Finding the right protective headphones for kids is the first line of defense against the permanent hearing loss that experts have been warning about since the dawn of the iPod. To find the best pairs, I spoke to various pediatric experts, who all said that kids should only be using over-the-ear headphones with a volume limiter that reduces exposure to excessively loud noises, even if there are “kid safe” earbuds that go inside the ear. Michael Rothschild, the director of pediatric otolaryngology at the Mount Sinai Hospital, says an over-the-ear set is your best bet for a comfortable fit, a noise-canceling barrier, and less irritation to the ear canal.
If you do buy volume-limiting headphones, know that they can be jerry-rigged by any smart kid to exceed the 85-decibel volume limit, and sometimes poor technology means these surpass 85 decibels anyway, even when they state otherwise, so supervision is key. We spoke with Darius Kohan, director of otology/neurotology at Lenox Hill Hospital, who recommends headphones that make it harder to circumvent volume limitations. Below, the eight best kid-friendly versions.
Puro Sound Labs’ BT2200 came up more than once in my exploration as the best set of headphones for kids, and Kohan says it checks off a lot of boxes: Its volume limiter works whether you’re going wireless or using a USB Cord (and has been tested to restrict volume in both formats), has a resilient aluminum frame, and is noise-cancelling and comfortable. It’s pricier than the rest of the ones on this list, but the steeper price point might be worth it for the added safety features.
A similar volume-limiting option from Puro that Kohan points us to is the Junior Jams model with an aluminum frame, Bluetooth and corded access, and studio-sound quality. Stellar sound quality may not seem so important, but Joey Bernstein—associate professor of otolaryngology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai—notes that “the poorer the quality of the sound, the more kids are likely to crank up the volume to unsafe levels.” This one has a daisy-chain system, so two toddlers sitting in a car together could listen at the same time, and not have to fight over it.
Another option Kohan suggested is this award-winning corded BuddyPhones model for kids that’s foldable, so it’s more portable if your kids are toting it on flights. It’s crafted with soft padded cups on the ears and a durable plastic frame, to withstand any flinging and bending. A built-in wire-splitter means kids can share it, and the volume-limiter is always on (so it’s been tested to max out at 82 decibels).
This one’s cheap at $10, so you might not get the same sound quality as, say, the Puro, but still Rothschild notes, “you don’t need to spend a fortune to let your child hear Peppa Pig or Daniel Tiger in perfectly acceptable clarity.” It was another recommendation of Kohan’s that is smaller for younger children, with a volume knob on the side that’s easier for parents to adjust.
And because experts recommend buying something that’s both noise-canceling and volume-limiting, we would also suggest these quilted Nabi headphones that can fit a kid’s head, boast great sound quality, cancel outside noise, and cap volume at 80 decibels. It’s pricier than everything else on this list, so again, you’ll have to weigh your priorities here.
Here’s another popular model for kids that’s worth looking into. It’s lightweight, sounds crisp and clear, and adjusts to fit toddlers and adults. The volume-limiting adapter on this means you’re looking at around 82 decibels max (but be aware that there’s the option to disconnect the adapter, so parents should be vigilant about making sure it’s always in use). A big plus is that with a lifetime warranty, if the headphones ever break, you can easily get your money back, too.
These wireless LilGadgets headphones are best suited for kids 4 and up, but their cushy, perforated mesh means they won’t feel too heavy on your kid’s head, and are tested for durability. The 12-hour battery life is nice for extended use, but they’re best used in Bluetooth mode, since studies say they get a lot louder (up to 96 decibels) when using the wire provided.
A similar affordable option is this LilGadgets pair, a foldable set of headphones with two ports for connecting multiple headphones. Its max volume is set slightly above the recommended 85 decibels, so you would have to monitor your kids more closely to make sure they weren’t blaring their music.