Choosing the best headphones for your children is important because using the wrong headphones could permanently damage kids’ hearing. Don't worry though, we've tested the best headphones for kids and some we wouldn't recommend to parents. Read on for essential kids headphones buying advice. Best kids headphones 2016. Also see: Best headphones | Best budget headphones | Best wireless headphones
Also see: Best Black Friday Headphones Deals
Headphones for kids are essential tech kit for parents as (1) none of us want to hear Spongebob for more than 10 minutes or be subjected to either blam-blam action gaming or the high-pitched whine of Alvin the Chipmonk, and (2) maybe we can listen to something else while the kids are amused on the computer, tablet, phone or TV.
Another good reason for investing in child-specific headphones is for use on long-haul flights. Getting your child to watch a couple of movies during a boring flight is a big bonus for parents. The trouble is that airline-supplied headphones aren’t designed for small heads and so often slip off. These kids headphones shouldn’t do that.
But putting adult headphones on to your children’s head could easily endanger their hearing. See more on child headphone use below.
You should also consider fit, comfort and design, but also limit the amount of time a child uses headphones whatever the volume.
The maximum noise level recommended by many auditory health organizations is 85 decibels (dB), and to get our recommendation a child’s set of headphones shouldn’t, we believe, go any louder than that – Maxell and Sony sell sets at 90dB. Adult headphones usually peak at 115 decibels (equivalent to a loud train), and experts warn that you could experience severe hearing loss after just 15 minutes of listening every day.
Are any headphones safe for kids?
Experts also suggest that the time spent listening to headphones should be limited to two hours a day (for children and adults), even if the volume is limited at 85dB.
Limiting the volume on headphones you give to your kids is obviously a wise decision if you want to help protect their hearing, but some experts warn against children using any type of headphones.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU state that 85dB is an effective safety limit, the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 70dB as the average daily noise exposure level. That 85dB level is derived from occupational studies of noise exposure and hearing loss for adults, not children.
The trouble is that 70dB is very quiet and will likely not drown out ambient noise, so 85dB becomes the norm despite it being potentially damaging to a young person’s hearing.
There are other reasons why even 85dB is unsafe for children, especially when using headphones or earbuds. Children’s ears are more sensitive to noise damage, possibly due to growth and development of nerve fibres and other cells. Also because of their smaller external auditory canals, the eardrum is closer to the sound source.
Daniel Fink MD, who serves on the Board of the American Tinnitus Association, warns: “An industrial-strength occupational noise exposure level meant for truck drivers, factory workers and miners is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which have to last her or him a lifetime."
Another consideration about headphone use is that when a child is listening to a device or the TV without headphones, the parent can readily ascertain if the noise level is too high. When the child is listening using headphones such monitoring is much more difficult.
A sensible compromise would be to invest in a decent set of headphones that limits volume, but also limit the length of time children wear them.
Also read: How to stop earphone cables getting tangled or twisted
Best headphones for kids
With those warnings taken on board, we’ve rounded up the best kids headphones (and some that don’t make the grade) and tested them on a bunch of children and some discerning parents.
What we are looking for in a great set of kids headphones is an effective volume limiter to protect those sensitive ears, a good, comfortable fit for smaller heads, minimum noise leakage (the sound that others can hear outside of the headphones), and some kid-friendly fun in the design.
Don’t buy earbuds or any in-ear model for children – as the closer the sound source is to the delicate working of the inner ear, the more damage loud sound can do.
And just because your chosen headphones are volume limited, don't let children wear them for hours on end. Even at 85dB prolonged headphone usage is not recommended.
Always remember that corded headphones pose a strangulation risk to young children, and as such most warn against under threes wearing them unsupervised. One solution is wireless headphones, although these cost more and require regular battery charging. If you can afford it, Bluetooth kids headphones are well worth consideration.
Best headphones for kids 2016/2017
Griffin KaZoo MyPhones
Griffin's KaZoo MyPhones are available in several fun animal designs: a frog and a penguin for the over-ear headphones, and now monkey and even SpongeBob.
I was worried that my seven-year-old daughter would find these too kiddy but she loved the design. (Update she's still wearing them aged nine!) Older kids would probably prefer something a bit less childish – like the company's Crayola MyPhones.
The KaZoo MyPhones have built-in volume-limiting circuitry that keeps the sound pressure down to levels recommended as safe for young ears. The always-on sound-control circuit caps peak volume levels at 85 decibels – the maximum level recommended by many auditory health organizations.
The headphones fit a child’s head (ages 3+) well, and are comfortable with generous round-the-ear padding. Expanded to maximum they would still fit an average 10-12 year’s old head.
They also feel pretty robust, which is another important feature in anything you hand over to a child!
The padding isn’t just for comfort. It helps reduce noise leakage so only the child hears whatever it is they’re listening to.
The cord is 1.2m long, which is slightly longer than average for headphones.
The KaZoo headphones are certainly kid-friendly with their fun animal designs. The kids we tested these on were delighted with the little touch where the headphone jack is shaped for fun, too. The penguin set has a jack shaped like a fish, and the frog has a tadpole jack.
Griffin doesn't have a UK online store, but you can find these on Amazon and other online stores for under £15, which is a bargain for a quality product that also protects your child's sensitive hearing.
Puro Sound BT2200
While many kids headphones are quite plastic-y the Puro Sound Labs BT2200 headphones look more like a high-end adult audio product, and the cost reflects this, too.
At £99 buying the Puro BT 2200 is a big step up from most of the £15-£30 headphones listed here.
You don’t get just a more stylish, less kiddy look. The audio quality of these headphones is also noticeably higher, even using Bluetooth.
That’s right, the Puro BT2200 are wireless, too – which is great if you’ve had too many cables damaged by a child yanking them around, or you’re worried about the cable wrapping round a small neck.
Volume is limited to 85dBA, and we found that this was more than sufficient. DSP-based volume limiting means that the electronics actively monitor volume levels, with the limiter kicking in only when the sound reaches 85dBA.
These headphones go further than just limiting the volume. They also block background noise, attenuating 82 percent of sound at 1kHz. This reduces the need to turn them up to a dangerous level even when in a noisy environment such as an airplane.
The comfortable ear cushions also help block outside noise. The ear cups and head band are made of durable aluminium, while the ear cushion and band cover are leather. There are two colour models: White/Silver, and Gold/Tan.
Using Bluetooth means that these headphones need to be charged, and the “up to 18 hours” of battery life should be enough for most journeys. If the battery does run out there’s a detachable cable included. Volume controls are situated on the left ear piece.
The Puro Sound Labs BT2200 headphones certainly cost more than most kids headphones but the higher audio quality, build and wireless function make them serious contenders as our favourites.