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 April 7, 2020 to include more background information.
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.
Why shouldn’t 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 boasts do not tell you what you think they do.
In order to get a dB rating, the headphones have to block out an average of noise. Consequently, these ratings almost always fail to account for noise that makes it through in the frequencies that you, I, or your child could hear. They also take into account sounds that we have trouble hearing, or simply can’t hear. Because of that, sometimes items with lower dB ratings can be better than others. That’s why we measure how well each headset blocks outside noise over the whole range of human hearing instead of just listing the ratings. That way, you can see how well a set of hearing protection blocks out sound where you might encounter typical sources of noise.
To be fair: any hearing protection is better than none, but some protectors are better than others. Do not rely on headphones to protect your ears.
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.
Consequently, we recommend buying a bunch of different models and sticking with the one that fits the best. 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 Puro Labs PuroCalm are the best at blocking out noise
If you want the best passive isolators, the PuroCalm is the best option for younger ears. However, you may not want to buy them because they put a lot of pressure on your head. Your child may be tempted to remove them if they feel too uncomfortable.
In a straight comparison, the PuroCalm block significantly more noise than the rest of our candidates. These will be great for very short periods of use, as the pressure it exerts is quite significant.
The ear cups themselves are also not very deep, so they may put pressure on your child’s outer ears. They also trap heat; Lily was able to keep them on for 20 minutes. Upon removal, her ears, while not sweaty, were definitely warm.
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, 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
Puro Sound Labs PuroQuietFull Review
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.
The rest of the pack is all 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.
…but 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 decent 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
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.
If you have a set of child hearing protection you like and use, be sure to drop it in the comments!