Choosing the correct kids headphones is very different from picking a pair for yourself. There are some important things to consider, particularly when it comes to safety.
We’ve compared the specifications and safety ratings for most of the kids headphones available in the UK today, and we’re keen to present you with our findings. But before you look at any of our reviews, we need to brief you on the single most important safety issue for kids headphones: volume.
Kids Headphones: The Need for Volume Limiting
Research from the World Health Organisation has shown that young kids and teenagers are at risk of permanently damaged hearing from continually listening to music (or any other loud event) at excessive volumes. Of particular concern are ‘personal audio devices’, because these are invariably listened to with headphones. And headphones, if you think about it, are loudspeakers strapped directly to the ears.
Because of this, the WHO (and many other medical authorities) have recommended that headphone volume should be limited to a maximum level of 85dB (decibels). Anything over this, for 8 hours or more, qualifies as excessive noise exposure, which can lead to serious hearing problems.
Most of the headphones we’ve reviewed are fitted with a limiter that prevents levels exceeding 85dB. Some do this with active DSP (Digital Signal Processing) which constantly adjusts volume levels, whilst others simply fit an in-line resistor. Both ways work, although with wireless headphones the limiting is controlled by the Bluetooth circuitry, which guarantees the quoted limit. Technically, the in-line resistor method can be overridden if the source volume gets too high, although mobile phones and tablets are rarely that powerful.
Some unscrupulous manufacturers plaster their headphones with cute stickers and use phrases like ‘kid-proof’ or ‘child-friendly’ to make a sale, but they conveniently omit any mention of volume-limiting. The simple truth is that headphones sold like this are unsafe for children, and they shouldn’t be listening to music on them.
So, with that in mind, it’s now time to take take a look at our review headphones and choose a great pair. And please remember the advice from the WHO: if there’s no volume limiter, look elsewhere.
The Best Kids Headphones: Our Top Picks for 2020
Here’s a list of the kids headphones that we’ve chosen for this review. To jump to a particular pair, just click on the product name.
Puro Sound Labs BT2200
Connections: Bluetooth 5.0 and Wired | Limiter: Yes, 85dB, DSP-type and wired | Noise Cancelling: 82%, passive | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: 20 hours
Without doubt, the Puro BT2200s are some of the best-sounding headphones that we’ve ever reviewed, but they are comparatively expensive. That said, they are exceptionally well made: with sturdy metal outer frames, a faux-leather adjustable headband and soft but durable cushioned earpads.
A recently introduced option is interchangeable ear cups, which change the headphones to over-ear. Whilst this means that every child can have their own personal earpads, it can’t solve the arguments of who’s turn it is to wear the headphones: unfortunately, that’s still down to you!
Here’s an interesting back story: Puro Sound Labs is a small, family-run company; founded by the father of a teenage girl who suffers from NIHL (Noise-Induced Hearing Loss). When the cause was traced to the girl’s headphones exceeding the 85db safety level, the company was set up to manufacture child-safe headphones with volume-limiting as paramount.
As a result, all Puro headphones use DSP (Digital Signal Processing) to constantly monitor output levels, rather than just an in-line resistor which is often the case with cheaper models. As expected, the DSP works only for the Bluetooth connection (which is the latest 5.0 standard), but there’s also hard-limiting built into the 3.5 mm audio cable, which is a useful feature.
Whilst we’re talking about connections, the BT2200s come with a daisy-chain output socket, which splits the audio signal so you can plug in another pair of headphones — useful for checking what your child is listening to.
In addition to volume-limiting, these headphones also block background noise, rolling off up to 82 per cent of ambient sound. This means that your child won’t need to run the headphones at maximum levels for long periods of time, even in a very noisy environment such as on an aeroplane.
Puro’s marketing also boasts of a patent-pending ‘Puro Balanced Response Curve’, which is just a fancy way of saying that no frequencies are artificially boosted. This is very sensible for young ears that are still growing, and we’d love to see flat frequency responses on every pair of kids headphones we’ve reviewed.
The Puro BT2200s come in a choice of unfussy colour schemes, including teal, sapphire blue and pink, which in our opinion makes for a very grown-up and hi-tech look — and as most parents know, the look of a child’s accessories is just as important as how they actually perform.
There’s no getting away from the fact that these are not cheap headphones, but the extra expense is definitely worth it. They sound superb, the DSP-based limiting performs exceptionally and the precision construction means these headphones will see your kids well into their teenage years.
- Superb sound
- DSP volume limiter (85 dB max)
- Up to 82% of ambient suppression
- Balanced Response Curve
- Optional interchangeable earpads
Onanoff InFlight BuddyPhones
Connections: Wired | Limiter: Yes, switchable 75, 85 and 94dB | Noise Cancelling: not quoted (passive) | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: n/a
Part of Onanoff’s SafeAudio range, the InFlight BuddyPhones use a detachable, wired-only connection. Each BuddyCable, as they’re known, lets two kids share one source and these can be daisy-chained up to a maximum of four simultaneous users. The flat cables are designed for minimum tangling and also have a built-in microphone with answering button, which allows kids to talk to friends and family without taking off the headphones.
One standout feature is that Onanoff have fitted three parent-selectable presets, which limit sound levels to not only the expert-advised 85dB but also 75dB and 94dB. The upper figure is very useful for loud situations (such as ‘InFlight’), whereas the 75dB limit is perfect for toddlers or kids with sensitive hearing, ADD or autism. The preset is selected by rotating a selector on the left-hand cup. Reassuringly, this is too stiff for little hands to adjust, so there’s no chance of a child overriding the preset while you’re not looking.
The sonic quality is pretty good, but it could have been better if the ear cups had any sort of swivelling mechanism. As it stands, the ear cups sit square against the ear, leaving a small gap that lowers the bass response quite considerably. You can get an idea of how good these cans are by physically pressing them against the ear, but this is hardly practical. It’s the only downside to what is otherwise a great pair of kids headphones.
On the plus side, each pair of BuddyPhones comes with a special airline connector that fits airline ICE (Information, Communication, Entertainment) systems, which means kids can use their own headphones with the plane’s system.
The overall build is very kid-friendly: the frame is moulded from a very light ABS/PP aggregate which is almost indestructible, and the pads and headband are covered with anti-allergic synthetic leatherette. Adding to the design is a pack of self-adhesive fun stickers that kids can use to decorate and personalise their own BuddyPhones.
There’s lots to like about the InFlight BuddyPhones: the parent-adjustable presets are a genuinely useful idea, and the durable construction means these cans will last a lot longer than cheaper bargains. Unfortunately, the poorly-positioned earcups mean the sound quality is all but lost, which is a great shame. These aren’t particularly bad phones, but there’s better available for roughly the same outlay.
- 3 Sound level settings
- Durable ABS/PP Construction
- Anti-Allergic Earpads
- In-Line Mic with answering button
- BuddyCable for sharing
- Airline ICE connector
- Decorative Stickers
Groov-e Kidz DJ Style
Connections: Wired | Limiter: No | Noise Cancelling: not quoted (passive) | Built-in Microphone: No | Battery Life: n/a
First the good news: the Groov-e DJ Style Headphones look great. Although they’re some of the cheapest headphones available, the construction is surprisingly robust and the expandable headband fits the smallest of heads.
The speakers inside the cushioned pads are quoted as having a 15 Hz to 20 KHz frequency response which, if correct, is better than many of the more expensive headphones here (our favourites, the Puro BT2200s, only extend down to 20Hz.)
So far, so good, but the bad news is there’s absolutely no limiting on these headphones. With the levels full up, these Groov-e cans can go all the way up to 113dB, which is far too high for adults, let alone kids (current advice calculates that over 40 seconds at 113dB is counted as dangerous exposure).
Groove-e have a very similar product that purportedly includes volume-limiting circuitry. However, as it’s available for exactly the same price, we’re suspicious about how it will perform in practice. Unless you can find a way of limiting the output level of whatever audio source is being used, there’s too much temptation for kids to ‘turn it up to eleven’ and potentially damage their hearing.
To be honest, we debated whether to include these at all in our review. But in the end, we decided to write about them to illustrate that not everything labelled for kids is actually child-friendly. They may be under a tenner a pair, but we can’t in conscience recommend these headphones unless a parent has sole control over the audio levels.
- Extremely Cheap!
- Excellent low-frequency response
LilGadgets Untangled Pro
Connections: Bluetooth and Wired | Limiter: Yes, 93dB | Noise Cancelling: 13dB reduction, passive | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: 12 hours
LilGadgets is another family-run company specifically set up to manufacture headphones for kids, and it shows. The cleverly-named Untangled Pro is their only pair of Bluetooth phones from a small range, which includes mainly wired cans.
There are a lot of thoughtful child-centric features incorporated into the design, such as a breathable mesh material which will help your child keep a cool head — if you’ve ever worn a tight headband on a hot summer day you’ll understand exactly why this is a great idea! There’s also been a lot of thought regarding colour schemes: there are 6 simple yet bold solid colours, including a cool black which is our favourite.
We’re pleased to see that the volume is limited, but instead of the typical limit of 85dB, these headphones reach 93dB. LilGadgets tell us that the 85dB safety ceiling is based on eight hours of continuous listening, whereas 93dB is fine for shorter periods.
Scientifically this makes perfect sense, but some parents may still see 93dB as a few decibels too many. That being said, the well-fitting earcups result in a passive reduction of 13dB, so it’s hard to think of a situation where maximum levels will ever be needed.
Another great feature is the ability to link up to five pairs of headphones with SharePort technology. Simply put, if one set of headphones is connected to Bluetooth, the other four just need a 3.5mm cable. The battery life is 12 hours, which is above average and more than sufficient for everyday use.
There’s a decent onboard mic which is clear and intelligible, but it does suffer from the usual feeling of ‘distance’. Usefully, the supplied 3.5mm audio cable has an in-line mic which offers much stronger clarity. The cable is 1.2m long, which is very generous, and allows you to reconnect if the power runs low.
We don’t usually mention awards or commendations (there’s so many!), but LilGadgets Untangled Pro received an industry-respected Gold in the Mom’s Choice Awards (MCA) in 2016, which is a great achievement. A thoughtful touch is that LilGadgets send a portion of each headphone purchase to organisations and charities that deal with bullying prevention in schools.
These are definitely designed for kids from the ground up, but they don’t look childish. The sound is above average, and we also rate the choice of materials. For children aged seven and over that want something a bit more grown-up, the Untangled Pros are a great choice.
- Thoughtful and practical design
- Breathable mesh material
- SharePort connects up to 5 users
- Snag-free and no sharp edges
- Mom’s Choice Gold Award
iClever Bluetooth Kids
Connections: Bluetooth and Wired | Limiter: Yes, 85dB | Noise Cancelling: not quoted (passive) | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: 20+ hours
These iClever BTH03 wireless phones are great value for money, sitting firmly in the budget headphone price bracket. The volume has been limited to 85dB (presumably using a passive in-line resistor) and the sound quality is pretty decent, with a slight emphasis on bass frequencies that most kids will appreciate.
A real plus for kids are the LED lights that run around the edges of each earpiece. They can be set to pulse with one colour, or with a multi-colour chase pattern. Either way, the lights look cool and, as far as we can tell, are unique to these headphones.
By the way, the lights only work when the headphones are connected via Bluetooth, so it’s best to check your audio source to avoid disappointment. (There’s also an option to switch the lights off completely.)
The iClever kids headphones are extremely durable: twisting the headband completely inside out then watching it spring back into perfect shape is very satisfying! All of the edges are rounded to prevent injury, and the earpads use a breathable memory foam for extra comfort. The phones are conveniently foldable, meaning they won’t take up too much room in a school backpack.
It’s good to see a microphone included in one of the earpieces: it’s quite small so the definition isn’t brilliant, but it works well enough and the main function buttons — play, pause, answer/hang-up — are easy to use.
We should also mention battery life, which is quoted at 25 hours per charge. We’ve put this at closer to 20 hours in real-world use, but that’s still very high. And, as with most wireless headphones, there’s an audio cable included for when the headphones are on charge.
Without the flashing lights, these would still be a decent set of budget kids headphones. However, it’s the light show that makes these cans unique, and we can see these being a hit with kids who want something a bit different to show to their friends at school.
- Volume limited to 85dB
- Flashing lights!
- Over 20 hours battery life
- Very durable construction
Connections: Bluetooth only | Limiter: Yes, 85dB | Noise Cancelling: 8.6dB reduction, passive | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: 11 hours
JBL is a well-respected name in the audio industry, with an excellent pedigree in hi-fi speakers and headphones. So the first thing we reviewed is the sound quality which, as expected, is excellent. Despite being limited to 85dB, the bass has a rich depth to it, complemented by crisp and clear mids and highs.
The JR300s are designed to be very light, so there isn’t too much pressure on your child’s ears. Meanwhile, the swivel mechanism on the cups ensures a snug fit with just the right amount of ambience allowed (the specifications list a reduction of 8.6dB, which we think is an accurate measurement). The cups also swivel right up towards the headband for storage, effectively halving the size.
The earpads themselves are very comfortable, although the padding isn’t especially plush, so a child might experience some fatigue over extended periods. That said, no child should really be listening to headphones for extended periods, so this is a bit of a blessing in disguise!
Connectivity is purely via Bluetooth, with no cable option. At first, this seems like a mistake from JBL, but they’ve removed the cable option so as to ensure a rigid limit of 85dB, which is not always possible using a wired connection. (If you specifically need a wired connection then take a look at the JBL JR300, which are cable-only.)
Control of the JBL 300s is via two buttons on the right earcup, with one exclusively for Bluetooth pairing. The other button controls power on/off, and the playback functions. Oddly, there’s no remote control over volume — that must be adjusted at the source.
The available colour schemes are bright and cheerful, and included in the box are two sheets of colourful stickers so kids can personalise their headphones. Alternatively, older kids might prefer to use the multiple full alphabet or number sets. There’s also a big friendly ‘L’ and ‘R’ printed inside each earcup — it’s a bit of a quirky idea and will hardly ever be seen, but why not?
Whilst the bright colours make it clear these are designed for children, the carefully-tuned audio shows that JBL take these phones seriously. The Puro headphones are still our favourites, but they’re a lot more expensive. In the sub-£25 category, we don’t think any kids headphones sound as good as the JBL 300BT.
- 85dB limit
- Well-tuned frequency curve
- Rich lows, crisp highs
- Earcups fold in for storage
- Personalisable with stickers
Snuggly Rascals Kids Headband
Connections: Wired only | Limiter: Yes, 85dB | Noise Cancelling: Not quoted (passive) | Built-in Microphone: No | Battery Life: N/A
Snuggly Rascals is yet another small company that specialises in kids headphones, but they’ve tried something a bit different. Ideal for winter and outdoor use, these over-ear phones take the form of a Velcro-fastened headband, with two flat speakers hidden inside the material.
It’s a great idea, and one of the few ways we know to make sure a kid can wrap up warm and still wear headphones! The clever design also means the headphones will never fall off when your child is outside running around or having a snowball fight with friends.
As you’d expect from the design, the headband is extremely comfortable, and the low profile of the speakers means you can’t feel them through the material. The two speaker units can be moved around inside the headband, to ensure they fit perfectly over both ears. Additionally, the units can be removed completely, allowing you to pop the headband into a washing machine if (and when!) it gets dirty.
The sound quality is a little on the boxy side, but it’s certainly good enough for most purposes. The built-in limiter is rated for a maximum of 85dB, but in testing it’s actually a bit quieter, which is no bad thing.
Snuggly Rascals is the company name, but it also refers to their cast of headband characters. There are quite a few available, including The Gruffalo, a penguin, a panda, a monster, a kitten, an aeroplane (!), a unicorn and — perfect for Christmas — a reindeer.
This combination of a colourful, warm headband with built-in headphones is a really smart idea, and Snuggly Rascals do it well. For young kids who want to look cool, and for their parents who want to make sure they stay warm, these Headband Headphones are a great budget option.
- Unique headband style
- Volume limited to 85dB
- Great range of ‘Rascals’ characters
- Easy to clean
JLab JBuddies Studio Wireless (2020)
Connections: Bluetooth and Wired | Limiter: Yes, 85dB | Noise Cancelling: Not quoted (passive) | Built-in Microphone: Yes | Battery Life: 13 hours
The JBuddies Studio Wireless headphones are aimed at kids of 6 years and up; accordingly, they sport a distinctly more ‘adult’ look than others in the same price range. The colour scheme is primarily graphite grey, with lighter-coloured contrasting accents, and the headband is finished in a matching faux leather.
The volume is limited to 85dB, and because the limiter is in the headphones themselves there’s no way to override the reduction. Connection can be via Bluetooth or with the detachable fabric-wrapped cable, which has an in-line mic and remote control. Another pair of headphones can be plugged into the JBuddies using the included SharePort, which allows a friend to listen to the same music without a wireless connection.
The earpads feature JLab’s on-ear CloudFoam cushions made from memory foam, which helps make them comfortable for long listening sessions. The fit is quite snug, using an adjustable industrial-grade hinge which can rotate up to 80 degrees. The earcups also fold down at the hinges, reducing the headphones to a compact, travel-friendly size.
The left earcup’s side panel houses a pinhole microphone, a volume rocker and the power button. The last also controls play/pause and call management. Whilst the large tactile controls are easy to navigate, an accidental double-click will automatically redial the last number called on whatever phone is connected. As far as we’re aware there’s no way to turn this off, so it’s something you should keep an out for.
The sound quality is better than we’d expect at this price, with a decent sense of bass depth and clear mids and highs. There’s no artificial boost, providing a flat frequency curve that’s great for listening to music of any genre.
There’s nothing particularly outstanding about these phones: they’re simply well-built with good, no-frills performance. If you’re looking for a reliable pair of wireless kids headphones at a budget-conscious price, the JLab JBuddies Studio Wireless is a solid buy.
- Hard-limited to 85db
- Decent sound quality
- Flat frequency curve
- Pinch-free industrial-grade hinges
- CloudFoam cushioned earpads
Banz Baby Hearing Protection Earmuffs
The last item we’re reviewing isn’t a pair of headphones; instead we’ve included a set of defender earmuffs designed specifically for babies and toddlers. These are invaluable for defending a young child’s hearing against loud events such as aeroplane take-offs, firework nights or a noisy building site.
From the Australian specialist babycare company Banz, these protection earmuffs are lightweight and comfortable, with sturdy cups cushioned with foam. The cups gently rest around the ears, preventing any pinching or being too snug, and provide an NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) of 28dB, which we believe is an industry-leading rating.
Though light enough (just 137 grams) to not cause fatigue, the construction is solid and virtually indestructible. All the materials used are durable and baby-safe, leading to an AblePlay ‘great find’ rating which certifies their suitability for children with special needs.
The earmuffs come in a range of colours and designs, and fold down to a compact size, making them easy to carry in a baby travel bag.
The tiniest of ears also need protection, and these Banz Protection Earmuffs have the highest NRR rating we’ve seen. The AblePlay rating means we’re confident these perform to the highest and most stringent standards, and we’re happy to recommend these Banz defenders for baby ear protection.
- For babies from 3 to 24 months
- AblePlay rated
- Industry-leading NRR of 28dB
- Virtually indestructible
That brings us to the end of our review, which includes some of the best kids headphones available in the UK today. If you’re planning to buy some headphones for your own children, or perhaps give a pair as a present, then we hope we’ve highlighted one or two great options for you.
But if we’ve done just one thing well, we hope it’s to remind you of the importance of buying volume-limiting headphones., With some great examples available for less than £15, such as the unique Snuggly Rascals headwrap, it might be worth trying a pair out on a child whose opinion you value, so you can confirm the benefits of limiting first-hand.
Thanks for reading our review, and if you’ve found it interesting then please let us know by making a comment, or just use the social media icons.
|Puro Sound Labs BT2200||Puro Sound Labs||View on Amazon|
|Onanoff InFlight BuddyPhones||ONANOFF||View on Amazon|
|Groov-e Kidz DJ Style||Groov-e||View on Amazon|
|LilGadgets Untangled Pro||LilGadgets||View on Amazon|
|iClever Bluetooth Kids||iClever||View on Amazon|
|JBL JR300BT||JBL||View on Amazon|
|Snuggly Rascals Kids Headband||Snuggly Rascals||View on Amazon|
|JLab JBuddies Studio Wireless (2020)||JLab||View on Amazon|
|Banz Baby Hearing Protection Earmuffs||Banz||View on Amazon|
There’s been an increase in internet searches for kids headphones recently, perhaps due to people buying them as Christmas presents. Here are our answers to the questions that seem to come up the most.
Are AirPods safe for kids?
AirPods are definitely not safe for kids, and there are many good reasons. Most importantly, AirPods — and the majority of in-ears — don’t have volume-limiting circuitry. Without it they’re way too loud for kids, often hitting well over 110dB, and there’s medical proof that over 40 seconds at 110dB is officially dangerous exposure. This alone should be enough to convince you it’s a bad idea.
But you also have to consider that any AirPod-sized bit of plastic is a potentially dangerous choking hazard. Earlier this year, a 7-year old boy swallowed a single AirPod while he was “holding it in his mouth by the long part.” Luckily, it passed without incident, but choking on something that size happens far too often with young children. Why tempt fate?
What are the best children’s headphones?
Deciding which are the best children’s headphones depends a lot on your budget. For the best kids headphones on a price-performance basis, our choice has to be the Puro Sound Labs BT2200: beautifully-designed headphones with DSP limiting that are unbeaten for sound quality at the price.
And for the best budget headphones for kids, we’d pick the Snuggly Rascals headwrap. They have a ‘fluffy-and-fun’ appeal which young kids really seem to love, and the clever idea of putting speakers inside a headwrap means children can listen to music and still keep their head warm.
Are headphones bad for children’s ears?
The wrong headphones are definitely bad for children’s ears. A 2018 long-term study of over 3,300 children between 9 and 11 years old — the largest study of its kind — found that 40 per cent of the children who took part were suffering from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This was directly linked to listening to loud music through headphones.
Headphones with built-in volume limiters are absolutely the safest type for kids to use. Research published by the WHO suggests that limiting a child’s headphones to a maximum of 85 decibels can help prevent NIHL and other hearing disorders such as tinnitus.
Can a 1 year old wear headphones?
A 1-year-old can wear headphones, but it takes a while for children that age to get used to it. If your baby is on a flight soon, then they should spend a few weeks practising wearing headphones. You should only use models designed specifically for children, with a volume limiter set to 85dB or less.
The child-friendly JLab JBuddies are a good example — wireless connection means your baby won’t have to deal with tangle-prone audio cables. To practice, start your child with a pair of headphones for about 10 minutes, and then gradually increase until your baby is happy with wearing them for a few hours at a time.
Another option, especially for flights or loud events like a firework display, is to use baby ear defenders. The Baby Hearing Protection Earmuffs from Australian childcare specialist Banz are a great example. They won’t play back audio, but they will help your baby sleep through loud noises, which is why a lot of parents think they’re a godsend.