The Best Headphones for Kids of 2017By TJ Donegan
If you're shopping for headphones for your kids, the safest option is a pair that limits the maximum volume. Out of nearly 20 models we tested, the best ones are the Puro BT2200 volume-limiting wireless on-ears. They're a bit pricier than most, but they're well-built, sound great, and have effective wired and wireless volume limits—when used properly.
Why should you buy volume-limiting headphones? Because even cheap earbuds can dangerously exceed the levels recommended by health experts. Noise-induced hearing loss can start showing up in even young children, and it can have long-term impacts on their academic performance.
Worst of all? Many volume-limiting headphones are capable of exceeding their advertised limits with nothing more powerful than an iPhone. To sort out the good from the bad, we put 19 models through the ringer in our state-of-the-art audio lab. If you want to dig into the nitty gritty of how we tested, why, and what a $25,000 dummy wearing kids' headphones looks like, I highly recommend you read our full report. If you just want to know what to buy, here's what you need to know:
Experts recommend a max volume of 85dB for no more than 60min/day. For adults, noise exposure is considered hazardous after 8 hours at 85dB(a). An iPhone's earbuds can easily average 105dB at full volume, which can be hazardous after just a few minutes.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is permanent. NIHL is cumulative, may not become apparent until years later, and it may affect up to 1.1 billion people. Caution is key—we don't know exactly where the "safe" threshold is.
Volume-limiting headphones are not a guarantee of safety. We used an iPhone 7 Plus for our tests, but anything more powerful—like an amp—could drive even the best wired models we tested above recommended levels. Your best bet is to go wireless if possible, or just turn the volume to about 60% of the max.
Updated March 29, 2017
Puro Sound Labs BT2200 Kids HeadphonesBest Overall
If you're looking for a high-quality pair of volume-limited headphones, the Puro BT2200 is the way to go. Though they're the priciest of the pairs we looked at, that's because they have the best combination of comfort, build quality, and sound quality. They are a bit too big for a toddler, but they should fit school-age children and up quite well.
In our tests, the BT2200s played at about 82-84.6dB(a) when used wirelessly at full volume, with about 12 hours of battery life. And because they run off their own internal power when in Bluetooth mode, there's no risk of them being overpowered. When used wired with our standard source (an iPhone 7 Plus with the Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter), they topped out right at the 85dB(a) threshold—as long as you plug the volume-limiting cable in the right way.
Our one issue is that the cable can easily be plugged in the wrong way (I did, the first time). This pushed the max volume to 96-100dB(a) in our tests, which could cause damage. The cable does have "Headphones→" written on it so you know which end is which, but these should really be designed so the cable only plugs in the correct way.
Sakar Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles HeadphonesBest Value
If you need headphones for a younger child, or you just don't want to spend $99 on something your kid will break anyway, then these affordable on-ear headphones are the ticket. Manufactured by Sakar, these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-branded headphones feature soft padded earcups and a non-removable, volume-limiting cable.
In our tests with an iPhone 7 Plus, these topped out at around 80dB(a) on average and at worst got to 85.3dB(a) during the guitar solo at the end of Sweet Child O' Mine. We weren't in love with the sound quality and these won't stand up to a ton of abuse, but they're affordable, keep to recommended levels when used with most everyday sources, and they come in a ton of different variations featuring popular characters like Batman, the Ninja Turtles, and Hello Kitty.
Sakar Hello KittyBest Value
These are also made by Sakar and are identical to the TMNT ones above, except with Hello Kitty branding. Why get two identical pairs in for testing? Because it's a common tactic among headphone companies to stuff multiple models onto one Amazon page so all the user reviews are in one big pool. Normally this is just annoying, but for kids headphones it could potentially mean safer models are pooled in with ones with less-effective volume limits.
Though we can't guarantee all 14 variations of this model are identical, these two sure are. This Hello Kitty version was within 0.1dB(a) of the Ninja Turtles model and both were below the 85dB(a) threshold when used properly. These are cheap and will probably break at some point, but the same could be said of almost every pair in this roundup.
JLab Audio JBuddies Studio Over-Ear
The JLab JBuddies Studio Over-ear headphones are the new kid on the block when it comes to kids' headphones, but they were among our favorites with an attractive, folding design. They are designed for kids six and up and feature soft padded earcups that pull down far enough to accommodate even adult-sized heads. The braided, tangle-free cable is non-removable, but that also means there's no way to circumvent the volume limits.
Speaking of which, the JLab Studio Over-ears were super effective in our testing. With industry-standard pink noise these averaged just 80.9dB(a), which was well below the recommended levels. The real-world samples we used registered a bit louder, but they only got up to about 84.9-89dB(a) with our iPhone, which isn't bad at all. If you're looking for a great pair of headphones that an older child can grow with, these are a good pick.
Though these are marketed as working primarily with LeapFrog's line of tablets and other devices, these are just standard over-ear headphones like all the rest on this list. That means they'll work with any source that has a headphone jack. They're well-built, comfy, and a bit bigger than the other models on this list, so they'll be a bit loose on a toddler but will fit an older child or a pre-teen well.
These are marketed as having a maximum volume of 85dB, but in our tests they output around 88dB(a), with certain songs pushing them up to 90 or 91dB(a) for short stretches. That's a bit louder than is suggested, so you'll want to set volume limits on whatever device you're using so they fall safely within the recommended levels. Still, for a good pair of all-around headphones for a slightly older child these aren't a bad bet—if you take other precautions.
The Onanoff Buddyphones come in four flavors on Amazon: Standard, Explore, Explore Foldable, and Inflight. We only tested the standard model, but they were quite good for the sub-$20 price. They are still made of plastic, but they don't feel quite as cheap as the worst models in this batch and the padded earcups are comfy. The cable isn't removable (which means if it breaks you have to replace the whole pair), but it is flat, tangle-free, and has a sharing port built right in so two people can listen to a single device.
We should note that we can't make any claims about the safety of the three higher-end models in this lineup, but the standard Buddyphones topped out between 77-82dB(a). That's well below the 85dB(a) threshold the WHO recommends, so these should be fine for normal listening sessions of an hour when used with most everyday audio sources like a smartphone.
Cozyphones Kids Headphones
And now for something completely different: the Cozyphones. These are designed unlike any other headphones we've tested before. Unlike most headphones, these have thin drivers that are inserted into a stretchy, fabric headband. The design is fun and unique, but the fabric felt very warm after just a few minutes and older kids may just not want to wear them.
In our lab testing these also proved to be just too loud for our liking. They hit between 93-95dB(a) in our tests, which is above the 85dB(a) threshold we're aiming for. That may be fine for short bursts, but it's too close for our comfort and we think there are better options in this list.
LilGadgets Untangled Pro Premium
These super-popular wireless headphones are a bit cheaper than the Puro BT2200 Bluetooth models that were our favorites overall, and they're not a bad alternative. Even though we have some reservations about the wired version (the LilGadgets Connect+ Premium), these were much better. They're still more flimsy than the Puro BT2200s, but they seem comfy and well-built.
In our tests, these did a great job of keeping noise to the recommended level—when used wirelessly. With Bluetooth these tested from 83-87dB(a), which is close enough to the mark. The issue is that the included wire doesn't do enough (if anything) to limit volume, and in wired mode these got up to 92.4-96dB(a). That's a bit too loud according to the experts, so if the battery runs out or you need to use the wire, you'll want to set hard volume limits.
Kidz Gear Wired Headphones for Kids
Kidz Gear makes two of the most popular kid-friendly headphones on the market, and this wired pair is affordable and available in a number of fun, bright colors. They're also quite flimsy and mostly made of plastic, but the biggest issue is that they don't have a built-in volume-limiting cable, relying on an adapter instead.
The problem? This adapter is small and easy to lose. It's even easier to remove intentionally. And while these were under the recommended level in our tests with the adapter (hovering between 82-85dB(a)), they were way too loud without it, topping out at around 108dB(a). Unless you plan to watch your kids like a hawk all of the time, these aren't the best option.
MEE Audio KidJamz KJ25
Like many of the headphones in this roundup, the MEE Audio Kid Jamz are mostly made of plastic and feel a bit cheap. But with a price under $20, you get what you pay for as far as design quality goes. These do feature a neat design touch, though: a plastic switch to turn the volume limit on or off. The switch is hidden under a piece of plastic that actually makes it quite tricky to get at. (I had to use a pair of tweezers, as even a ballpoint pen couldn't reach it).
Making the switch difficult to access is important, because these were safely within the recommended level with the limit on (between 75-80dB(a)) and very loud with the limit off (between 103-107dB(a)). That makes these a bit of a high-risk, high-reward proposition. They're perhaps the quietest headphones we tested with the limit on, but if your child is old enough to easily turn the limit off, they're way too loud.
LilGadgets Connect+ Premium
The LilGadgets Connect+ Premium headphones were probably the most intriguing pair of headphones we tested in this group. These are affordable, well-reviewed on Amazon, and they feel like they're well-built, with a removable cable and two ports so you can hook up a second pair of headphones. In our tests they were too loud to be used at full volume (94-96dB(a)), but generally these seem like a decent pick if you can lock in lower volume limits.
Where these get real fishy is when we compare these to the Snug Play+ and Nenos Children's Best headphones; they are identical, despite being from ostensibly different companies. Is this a case of multiple companies re-branding the same headphones or one company selling the same headphones under multiple brands? We just don't know. These are definitely the best of the three, but it makes us wary.
Nenos Kids HeadphonesAvoid
The Nenos Children's Best headphones are identical in almost every way to the LilGadgets Connect+ Premium and the Snug Play+ headphones. No, really: they're the same headphones. Though they have different branding and the companies appear entirely unrelated, all three headphones look the same, sound the same, tested the same in our lab, and even come in boxes that are shaped the same way.
Our guess? These are all from the same Chinese white label company and all three companies just bought them up and re-branded them because this is a popular category online. The main difference seems to be the companies selling them, and both the Nenos and the Snug Plays have issues there, with spotty user reviews that make us question if these are a wise investment beyond the fact that they're too loud.
Snug Play+ Kids HeadphonesAvoid
As we talked about in the blurbs above, these are identical to the Nenos Children's Best and the LilGadgets Connect+ Premium headphones. They're all the same pair of headphones outside of a few minor adjustments to the branding. As with those two, these are louder than the experts recommend.
If you like what these have to offer, we'd recommend the LilGadgets model first; they seem to be the most responsive on Amazon and have the longest track record. The Snug Play+ should be avoided, though; the seller on Amazon apparently has a habit of making unsolicited phone calls to buyers asking for user reviews. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Where To Buy$14.99 Amazon Buy
AmazonBasics Volume Limited On-Ear Headphones for KidsAvoid
While we love Amazon's house brand AmazonBasics for many things, these are not the best choice if you want headphones for your kids. They're flimsy, they have mediocre sound quality, and they don't limit volume nearly enough in our tests—even with something as simple as an iPhone.
In our tests they produced between 95 and 100dB(a), which is well above the recommended levels. They weren't as loud as even stock Apple or Samsung earbuds, but they could easily be unsafe if used improperly for long stretches of time.
Editor's Note: The original version of this article featured the JLab JBuddies (Non-Folding), which we purchased from a marketplace seller on Amazon for testing. It appears the unit we tested may have been defective or counterfeit, so we are removing it from the roundup. We are working with JLab to test their current volume-limiting headphones and will update once those tests are complete.