18 Kids HP Sennheiser PXC250II dI had a request from a reader recently which was interesting on several counts. First, she lives overseas but is a regular reader anyway, second, she has a four-year-old daughter with more frequent flyer points than I have and third, why is it so damn hard to buy decent headphones for four-year-olds?

It depends on your definition of decent. Do you want your kid to develop an interest in music or do you just want something to silence Peppa Pig? Will your kid wear them for long periods, such as on international flights, or for short bursts? How robust do they need to be to survive your kid?

There are other issues. Kids have delicate hearing that needs to be protected from damage, so a volume limiter is a good idea (many of these can be easily sidelined). Headphones have to be comfortable and should sound good, otherwise kids will find excuses not to use them. Many cheapies are so skewed to high range they’re uncomfortably scratchy and harsh. A primary teacher tells me headphones are on lots of back-to-school lists and some schools won’t allow in-ear earbuds because it’s possible the little latex plugs may come off inside small ears. Kids also lose things and earbuds are easy to lose.

18 Kids HP Philips bPhone compatibility probably doesn’t matter but robust construction, with a solid cable containing wiring that won’t fracture when bent through right angles or given a solid tug is important. Noise cancelling is great on planes and also means kids can listen at lower volumes anywhere. And there should be generous headband adjustment to accommodate small but growing heads.

Hi fi shops don’t carry headphones for kids but big office supply chains and electrical retailers do. The most expensive ones I saw cost $50, most were around $20 and some were down in single digits. On Amazon’s American website there are 13 pages of them ranging from $US1.99 to $US399, almost all by brands I’ve never heard of. Sennheiser, the biggest name in headphones, makes no kids’ models. Nor does Bose. Sony and Panasonic have a few but they’re not available in Australia. Sony’s people here suggest the MDR-ZX110AP ($49.95) because they fit smaller heads.

The only brand I recognised in local shops was Philips. I spotted those, memorably named PMSHK200BL, for $39.95 and they’re pretty good. They’re rugged and comfortable on-ear models that look good and sound good enough to be acceptable with music, although the highs can get a bit sharp and the deep lows muddled

18 Kids HP Sennheiser PXC250II aOutside the square Sennheiser’s ultra-light on-ear PXC250-IIs are not made for kids but have headband adjustment fine enough for a four-year-old. The pads are also compact enough for small ears and they’re noise cancelling. I bought the original PXC250s in 2004 for myself and I liked them. Back then I paid $299, now they’re $199. The headband is sprung steel and I’m not sure how long it will last in a school bag. The separate battery pack at the end of the cable, with a volume wheel, was not a problem for me.

Dan Woodall at Sennheiser has girls aged five and seven who use PXC250-IIs happily. “The biggest issue with kids’ headphones is size,” he said. “Even with the headband adjusted to the smallest setting conventional headphones can fall too low or fall off. For four-year-olds this can even be a problem with some kids’ headphones because they’re usually designed for tweens and teenagers.”

My reader went with the Philips. They do everything she needs and they’re cheap enough to replace if they cop a hiding.

Published May 2017


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