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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.

MarBlue HeadFoams

MarBlue (formerly Marware) has taken rugged to the extreme with the $30 HeadFoams Foam Headphones for Kids. As the name implies, the entire headphone is made of a semi-rigid, BPA-free, EVA foam in blue, purple, orange, or pink--there are no visible metal or plastic bits, and no moving parts. You can literally bend the headband to form an inverted U without damaging it, and you can drop the headphone from a decent height with only some surface scuffs to show for it. I suspect that the main point of failure will be, as usual, where the four-foot cable connects to the right-hand earpiece.

One consequence of the lack of moving parts is that the HeadFoams headband is not adjustable. Instead, the company includes a color-matched foam pad that attaches to the inside of the headband to fit smaller heads. With this pad, the HeadFoams fits toddlers; without the pad, it fits kids up to around 8 or 9 years old. The underside of the headband is hard, but the headband doesn't squeeze the head too hard, and the earpads are comfortable and block a little bit of external noise. The foam design makes the HeadFoams look and feel a bit bulky, but it weighs only about five ounces.

So far, so good for kids. However, the HeadFoams' volume-limiting circuitry isn't as effective as advertised. At maximum volume from my iPhone, the HeadFoams produced audio that hovered between 85 and 90dBA--too loud, though still safer than blasting non-limited headphones.

And then there's the sound quality: Put bluntly, it's not very good--the HeadFoams is the worst-sounding of the headphones tested here. Treble is severely muffled, midrange sounds distant, and bass is boomy and overshadows the higher frequencies. My kids didn't seem to mind, but you'll buy the HeadFoams for the durability, not the sound. Indeed, our rating of the HeadFoams as "good" is based primarily on the fact that it's an impressively durable headphone for kids.

Kid comments: The third-most comfortable. "They're pretty comfortable, but when I lean forward, they fall off." (Without the foam-pad insert, they were a bit loose on our third-grader, but they were too small with the pad.)

JLab JBuddies

JLab's JBuddies Kids Volume Limiting Headphones has a $40 MSRP, but it sells for just $20 at most online vendors; it's available in black, blue, pink, purple, black/pink, and gray/blue. The JBuddies' small earpieces sport hypo-allerganic, on-ear earpads and sit on an unpadded, plastic headband. As with Griffin's MyPhones, the JBuddies fits kids as young as two years old, but it also extends large enough for small adult heads. However, I the JBuddies' adjustable headband sections slide up and down too easily--it's tough to get the earpieces to stay at the preferred positions. Also, the earpads are a bit stiff, and the pressure on the ears is firm--overall, my kids found the JBuddies to be fairly uncomfortable.


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