Welcome to the Art of Swimming online magazine!
A sound choice for the pool
Thanks to guest blogger Steven Fogel for his review of the new Finis Swimp3 ...
To ward off the terrifying loneliness that encompasses the swimmer who explores the subaqueous depths of the Laboratory swimming pool in Hendon, I have long been comforted by the sounds of a device known as the "SwimP3". As loyal readers will know, various iterations of this gizmo have dangled from my goggles and lain on my cheeks for several years. From here they transmit recorded sound through my bones and shiftless blubber and render me into a human ampflifier who transmits only unto himself.
While some aim to look cool in the pool, I have lost all self-consciousness about wearing this geeky headgear, appearing as a cross between Biggles and Huckleberry Hound as I clip each of the two mini speakers to my goggles (see above).
Lost in my world of downloaded music, I am quickly distracted from the lightly chlorinated pondlife around me – to my far right the ripped-torsoed Art of Swimming/Shaw Method teachers (including the horse whisperer himself), squeezed into rubber wetsuits, with their obedient pupils, then on each side, powering up and down the lanes, the shoals of fervent swimmers with insanely differentiated body shapes and colourful lycra, and, to my left, a shoal of amply breakfasted ladies who sway post prandially to disco sounds provided by a cavorting poolside dominatrix.
I ignore the puritanical strictures of those who preach to me the meditative virtues of silent swimming. Until, that is, the inevitable time when my Swimp3 breaks down, something that happens every eighteen months or so, and I am faced with the terrifying prospect of a sonic void.
In the last few weeks, having accepted from experience that the SwimP3 is not built to outlive ancient creatures of the deep like me, I accept that my malfunctioning one gigabyte widgit must be cast off to the world of electronic flotsam. I suffer a profound existential emptiness in the absence of the Device as I wait anxiously for the arrival of its replacement, the SwimP3 2 gigabyte update version X18, a prospect even more exciting than the time when my lawnmower was upgraded to a Qualcast Jetstream 45 RB deluxe or my car downgraded to the odd looking electric vehicle known as the Reva G-wizz (battery range 35 miles and fast diminishing).
Disturbed by the aching void which is the deprivation of the Device, and unwilling to trouble my psyche with the horrors of ruminative self-discovery, I ask my swim-buddy Wendy (whose colourful swimsuit collection out numbers mine in a ratio of 8 to 1) whether she will do synchronised swimming with me. Coy at first, then compassionate, she agrees to accompany me down a shared lane in tandem. She injures her shoulder while avoiding the span of my 'fly .
Wendy is like a sleek dolphin who makes native under-water calling sounds, but these are no substitute for a sorely missed Chantal Chamberland version of the song La Mer which I had downloaded onto the Device after a trip to the French seaside last year.
After a long wait, the Device arrives by post. I rip it from its wrapping and discover that what once was blue and white (both the 1GB version and the 258MB version which preceded it) is now yellow and black. I will henceforth look like a wasp. The colour change is shrewd marketing. The makers of the Device are in the process of creating a brand collectible. The multitudes who have followed my lead and purchased past products will wish to keep up with me when they detect the new livery. I expect future versions of the Device to become must-have accessories for the discerning swimmer. This will prepare punters for the high definition 3D Swimp4 TV which will no doubt eventually come their way from the clever labs of Finis in California.
The main upgrade to the Device is that it now has 2GB of memory space. The previous model had “only” 1 GB and still got you through several swims before you returned to the beginning of your songs. With 2GB you could start thinking about swimming the Channel. For those who like a loading of cheerful songs, that’s about 500 – approximately 30 hours listening. For pseudo-intellectuals like me, who download whole concerts, you are talking about a large proportion of the mid-19th century western European symphonic repertoire. You could add to this several long jazz bass solos, but you won’t be able to listen properly to these: the capacity of the Device to generate anything approaching hi fidelity sound, particularly in the bass range, can never be over-estimated. Still, if you like high fast and loud drumming, you’ve come to the right place. And the Device reproduces most music perfectly decently.
Very few will be able to enjoy podcasted voice only downloads on the Swimp3. If you are one of those unfortunate swimmers who don’t possess a set of gills, you will need occasionally to raise your head from the water to breathe. When you do this, you may miss critical parts of the prose which someone is trying to pitch to you, especially if (like me) you swim ‘fly or take the Device to the high seas. But when you are listening to music your imagination will easily be able to supply the bits you miss when you surface for air, and this will give the effect of a smooth transmission from Device to ear. That is especially so if you wear earplugs, which you should be doing irrespective of whether or not you befriend the Swimp3.
The manufacturers claim the device can hold eight hours of lithium-ion battery charge: I charge every 10 days or so and don’t know whether that’s true, but it’s much better than what I can stuff into my electric car.
The simplest way to charge the Device is to plug its integral USB cable into your PC's USB port or use a faster charger (like the Blackberry charger I use). The new SwimP3 has a little rubber cord to keep the USB cap attached to the device and thereby stop the frequent loss of caps which I suspect occurred with previous models including mine.
The process for downloading stuff onto the Device is dead simple and has improved with each version. If you can use a fancy mobile phone for more than making calls, then you’ll master this in minutes. The instructions give every impression of having been prepared by someone who speaks English as a first language.
If you’ve read this far you are a serious possible buyer or upgrader and you want to know the cons. Answer: nothing obvious. The simple buttons are still a bit small and fiddly and not easy to operate when you are in the water. You don’t get a case with the product like you used to (but the case previously supplied was feeble). The main problem is that you never quite know when the product will pack up, but in most cases you will get good use out of it for a fair period and get your money's worth.
I see a considerable range on comparison sites – from £71 to £131. I advise you to buy with caution from a seller who will stand behind the product for a sensible period (beyond that I’ve found that the manufacturers and their representatives in Europe are pretty decent) and make sure you are not fobbed off with a version of the 2G that preceded the fixing of a bug before the updated “X18 version”.
Don’t know, never fancied it.
What music to download?
If you don’t have a large collection of music in a readily downloadable format, then be aware that there is lots of free stuff on the internet – especially if you like classical music or jazz. Go for example to the podcast section of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston or the Straight no Chaser jazz website. Or dare to share a lane with me at the Lab and ask.
© Steven Fogel