Hearing is a precious gift. And while everyone’s hearing declines naturally with age, our lifestyle choices can be a key factor in noise-induced hearing loss. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, as many as 16 percent of teens (children aged 12 to 19) have reported some hearing loss that could have been caused by loud noise—including listening to music while wearing headphones.
Prolonged exposure to loud noise—especially at higher volumes—can cause permanent hearing damage in a surprisingly short amount of time. Puro Sound Labs promises its Bluetooth headphones can reduce your risk of noise-induced hearing loss while listening to music. The company sent its model BT-2200 (for kids) and model BT-5200 (for adults) for this evaluation.
How they protect your hearing
Puro’s headphones tackle hearing protection in a two-fold manner: First, they create a tight seal around your ears. Puro claims its headphones reduce ambient noise by up to 82 percent. Why is reducing ambient noise important? If there’s too much noise around you, you’ll feel the need to make the volume louder and louder to hear your music. The louder the volume, the more likely you are to damage your hearing.
The second layer of protection comes into play when you connect the headphones to an audio source. The headphones actively analyze the incoming signal. The kid-oriented BT-2200 headphones, which look identical to the BT-5200 model aimed at grown-ups, will limit the volume to a maximum of 85dB, whether connected with a cable or via Bluetooth. There’s nothing more you need to do. The volume attenuation is handled electronically and cannot be overridden.
The adult version, which open wider to accommodate larger heads, does not limit the volume. Instead, there is a tiny light just above the Bluetooth button on the left ear cup to indicate a safe volume level. Puro gives the following guidance for the BT-5200: Green means that the volume is less than 85dB. Enjoy music in the green for up to eight hours a day. Yellow means you’re between 85- and 95dB. You should limit listening to no more than two hours at this level. Red means danger. Stop listening or limit yourself to a maximum of 15 minutes per day at this level.
It’s imperative to note that the LED indicator provides guidance as to how loud the music is at that particular point in a song. So, if the light is green when you start listening, there’s no guarantee that it will stay green if the song gets louder later on. And if you connect the adult model via the 3.5mm cable, instead of Bluetooth, all bets are off. You can blow past the 85dB ceiling and the warning indicator will not light up. The kids version come with a special that will attenuate the volume so that it doesn't exceed 85dB.
Can these headphones really serve two masters?
I know what you’re thinking. Will kids actually wear these headphones, and are they good enough for adults? Have no fear. These aren’t dorky, featureless headphones. They’re wireless, they look good, and they feel great on your head. Kids won’t feel like they are getting a second-class, dumbed-down product because the two versions are very nearly the same.
The Puro feel luxurious, with leather adorning the ear cups and the top of the headband. The arms and ear cups are made of an anodized brushed aluminum. Holding them or wearing them, the headphones feel sturdy but very light. Puro uses custom-made 40mm drivers, although the material they’re fabricated from wasn’t disclosed. A hard-sided carrying case is included for travel and storage. The inside top of the case is outfitted with a netted pocket to hold headphone accessories. The left and right ear cups turn inwards so that you can lay them flat.
Basic wireless features and plenty of battery life
The left ear cup serves as the headphone’s command center. There is a Bluetooth pairing button, a large on/off button, volume control, a 3.5mm input, a USB charging input, and a microphone for hands-free calling. In case you’re wondering, the USB input cannot be used as a digital audio connection between a laptop and the headphones.
Using the tactile controls was effortless. I found the volume buttons very easy to navigate by touch during use because of their shape and location on the ear cup. The Bluetooth button also functions as a pause button while you listen to music, and you can use it to answer and terminate calls when paired to your smartphone. Double-pressing the Vol + button advances to the next track, while double-pressing Vol – takes you to the previous track.
For wireless connectivity, both headphones support Bluetooth 4.0 and will work up to 30 feet away. In my tests, I found the wireless range to work as advertised. Puro claims a fully charged battery will deliver about 24 hours of battery life and a jaw-dropping 260 hours of standby time. If the battery runs out, you can still use them as traditional wired headphones, though as I mentioned above, you lose the hearing-protection features when you connect in this way.
Do they really protect your hearing?
If they don’t work, it doesn’t matter how they look and feel. So, I decided to subject each model to an experiment to get to the bottom of things.
To start my experiment, I took my Radio Shack SPL (sound pressure level) meter, calibrated it to 90dB, and put it directly against one of the ear cups. I set the volume on my iPhone and on the headphones to maximum and played several tracks from the Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack.
On the BT-5200, the results I got on my Radio Shack SPL correlated very closely with the indicator LED. Playing the same tracks with the BT-2200 kids version, the SPL meter stayed at or below 85dB almost the entire time—only on a few peaks did it jump a few dB higher. Even when I switched from Bluetooth to the wired connection, I couldn’t get the SPL to spike, thanks to that special cable that comes with the kids’ model. But there’s one caveat: the cable is directional. The direction is indicated by a small square barrel on the cable. If you plug the directional cable in backwards, it won’t attenuate the volume.
The bottom line? Puro’s headphones worked as advertised. Bravo!
And they sound great!
For an on-ear—versus an over -the-ear—headphone, I was pleasantly surprised by the Puro’s ability to isolate outside noise. They fit very snugly against my head, making a good, tight seal on my ears. Taking the Puro headphones for a spin on an east-coast train significantly reduced and muffled—but obviously didn’t eliminate—the noise around me. In various contexts at home and on the road, I found that the Puro delivered on this count.
As for how they sound, I must admit to having—shall we say—reservedexpectations given that Puro is marketing these products as headphones that will prevent noise-induced hearing loss. But wow! The Puro BT-5200 and BT-2200 sound superb, delivering an extremely pleasing, well-balanced presentation. These cans would easily compete against headphones costing twice as much.
I streamed the Star Wars: The Force Awakens soundtrack from my iPhone. From the first notes I played, the sound was open and clean. Drums on the track, “Main Title and Attack on the Jaku Village” were dynamic, carrying both weight and definition. You could feel and discern the decay of the drum’s membrane instead of it just flopping into a muddy mess. I had the same experience across a variety of musical genres. Bass lines on “Volcano” from U2’s Songs of Innocencewere toe-tappingly engaging. I loved the Puro's neutral musicality.
On some tracks, such as U2’s “Every Breaking Wave” and Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake” and “It Don’t Hurt” from The Globe Sessions, the low-end dynamics were so good they sometimes came across as slightly accentuated. Bass-addicted listeners won’t be disappointed.
Speaking of Sheryl Crow, her vocals were beautifully set on a detailed soundstage and came across marvelously; however, I constantly felt they were not as full bodied and lacked the presence I’m used to through my (much more expensive) reference headphones. Finally, the top end was sharp and detailed. Cymbals were crisp with natural decay, and horns had superb tonal qualities.
The Puro headphones have an uncanny ability to bring out fine details in just about every recording. Depending on the content, there were times here and there where there was some extra sizzle, but that never took me away from satisfying listening sessions. There was no immediately audible difference between the adult and kids models. Top to bottom, from orchestral to rock, these headphones impressed me throughout.