Consumer-Grade Headphones for Children: Limited Effectiveness of “Level Limiters” When Used With Portable or Home Media Players

Michael Stone, Mark Harrison, Keith Wilbraham, Melanie Lough

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Consumer-grade headphones for children are frequently packaged or marketed with labels claiming incorporation of an output-level-limiting function. Six pairs of headphones, sold separately from devices with audio interfaces, were selected either from online recommendations or from “best rated” with a large online retailer, the opinions being expressed in 2018 to early 2019. The acoustic outputs in response to an internationally standardized test signal were measured through the ears of a head-and-torso simulator and referenced to equivalent A-weighted diffuse-field sound pressure levels. The headphones were tested with a variety of music capable sources found in a domestic environment, such as a mobile phone, tablets, laptop computer, and a home “hi-fi” CD player. To maintain likely homogeneity of the audio interface, the computer-based platforms were manufactured by either Apple™ or certified Android devices. One of the two Bluetooth-linked headphones exhibited level limiting with low distortion (i.e., a compression ratio well in excess of unity). None of the devices wired directly to an audio output performed distortionless level limiting: “limiting” was implemented by a reduction of sensitivity or mechanical limitations, so could be called “soft limiting.” When driven by a laptop or CD player, some were still capable of producing output levels well in excess of “safe-listening” levels of 85 dB(A). Packaging labels were frequently ambiguous and imprecise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalTrends in Hearing (Online)
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2019


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