My series of articles about IPX ratings and ingress protection continues with an IPX4 splash-proof rating. In a way, this is where the story about IPX ratings gets interesting.
IPX4 is the first rating that offers protection against the ingress of water hitting the device from any angle. The previous three IPX ratings (IPX1, IPX2, and IPX3) also offered protection against water ingress, but only when water was falling or spraying at specific angles.
But what does that mean in practice? What can you do with an IPX4 device? Can you shower, work out, use it in the rain, or swim with it? Let’s find out!
Basics of IP and IPX Ratings
If a device offers some kind of protection against dust and/or water ingress, an IP/IPX rating will be listed somewhere in the specs to confirm that. But why do you need this piece of information?
The answer is pretty obvious. People are so dependent on technology these days. We don’t go anywhere without our phones, tablets, earbuds, or headphones. And we want them to last long.
As we bring these devices with us all the time, the chances of accidental damage are getting much higher. They are not like TVs or desktop PCs sitting in one place all the time. So, we need sturdier, more resistant gear.
As water and dust can easily get in contact with your phone or earbuds and damage them, protection against dust and water ingress becomes one of the priorities.
Sure, if you always handle your equipment carefully, you don’t have to pay attention to IPX ratings, but who’s that careful really? I think it’s much safer to buy IPX-certified equipment, even if you’re super careful.
To find the best IP or IPX rating for your needs, you need to learn a thing or two about the whole IP/IPX certification process and the form of an IP/IPX rating. Also, you will need to learn what kind of protection different IP/IPX ratings provide.
IP/IPX ratings and the whole IP certification process were introduced by the International Electrotechnical Commission in 1976 to grade the dust and water resistance of tested devices. The standard was labeled IEC 60529.
Besides the IEC standard, you have another international standard called ISO 20653, created by the International Organization for Standardization. This one uses the IEC standard as a basis but introduces a few more levels of protection against the intrusion of liquids.
IP/IPX Ratings – Form and Meaning
Each IP rating has the same basic form. It starts with the letters IP (Ingres Protection), followed by two numerals. The first numeral rates dust ingress protection, and the second numeral rates water ingress protection.
Sometimes, there’s the third letter behind the numerals. This extra letter describes the testing conditions or additional protection against substances other than dust and water. I have never seen this additional letter on audio gear and phones.
Levels of Protection Against Dust and Water Ingress
The IEC standard defines 7 levels of dust ingress protection and 10 levels of water ingress protection.
The first numeral in the IP rating can be a number between 0 and 6. Zero means that a device doesn’t offer any protection against the ingress of solid objects. In practice, 0 means that a device has perforations/openings larger than 50mm. 6 means that a device is fully dustproof.
The second numeral in the IP rating can be a number between 0 and 9. As in the previous example, zero means no protection. 9 means protection against high-temperature high-pressure water jets. Devices with ratings 7 and 8 are often referred to as waterproof since these devices can survive temporary (7) or continuous (8) submersion.
If a device was not tested for dust ingress, there’ll be a letter X instead of the first numeral. The same applies to the second numeral.
As mentioned earlier, we have another international standard that deals with IP ratings (ISO 20653). This standard is based on the IEC standard, but there are a few differences.
ISO standard recognizes three additional ratings – IPX4K, IPX6K, and IPX9K. That K after the second numeral means increased pressure.
While the IEC standard doesn’t have the ratings with K in the end, the IEC’s IPX9 is basically the same thing as ISO’s IPX9K. So, only IPX4K and IPX6K ISO ratings are not recognized by the IEC standard.
What Does IPX4 Splash-Proof Mean?
Let’s try to apply what we have just learned. X in our IPX4 rating means the device was not tested for dust intrusion, while 4 means protection against splashing water.
The term splash-proof may seem self-explanatory, but the exact conditions for the test may surprise you. If a device is IPX4-certified it can actually survive a bit more than a simple splash of water from any direction.
The IPX4 test can be done with a spray nozzle or an oscillating tube.
IPX4 Test (Spray Nozzle)
IPX4 Test (Oscillating Tube)
The IPX4 test looks almost exactly the same as the IPX3 test. The amount of water, water pressure, as well as test duration are the same. The only difference is that an IPX4 device can survive water sprays from any direction.
Is IPX4 Good Enough for Audio Equipment? Should You Look for a Higher IPX Rating?
It depends on the intended use. I like to say that IPX4 is the first IPX rating that offers real protection against the ingress of water, mostly because the angle at which the water falls onto the enclosure doesn’t matter.
The first three IPX ratings offer protection but only if the water drops or sprays are hitting the device at a specific angle. This makes IPX4 the recommended minimum for activities like workouts, showering, and outdoor use in general.
While IPX4 is good enough for some activities, there are certain limitations. After all, that’s why we have higher IPX ratings. For example, IPX4 is not recommended for swimming or anything that involves continuous immersion in water.
An iPX4 speaker might get damaged if it gets dropped in the pool or ocean, especially if it stays on the bottom for a few minutes or longer. We can’t be 100% certain about this, but it’s likely.
Also, it’s questionable whether an IPX4 speaker can withstand heavy rain. Some might, but I wouldn’t experiment with my equipment.
The way I see IPX ratings, at least those not suitable for swimming or underwater use, is that they guarantee protection if some liquid gets spilled on the device or in case of sudden rain, but it’s not like you’re going to leave it in the rain.
Regardless of the IPX rating of your speaker, earbuds, or any other device, it’s recommended to wipe them off if they get in contact with water or any other liquid. If you are using a Bluetooth speaker in the shower, wipe it off after you finish showering.
If the speaker gets soaked or if you drop it into the pool, don’t turn it on right after you take it out. Wipe it off and give it some time to dry.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Question: Is IPX4 water resistance good?
- Answer: It’s good for some activities, like showering or workouts. It’s also good enough for outdoor use in general. However, it’s not good enough for swimming. Also, I wouldn’t leave an IPX4 speaker in the rain.
- Question: Is IPX4 OK for the shower?
- Answer: Yes, IPX4 should be good enough for the shower.
- Question: Can IPX4 be used in heavy rain?
- Answer: I honestly don’t think an IPX4 speaker could withstand heavy rain for a longer time. It may survive a few minutes of heavy rain.
- Question: Is IPX4 enough for sweat?
- Answer: While IP tests don’t determine sweat resistance (only water and dust resistance), in my experience, IPX4 is certainly good enough for sweat. Even lower IPX ratings (IPX1-IPX3) are pretty good at handling sweat.
- Question: What can IPX4 handle?
- Answer: IPX4 can handle general outdoor use. It’s also good enough for the shower and for workouts.
- Question: What IPX can you swim with?
- Question: Can IPX4 be dropped in water?
- Answer: Technically, IPX4 devices are not submersible in water. However, an IPX4 device might survive an accidental drop if you take it out immediately, wipe it off, and let it dry. If your IPX4 device floats, the chances of survival are much higher. Some speakers, for example, can float on water, but most devices will go straight to the bottom.
- Question: What IPX is AirPods?
- Answer: It depends on the version. The 2nd generation of AirPods is not IPX rated. AirPods Pro 2nd Gen and Airpods 3rd Gen have an IPX4 rating.
To sum up, IPX4 offers protection from splashing water hitting the device at any angle. The “any angle part” is the most important thing here. Lower ratings provide protection against water ingress only if the device gets hit by water drops or sprays at specific angles.
IPX4 is also an acceptable rating for gym earbuds and workouts in general. While IPX4 (or any other IPX rating) doesn’t mean sweat-proof, IPX4 earbuds should be able to handle sweat easily.
Finally, IPX4 is the recommended minimum for speakers and other equipment for outdoor use. You shouldn’t go below IPX4 when looking for such equipment.
For more info about IPX4 rating and possible use scenarios for IPX4 equipment, read the FAQ section. If you have any questions or want to share your experience with IPX-certified equipment, leave a comment below.