about the device’s protection against the ingress of dust (solid particles) and water.

IEC 60529 is the International Standard that defines what a device with a certain IP or IPX rating can withstand while staying fully functional. The standard is defined by the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission).

The main goal of introducing IP/IPX ratings was to provide end users with better (more precise) information about the device’s level of protection against water and dust ingress. This rating should give you a much better idea of what you can and cannot do with your device.

While the introduction of IP and IPX ratings didn’t stop manufacturers from using marketing terms like waterproof, water-resistant, or sweat-proof, it gave us a much better idea of how waterproof your device is.

For example, if you have a device with an IPX7 rating, which is often referred to as waterproof, you know, based on the IPX rating, that your device can survive immersion in water of up to 1m depth and stay there for 30mins without getting damaged.

IPX8 devices are also considered waterproof, which proves how vague the term waterproof can be.  The IPX rating, on the other hand, gives more precise info about the device’s waterproofness. 

IPX8, for example, tells that the device can withstand immersion in water deeper than 1m (usually up to 3m or 9.8ft) for a predefined time without getting damaged.

IPX Rating – Basic Form

An IP rating usually consists of two numbers following the letters IP. 

The first number describes the level of protection against the ingress of solid objects and dust. The scale goes from 0 (not protected at all) to 6 (dust-tight). If a device is not tested for dust ingress protection, you will see the letter X instead of a number.

The second number describes the level of protection against water ingress. It can be a number between 0 (no protection) and 8 (submersible in water deeper than 1m). It can also be 6K or 9K (a number followed by the letter K), which guarantees protection against high-pressure and high-temperature water jets.

Ingress Protection

Rarely, the numbers describing dust and water ingress protection are followed by another letter describing additional testing conditions or protection against ingress of other particles/liquids.

Optimal Supplementary Letters

When you see the letter X instead of a number, it means that the device was not tested for dust or water ingress. The letter X does not mean a lack of protection. Only 0 means no protection.

The letter X does not mean a lack of protection

In this post, I will discuss levels of protection against water ingress in more detail, but I still have to say a few words about dust ingress protection.

Levels of Dust Ingress Protection

There are 7 levels of protection against ingress of dust and solid particles, including 0 (no protection at all).

Levels of Dust Ingress Protection
IP1X – Protected against ingress of objects larger than 50mm (2in”).
IP2X – Protected against ingress of objects larger than 12.5mm (0.5″).
IP3X – Protected against ingress of objects larger than 2.5mm (0.098″).
IP4X – Protected against ingress of objects larger than 1mm (0.039″).
IP5X – Protected against dust, but not dust-tight. Dust can enter the enclosure of a device, but not in quantity that could damage it or interfere with normal operation.
IP6X – Dust-tight. Dust cannot enter the enclosure of a device. There’s a vacuum inside the enclosure.

IP5X and IP6X Dust Ingress Protection Test

IP Level (Ingress of Solid) Test Procedure

Levels of Water Ingress Protection

There are 9 basic levels of water ingress protection (0-8), plus additional two levels named IPX6K and IPX9K. Here’s what all these levels of protection mean and how the devices are tested. 

IPX1 – Resistant to Water Drops Falling Vertically

The device will receive the IPX1 rating if it withstands a 10min water dripping test. 

The device is put inside a chamber, onto a turntable, and the drops are falling vertically. The water amount equals 1mm of rainfall.

IPX1 Vertically Dripping Water Test

IPX1 - Vertical Rainfall Drip Testing - Ingress Protection Testing | EMTS Lab Inc.

IPX2 – Resistant to Water Drops Falling at a 15° Angle

The device will receive the IPX2 rating if it withstands a 10min water dripping test when the enclosure of the device is tilted at a 15° angle.

The device is put inside the same chamber as in the previous test, mounted onto a turntable, and the turntable is tilted at a 15° angle. The device is tested in 4 positions. Each test takes 2.5min (10min total). The water amount equals 3mm of rainfall. 

IPX2 Test

IPX2 - Rainfall Drip Testing - Ingress Protection Testing | EMTS Lab Inc.

IPX3 – Resistant to Spraying Water

To receive the IPX3 rating, a device has to withstand a spray nozzle or an oscillating tube test. The device is sprayed at all angles up to 60° (on a vertical axis). 

When the test is done with a nozzle, it’s done in two 5min phases. The water volume is 10 l/min. After the first phase, the device is rotated horizontally for 90°, and the test is repeated.

IPX3/IPX4 Spray Nozzle

IPX3/IPX4 Spray Nozzle

When the test is done with an oscillating tube, the duration of the test is 10min, and there’s no need to move anything as the tube is already moving. 

IPX3/IPX4 Oscillating Tube

IPX3/IPX4 Oscillating Tube

IPX4 – Splash-Proof

IPX4 water splashing tests are done with the same equipment as the IPX3 tests. The water is splashed from all directions and that’s the biggest difference from the IPX3 test. If the device remains fully functional after a 10min test, it receives the IPX4 rating.  

Manufacturers and sellers often advertise IPX4-certified devices as splash-proof.

IPX4 Test

IPX5 – Water-Resistant (Resistant to Water Jets)

The device will receive this IPX rating if it remains fully functional after at least a 3min water jet test. 

A 6.3mm nozzle is used for the test. The distance between the nozzle and the device is 2.5-3m, and the water volume is 12.5 l/min. The device is sprayed at all angles.

IPX6 – Water-Resistant (Resistant to Powerful Water Jets)

An IPX6-certified device can withstand more powerful water jets than an IPX5 device. 

The test lasts for at least 3min. A 12.5mm nozzle is used. The water volume is 100 l/min, and the distance between the nozzle and the device is 2.5-3m.

IPX1-IPX6 Water Resistance Tests

ETAP Lighting - IP test

IPX7 – Waterproof (Temporary Immersion in Water)

To receive the IPX7 rating, a device has to remain fully functional after being submerged in 1m-deep water for 30mins.

A special submersion tank is used for the test. The device is fully immersed in water. The highest point of the device must be at least 15cm (5.9in) below the water surface, while the lowest point must be 1m (39in) below the surface. 

During the test, water can enter the enclosure, but not in a quantity that would interfere with the normal operation of the device. 

Devices with an IPX7 rating are usually advertised as waterproof. 

IPX7 Temporary Immersion Test

IPX7 - Protection Against Temporary Immersion

IPX8 – Waterproof (Continuous Immersion in Water)

To receive an IPX8 rating, a device must remain fully functional after being submerged in water deeper than 1m (usually up to 3m) for a prolonged time (longer than 30mins). 

For the test, a submersion tank is used – the same one used for the IPX7 rating. Both, duration of the test and depth are not precisely specified – it all depends on the type of device that is being tested. 

The duration test has to be longer than for the IPX7 rating, and the depth has to be greater. The manufacturer determines the depth and test duration in cooperation with the testing facility.

IPX8 Continuous Immersion Test

IPX8 - Protection Against Continuous Immersion

IPX Ratings

IPX6K and IPX9K – The Meaning of the letter K Behind the Number

On certain products, particularly those that will (or may) be exposed to high-pressure water jets, you will see an IPX rating that includes a letter K. 

A device with an IPX6K rating will remain fully operational after being exposed to high-pressure water jets for 3mins.  The pressure of a water jet used for a regular IPX6 test is 100kPa, while the pressure for the IPX6K test is 1,000kPa.

IPX9K rating is given to devices that can withstand high-pressure and high-temperature water jets. The jet pressure is 8-10 MPa, while the water temperature is 80°C/176°F.

IPX9K Test

IPX9K - High Temperature, High Pressure - Ingress Protection Testing | EMTS Lab Inc.

IP Ratings Explained

What is IP Rating? (Ingress Protection Rating)

Who Performs Ingress Protection Testing?

Ingress Protection Tests are performed by certified laboratories and facilities with equipment compliant with IEC 60529 standard. There’re dozens of such laboratories in the US and thousands of labs all over the world. 

So, companies can’t rate their own equipment. They can test it, but they can’t give it an official IP or IPX rating. That has to be done by an independent, third-party, certified lab.

Is IPX7 the Same as IP07?

As discussed earlier, the lack of testing is not the same thing as the lack of protection. In my example, the IPX7 device was not tested for dust ingress. If you see 0 instead of X, it means the product was tested but offers no protection against the ingress of solids.

It goes without saying that it’s practically impossible to have a device with an IP07 rating. A waterproof device that can survive temporary immersion in water certainly has a higher level of protection against the ingress of solid particles. I used IP07 as an example.

Putting IPX Ratings into Context – What to Look for When Buying Headphones and Speakers

Now that you know what each IPX rating means, let’s put things into perspective. Different activities and use scenarios require different levels of protection. Here’s what you need to look for when buying IPX-certified headphones and speakers. 

For casual everyday use, you don’t really have to look for IPX-certified headphones and speakers. In my experience, even regular wired headphones can be used in the rain or during light workouts. Sure, they are painfully inconvenient, but won’t get damaged by a few drops of rain or sweat. 

However, if you want to be sure, some level of protection is definitely desirable. For workouts, headphones with an IPX3 rating should do fine. IPX4 would be perfect. IPX5 and higher is maybe overkill, but you can go for it if you want. 

Fully waterproof (IPX7 and IPX8) headphones/earbuds are also a good choice for workouts and sports. 

If you’re one of those people who like wearing headphones in the shower, an IPX4 or higher rating is desirable. In addition, some level of dust ingress protection is also recommended. 

Note: Headphones/earbuds with this rating will survive the shower, but I don’t think it’s safe for you to wear headphones in the shower.

If you really want music in the shower, getting an IPX-certified shower speaker is probably a better idea. Something with an IPX4 or higher rating would be a good choice. Also, you should be looking for something compact, maybe with a suction cup or a clip.

Speakers for outdoor use should certainly be rugged. Depending on the intended use, different levels of protection are recommended. Ideally, you will have a speaker with good protection against dust (levels 5 or 6) and at least IPX4 splash-proof rating.

Higher levels of protection against water ingress are desirable, especially if you’re planning to bring your speaker to the beach or pool. 

If you’re looking for headphones/earbuds for swimming, which is a thing, believe it or not, higher levels of protection are desirable. Something like IP67 or IP68 should be good enough for swimming. 

However, you shouldn’t be using regular Bluetooth headphones/earbuds when swimming since Bluetooth signals don’t travel well through water. 

So, you can’t just put on your IP68 waterproof Bluetooth headphones, pair them with your phone, play some music on it, live the phone on a deck chair, and go swimming. The moment you enter the pool, the connection will become choppy. 

So, what to use for swimming? Use the so-called bone-conduction headphones with built-in storage. These headphones don’t have to be connected to your phone. OpenSwim by Shokz (previously known as AfterShokz) is one of the best options for swimming. 

As discussed earlier, you will hardly see ratings like IPX6K or IPX9K on a pair of headphones or speakers. These ratings are reserved for industrial electrical equipment and maybe some phones and cameras. 

However, recently, a pair of earbuds featuring IPX9K and IPX8 ratings were introduced. It’s the SmartWatch Series Action Earbuds by Soundswell. According to user reviews, they are really bad for swimming, but perfect for surfing.

To sum things up, having a speaker, headphones, or earbuds with some kind of water ingress protection is better than having equipment without an IPX rating. The only exception are speakers, headphones, and earbuds for indoor use. In that case, you don’t have to think about waterproofness.

If the device is meant to be portable, some level of protection is desirable. For most outdoor activities, IPX4 should be enough. Anything higher than that is even better. 

Misleading and Confusing Marketing Terms and IPX Ratings

The most important thing to remember is that only IP and IPX ratings give you real information about protection against dust and water ingress

Terms like sweat-resistant, weather-resistant, weather-proof, etc. are just marketing terms. Even waterproof, splash-proof, and water-resistant are marketing terms. If there’s no IPX rating to confirm the waterproofness of a device, you shouldn’t believe the claims.

Sellers and manufacturers will use all kinds of tricks and big words to advertise and sell their products, but you should know better. Always check the IPX rating. If there’s no IPX rating, and you need a device with a specific level of protection, walk away.

One more thing – IP and IPX ratings are never written with a space or hyphen between the letters and numbers. If there’s a space or a hyphen between IP and the numbers, it’s good practice to stay cautious. Maybe, it’s just a typing mistake, but the IPX rating could also be fake.

Fake IPX Ratings

Frequently Asked Question

  • Question: What is a good IPX rating for a speaker?
  • Answer: It depends. I wouldn’t go below IPX4 when it comes to outdoor speakers. Sure, I have perfectly functional portable speakers that are not IPX-certified, like Aiwa Exos-9, but taking care of these speakers when you’re outdoors is sometimes a huge hassle. When the speaker has some level of protection against water ingress, it gives you a little bit of peace. If you can, go for higher IPX ratings, but even IPX4 is good for most use scenarios.
  • Question: What IPX rating does a fully waterproof device have?
  • Answer: If by fully waterproof, you mean submersible in water, the device should have at least an IPX7 rating. This will allow for temporary immersion in water (up to 1m depth). For continuous immersion, you need a device with an IPX8 rating. 
  • Question: What kind of IPX rating should swimming headphones have?
  • Answer: For swimming headphones, it would be ideal to go for IPX8 or IP68. But that’s not the only thing you need to think about when looking for swimming headphones. You should be aware that you can’t really use Bluetooth headphones for swimming. You could try, but the connection will be choppy and the experience will be awful. That’s why I recommend bone-conduction headphones with built-in storage. Something like Shokz OpenSwim is a great choice. It will take some time to get used to bone-conduction technology, but it’s not that difficult. 
  • Question: Is IPX5 good enough for a shower?
  • Answer: Yes, IPX5 should be good enough for a shower. Even IPX4 could be good enough. 
  • Question: Is IPX7 good enough for rain?
  • Answer: A device with an IPX7 rating should be good enough for all kinds of rain.
  • Question: Can IPX4 survive sweat?
  • Answer: Any IPX4-certified headphones, earbuds, and other equipment should be able to survive heavy sweating. Some wired earbuds I used in the past were perfectly capable of surviving heavy sweating, and those earbuds didn’t have any kind of IPX rating. It’s not a bad idea to notice here that all water ingress protection tests are done with fresh water. Labs don’t use sweat or salt water. So, IPX ratings don’t really guarantee protection against sweat.
  • Question: Can I use IP68 for swimming?
  • Answer: Yes, you can. IP68 headphones are perfect for swimming. However, Bluetooth is not perfect for swimming. That’s why you need headphones with built-in storage if you’re going to use them for swimming.
  • Question: Is IP68 safe for saltwater?
  • Answer:  For all IP/IPX tests, labs use fresh water. Generally speaking, an IP68 device can survive salt water, but it may get damaged over time (because of the salt), and it may lose its waterproofness.

In Conclusion

You are now fully informed about IPX ratings and know exactly what each IPX rating means. If there are any unanswered questions or if you need some additional clarification or help, feel free to leave a comment below. 

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