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I want to buy my preteen a pair of headphones, but I don't want them to damage her hearing in the long-run.

I teach her not to listen to music too loud, but just in case, are there certain types of headphones that are scientifically proven to be safer than others, assuming they're used at the same volume level? (eg. noise-cancelling vs. not, tight vs. loose, whatever else)

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Since your child is older, it is best to teach them to listen responsibly, since you will not be able to control what headphones they use in the long run. Some iPods and iOS devices have volume limiting options built into the software. You might try this before investing in a new set of headphones. http://www.howtogeek.com/224491/how-to-volume-limit-your-iphone-ipod-and-other-apple-devices-and-save-your-kids-hearing/

I researched many volume limiting headphones for my Pre-K aged kids, and finally settled on LilGadgets brand, which were not to quiet and not too loud. (Another brand I tried was too hard to hear on an airplane.) The LilGadgets were also easy to adjust and were relatively comfortable even for a grown-up. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00Q3I690I?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_search_detailpage

There is no way to turn off the volume limiter on these headphones. Also, they can be chained together with any other headphones, so multiple people can listen to the same thing. It's a nice way to share music or a video with your child.

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What you need is a set with a built in volume limiter. Many children specific sets have this feature, some more effective than others. A quick Google turned up this roundup review of children's headphones from PCAdvisor http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/feature/audio/best-headphones-for-kids-3460018/

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Unfortunately this is not actually possible. That 'scientifically proven' bit is not true.

The problem is that if you play loud noises into the ear, you will begin to damage the ear. Headphones and earphones are much closer to the ear so the noise levels felt by the ear are much louder than you may expect.

The only safe way to use earphones is to play them at a sensible volume. Which is why various mp3 devices come with a volume limiter. None actually stop you overriding the limiter, but require you to make a couple of extra selections.

So the solution is education and awareness. In the UK the Musician's Union publish a lot of information on this, and they provide free annual ear tests to musicians. If in any doubt, I'd suggest getting your daughter along to an equivalent session, or perhaps visit an ENT department at your local hospital - they will have horror stories that would turn anyone away from loud noises.

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  • But come on, there have to be headphones that are safer (not safe, but safer) than others. For example Beats are supposed to more dangerous than the average headphones because of their enhanced bass. – Jeff Caros Nov 27 '15 at 10:29
  • Enhanced bass is sort of irrelevant - you can decide how much of various frequencies goes into your ear. If you asked "which headphones have more bass" that would be off topic here, there would be a list of headphones with extra bass. Beats are not 'more dangerous' - IMO they are terrible headphones, but that's a topic for an audiophile site. – Rory Alsop Nov 27 '15 at 10:32
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    Going for noise cancelling may be worth a shot, though -> It reduces the temptation to turn up the volume to hear the earphones over ambient noise. – Layna Nov 27 '15 at 12:38
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    @JeffCaros High frequency sounds do the damage, not the bass, which is bone-conducted anyways. You probably want headphones with good bass, so that the listener isn't trying to turn them louder to hear the full range and damaging themselves with louder high ends in the process. High quality headphones with good, clear frequency response all around = you don't really need to turn them up to hear your music clearly. – Jason C Nov 29 '15 at 2:54

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