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.
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.
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
Griffin KaZoo MyPhones
- RRP: £19.99
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
- RRP: £99.99
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.
- RRP: £20
Like all Smiggle products these come in a variety of patterned colours and look great.
We picked these as they are volume limiting, which we think is important for young ears. Smiggle also has folding and other headphones for kids, but you need to limit the volume at source rather than in the headphones. Obviously, without volume limiting, there’s little to stop the child ramping up the volume if you’re not constantly supervising them.
So we liked the Smiggle Play Headphones from first looks and features. They are also as comfortable as the Griffin KaZoo MyPhones, with slightly better audio quality – but like most of the headphones on test here they won’t satisfy a hi-fi enthusiast!
They are limited to a maximum 85dB, the same as the best other kids headphones tested here. They sound a little louder than the MyPhones, but not by much, and our child tester had complained she found the myPhones a little too quiet.
The styling is pretty cute, but there are options for boys as well as girls, and they are maybe better suited than the KaZoo for older kids as they aren’t animal shaped.Our ten-year-old tester picks these as her headphones of choice.
Cable length is a decent 1.5m.
Buy direct from Smiggle.
- RRP: £29.99
Another more-mature-looking set of headphones, the KitSound Levellers look like old-school DJ cans, and are available in black (which we tested). The white model we saw on Amazon looked quite different, however, so we’re not sure they are the same specifications.
Sound quality is at the top end for kids headphones, and the volume is safely limited to 85dB. There was no problem with these sounding too quiet, as our child tester found with a few of the kids headphones reviewed here.
There’s a volume control on the long (1.6m) cable, which appears tougher than most of the plastic cables we found. One problem was that the fatter headphone jack support meant that the cable kept slipping out of the iPhone headphone port when the phone was in a protective case. Outside of the case the jack fitted just fine.
The large size and soft ear cushions made these some of the most comfortable headphones we tested. They should also block out more background noise.
While we’d be wary of using these with a phone in a case we liked the KitSound Levellers look and feel, and sound quality.
KitSound My Doodles
- RRP: £15
Also from KitSound the My Doodles headphones feature 85dB volume limiting, plus a very wide range of colourful designs to choose from.
They are comfortable to wear, and can fit quite large heads so are suitable for any age. They could even become a hipster fashion statement!
Sound quality was more than acceptable, not the very best on test here (see Puro headphones above) but decent all the same.
For £15 or less, the KitSound My Doodles are something of a bargain. Perfect for school party presents, and inexpensive enough to have a few pairs lying around the house – you know they'll never be where you need them!
Griffin Crayola MyPhones
- RRP: £29.99 inc. VAT
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.
iFrogz Little Rockerz
- RRP: £15.99
iFrogz (from Zagg) make a fun range of kids headphones called Little Rockerz that might not teach your children decent spelling but will keep their headphones pegged back at 85dB and provide fancy dress at the same time.
There’s a range of Little Rockerz Costume headband designs available (Blue Monster, Orange Lion, Green Monkey, Green Puppy, Robot and Ice Princess Tiara), costing from £15.99 online. Also available from Amazon.
iFrogz also sells a non-costume set of Little Rockerz kids headphones from £11.99, available in Green, Pink, Purple and Red. These have interchangeable earcaps, supposedly for boys and girls (aren't we beyond that by now?) – but let the kids choose their favourites. Also available from Amazon.
They are comfortable with soft felt ear pads, and suitably lightweight. The cable is 1.2m long.
Audio quality is more than acceptable for kids – we wouldn’t recommend them for audiophiles but for watching movies or playing games they are fine.
We found them slightly louder than the Smiggle or Griffin headphones, but not overly so. That said, we reiterate our advice that children shouldn’t be wearing headphones for long periods in order to protect their future hearing.
JVC Tiny Phones
- RRP: £19.99 inc. VAT
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.
Maxell Kids Headphones
- RRP: £15
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 £6. See them at Amazon for around £10.
We found the Song kids headphones on Amazon but there was a lack of product information about the volume limiting so we would steer clear of these and stick with products that explicitly confirm the volume limiter.
- RRP: £22.99
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 Headphones
- RRP: £25
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.
- RRP: £12.99
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.