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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.

The Nabi feels substantial and sturdy, although I do worry about the cable connection, located on the bottom edge of the left-hand earpiece. The cable's large plug seems as though it could put a good amount of stress on the audio jack if the headphone is handled roughly.

The large size and 9-ounce weight of the Nabi Headphones seems a bit excessive, but that's because, unlike the other models here, the Nabi is designed for both kids and adults. It fits my first-grade daughter well--and the headband can get even a little bit smaller--but with the headband fully extended, it also fits my adult head comfortably. (I've got a medium-size head; adults with largish beans will likely find the Nabi to be too small.)

The kid/adult design extends to a nifty sound-limiting feature. Using a semi-hidden switch on the top of the left-hand earpiece, you can switch between Nabi mode and Parent mode. In Parent mode, volume limiting is disabled; in Nabi mode, the headphone is supposed to limit volume levels to 80dB. I found that volume level in Nabi mode was actually around 85dBA at maximum source volume, with occasional spikes to 90dBA or so--a bit of a disappointment, but better than most of the other models overall. In parent mode, volume levels were consistently over 100dBA with the source's volume level at maximum. (Takeaway: Parents should use Nabi mode, too!)

Of course, once your child discovers the Nabi/Parent switch, it's easy for him or her to disable the volume limiter. So the Nabi sports an LED ring around each earpiece that glows white in Nabi mode or red in Parent mode. (The LED is powered by a single AAA battery, and is switched on and off using a button on the left-hand earpiece.) In other words, you can see at a glance if your child is listening at safe volume levels. This feature is great for parent-supervised listening, though in a classroom full of kids, it's unlikely your child's teacher will be watching the LED on your child's headphone to make sure it's in kids mode.

The Nabi Headphones's sound quality seems Beats-inspired, as well. Audio is big and bass-heavy, with slightly recessed treble and midrange, but the Nabi sounds less like an inexpensive "kids" headphone and more like a "real" headphone. (Audio in parent mode shows the same characteristics, but with a little better midrange quality). Overall, as long as you (and your kids) are okay with bass-heavy sound, the Nabi is a pretty good sounding headphone--one of the two best in this roundup.

Adding to the Nabi's appeal is excellent noise isolation. The large earpads completely surround kids' ears (and nearly surround my adult ears), and the memory-foam material offers a good seal against the head. As a result, the Nabi significantly reduces the amount of external noise that you hear while wearing the headphones, helping to ameliorate one of the major challenges of kids headphones: Their volume-limiting circuitry means it can be tough to hear headphone audio in a noisy environment. Indeed, the Nabi is the only headphone in this group that our kids could use in the car at safe listening levels and still hear clearly. On the other hand, isolation may be too good for classroom use, as your child may not be able to hear the teacher while wearing the Nabi.


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