Noise-Canceling Headphones For Kids: Worth The Hype?

Headphones may look small and harmless, but it isn’t size that matters, rather the physical burden of sound vibration on eardrums. In fact, most headphones can easily expose ears to noise exposures greater than a loudspeaker, and well above the accepted safety limits. What’s more, kids in particular can be listening at high volumes and be exposed to excessive doses of sound without themselves or anyone else realising it.

It’s not surprising that precious hearing and ear health require proper protection from an early age. Purchasing the best noise-canceling headphones for little ears is certainly an important investment, but while placing value on your child’s hearing safety is a must, you also need them to enjoy some level on uninterrupted entertainment in crowded places. If you are a parent and a frequent flyer, or traveler, I’m sure you can relate.

As well as being entertained during travel, it’s not uncommon for children as young as three to be plugged in and connected to a device via headphones: the more schools use iPads and laptops as part of the curriculum, the greater the likelihood they’re using headphones throughout the day too. Ultimately, teachers want students to be able to hear lessons and work on projects without disturbing each other.

The research

Researchers at Boston Children's Hospital determined that listening to a portable music player with headphones at 60 percent of their potential volume for one hour a day is relatively safe. For continuous noise exposure such as music, the level and duration of exposure are important. It takes repeated exposures over many years to cause a gradual onset of noise-induced hearing loss in both children and adults.

The following effects on preschool children and schoolchildren have been observed by researchers globally: hearing impairment, effects on sleep, stress-related somatic effects and cognitive issues.

How do noise canceling headphones work?

Noise-cancelling headphones use microphones and noise-control engineering to create an opposite sound wave than the one that’s on course for the eardrum. This inverse wave is sent through the headphone driver, and cancels the intruding sound wave. For example, while on a plane, the headphones send out an inverse wave to cancel the engine noise.

There are two types of noise-canceling headphones: active or passive. All headphones can provide some passive noise reduction due to the materials used, which can block certain sound waves. The best passive noise-canceling headphones, however, are circum-aural types that are specially constructed to maximize noise-filtering properties. This means they are packed with layers of high-density foam or other sound-absorbing material, which makes them heavier than normal headphones.

There’s a reduction in noise of about 15 to 20 decibels (dB). But considering jet engines create 75 to 80 dB of noise inside the aircraft cabin, passive models have some serious limitations. That's where active noise-canceling headphones come in. Active noise-canceling headphones also use the materials they are made of to block out outside noise, but they take things one step further by creating their own sound waves. The sound waves they make mimic the outside noise, and cancel each other out.

This isn’t to say noise canceling headphones totally silence all noise, and it’s important to manage expectations. While the headphones may be able to significantly drown out ambient sounds - low, steady sound is easy to cancel out - higher frequency and transient sounds such as voices and babies etc. may still be able to penetrate. A professional pair of headphones will allow your child to synthesize the most important sounds, listen to low or high frequencies and buffer all external sounds and noises. As a result, the sound will be a lot cleaner and clearer.

What to look out for when choosing headphones

There are a few things to consider - besides whether or not they look the part - when choosing the most wearable, effective noise-cancelling headphones for kids. And with a plethora of headphones available on the market, it’s hard to know where to begin, or which ones are best suited. Gadget review sites such as Iron Horse Trading have done all the research for you, hopefully making your lives a little easier by compiling this list of the best headphones for kids. In the meantime, here are some other tips when it comes to finding the best headphones.

  • Age appropriateness

Always check age range and size to make sure it fits small heads. Using headphones with some kind of noise cancelling function can have both mental and physiological benefits. If you are planning on bringing your baby or kid to an environment with the potential of having high levels of noise, you definitely should consider getting one of these.

  • Comfortability

Lightweight headphones, specifically designed for kids are a must for little necks so as not to cause neck strain or headaches. Look out for adjustability too - a slider motion that locks into place for comfort and stability - so they can grow with your child.

  • Volume controls

Kids noise-cancelling headphones are very effective putting the in the category of some of the best headphones available. But while placing value on your child’s hearing safety is a must, you also also need them to enjoy some level on uninterrupted entertainment in crowded places.

Noise cancelling headphones don’t work at all frequencies. This is why it’s worthwhile checking out reviews of any headphone you’re considering, specifically those that have objective measurements.

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