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Best hearing protection for kids
New parents are bombarded from all sides about what to do, what to buy, how to act, and even how to talk around their young family members. But one of the more critical things that new parents often overlook is hearing protection for kids.
As a member of the legion-of-no-sleep, I can help here. Over the last week, I bought all the best models the internet had to offer, and used our test head to see how well each hearing protector gets rid of unwanted noise. Decibel ratings are fraught with problems, so why not let us give you the whole picture, objectively?
Editor’s note: this list was updated on January 9, 2023 to include more background information, update links, add a noise reduction rating table, and correct formatting.
Why do you need hearing protection for your child?
Children don’t hear the world around them like you or I do. Not only are they far more sensitive to loud sounds, but they presumably don’t have noise-induced hearing loss yet. As such, they can hear much higher-pitched sounds than adults or even teens can. What we might not notice could be extremely painful to them, so good hearing protection for events, live music, and travel is a must if you want to bring your little buddy with you. Remember, headphones are not a replacement for hearing protection: they are often inadequate.
Additionally, because their heads aren’t adult-sized yet, regular old hearing protection or active noise canceling headphones aren’t going to cut it.
Hearing loss can start far earlier than you might think, so it’s always important to make sure that fireworks, loud music, or transportation won’t lead to any avoidable impairment. That’s why you should use hearing protection when you know you’ll be in an environment with lots of noise, or really loud sounds.
Should you trust the dB rating?
If you do your research online, you’ll invariably see that the hearing protectors have a rating that says something like “25dB” or “reduces noise by 99 percent.” While some may be technically true depending on how you look at it, these figures don’t always communicate a complete picture of what you’re looking for.
The noise reduction rating (NRR) is used to communicate how well a product attenuates noise using a set procedure to produce a number, followed by “dB(A).” Though that can’t tell you what individual sounds will be blocked out, it does a fairly nice job of giving you a broad context around how well something gets rid of outside noise. In a safety context, this rating is used to calculate acceptable guidelines for noisy work environments and more.
For the vast majority of cases, a product with a larger number for a noise reduction rating is better than a smaller number. For example, a headset that has an NRR of 35dB(A) is much better than foam earplugs that are rated at 18dB(A). However, none of these ratings mean anything if these products don’t fit properly to your child’s head.
This is where we have some differing opinions on which protectors are better than others, as even highly rated items can be a poor buy due to fit issues. Many of the test fixtures used to determine how well something blocks out noise use flat plates surrounding an artificial ear, and no human’s head is shaped like that. Consequently, you’ll almost always have experience that differs from the number on the box unless you find something that fits well.
Why is fit important?
For hearing protectors, the single most important quality they have is that they fit properly. If they don’t, they’ll let in a lot of noise where they don’t make contact with your head or ear canal. We go over this more in detail in other articles, but the headline here is that how a product fits is by far the most important factor in choosing something to block outside noise.
Consequently, we recommend buying a few different models and sticking with the one that fits the best (be sure to read the return policy of whatever store you choose). Every model listed here will perform to a point where we’re comfortable recommending it, so don’t worry too much if the best hearing protection doesn’t fit your child—whatever fits the best is the best option for you. We’ll give you enough information to make sure that they get much better hearing protection than a set of kids’ headphones at the very least.
The best all-around hearing protection is the Zohan 030
Sure, they’re made of cheap plastic and are absolutely huge. However, the Zohan hearing protectors are not only a close 2nd-best on noise isolation (Baby Banz are for 0-2 year olds only), but they also have a band that can accommodate heads from 5 months to adult use. That’s impressive, especially given its super deep ear pads and intended market. Consequently, these were by far the most comfortable option amongst our candidates.
If it seems like I’m overstating the value of comfort, consider this: hearing protection can’t work if it doesn’t fit or your kids take it off. It’s far better to have something that you can trust they’ll wear over something that works the best but hurts the most. Get the Zohan 030 (and no, I’m not going to reference that terrible movie).
The PuroQuiet is the best ANC headset
Of course, hearing protection doesn’t have the advantage of being able to entertain your child, so for long flights or commutes: your kids will want proper headphones. Now, headphones are not hearing protection, and they can’t replace a dedicated set of protectors. However, ANC headphones are really good at handling long droning sounds like airplane engines or subway noise.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many ANC headphones out there that can reliably fit younger ears, so your options are few and far between. That’s why we recommend the Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet: it performs decently enough at a price that won’t empty your bank account, plus they’ll be able to be used for years as your children grow up.
What about the PuroPro ANC?
Earlier in 2022, Puro Sound Labs also released a more mature volume limiting headset that sheds the kid-friendly aesthetic called the PuroPro. While some may find it an attractive option for pickier kids, it’s possible that these headphones are too big for your little ones. This headset offers many of the same features of the PuroQuiet, but with the option to boost the volume limiter in some situations. Because of this capability, it’s possible to forget to change it back to 85dB, and that’s why we advise caution here.
Most of the rest is pretty decent
We also tested:
- The Dr. Meter EM100 is the one of the best options for younger ears. However, you may not want to buy them because they put a lot of pressure on your head.
- The AmazonBasics Kids Ear Protection Safety Noise Earmuffs (say that three times fast), and they performed as well as the Dr. Meter option. We didn’t highlight them because they’re only slightly behind the Dr. Meter option, and they’re every bit as uncomfortable
- The Snug Kids Earmuffs are slightly behind the rest of the pack in terms of performance, but they look the coolest by far. I mean come on, robots are awesome! There’s a bunch of other designs too if you prefer something else.
- Ems for Kids Baby Earmuffs are great for infants, but they don’t have a lot of room for growth, and the band can get tight on larger heads. If you need hearing protectors for children under five, these are a decent bet—but any older than that and it’s possible they won’t fit the way they should.
Avoid these models
There are a lot of good hearing protectors on the market, but there are a couple items that just aren’t as useful as the rest.
The Etymotic Research ETY-Plugs are very good for adults, but for kids they might not be a good fit. In-ears are notorious for putting a lot of pressure on the inside of ear canals, which isn’t something that’s good for kids—especially when you consider that their ear canals are smaller. Because of the Christmas-tree type eartip, they don’t reach their full effectiveness unless you can insert the entire tip into your ear. For kids, that’s not always possible.
Mack’s soft silicone earplugs are a time-tested solution to keeping water out of your child’s ears, but for noise they’re not as good. Try not to use these for both.
Baby Banz Infant Hearing Protection is a decent set of hearing protectors, but not only do they cost more than the competition—they’re smaller than other models as well. It might not be a big issue at first, but you’ll soon be buying something to fit an ever-larger head.
Best hearing protection for kids: Additional test data
On paper, the models listed here all have attested noise reduction ratings listed, though again: that assumes the products fit the user. Below is a rundown of the efficacy of each.
Baby Banz Earmuffs
Dr. Meter Ear Muffs
ProCase Kids Noise Cancelling Safety Ear Muffs
BlueFire Kids Ear Protection Safety Earmuffs
Everyday Educate Ear Muffs for Kids
GREEN DEVIL Kids Hearing Protection Ear muffs
ProCase Kids Ear Protection Safety Ear Muffs
Alpine Muffy Noise Cancelling Headphones for Kids
Snug Kids Ear Protection
PROHEAR 032 Kids Ear Protection
Alpine Pluggies Kids Ear Plugs for Small Ear Canals
Champs Earmuff Noise Protection Reduction Headphones
Walker's Youth Children’s Low Profile Padded Headband Adjustable Folding Noise-Reducing Hearing Protection
Alpine Muffy Baby Ear Protection
Mack's Putty Earplugs
3M Kids Hearing Protection
Etymotic Ety Plugs
Dison Kids Ear Protection
If you’d like to see all our isolation data, here it is! You want that line to be as high as possible, as far to the left as possible. Any products not shown here weren’t tested in our labs, so you may have to check back later for a more complete dataset.
If you have a set of child hearing protection you like and use, be sure to submit it to our FAQ submission tool so we can take a look! There are more and more products coming out every day and some of the models tested above will go out of stock or get discontinued. It happens. In that light, be sure to poke around on your own and look for models that offer a high dB(A) noise reduction rating and the features you want.