The best kids headphones

The Wirecutter

By Lauren Dragan & Brent Butterworth

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If you have a kid in your life who needs a pair of headphones, the Puro BT2200 is the best option to protect growing ears. After putting in around 80 hours of research and testing the top 30 contenders for 59 hours across several days, we’re confident that the Puro BT2200 is the best choice. The Puro headphones not only met our volume-limiting test standards but also were the only pair liked by the toddlers and also the big kids who helped us test.

How we picked and tested

Our big-kid panel gets down to business. Photo: Lauren Dragan

This may come as a shock to you, but kids have very strong opinions. So the first part of our testing was to call some kid panelists together and get their input.

We ran two panels: one consisting of 2- and 3-year-olds (little kids), and another of 4- to 11-year-olds (big kids). For the little kids, I (Lauren) had them try on each set of headphones and asked them what they thought, which they liked most, and why.

For the bigger kids, I laid out all the headphones and let them try each on at their own pace. Then we discussed every model individually, and asked the kids to choose their favorite. We talked about whether they agreed with each other’s pick and why or why not.

I then spent a while subjecting the kids’ favorites to some endurance testing. I stepped on them wearing boots, I tugged cables, I twisted them, I let my toddler chew on them. Luckily, our panel had a good eye: None of their top choices crumpled under the stress.

Now that we knew which headphones were kid-approved, we had to figure out whether the volume levels at which they played were actually safe. I enlisted the help of my Wirecutter colleague Brent Butterworth, who has extensive experience in measuring headphones and speakers for AV magazines. We worked with audio experts and hearing-loss experts to develop what we think might be the world’s first attempt at a formal, published method for testing the maximum volume from headphones. Please see our full guide for an in-depth explanation of our tests, and why protecting your child’s hearing is so very important.

The audiologists we consulted suggested using pink noise, a common test signal with an equal amount of energy per octave that more or less mimics the content of music. We also wanted to add a more real-world evaluation of how loud these headphones could get. To do that, we played two tunes, “Cold Water” by Major Lazer and “Chartreuse” by ZZ Top, through all the headphones and measured the A-weighted Leq. This measurement gauges sound exposure over time within human hearing range; to oversimplify a bit, it’s sort of like the average volume. For all of these measurements, we attached the headphones to a G.R.A.S. 43AG ear-and-cheek simulator.

Our goal was to find the headphones that limited the volume to a specified “safer” range. The general consensus among experts is that a noise level of 85 dBA is considered reasonably safe for an hour of listening, in that it likely won’t cause permanent hearing damage. However, as no music or movie is all loud all the time for an hour straight, we wouldn’t say that moderately exceeding 85 dBA constituted a failure. To accommodate for inconsistencies in measurement and fit, we felt that a cutoff of 88 dBA on pink noise and 90 dBA on music Leq tests gave us enough of a margin for error while still providing a “safer” listening experience.

Our pick

Photo: Michael Hession

Of the 30 headphones we tested, the Puro BT2200 was the only model that all of our kid testers, little and big, agreed on. Our big kids loved the “comfy fit, great sound, soft earpads, and color.” They also really enjoyed having Bluetooth as a feature, agreeing that “it’s nice not having a cord.”

Our little kids liked that the headband and the earpad size fit comfortably on their noggins. Though the younger panelists needed assistance getting started with the Bluetooth connection, once the music was playing, they acclimated quickly.

Speaking of Bluetooth, in our tests the Puro surpassed its superlong claimed battery life of 18 active hours by more than four hours. And if you forget to charge it, the Puro come with a volume-reducing cable, as well. One caveat, however: Depending on the power of your audio source, the BT2200 can potentially play louder via the included cable than over Bluetooth. Plus, the supplied cord must be plugged in the correct direction, or else the volume reduction will not work.

Music fans will be happy to know that this Puro model sounds great. Of all the headphones we tested for this guide, the Puro BT2200 was the best sounding and most friendly to discerning adult ears.

As for the volume limits, in our tests the Puro BT2200 measured within safer levels. According to our findings the BT2200 measured at 85.0 dBA when used wirelessly, and at 85.2 dBA pink noise/90.3 dBA music Leq when used with the supplied cord inserted in the correct direction.

A runner-up for little kids

Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re looking to spend a bit less money or want a corded pair of headphones for your 2- to 4-year-old, the foldable Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore is a fantastic option. Our little ones gravitated immediately to the fun colors and small size, and found these headphones very comfy. According to our testing the BuddyPhones Explore fell within safer volume limits (82.1 dBA pink noise/88.6 dBA music Leq).

Although the BuddyPhones Explore is less expensive than our top pick, it didn’t end up as our winner for a few reasons. First, the sound quality was not as good as that of the Puro; you can really hear where the extra dollars went into the Puro’s sound design.

Second, the Onanoff set is way too small for kids older than 5. Our big kids immediately rejected this pair as too tight for their heads. The BuddyPhone Explore isn’t a design that will grow with your child.

A runner-up for big kids

Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re looking to spend less money or want a corded pair of headphones for your 5- to 11-year-old, we recommend the JLab JBuddies Studio. Too big for our little panelists due to a looser and more flexible headband, the JBuddies Studio was the favorite of our 11-year-old twins, Kyra and Ally. According to our testing, volume levels were within safer limits (80.9 dBA pink noise, 87.5 dBA music Leq).

However, the JLab’s sound quality wasn’t up to par compared with our main pick’s. Coarse and a little blaring, the JBuddies Studio’s sonic profile isn’t something that budding audiophiles will adore. Given a choice between the two, all of our panelists said they would rather have The Puro.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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