Headphones are essential parts of children’s lives nowadays, whether they’re required for school, a necessity for long car rides or airplane travel, or as an aid to family peace and quiet when you just don’t want to talk about Bruno anymore. If you’re shopping, you may be wondering how to strike a balance between hearing safety, fit and style.
To find the best kids headphones, we gathered a group of 13 children ranging between 2 and 12 years old to test 22 pairs at home, at school and on plane, train and car trips. We also consulted with an audiologist and checked out each pair ourselves. In the end, we found four great models that should keep your kids happy, comfortable and safe.
Keep in mind that even the best volume limiting technology can’t protect hearing all on its own — it’s just a start. It’s up to you to talk to your kids about safe listening and to manage the time they spend listening to potentially damaging sounds.
Best noise-canceling headphones for kids
$119 at Amazon
Regardless of age, our testers found the PuroQuiets to be the most comfortable headphones to wear for extended periods of time, plus they appreciated the adult styling of these on-ear models and liked the range of features — including effective noise cancellation — that let them listen at quieter, safer levels.
The faux leather covering the entire headband allowed our testers to wear the headphones for extended amounts of time; one of our 8-year-old testers even wore the headphones through a five-hour flight without complaints.
“I love having headphones that look more grown-up,” one of our older testers commented on the PuroQuiet’s sleek metal housings. Even some of the younger kids — who we assumed would prefer headphones with a cartoon or other kid-specific design — also liked the adult look.
Physical switches provide access to all of the important functions: power on/off, Bluetooth pairing and enabling/disabling the noise cancellation feature. Our 8-year-old tester commented that she especially liked that unlike many of the other headphones, the PuroQuiets had an actual on/off switch that let her see whether the device was on or off.
But the one feature every child enjoyed the most was the noise-canceling technology. With a flip of a switch, which the kids could easily do on their own, you can drown out ambient noise. During our plane travel test, one of the kids mentioned that she was able to hear her show significantly better when noise cancellation was turned on, and even when she was taking a break from her show, she continued to wear the headphones with the noise-canceling functionality turned on as it made for a “more peaceful plane ride with less noise.”
A recent study conducted at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health measured over 200 flights and found that the average volume level inside the cabin measured 82 decibels but could peak over 110 decibels. As a frame of reference, a normal conversation is about 60 decibels and a washing machine or dishwasher is about 70 decibels, according to the CDC. So being able to suppress aircraft cabin sounds will allow your child to hear their music or shows or games without having to turn up their headphones to potentially unsafe levels.
Additional features include a hard case for travel, a daisy chain for sharing, 35 hours of play time (or 23 hours with active noise cancellation turned on) and volume limiting to 85 decibels.
Best fit: 3 to 10 years old
Best kids headphones with microphone
$59.99 at Amazon
Once your child hits elementary school, there’s a good chance they’ll need headphones for multiple in-school and at-home programs. You’ll want a microphone-equipped pair comfortable enough to wear through the day, and the durable, comfortable Onanoff BuddyPhones School+ Wireless headphones fill that role better than anything else we tested.
First and foremost is comfort, and our testers told us they “like the thick — and soft — headband and that the foam is cushy against our ears.” The thick but lightweight construction also feels like it will be durable enough to stand up to school day use; after everyday use by our elementary school-age testers, the headphones still look brand new.
While the headphones include a built-in microphone, the package also includes a flexible, easy-to-adjust boom mic. The kids found it easy to adjust — as well as simple to attach and detach from the headphones — and liked having the mic positioned in front of their face. During the testing process, we set up two kids on a video call and we were told that “while I could hear [her] without the microphone, I could hear even better with the microphone.” The boom mic is only usable in wireless mode, as it shares a jack with the wired connection.
The School+ Wireless don’t have active noise cancellation, but they do have a “StudyMode” meant to enhance speech and increase vocal clarity, making it easier for students to hear lectures or narration. The effect didn’t have a significant impact and didn’t make much of a difference in our testers’ ability to understand speech. After trying it, the children opted not to even use it.
The headphones also feature three different volume limiting levels — 75 decibels, 85 decibels and 94 decibels. The 75-decibel mode — called “ToddlerMode” — keeps volume limited to a level that should be safe for an entire school day. As long as your child is in a relatively quiet space, they won’t have any problem hearing what they’re listening to. We had a child test this while sitting on the couch watching a show while their father was in the adjacent kitchen cooking dinner. The child said she could still hear her show without any issues. An 85-decibel “KidsMode” keeps things contained at the NIOSH-recommended level for an eight-hour day’s worth of listening, while a “TravelMode” allows for slightly louder levels — up to 94 decibels — for noisier environments (though you’ll want to limit time spent listening at this level more strictly).
The headphones were easy to set up wirelessly, the buttons were easy to figure out when referring to the directions and there’s a 20-hour battery life.
One thing we noticed ourselves (though this didn’t affect anyone in our testing group) is that the fabric of the ear cup pads made a slight crinkling noise when adjusted; you might want to give them a try if you’re purchasing for a child with sensory issues, as it could cause some frustration.
Best fit: 4 to 10 years old
Best headphones for toddlers and younger kids
$24.99 at Amazon
Finding headphones for little kids that are comfortable, safe, durable and aesthetically pleasing can sometimes be challenging. Fortunately, the Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore+ have you covered. A simple volume limiting feature keeps levels capped at 85 decibels — there are no multiple modes as on the more complex Onanoff models.
With a soft cushioned headband and swivel ear cups, our testers between the ages of 2 and 8 happily wore these headphones. Six different colors and four kid-themed stickers let them add their own personality to the headphones, an essential for younger kids. Our testers told us that the headphones “feel comfortable and don’t hurt my ears,” and the 5-year old stated, “I love all the stickers that come with the headphones; it’s going to be a hard decision to make mine special.”
The BuddyPhones Explore+ feature a jack that lets you daisy-chain up to four pairs so multiple kids can listen to content from a single device. The kids enjoyed being able to share their shows and were able to set up sharing by themselves. The cord is detachable and has a large play/pause button.
Since toddlers can be more destructive with their accessories, we put these particular headphones through a torture test and had the kids stretch them, sit on them, throw them and even bring them to school. Fortunately, they stayed fully intact.
Although these headphones don’t offer a wireless option, we found that many kids this young are still using devices that have physical headphone jacks, such as an Amazon Fire tablet or older iPad.
Best fit: 2 to 8 years old
Best budget wireless Bluetooth headphones for kids
$29.99 at Amazon.com
The JLab JBuddies Studio on-ear headphones have a padded “eco-leather” cushioned ear cup and headband, which all of our testers agreed were comfortable on their ears and the tops of their heads, with one 6-year-old announcing that she never wanted to take them off. All the children also thought adjusting these headphones to the perfect fit was easier than most of the other headphones tested. The headphones also feature an extra jack for daisy-chaining another pair of headphones to listen to music or watch a show together on a single device.
Our 8- and 9-year-old testers had no problem connecting the headphones to our devices over Bluetooth, and they both found the buttons to be very intuitive. They were excited that “with the push of a button, we are listening to music on Mom’s iPhone!”
One downside is that while the volume, which is limited to the recommended 85 decibels, can be controlled from the headphones, there isn’t a play/pause button like you might find on some others. We didn’t point this out to the children, but they did mention it — since they saw the feature on other headphones — stating that they wish these ones also had that feature.
Another issue we found was that microphone clarity wasn’t as good as with the other headphones we tested. We had no issues understanding, and our tester was able to answer calls over Bluetooth without problems, but we found the sound quality lacking by comparison. Given the range of features these provide at such a low price, we still recommend the headphones, but it’s something to be aware of.
Best fit: 4 to 10 years old
Importance of kid-safe headphones
According to the CDC, “Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical condition in the United States and is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer.” The World Health Organization also suggests that hearing damage hinders language acquisition and lower assessment scores on standardized tests. It’s clear that protecting children’s hearing is essential, and while kid-safe headphones can’t do the job on their own, given the centrality of devices in kids’ lives they are an important tool in preserving hearing health.
The two things to look out for are overall levels and length of exposure. While aimed at workplace exposure rather than specifically at children, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)’s recommendations on noise exposure suggest people limit the amount of time they are in a loud setting according to just how loud that environment is. NIOSH recommends listeners limit their exposure to a level of 85 decibels — about the volume of a gas lawnmower — to eight hours, the length of a workday. As levels go up, recommended exposure times drop, with NIOSH recommending no more than one hour of exposure per day to sounds at a level of 94dB, equivalent to a motorcycle engine. Since 85 dB sounds are tolerable for the length of a work or school day, volume-limiting headphones tend to have a ceiling at that level.
Audiologist Derek Stiles, Director of the Center for Communication Enhancement at Boston Children’s Hospital, suggests having all volume limiting features turned on when feasible, though he cautions that while the feature can’t simply replace parental monitoring, it can fill the gaps where it isn’t possible. You “need to set up restrictions or rules,” says Dr. Stiles, though he recognizes that “It can be hard for parents to monitor [sound] because even if they are too loud, they might be tight enough to the kids’ ears that it doesn’t leak out.”
An important thing to keep in mind is that noise exposure is not just cumulative over time, but additive. Dr. Stiles points out that parents “ need to watch out for using headphones in environments that are already loud. The headphones might be set comfortably and safe for listening in the living room, but if the child goes on a noisy bus or is using headphones on an airplane, then the volume tends to go up to a higher, more dangerous level in order to be louder than the noisy bus or plane.”
He goes on to suggest that “If the headphones have a noise cancellation feature, that should be turned on, because then the volume won’t be cranked too high to compensate.” A headphone without noise cancellation, Dr. Stiles says, “should either not be used, or used for short periods in those environments.”
This all means that it can be okay to listen to music at louder levels, if it’s for a short time period. “If you are listening to music that has a short (like 15 seconds) part where the sound gets loud and emotional,” says Dr. Stiles, “it is still safe to listen, even with a headphone that allows levels up to a 95dB limit. If the headphone has an 85dB limit, that part of the song might sound distorted.” Dr. Stiles does recommend “a 20 minutes on, 10 minutes off rule if they are listening to loud music or games.”
Types of kids headphones
As with the best headphones for adults, you’ll encounter three types of headphones: on-ear headphones (that rest on the ear), over–ear headphones (that completely enclose the ear) and earbuds (that sit in the ear canal). During our testing, we found that most kids gravitated towards the on-ear style, with only a few preferring the over-the-ear style (many of the kids felt as though they were too big, even when they fit them properly). Only one of our older testers — an 11 year old — preferred earbuds, though the older kids in the group reported that many kids they knew liked earbuds because they were smaller and easier to carry in a school bag.
These preferences also align best with the safer options. Dr. Stiles suggests avoiding in-ear style headphones for kids, especially if they are being used for longer times. “This is because the sound is being forced into a smaller volume of just the ear canal,” he says, “while the on-ear or over-the-ear style spreads the sound into a larger volume of the ear canal, ear and the distance of air between the speaker and the ear.”
We looked at both wireless/Bluetooth and wired models. For kids, wired headphones have the added benefit that they don’t need to be charged, though since many newer phones and tablets don’t include 3.5 mm headphone jacks any longer, they are more limited in use. All of the wireless models we looked at offered a wired connectivity option, however, so a wireless model offers the most compatibility.
How we tested
To help find the best headphones for kids, we asked 13 kids from the ages of 2 to 12 years old to test them under real-world conditions. This included trying them all on for fit and comfort and then wearing them to school, around the house, in the car and on airplane trips while watching shows and listening to music. We also asked the older kids to try to set up Bluetooth connections on the headphones on their own without parent help. And as any parent knows, kids have very strong preferences, so we received lots of feedback on colors and design.
Beyond color and design options, along with our kid testers we looked at quality of construction, comfort, ease of setup and use (especially for headphones that offered Bluetooth connections or other active options), sound and call quality, range of sizing and suitability for wear by various age groups. We also assessed the availability and usability of volume-limiting features, whether extra functions like boom mics, EQ modes and volume and playback controls were useful and easy to use. We paid careful attention to noise isolation and any active noise cancellation features, checking on how well these functions blocked or suppressed environmental sound. And finally we determined whether the cost of the headphones seem reasonable given the features offered and overall performance.
Other kids headphones we tested
$30 at Amazon
At a relatively low price, the JLab JBuddies Learn include a retractable boom mic that worked well for video classes or chats with teachers, and since the headphones fold for easy storage it’s easy to pack away in a school bag. The JBuddies Learn also have an adjustable headband that the kids felt was easy to use, along with a volume regulator at a maximum 85dB.
Many of the kids complained that the cable that connects the earcups to the headband made contact with their heads, making the headphones uncomfortable, especially when the headphones are adjusted to the smallest setting — making it even more uncomfortable for smaller children. Fortunately, JLab offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee and even a limited lifetime warranty, so your own child can try them out for themselves.
Best fit: 4-10 years old
$49.00 $39.99 at Amazon
The JLab JBuddies Play Gaming headphones are extremely similar to the JLab JBuddies Learn with the same look, size and feel (and comfort issues, especially for our younger testers), but the addition of Bluetooth connectivity (they include a cable, with volume adjustments, which allows compatibility with gaming consoles or PCs that may not have wireless connections.
We gave these headphones to the 12-year old in our testing pool, who is a gamer. He found it difficult to connect wirelessly to an Xbox, though he was still able to use the headphones in wired mode. He liked that the boom mic was retractable and adjustable — a helpful feature while playing games — and thought that the sound was very clean.
Best fit: 4-10 years old
$11.99 at Target
While these headphones are cute, and aimed at younger kids, the earcups were too small for most of our testers — even the 3-year old found them too small. Also, while there’s comfortable plush padding around the earcups, there’s no padding on the headband.
These may make sense if you’re looking for something very inexpensive for a very young — and very easy going — child. They also fold small and have a volume limiting regulator at 85dB.
Best fit: 2 years old
$34.99 at Target
If your child prefers an over-the-ear fit, the wireless JLab JBuddies Pro — our test panel’s favorite in this style — is a solid choice. One of her testers picked these as her absolute favorite and told us “I like how the shape fits my ear perfectly.”
And even though these headphones have the same exposed earcup connection as some of the other JLab JBuddies headphones, because of the shape of the earcups and headphones, the kids didn’t seem to notice the cable at all, and none complained of discomfort. Intuitive controls meant that our older testers were able to connect wirelessly to their devices without help.
The headphones are volume regulated to 85dB, however, they have a hidden parent-only access switch in the earcups to toggle to 95dB. This can come in handy if you’re in a loud environment, such as an airplane, but you’ll want to make sure to limit your headphone usage. The battery lasts for 35 hours, there’s a play/pause button on the cord and there’s a daisy-chaining connector to listen to music or watch shows with a friend.
Best fit: 7-12 years old
$99 at Amazon
The Puro Sound Labs BT2200s are very similar to one of our top picks, the PuroQuiets, but they don’t include the active noise canceling technology. We felt as though having the noise canceling option was well worth the small additional cost.
Similar to the PuroQuiets, the children thought that the headphones were extremely comfortable with the plush leather casing around the metal headband and on the earcups. We were also told that it was incredibly easy to figure out which way the headphones go on the ear due to the large easy-to-see “R” and “L” letters on the earcups.
These wireless headphones include a hard travel case, daisy chain for sharing, 85dB volume limiting and offer 20 hours of battery life over Bluetooth. And while these are on-ear headphones, they also sell a separate over-the-ear earcup option (which we didn’t test).
Best fit: 4-9 years old
$79 at Amazon.com
Our testers loved the aesthetics of the Puro Sound Labs JuniorJams, but all found them heavy, with our 11-year old tester telling us that they felt like they were pulling down on her head due to the weight. They are also more square shaped at the top, not rounded like most other headphones, so the fit on an older child didn’t work as well.
The headphones are wireless and the Bluetooth connection was very easy to use and set. The 11-year old thought the buttons on the headphones were simple to use and appreciated that you can easily control the volume, play and pause the music right from the headphone.
Other features include a 22-hour battery life and a daisy chain connector which allows you to link two headphones together to listen to the same music or show. They come in pink, blue, green and teal with a black or white faux-leather headband.
Best fit: 5-10 years old
$35 at Amazon
The children appreciated the light weight of the plastic-framed Puro Basics, and all of our testers reported that the earcups were extremely comfortable and that they liked the softness of the headband.
With these headphones, children are able to easily control the volume and pause the music from the remote on the wire. During our testing, the children told us how much they enjoyed this feature and that it allowed them to find the perfect volume. Even though these headphones are volume limited at 85dB, a remote on the cable also gives parents a way to change the volume level without touching the child’s device.
The downside of these headphones is that at this price they offer a very basic range of options. They aren’t Bluetooth compatible and there’s no daisy-chain connector to plug in another headphone to share music or a video.
Best fit: 5-11 years old
$39.99 at Amazon
If your kids are looking to bring their headphones to the beach or pool, the Buddy Phones Wave headphones are waterproof to 1 meter. That aside, these headphones weren’t well received by our testing group, who didn’t like the squishy feel of the flat earpads. These are clearly intended for a younger crowd, with a cartoon-character themed design, but the older kids felt the look was “too babyish.”
From a volume standpoint, there are three different audio level limiting settings: 75dB (toddler setting), 85dB (kid setting) and 94dB (travel setting).
Best fit: 4-10 years old
$29.99 at Amazon
For smaller children, the BuddyPhones School+ headphones is a great option with some thoughtful additions. The wired cord (which includes a play-pause button) is detachable, making it easy to detangle or replace, and a buddy cable is included for daisy chaining. The earcups have the same comfortable feel as those used on the Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore+ — one of our top headphones. The headphones also come with a boom mic that’s meant for remote classroom use; the boom mic is permanently attached to its own dedicated cable.
The toddlers also loved that the headphones came with colorful stickers — green, blue, yellow or pink — to attach on the side. This extra decoration got the little kids excited to wear the headphones — a task that wasn’t always so easy.
Best fit: 2-4 years old
$29.99 at Amazon
The BuddyPhones Galaxy headphones are very similar to the BuddyPhones School+, with a detachable cord and boom mic, a buddy cable, decorative stickers and a play/pause button.
When comparing the two, our almost 4-year old tester found this pair to fit much better. He told us they were comfortable and despite bending the headphones on multiple occasions, the headphones never broke or lost their shape.
The BuddyPhones Galaxy only include a single cable and the boom mic isn’t detachable. Our testers preferred the School+ as it gave them the option to listen without a microphone suspended in front of their faces.
Best fit: 2-4 years old
$99.99 at Amazon
These over-the-ear, noise canceling headphones have a lot to offer, and effectively suppressed outside sounds, letting our testers listen at lower levels. However, though they are advertised for kids 3 and older, they were too big for most of the kids we tested — they are better suited for children 10 and up, although our 11-year old tester told us that the earcups were still too loose at the bottom of her ears.
That said, the aesthetics of the Cosmos+ are tailored towards younger kids, with bright colors and cartoon graphics; the older kids thought the design was “babyish.” We didn’t love the user interface, with single buttons on the earcups accessing multiple functions testers needed help setting up the wireless functionality.
Best fit: 10-12+ years old
$19.95 at Amazon
Most of our testers didn’t like these earbuds. We couldn’t even get them in the toddlers ears, and once we did, they were pulled out right away. Our 4 to 9 year old group told us repeatedly that “these aren’t working” and “they keep on falling out.”
The older kids appreciated the small size and didn’t mind the in-ear fit. Despite the volume being limited to 73dB, the testers told us they blocked outside sound enough that hey could still hear very well. Our 12-year old tester was very excited to see that they came in its own travel case. He told us that it will help him find them easily in his school bag and ensure they don’t get lost in the classroom — or confused with other classmates. They also come with a splitter for sharing, which our older testers liked.
Best fit: 10-12+ years old
$49.95 $38.20 at Amazon
Our testers were split on the fit of the LilGadgets Untangled Pro: some thought they were extremely comfortable, others thought the foam around the earcups were too tight. But they all agreed that the headband was very hard to adjust.
We gave these headphones to an 8-year old tester to set up, and with just a single button to press, she was able to set up a Bluetooth connection with ease. She also liked that you can advance tracks from a dial right on the headphones.
The volume limiting on the Untangled Pro, unfortunately, is set to 93dB, higher than the NIOSH recommendation for all-day use, and they were clearly louder in operation than the other headphones we tested. Even the 8-year old noticed this right away when we had the volume fully turned up and mentioned that the volume had to be turned down significantly. Given this, they may be an acceptable choice for short term listening in loud travel situations, but they aren’t suited to everyday use.
Best fit: 4-10 years old
$18.95 at Amazon
During our testing, we were told repeatedly that the LilGadgets Connect+ Style were extremely comfortable — our testers loved the thick cushioning on the bottom of the headband. The children also enjoyed the numerous color options.
The kids also loved the Connct+ daisy-chaining connector (a feature we saw on several of the headphones we tested), which let a friend watch simultaneously without requiring any extra splitters or special cables.
While these are great headphones, especially for the price, the main downfall is that the volume is limited to 93dB, which is higher than the recommended 85dB for all-day use Since these are intended for younger kids (who might not be as careful controlling their own listening levels) parents will need to supervise any long-term listening.
Best fit: 3-7 years old
$29.95 at Amazon
The LilGadgets Connect+ Pro is very similar to its sister headphones, the LilGadgets Connect+ Style. The only difference is that the headphones are slightly bigger and are best for those 5-years old and up. During our testing, not one child complained about fit or comfort and the 11-year old claimed these to be her favorite headphones — from a fit standpoint — amongst all of the on-ear headphones. Even our 9-year old who has a strong preference for over-the-ear headphones liked how these headphones fit.
The children also appreciated that there were 11 different color options and that the outside of the earcups were shiny. They felt like they had a grown-up look, but were not plain like many adult headphones.
As with several of the other LilGadgets products, these headphones are only limited to 93dB, so parental supervision is suggested.
Best fit: 5-12 years old
$79.95 $64.95 at Amazon
The over-the-ear JBL JR460NC were more appropriately sized than the other full-sized headphones in our testing pool, and would be a good option for younger kids who prefer the over-the-ear fit. Our testers told us the foam earcups were extremely comfortable.
We had the 8-year old set up Bluetooth connections, and she felt the multifunction buttons were difficult to figure out. The JR460NC also feature active noise cancellation — which is easy to turn on and off — but the children felt that the effect was less noticeable than on the other noise-canceling headphones they tried. While on a train ride, our tester told us that even with the function engaged, background noise was still very much present and distracting while playing a game on her tablet.
Best fit: 5-10 years old
$17.49 at Amazon
Thes low-priced Kidz Gear headphones don’t have a built-in hard volume limiting circuit, but instead use a volume-limiting cable. If you don’t use the supplied cable, there is no volume limiting function. Even with the cable, these headphones played much more loudly than the other headphones we tested.
The headphones are also made out of cheap plastic, but to our surprise that didn’t bother the kids. We were told that the headband at top didn’t touch their heads so even though there was no soft cushioning — like most of the other headphones offer — they weren’t uncomfortable.
Best fit: 4-10 years old
$17.49 at Amazon
The Kidz Gear Bluetooth Stereo headphones don’t include a volume limiting function — they can hit 108dB, far in excess of safe levels — and are only meant for short-term travel use under adult supervision or where the child doesn’t have access to device volume controls.
The headphones include a boom mic, but the children found it very frustrating to use. It is about twice the length of the other boom mics found on the other headphones and it kept falling down. Most just detached it from the device immediately as they knew they wouldn’t want to use it.
And while these headphones offer bluetooth technology, the charge only lasts for 10 hours.
Best fit: 3-9 years old
Read more from CNN Underscored’s hands-on testing: