Crayola MyPhones and Ety-Kids 3 earbuds let kids listen safely
Apple’s iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone have proven to be great education and entertainment devices for kids, whether you want to teach your child the joys of music, entertain them with a kid-friendly game or a Disney movie, or help them learn using the wide selection of educational software available. (Of course, there are complex and personal parenting choices about what electronic media kids should be exposed to, as well as how much of it and at what age, but this is Macworld, not Parenting.) Most of these uses involve putting up with some amount of noise, video game sound effects, or your child’s tastes in music (which may involve performers with names like “Barney,” “Ralphy,” or “Lady Gaga”). If your suggestion of “Turn it down” is met with a dubious reaction, headphones can offer respite to the annoyed parent and child alike.
Of course, the use of headphones introduces other issues, such as ensuring the safety of your child’s hearing. Fortunately for both parents and kids, there are now a number of companies making children’s headphones designed to limit listening to reasonable volume levels. Macworld recently received two in-ear models for testing: Griffin Technology’s $15 Crayola MyPhones Earbuds and Etymotic Research’s $79 Ety-Kids 3 Headset + Earphones. (The Etymotic model is also available sans headset functionality as the $49 Ety-Kids 5 Earphones.)
Canalphones and canalbuds
The Ety-Kids 3 is a canalphone-style model, which means that the headphones are designed to fit relatively snugly and deeply in your childs’ ear canals. This blocks most external noise (encouraging quieter listening volumes) and creates a solid acoustic seal to improve bass performance. The MyPhones are of a similar style, called canalbuds (despite the word “Earbuds” in the product name), which don’t sit as deeply or block as much sound as canalphones, but are considerably better than traditional earbuds in this respect. The downsides of canalphones (and, to a lesser extent, canalbuds) are that getting a proper fit can be tricky, and the seal can result in microphonic cable noise—bumps and scrapes of the cable that are amplified by the canalphones’ tight coupling with your ear canals.
Griffin Technology Crayola MyPhones Earbuds
Griffin’s Crayola MyPhones Earbuds are designed for kids ages six and up, but their design shows their intended audience to be on the young side of that range. The MyPhones’ earpieces look like two ends of a Crayola crayon—when worn, they look, Steve Martin arrow-through-the-head-style, like you have a crayon lodged in your ear canals. They come in bright, child-friendly pink, blue, green, and purple models, and include a crayon-shaped carrying case that stores the earpieces and two spare sets of eartips (three pairs are included in the box, in child-sized small, medium, and large sizes), but not the headphones’ cable.
To me, that cable seems as though it may not be resilient enough for some kids (or even rough-handling adults), but at $15 the MyPhones are affordable to replace. And while the case is designed to store the spare ear tips, I’d recommend removing them and keeping them somewhere safe, as they’re small enough to be easily lost (or even ingested).
Although the MyPhones are designed for child-sized ears, I managed to get them to fit my adult ears and gave them a listen. The MyPhones’ limited volume comes from reduced sensitivity (that is, given the same electrical signal, the MyPhones produce a lower volume leven than most other headphones), so that even with a portable device at maximum volume, they shouldn’t be unsafe to listen to. Griffin claims the MyPhones top out at 85dB—a level that should be safe for up to eight hours of continuous listening—although because the MyPhones use low sensitivity to limit volume, the actual maximum level will depend on the capabilities of the device to which the headphones are connected. With my iPhone 4’s volume level maxed out, I would call the MyBuds’ volume level “moderate,” although if you really wanted to damage your hearing with the MyBuds, you could probably do so with a dedicated headphone amplifier.
As for audio quality, $15 generally doesn’t buy much performance in adult-size headphones, and that holds true for the MyBuds. The MyBuds’ sound is bass heavy, and there’s a haze that obscures sonic details. However, I’ve heard worse, and for $15, I’ll call the MyBuds’ performance “not bad”, especially considering the intended audience. Just keep in mind that the MyBuds’ primary purpose is to provide inexpensive, safe listening in a kid-friendly package—and they do just that at a reasonable price.
Etymotic Research Ety-Kids 3
Whereas the MyBuds are inexpensive and clearly designed for kids, Etymotic Research’s Ety-Kids 3 headset has a price and design befitting adult headphones. (Etymotic says the Ety-Kids 3 is suitable for ages four and up.) In fact, the Ety-Kids Earphones appear almost identical to Etymotic’s mc3 Headset + Earphones ( ), a long-time favorite of mine, although an Etymotic representative pointed out that the Ety-Kids’ earpiece diameter is a bit smaller, as the Ety-Kids uses a smaller, 6mm driver (miniature speaker) in each ear, while the mc3 uses an 8mm driver. The Ety-Kids also comes only in black; the mc3 is available in four different colors.
Like the mc3, the Ety-Kids 3 includes a variety of eartips (small and large triple-flanged silicone tips, along with soft-foam versions the company calls “glider” tips), a shirt clip, and a zippered, black-nylon, Ety-Kids-branded carrying case. The Ety-Kids 3’s cable sports a three-button remote (for volume up, play/pause/call/end, and volume down) and microphone in a small, inline module on the right side. The Ety-Kids 3 are also eligible for Etymotic’s Custom Fit program, if you really want to pamper your son or daughter with custom-made ear tips, although it’s probably not a great idea for rapidly growing children.
As true canalphones, the Ety-Kids do block a significant amount of ambient sound. If you’re worried about your child maintaining awareness of the world around him or her, Etymotic provides access to a free, branded version of the company’s Awareness app for iOS (normally $7), which mixes ambient noise (captured by the Ety-Kids 3 or iOS device’s microphone) with the iOS device’s standard audio output. The app is a free download, but using it requires that you register the headphones with Etymotic, including providing a key code found in the packaging.
In terms of sound quality, I found that the Ety-Kids’s audio largely resembles that of its sibling, with good detail across all frequencies, lower-than-average bass volume, and an emphasis on accurate midrange and treble. Overall, the sound is high quality—as it should be for $79—but some listeners (including teens) may want more bass. In fact, the Ety-Kids matches the mc3’s audio quality closely enough—I noticed only a slight lack of detail versus the mc3—that I’d be comfortable recommending them as a reduced cost alternative to the mc3. (And, heck, some adults need protection from turning the volume up too far, too.) The Ety-Kids’s microphone seemed identical to that of the mc3, providing acceptable-but-not-great audio quality that’s suitable for phone calls.
Like the MyBuds, the Ety-Kids use decreased sensitivity to keep volume low—the company claims 88dB at maximum volume with portable devices—although with my iPhone’s volume level maxed out, I would describe the Ety-Kids as loud, at least in a relatively quiet room. It was, however, considerably quieter than the mc3 by four or five increments of the iPhone’s volume button. Overall, the Ety-Kids is pricey for its intended market, but it will help protect hearing while still providing high-quality audio and headset functionality.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
At $15, the Griffin Technology Crayola MyPhones are an inexpensive way for your child to enjoy music, movies, games, and educational software while maintaining their hearing health and your own peace and quiet. They won’t sound great in the process, and they may not stand up to frequent abuse, but both are reasonable trade-offs at that price. Etymotic’s Ety-Kids 3, on the other hand, look and sound sophisticated enough to appeal to teenagers (and even adults), with a price to match. If your child is too old to appreciate the Crayola-themed design of the MyPhones, they may be old enough to appreciate the sound quality and headset features of the Ety-Kids—and some adults may even appreciate the extra help keeping listening volumes safe. The less expensive Ety-Kids 5, at $49, may be a better option for kids who don’t need headset functionality, as they’re otherwise identical to the Ety-Kids 3.
[R. Matthew Ward lives in St. Louis and has now proven his dedication to audio journalism by wearing pink headphones. He writes (sometimes) about audio, Apple, and other cool stuff on his personal blog.]