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  • New Test Reveals Children's Headphones May Not Be So Safe

    After conducting its own investigation, a product recommendations website says a lot of "volume-limiting" headphones for children do not live up to its promise.
    by Jillianne E. Castillo . Published Dec 12, 2016
New Test Reveals Children's Headphones May Not Be So Safe
PHOTO BY Philippe Put/Flickr Creative Commons
  • To those who already have bought a pair of headphones for their child or inaanak, this news may frustrate you (it sure did us).

    Since subjecting our ears to prolonged high volumes (like watching a three-hour long movie on high volume) is actually how we can damage our hearing compared to a short burst of a loud sound, we pick headphones that claim to limit volume especially for our kids. But a recent report now says there is a good number of headphones made for kids that do not live up to their promise. 

    The Wirecutter, The New York Times product recommendations website, tested 30 headphones that claim to restrict volume to the safe 85-decibel (dB) level, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). But the website's test results showed "up to one-third of the kids headphones tested exceeded that level [85 dB] when measured with pink noise, allowing higher volumes -- sometimes much higher." In addition, when measured with actual music, nearly half of these tested headphones showed it could be pushed past the recommended 85 dB, and some even "produced sound so loud, it could be hazardous to ears in minutes," damaging your child's hearing.  

    Any decibel higher than 85 dB can cause permanent hearing loss, says the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). For perspective, a typical conversation is at 60 dB, and 85dB is around the level of noise a blow-dryer or a kitchen blender makes. 

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    As explained in the report, actual volume-limiting headphones should stop the sound from playing any higher than a certain level, which manufacturers achieve with internally powered digital limiters. Say your child is watching a video with headphones at volume 8. A good headphone will likely limit it at volume 5. If your child goes higher to volume 11, his headphones will still remain at volume 5. Those who failed the Wirecutter test were "reducing" volumes: turn up the volume to 11, and it will reduce the sound to volume 8. There is no set safe range, so to speak, when your child keeps turning the volume up. 

    The Wirecutter states, "In fact, the term 'volume limiting' appears frequently as part of manufacturers’ marketing materials for these devices, when 'volume reducing' is actually closer to correct."

    Out of the 30 headphones Wirecutter tested, the Puro BT2200 came out in first place. These children’s headphones not only successfully limited volume to safer ranges, but also had bluetooth capabilities, produced great sound quality, fitted well, and were kid-approved. But you will shriek at the price tag: $100 (P5,000) a pair. And, because they don’t sell in the Philippines, buying them from Puro’s online store will cost even more (around P1,700 more when we checked). 

    The second pair that passed the test on the list does sell in the Philippines. Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore also kept the sound at a max of 85 dB. The sound quality isn’t as good as the first, however, and BuddyPhones come in a smaller size so they would be a tight fit for older kids, but they do come with a substantially cheaper price tag at P1,385. They also survived durability tests, according to the report, so they should be able to withstand your toddler’s pulls and tugs. We actually included BuddyPhone in our list of techy toys for kids. Click here to go to that and see where you can get a pair for your child. (Click here to read the full review of the recommended headphones.)

    But, no matter what headphones you use, the report still emphasizes parental supervision as the best safety measure. WHO recommends no more than roughly 60 percent volume for a maximum of 60 minutes when on headphones. You can also adjust the device’s setting so the volume only goes up to a certain point (which per recommendations is 60 percent at most). This feature is built-in for Apple devices in the Music section of the Settings Menu. For other devices, you may have to download an app. 

    Sources: The Wirecutter,  American Speech-Language Hearing Association, World Health Organization

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