Music in kids’ headphones is louder than you think – dangerously loud

December 8, 2016 Providence Health Team

Your kids want headphones so they can listen to their music. You want quiet, so you’re comparing models and prices. But give a thought to your kids’ hearing. Your choice of headphones may put it at risk. And unfortunately, you can’t always trust what you read on the box.

This discouraging news comes from a study conducted by, a consumer technology site owned by The New York Times. Testers found that many of the popular children’s headphones they examined didn’t limit the volume to the limits promised by the manufacturers. As a result, they can damage a user’s hearing after a few minutes of listening at high volume.

Parents should take note, Blake Papsin, M.D., the chief otolaryngologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told The New York Times, which wrote about Wirecutter’s findings.

“Headphone manufacturers aren’t interested in the health of your child’s ears,” he said. “They are interested in selling products, and some of them are not good for you.”

Setting up the headphone tests

Because there was little hard science available about headphone volumes, the Wirecutter testers devised a series of tests, playing snippets of popular songs as well as “pink noise” through headphones into devices that simulated a child’s ears and cheeks.

They tested 30 headphones that children said they would enjoy using and which claimed noise-limiting technology.  The bottom line: Half the tested headphones played music at volumes exceeding 85 decibels, the threshold set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as the loudest an adult should hear in the workplace for eight hours.

How to make sure your child is listening safely

Parents can do a few things to make sure their children’s headphone habit isn’t damaging their hearing, experts told the Times:

  • Keep the volume at 60 percent or less of the maximum.
  • Have your child take breaks every hour.
  • Speak to your child while he’s wearing the headphones and within an arm’s length. If he can’t hear your words, the music is potentially damaging.

To learn more

Hearing loss may go unnoticed for a while because it usually happens gradually. But the longer it goes, the more frustrating it becomes for you or your child and the people with whom you speak. If you have concerns, talk to your health care provider about your or your child’s hearing, including whether to take a hearing test. Find a Providence provider near you in our directory.

You might be interested in these previous Providence posts:

For a high-level view of the Wirecutter analysis, see the site’s review of kids’ headphones. But the real discussion of the testing, full of caveats about the sound source, the placement of headphones on the head and other matters, is contained in a long, somewhat-technical discussion below the recommendations.

A sample:
“We found a 32 dB range between the lowest and loudest max volumes on these headphones. That’s massive. Even considering the margin of error in headphone measurements, a 32 dB difference? Clearly some of these manufacturers are doing something wrong. This issue is magnified in the case of Bluetooth headphones.”

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