Kids need a better way to keep their hearing safe.
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Puro headphones for kids: They won't play too loud, they sound great and are cable-free

May 3, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt

My hearing is damaged so much that I "hear" continuous sounds -- loud hissing and clanging, constant chirping and roars -- that won't go away. They will never go away.

And that's why I'm a big fan of every effort to prevent this kind of hearing damage to others, especially kids.

The problem is called tinnitus. Usually, it is caused either by an extraordinarily loud sound occurring once -- my damage came from a nearby exploding artillery shell in Vietnam -- or by prolonged listening to sounds a lot louder than normal, such as loud rock music, repeated gunfire or the clanging of very loud machinery.

It's the challenge of loud music that worries me the most. Many rock musicians suffer from tinnitus, and so do many listeners. Home speakers usually can't play loud enough to hurt anyone, but headphones that focus loud sounds an inch from your eardrums can be very dangerous -- especially to kids, who might not realize how painful some loud sounds can be.

As a headphone aficionado, I know how easy it is to raise the loudness level to ridiculous heights. You're engrossed in the music -- yes, I'm a Stones fan from 'way back -- and you want to feel that driving sensation. So you keep turning it up little by little until you're oversaturated with sound.

You can tell kids to keep the volume down until you're hoarse, and they won't listen. You know that as well as I do. They need another way to keep their hearing safe. Something like headphones that won't play too loud, no matter what.

I've seen claims for headphones like that before, but they've always sounded like crap. (Forgive the scientific jargon!) I've always felt the easiest way to discourage someone from using a product is to give them one that works poorly.

Puro headphonesThat's why I'm spreading the word about headphones from Puro Sound Labs that are almost as smooth-sounding as my reference megabuck headphones but refuse to play really loud. They're maxed out at the factory at 85 dB, which audio experts consider the loudest safe sound level for long-term listening.

They're sold as the BT2200 headphones and cost $80 or less, depending on discounts. You can get all-white or coppertone color schemes, both with brushed aluminum earcup backing.

These aren't your ordinary yuck-a-duck little-kiddie tinklers. They're the best looking headphones I've ever seen, elegantly beautiful, with gorgeous soft leather cushions on the earpieces and headband. They have that fashionable retro look, reminding me of the 'phones I used when I made my first crystal radio 60 years ago.

Surprisingly for something aimed at kids, they're packaged in a way only Jonny Ive, Apple's beknighted designer, could possibly imitate -- if I told you more I'd ruin the delightful surprise when you open the box -- and they connect either wirelessly or by a detachable cable. (Wireless operation is a huge plus for kids, who sometimes sit on, stand on and endlessly twist headphone cables.)

(I saw an Amazon reference to these 'phones that listed the clever carrying case as an extra cost option. Mine came with the case.)

I'm not a kid, a good thing because I didn't get a chance to listen to the Puro headphones until my10-year-old godson, visiting on a nice spring day, reluctantly gave them up; he had grabbed them -- sorry, taken possession of them -- as soon as he saw me pull them out of their case. Without glancing at the Quick Start booklet, he turned them on, paired them with the Bluetooth signal on his iPod Touch and sat down for some kid rock.

His verdict? Very good. Comfort? Superb. (He's an English whiz at 10.) Possibly his best judgment: "Buy me these headphones -- please?" (I was non-committal, as every good parent, grandparent and godparent should be.)

When I finally got a chance to audition the 'phones, I used the Bluetooth connection on my iPad to listen to Pink Floyd, then Bluetoothed them to my MacBook Air to listen to Virgil Fox, Miles Davis and Mr. Beethoven himself. For a comparison, I also listened using the cable that comes with the 'phones. (This avoids the wireless connection, improving the sound slightly and avoiding any possible signal interference.)

The overall sound was pleasant, with a muted treble and good midrange. Bass quality was fine for rock, with a good, low thud from bass guitars and drums, but the mid-bass seemed a bit flabby on classical music with cellos and timpani. Organ pedal tones came through fairly well, holding up to about 30 Hz. (That's just below the second lowest note on typical pipe organs and is much lower than most of us ever hear in normal music.) In The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd's epic album, the heartbeats in the opening track were perfectly reproduced, with a guttural feel and frighteningly intimate thumps.

Comfort was mixed. For the first hour or so, the soft, pliant earcups felt a little tight -- remember, I don't have a child's head, so they were naturally tighter than you'd expect -- but after that they just seemed like they pressed a bit too hard. My guess, after talking more with my godson, is that the 'phones wouldn't feel uncomfortable at all on a child's head.

Earlier, I described the Puro headphones' leather cushions. No one you show these to will ever guess what kind of leather it is. It's "protein leather," an amalgam of egg protein and super-soft high quality "pleather" -- yes, plastic made to feel like leather. This is the closest thing to top-quality leather I've ever come across. If Puro had found a way to embue the aroma of fine Corinthian leather into the pores of these cushions, not even the auctioneers at Christies would be able to tell the ruse.

Puro says their protein leather even breathes like real leather. I can tell you that naugahyde will never be the same after an evening letting protein leather caress your ears.

A couple of further notes: Puro is working on adult versions of these 'phones, which presumably will play louder out of the box. And, ahem, anyone with a little curiosity can bypass the loudness limit when Bluetooth is not being used. I don't want to say more about how to do it, but I'll happily report that the sound quality held up and seemed to improve when I played my own guitar and vocal recordings, made without limiting or frequency adjustments.

With a little tweaking of the treble and mid-bass, Puro could turn an adult version into a contender for best headphones in the $100 price class.

But I'm thinking of myself here. For my godson and his two brothers and for all kids who love their 'pods, these 'phones with their Bluetooth connections and safe levels can't be beat. And your kid will look like a million, too.