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Small heads, safe ears: The best headphones for kids

Dan Frakes | Aug. 25, 2014
These days, kids need headphones, too. We looked at a slew of cans designed to fit your child's head while protecting their hearing.

Sony MDR--222KD Children's Headphones

Sony's $15 MDR--222KD, available in pink or black, is essentially a kid-sized version of traditional lightweight, portable headphones. The thin, plastic headband hosts small earpieces with small, foam earpads; at just under two ounces, the MDR--222KD is the lightest of the headphones here.

As with some of the other models, the 222KD fits a wide range of head sizes, from toddler to adult--you get a whopping four extra inches of headband length with the earpieces fully extended. The headphone cable is four feet long.

Its light weight keeps the 222KD's hard-plastic headband from being too uncomfortable on the top of the head, though my kids still wished the headband had some padding. The earpad foam is a bit scratchy, but overall quite comfortable, as the headphone doesn't grip the head too tightly, even on large adult heads.

However, the foam earpads make this a very open design--the 222KD doesn't block any external noise, and others can hear what you're listening to, even at moderate volume levels. The former means that kids will be more likely to turn the volume up, and the 222KD's volume-limiting circuitry doesn't actually limit volume to the "safe" limit of 85dBA. Though Sony doesn't explicitly state the volume limit of the headphone, instead claiming only "low volume levels," my Ear3 meter showed that volume levels regularly reached over 90dBA when connected to an iPhone playing music with the volume level at the maximum. ("Only" 5dBA of difference may not seems like much, but the decible scale is logarithmic, so 90dBA is considerably louder than 85dBA.)

As for sound quality, the 222KD sounds much like an inexpensive, portable headphone--the kind that used to ship with Sony Walkman and Discman players. (Since many readers of this review are likely parents, I think it's safe to mention such devices here.) Audio is tinny, thanks to a relative abundance of treble detail paired with recessed midrange and little real bass. Overall, the 222KD's audio was one of the worst of the bunch, befitting the model's budget-minded price tag.

Kid comments: "The foam on the earpads was very comfortable, but the top felt like something was poking me, so I didn't like that part." Said the headband feels stiff and plasticky.

Kidz Gear KidzControl

Thanks to a thin, plastic headband with a split-band design, Kidz Gear's $20 KidzControl Volume Limit Headphones is the second-lightest of the headphones I tested, at just 3.6 ounces including the volume-limiting adapter (more on that in a bit). The headband is hard and uncomfortable, though the small earpads are soft and pleasant on the ears. The KidzControl fits kids as young as two years, but its earpieces extend far enough to fit my adult head. The headphone is available in pink, orange, blue, green, purple, and white; the company also offers a $30 wireless version (which I didn't test).


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