According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 20 percent of American teenagers--and 50 million Americans total--suffer from hearing loss, and noise-induced hearing loss is a major culprit. This type of hearing loss can be caused by a single exposure to an extremely loud noise like an explosion, but it can also be caused by "long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels."
Kids are getting smartphones, tablets, and other media players at increasingly younger ages, potentially spending long periods of time listening to music or watching videos through headphones at sound levels that are too high. It's not hard for a parent to control the volume level for a younger child. But as our kiddos get a bit older and more tech-savvy, it becomes increasingly difficult to be sure that they are always listening at safe volume levels.
Headphone manufacturer Puro Sound Labs formed with a simple mission: to create quality headphones that sound good and protect your hearing at the same time. The company's Healthy Ears approach to safe listening involves three elements: First, limit the headphones' maximum volume to 85 decibels. Second, block out noise so that people don't feel compelled to turn up the volume too loud. Puro says that its passive noise-blocking design can block out 82 percent of ambient noise. And finally, use a special Puro Balanced Response sound curve tailored to provide the best quality at the volume levels allowed.
Puro's first headphone, the wireless, on-ear, Bluetooth-based BT2200 ($79.99), was first introduced in late 2014 and was targeted directly at kids. Since then, the company has introduced the larger BT5200 headphone ($149.99) geared toward adults, which uses many of the same design elements but offers volume monitoring instead of volume limiting (which means the headphone will tell you when you're listening too loud, and you have the freedom to ignore it if you're feeling stubborn). Puro also offers several sub-$40 in-ear and on-ear designs targeted at teens.
As the parent of a seven-year-old daughter who has grown very fond of her tablet, especially to watch movies on long road trips (her parents have grown rather fond of this practice, too!), I worry about her listening to both movies and music at loud levels. Yes, I can start off the show at a reasonable volume, but the child knows how to work a volume control, and soon she will know how to access and adjust the volume limiters that are built into many tablets and smartphones. The Puro approach intrigued me, so I decided to check out the original BT2200.
The BT2200's build and style belie its sub-$100 asking price and its kid-friendly intent. This is a sturdy and stylish on-ear design in which both the headphones and the headband are constructed of aluminum and wrapped in a soft leathery fabric, with a nice amount of foam cushioning to protect the top of the child's head and form a good seal around their smaller ears. The headphones use 40mm dynamic drivers and are available in three colors: white with silver accents, black with silver accents, and tan with gold accents. I got the white/silver combo, which is nice visual complement to the classic white iPad.
Since this design is targeted at children, the form is a bit smaller than average. Each circular ear cup measures only about 2.5 inches in diameter. The headband is adjustable: At its smallest, the headband's length is a little less than 13 inches, which is good for younger children; each side can extend another 1.25 inches to grow with the child. When fully extended, these headphones just barely fit on my ears, and the side pressure built up fairly quickly--but then, on-ear headphones are my least favorite design precisely for this reason, as I grow weary of the pressure on my ears very quickly.
The real question is, how do they fit and feel on a child's head? Naturally, I enlisted my daughter's services throughout the course of this review, to get her take on the BT2200's comfort and performance. She found the BT2200 to be very comfortable to wear and to provide a good seal over her ears. These wireless headphones also stayed in place very well as she moved around the room and bounced around on the couch, as kids are wont to do. She even decided to challenge the fit by hanging her head off the couch to watch TV upside down, and they still stayed in place.
To say that she enjoyed the freedom of the wireless Bluetooth design would be an understatement. The BT2200 uses Bluetooth 4.0 and has a range of about 30 feet (it lacks the aptX found in the higher-end BT5200). My Bluetooth audio sources were a Dish Hopper DVR, a Macbook Pro, and an iPhone 6, and I experienced no audio dropouts when listening to these sources within the estimated range. When you first unbox the headphone, you need to charge the internal Lithium-ion battery with the supplied USB cable, and Puro claims 18 hours of battery life during playback (200 hours in standby). I conducted all of my listening tests on a single charge.
On the inside of each ear cup is a large printed L or R to let your child know the proper orientation of the headphones. On the left ear cup are the volume +/- buttons, power button, Bluetooth pairing button, USB port for charging, and a standard jack to attach the supplied headphone cable, for those times when you want a wired connection. It's a 43-inch-long flat cable to help reduce tangling, and it includes a microphone; however, it lacks play/pause and forward/reverse buttons to control audio playback. The BT2200 comes with a round, hard-shell carrying case that measures about 8.5 inches in diameter.
Performance-wise, the BT2200 serves up a generally well-balanced sound that doesn't over-emphasize the highs or the lows. I would classify the high end as being a little laidback: I didn't hear harshness or brightness in the highs of Chris Cornell's "Seasons," Junior Kimbrough's "Junior's Place," or Peter Gabriel's "Sky Blue," but the high frequencies also fell back a bit in the mix, lacking the clarity, crispness, and openness that I get from my much more expensive reference B&W P7 headphones. The BT2200's bass presence was a little fuller than that of the P7, but it's not at all overpowering, and there was good control over the bass in songs like Tom Waits' "Long Way Home," Ani Di Franco's "Little Plastic Castle," and Afro Celt Sound System's "Go on Through." Vocals in both podcasts and through my Dish Hopper had good clarity. Overall, I found the BT2200 to serve up a pleasing sound that's equally well suited to music and movie listening. Unless your 10-year-old is already an audiophile demanding the purest, airiest highs from his or her HDTracks FLAC files, I think they will enjoy the BT2200's balanced audio presentation.
For an on-ear design, the BT2200 provides an effective amount of ambient-noise reduction. As I listened to test tunes through my Macbook Pro (set to its maximum volume), the headphones completely blocked out the sound of my obnoxiously loud dishwasher when I stood just five feet away. On my backyard patio, the ambient sounds of wind, barking dogs, and children playing next door were completely blocked. I took my daughter for a car ride on the freeway with all the windows down while she listened to music through the Puro headphones. At the end of journey, I asked for a report, and she said she wasn't bothered at all by the wind noise and could hear her music very well. This is an important aspect of the headphones' performance, since a volume-limiting design does you no good if your kids are constantly complaining that they wish they could turn it up to hear their music better.
• Puro's 85-dB volume limit gives you peace of mind that your children's hearing is protected.
• The BT2200 headphones are well built and look stylish.
• The Bluetooth 4.0 provided a stable wireless connection, and the BT2200's battery life is listed at 18 hours.
• The on-ear design yielded good noise isolation.
• The sound quality is above average for a kids headphone. It's not too bright and not too boomy--it's just right.
• My seven-year-old found the fit to be comfortable and secure. The adjustable headband allows the headphone to fit smaller children and grow with them.
• The supplied cable has an in-line microphone but not music playback controls.
• You can't fold up the headphones into a more compact form, but the ear cups do turn to lie flat in the carrying case.
Comparison & Competition
Needless to say, there are a ton of competitors in the sub-$100 on-ear headphone category, even when you limit the options to those targeted at kids. However, if we further limit the competition to kid-oriented volume-limiting headphones--and further, to volume-limiting headphones with Bluetooth--one main competitor emerges: the $49 Untangled Pro from LilGadgets, which also uses 40mm drivers, has Bluetooth 4.0, and comes in a variety of colors. It allows for volume levels up to 93 dB and has a shorter rated battery life of 12 hours.
If you omit the Bluetooth feature, you can find more volume-limiting options at lower price points--including the KidzSafe DIY volume-limiting headphone ($29.95), the JLab JBuddies Studio headphone ($24.99), and the Kidz Gear Standard headphone ($19.99).
Perhaps you're wondering why a site like this would review a volume-limiting headphone targeted at children. My answer is, how can we raise up the next generation of audiophiles if everyone has hearing damage before the age of 21? The Puro BT2200 does a good job of protecting our children's precious ears while teaching them what "good sound" sounds like. Yes, there are lower-priced volume-limiting options, but the BT2200's strongest selling point, beyond its Bluetooth, may be that it doesn't look like a kids headphone, with plasticky parts, a pink or purple finish, and maybe some teddy bears painted on the ear cups. That may work for a toddler, but I can attest to the fact that it doesn't work for a seven-year-old who's all about being a big kid who wants big kid stuff. The BT2200 inspires pride of ownership, and its solid build quality means it should keep delivering good, safe sound to your child's ears through a good many growth spurts.