Choosing the best headphones for your children is important because using the wrong headphones could permanently damage kids’ hearing. We tested the best headphones for kids and some we wouldn't recommend to parents. [Updated July 26, 2013]
You should also consider fit, comfort and design, but also limit the amount of time a child uses headphones whatever the volume.
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 endanger their hearing.
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.
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.
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.
Griffin KaZoo MyPhones review
Griffin's KaZoo MyPhones are available in a couple of fun animal designs: a frog and a penguin for the over-ear headphones.
I was worried that my seven-year-old daughter would find these too kiddy but she loved the design. Older kids would probably prefer something a bit less childish – like the company's Crayola MyPhones. I’ll keep pushing Griffin for a reason they’re unavailable in the UK.
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's UK online store is currently in beta and doesn't include any of its kids headphones, but you can find these on Amazon and other online stores.
Griffin Crayola MyPhones review
We have previously tested Griffin’s Crayola MyPhones, which we loved. For some reason these don’t appear for sale on the company’s website in the UK any longer, although they are available in the US. Search on the web, though, and you’ll find them for sale online and at ASDA.
Like the Griffin KaZoo headphones these are smaller than adult headphones so will better fit a child’s head, and are adjustable so they’ll grow with the little person as they get bigger.
MyPhones sit on the ear with padding for comfort and to stop sounds leaking out and in.
They even look the part, too. Unlike the MyPhones Griffin sold last year, a new partnership with Crayola means the updated headphones come in a choice of pink or blue, and kids can design their own stickers for the earcaps. It's a similar concept to the inserts from the previous model, but three Crayola felt-tip pens are bundled for colouring in the stickers. You also get a set of 40 colour stickers to stick around the headband.
While a child will probably choose these just because of the free stickers, remember that’s not the main reason you’re selecting these.
What will reassure parents is the built-in, always-on sound-control circuit that caps the peak volume at 85 decibels, just like the KaZoo.
In our tests both sets of Griffin kids headphones kept the noise at a level that might annoy a teenager but please a parent.
If you can find the Crayola headphones and you think your child would prefer them to the KaZoo animal designs then these are a great choice.
JVC HA-KD5 Tiny Phones review
The JVC Tiny Phones (HA-KD5) are well made, and feature comfortable soft padding, which also restricts noise leakage. The headband is wide and seems robust.
They are available in two vivid models (pink/purple and yellow/blue) with obvious girl/boy choices. They are built for ages 4 and up. Again, they’d expand to fit most (even adult) heads.
The volume limiter (85dB) is good – slightly louder than the Griffin MyPhones but much more acceptable than others on test.
The cord is 0.8m, which is about right for laptop/tablet/phone use but might require an extender for TV viewing.
You need to have these headphones on the right way round for comfort. There’s an R and L to show the correct side, but if your kid doesn’t know his or her left from right you may get a complaint every other time they’re put on incorrectly. Hey, maybe it’ll teach them their left from their right!
A bonus with the JVC kids headphones is customisability. The child can decorate the headphones using the supplied stickers that include letters and pictures. We had the purple/pink set in for test and the stickers included hearts, wands, teddies and bunnies – so I’d hope the blue/yellow pair come with more boyish stickers!
To be fair you could slap any old stickers on these or any of the headphones on test here, but it’s a gimmick that will attract some parents – and most kids!
We liked the JVC HA-KD5 Tiny Phones. They’re not too tiny and should fit most kids’ heads so the name might needlessly put some parents off.
JVC also offers another set of headphones, the HA-KD10, which are a tenner more at £29.99, and differ in that the sound limiter can be turned off with a mid-cord unit. The trouble with this approach is that it allows the child to listen to dangerous volumes and require a battery unlike the HA-KD5 headphones.
They do look a bit more grown up, which is important for kids who take their headphones to school. I suppose the idea is that an older child might prefer the option of no limiter but also the parent can switch it on when nearby.
Another set of kids headphones that rock the animal theme are the iFrogz Animatone – available in three models: red ladybird, blue snail, and green turtle.
The kid-friendly design is nice, lightweight compact, and apparently sturdy, although they look less robust than the MyPhones or JVC sets. They have foam earpads, which are comfortable but are known to rip up fairly quickly.
Like the MyPhones, the Animatone headphones feature a built-in volume limiter that iFrogz says will not play audio over 85 decibels. The unit we tested, however, was much louder than the MyPhones, even though both are supposedly limited at 85dB. As a parent I wouldn’t be happy with my child listening at the volume these headphones pump out so can’t recommend them.
iFrogz also offers Animatone ear buds for children, although these are hard to find in the UK. We found these quieter than the iFrogz over-the-ear headphones but still a little too loud. Another problem with ear buds is that they get tied up in knots just by looking at them when they’re off your head. Haven’t you got enough problems with kids’ tangled hair to add tangled earbuds?
Kidz Gear Wired Headphones For Kids review
The Kidz Gear stereo headphones for kids are nicely padded and extremely comfortable, for ages 2 and over. They have a very long cord (1.5m), which is useful for sitting kids far enough away from the TV set – although some parents found it too long for other occasions when attached to a phone or tablet that needs to be held near, and it does attract the tangles.
They come in a wide variety of colours – pink, orange, blue, green and purple.
In the middle of the cord is a handy volume control dial so the child can turn the sound up and down on their own.
The Wired Headphones feature the proprietary KidzControl Volume Limit Technology that the company claims makes them “the safest headphones available” with an 85dB top level.
I’m afraid that on our testing this claim simply isn’t true. The headphones can reach 108dB until you connect the special volume limiter at the end of the jack. Without this extra piece the sound is unbelievably loud – I actually hurt my ears testing it.
With the limiter on the sound is much reduced, but again I found it too loud – much like the iFrogz version of 85dB.
As these are kids headphones there is a risk in making the limiter a separate (but included with the package) piece, and not just build it into the cord. The child can very easily take it out and then ruin his or her hearing for life. Kidz Gear claims that “always-on” headphones will not work in noisy environments, such as in airplanes, as the limiting is too powerful and so sound can be barely heard by the listener. The option to remove the limiter is therefore a positive feature if this is the case. I'd buy this if trying out the headphones at full blast without the limiter hadn't hurt my ears.
If the limiter was built in or the max non-limited volume was a few degrees quieter these would have been recommended as they’re comfortable and well built. But I still had ringing in my ears 24 hours after foolishly testing them at full tilt.
Sony Children’s Headphones (MDR-222KD) review
You can trust Sony to make great headphones and the Sony Children’s Headphones boast the best quality audio of all the kids cans on test here.
They’re built to fit a child’s head but will expand to fit an adult’s so there are no worries about a child growing out of them. They are also the lightest reviewed here.
In terms of looks Sony hasn’t pandered to any child-friendly gimmicks. These look just like adult headphones, which will probably be a bonus if they go into school. Only the bravest 14 year old would wear a set of penguin headphones into class, but these are anonymous in their Sony minimalist style. They are available in black and pink.
The Sony Children’s Headphones also feature a volume limiter, set at 90dB – louder than some others tested here but not ridiculously so. I still wouldn’t be keen for a child to have them on maximum for long periods of time, but they might give that extra boost in noisy environments (see below).
The headphone ear pads are made of foam and so allow for a little more noise leakage than some of the padded models, but nothing too annoying. The cord is 1.2m long.
The Sony Children’s Headphones are small enough for kids (although Sony says they're only for ages 8 and above), lightweight and reasonably volume limited, and are a good choice for kids who listen to music as the audio quality is great.
Maxell Kids Headphones review
Another brand name you can trust for headphone audio quality is Maxell, and its Maxell Kids Headphones don’t disappoint. The sound is great, or rather great enough for kids with some appreciation for audio quality.
They are very much like the Sony kids headphones, but available with blue or pink ear clips instead of black and pink.
At a mere 45g they are very slightly lighter than the Sony Children’s Headphones (52g) but there’s very little in it. This does make them great travel headphones, as they’re much less bulky than some of the more colourful products tested in this round up.
One difference is the size of ear pads, which are smaller on the Maxell. This didn’t affect comfort but the Maxell allow noticeably less noise leakage.
Both the Sony and Maxell kids headphones have volume limited at 90dB, which we found acceptable but are louder than those tested here at 85dB.
We liked the Maxell Kids Headphones for their light weight, good audio quality and less childish looks. Price seemed to vary wildly online, and we saw them as cheap as £8.
Groov-e Kidz DJ Style Headphones (GV-590) review
The Groov-e Kidz DJ Style Headphones look good, feel robust, come in a variety of colours and are some of the cheapest on test in this round up. They are smaller than adult headphones so fit a child’s head better, but they do expand for larger skulls.
They have comfortable padded ear pads, which block most noise leakage. Cord length is 1.2m.
So far so good but here’s the bad news: there’s no volume limiter so children are free to wreck their hearing on full volume. If you can trust your kids to keep the volume low, then these are a good choice but you should be warned that they can go very, very loud (113dB) so you are taking a real risk with your kids’ future hearing.
The Groov-e Kidz DJ Style Headphones are available Red/Black, Pink/White, Violet/White and Blue/Black.
More to come: We’ll keep adding the latest headphones for children, and update our reviews accordingly.
Fisher Price Kid Tough Headphones review
Fisher Price no longer sells its Kid Tough Headphones in the UK but you can find them easily enough on online shopping and auction sites, which is why we bought a pair for testing.
The brand is a reassuring one for parents and the build quality is high.
They’re smaller so fit a child’s head well, although their room for expansion is less than other headphones on test here. That said I wouldn’t expect one pair of headphones to last a whole childhood!
While comfortable we found the cord length too short. In the middle of the cord is a cumbersome chunk of plastic that we suppose hosts the volume limiter. None of the other headphones on test have this giant appendage, and it makes the headphones look like they’re built in 1970s East Germany.
The volume limiter works well – too well, as the sound is very quiet indeed. In any form of noisy environment these headphones just wouldn’t be up to the job.
The audio quality is the worst on test, too – very tinny.
The Fisher Price Kid Tough Headphones are available in the rather predictable colours of purple/pink and blue.
We wouldn’t recommend these as the audio quality is dreadful and too quiet for realistic use.
Noise-cancelling headphones for noisy environments
Kidz Gear justified its separate volume limiter by sugegsting that volume-limited headphones aren't loud enough in noisy environments such as inside airplanes. That might be true but pumping extreme volumes into a child's ears to cancel out the hum of an aeroplane surely isn't the answer. You might as well put them next to the jet engine outside.
If you really care for your child’s hearing and travel frequently in noisy environments I’d suggest buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which are a lot more expensive than the headphones we've tested here.
The trouble is I haven’t found any of these yet designed specifically for children, so you’d need to try some out that will properly fit your child’s head.
That still leaves the problem of excessive volume so you’d need to add a volume limiter between the cord’s jack and the output port.
Again I can’t find these easily available to purchase, but one option would be to buy the Kidz Gear Wired Headphones reviewed here. Toss those away because they’re dangerously loud without the limiter but keep the separate volume limiter part for use with the noise-cancelling headphones you’ve selected.
You'd save money, though, by trying out some of the cheaper options on test here and seeing /hearing if these can cope with the outside noise leaking in.