Buddyphones REVIEW Protect Your Children’s Hearing with Volume Limiting Headphones
What is it about music that makes us crank up the decibels? It is often not enough to hear the experience, but we also want to live and feel it as well. Unfortunately, noise-induced hearing loss is a significant medical problem that our society faces. Once the hearing is damaged and gone, it does not come back. According to American-Hearing.org, one-in-ten Americans has hearing loss that affects their ability to live their life. Excessive and prolonged exposures to sound have been reported as the most common cause of this damage. Furthermore, the website states 15% of people aged 20–69 have high-frequency hearing loss secondary to work/pleasure activities. There are many web resources that provide information about the safe duration of exposure and common environmental noises that reach a given decibel level. The current thought is that 85 decibels represent the safe working limit, as permanent hearing loss does not occur until exposure exceeds eight hours (Dangerousdecibels.org). Unfortunately, for every 3–5 decibels you increase the intensity, you cut the safe listening time in half. It becomes even more awe-inspiring when you think that a lawnmower is 90 dB, a chainsaw/pneumatic drill or snowmobile can reach 100 dB (2 hours max per day without protection), and sandblasting, loud rock concerts, and an auto horn can reach 115 dB and cause damage after 15 minutes. I know that I am not alone in the “Turn that down!” battle. Luckily there are devices like buddyphones that try to add another tool to our toolbox.
The buddyphones wireless headphones arrived in a pristine white 6 7/8 inches wide by 7 5/16 inches tall by 3 1/8 inches thick retail package. The silver foil “buddyphones” title was beautifully displayed along the top right and the headphones were intelligently displayed atop a child’s head. I liked that the image of the headphones/child wrapped around the side of the packaging and utilized the right side of the box. The product was designed for children over the age of three and promised safe audio (85 decibels), 14-hour battery life, 10m wireless range and study mode. The left side of the box was half white and half clear plastic. I love when you can look into the packaging to physically see the product, as this is the best way to visualize your purchase. The above features were repeated on the left side panel with four icons. The back showcased four color options (blue, pink, safari yellow and green) and the adjustable audio settings for Toddler Mode (75dB max), Kids Mode (85dB max), Travel MOde (94dB max) and Study Mode (94dB max). The bottom of the packaging provided space for the needed product labels and detailed the specifications of the headphones: 40mm driver, Bluetooth 4.2, 20Hz to 20kHz range, 3.7V battery output. If you lift up the front magnetic flap, you can see the attractive yellow headphones behind a clear plastic window. The inner flap showcased the foldable nature of the headphones, the anti-allergenic cushions, the LED Display, the sound control, the microphone and the adjustable straps. In addition to the 4.6-ounce headphones, you will get a sheet of stickers, an instruction manual, charging cord, BuddyCable system with an audio splitter to share and use without power and an instruction manual. The packaging provided a great overview of the product and led me to want to learn more about the buddyphones.
Opening up the packaging, I found the safari yellow headphones resting on a thin white plastic shell. Beneath the plastic, you will find the 6 1/8 inches wide by 6 3/4inches tall safari yellow drawstring travel bag, a 9 1/2 inches long USB-A to USB-micro cable, a sheet of stickers, 35 1/2 inches long 3.5mm to 3.5mm splitter and a 30-panel, 16-language instruction manual (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Arabic). The headphones arrived in their fully extended form. Located 1 1/2 inches from each of the 2.5-inch diameter foam earcups, you will find a hinge that will allow the headphones to fold up. In the folded stage, they fit nicely inside of the carry bag. The right earcup was the master device, and the left earcup was the passive one. To orient the earcups, you can look on the inside of the swivel arm for the small “R” and “L.” On the side of the right earcup, you will find a series of three control buttons, three upward arrows, a child with headphones, and two downward arrows. Along the bottom of the right earcup, you will find a series of four LEDs, the micro-USB input and the 3.5 mm input port. Powering on the device and pairing the device proved to be easy but probably should be done by a parent or older child. When you hold the child icon, for approximately one second, the device will power on, and an Asian female voice will announce “Turn on Bluetooth, Waiting for Connecting.” I was disappointed with the broken English but pleased that they chose to include a verbal cue. If you hold the same button for 3 seconds, the device will power off, and the same female voice will announce,”Turn Off.” To connect to a smart device simply navigate to settings, Bluetooth and select BUDDYPHONES. The same female voice will announce “Connected.”
The main selling point of the headphones was the decibel max lock. To change the volume mode, press both the up and down arrows together. If the last two LED flash orange/yellow, you will know that you were in toddler mode. If you press the buttons again, you will notice the final three LED flash green, and you will enter into Kids mode (85dB). Press the buttons a third time, and all four will flash blue, denoting travel mode (94dB). If you press them again, the LED will sequentially flash different colors, alerting study mode (94dB). Interestingly, the manual colors for toddler mode (GREEN) and Kids Mode (BLACK) were not the same as the ones on the device. As a father of three small children, I was surprised at how well this feature worked. If you want to protect their hearing, leave the mode on Toddler Mode, and this will link the max volume on your smart device to the max volume of the headphones. You ca, n still single press the volume down button to lower the volume, but they cannot exceed the maximum setting. If you press the volume up and down buttons, you can navigate to the subsequent mode and enjoy a noticeable increase in volume. There was a very noticeable increase from 75dB to 85dB to 94dB. My wife noted that the 75dB was still louder than she would like for our children to listen to music. Reviewing the information from an NBC News Q&A from 08/2010, I discussed that a conversation at arm’s length should be able to be heard if <85 dB and if you cannot hear it, the sound is likely >85 dB. I agreed with my wife that the music was likely too loud but the children could not further increase the sound. Similar to other sound regulating headphones, the buddyphones lack a lock-out feature for children. It is my opinion that this feature should not be a substitute for adequate parenting. If you are standing within arms reach and they cannot hear you/respond to you, the sound is too loud. The passive noise canceling feature further enhanced the clarity without requiring you to turn up the volume.
My nine-year-old son wanted to listen to Katie Perry, “Roar” and Lost Boy “Ruth B” again and again. My six year old wanted to listen to “My Lighthouse” and my three-year-old daughter wanted to hear Laurie Berkner Band songs. The biggest obstacle that I faced during the challenge was only having a single pair of headphones to test. I was pleased with the battery life, charging to full in 1 hour out of the box. I have listened 2 hours a night over the last five days, and I never reached a recharge cue. I decided to charge them again, and they were ready for me by morning. To test the volume, I used the headphone on my iPad microphone and used Decibel X app and found that the volume appeared to be accurately regulated. I navigated to audiocheck.net and found that the buddyphones passed the Low-Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10–200 Hz), High-Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22–8 kHz), Stereo Perception and Sound Localization and the Left/Right Stereo Audio Test. I was very pleased with the bass and the with the overall feel/balance of the headphones. We enjoyed the Gaither Vocal Band “Chain Breaker,” numerous songs from Anthem Lights, Holly Cole “Train Song,” Eagles “Hotel California,” and many of the classics from my youth like CCR and a recent favorite, Prince “Purple Rain.” My children and I also like to listen to audible books and to watch YouTube videos. Even though the Study Mode had a 94dB limit, it enhanced vocals and improved the experience.
To summarize, I was truly impressed with the sound, the blend, the punching bass and the overall comfort of these headphones. I was even more impressed with the fact that they were on-ear style instead of in-ear or around-ear systems. The headphones were a bit small for my head but worked amazingly well for my children. As noted above, I was not comfortable solely relying on the device to protect their ears, but it worked very well. The included splitter, the carry bag, the battery life and features are well worth the $50 price tag. We did not test the call feature of the headphones but the microphone seems to be well placed for this activity. If you are looking for a pair of good headphones for your children, or maybe even for yourself, I do not think you will find a better bang for your buck.
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