Rear-seat entertainment (RSE) systems have become as much a part of the family road trip as "Punch Buggy" and "Counting Blue Cars" used to be. These electronic babysitters help keep kids in the backseat quiet...and help parents and the driver keep their sanity.
Most headphones that come with factory and aftermarket RSE systems are designed for larger heads, so parents often have to spend time adjusting the fit as well as the volume to keep kids happy. Many parents are also concerned about the effects on young ears of listening to a movie or video game for hours with headphones.
Two companies have recently introduced headphones specifically designed for kids' heads and ears, but they take different approaches. Kidz Gear offers wireless headphones ($29.99) that work with any RSE system and use infrared (IR) to receive an audio signal, while Griffin Technology's MyPhones ($39.99) are wired and limit volume to 85 decibels to protect young ears.
The disparity between these two pairs of kids' headphones couldn't be more black and white — literally. The Kidz Gear headphones are black and the ear caps have a rounded, almost retro look; Griffin's MyPhones are white and have clear ear caps that can be removed to change decorative inserts.
From a technology and convenience standpoint, they also take divergent approaches since the Kidz Gear headphones are wireless and the Griffin MyPhones are not. This means you can use the Kidz Gear headphones with almost all factory and aftermarket rear-entertainment systems, but you can only use the Griffin MyPhones with ones that have inputs for wired headphones.
While the KidzGear headphones come with volume controls and a power on/off switch (and, like most RSE wireless headphones, have an auto-off feature to keep from draining the batteries), Griffin's MyPhones have a set volume. Griffin's MyPhones also come in a cool clamshell carrying case with three different sets of decorative inserts for the ear caps, as well as blank templates that kids can color to create their own designs.
There's no installation required with either of the headphones we tested, beyond taking them out of the packaging and inserting two AA batteries into the Kidz Gear headphones. The Griffin MyPhones are literally a plug-and-play product: Just connect the 50-inch cord to a headphone jack, and you're good to go.
On the Road
We tested the two sets of headphones in a variety of vehicles with stock RSE systems, including a Dodge Ram pickup, Lexus RX 450h and Toyota Sienna. But we did the majority of testing in a 2008 Honda CR-V LX AWD with an Audiovox VOD10PS2 overhead video console that was installed as part of a larger OEM upgrade.
We enlisted the help of a12-year-old and 9-year-old to test the Kidz Gear and Griffin headphones, although the 12-year-old found both sets of headphones too small. We then compared them to the full-size wireless headphones that came with the Audiovox video console.
The Audiovox headphones are so large that they almost float on the 9-year-old's head, even when adjusted to their smallest size, so he was a perfect candidate to test both sets of headphones. And, of course, we had no problem coercing him into helping with the testing since it meant he got to watch movies and play video games in the car.
He spent about eight hours on various trips comparing the three sets of headphones. After each testing session, we asked what he thought and his reply was always the same: He thought that the Kidz Gear headphones were the most comfortable and had the most "realistic" sound of the three. He also liked the fit of the Griffin MyPhones but complained that they weren't loud enough, particularly when cruising at highway speed.
Before this, he never complained about the headphones that came with the Audiovox system, even though they're too large for his head. And the snug fit of the Kidz Gear headphones could be the reason he thought that they sounded more realistic.
From our test, we concluded that the Griffin MyPhones are best suited to younger kids, who may not complain about the lack of volume and may like their design. And to be fair, they're not specifically designed for in-car use, though having a carry case is a great convenience. But there's also the disadvantage of having to plug them in, which may not work with every rear-entertainment system (such as we experienced in the Lexus RX 450h and Dodge Ram).
While the Kidz Gear headphones are slightly less expensive than the Griffin MyPhones (by $10), the Griffin MyPhones can also be used at home — for when kids play games or watch a movie on the computer, for example. There is an IR transmitter available for the Kidz Gear headphones ($14.95) that allows them to be used at home, and the company also sells wired headphones for $16.99.
Why You Want It
While both sets of headphones are designed for kids, the Griffin MyPhones are better for younger kids, while the Kidz Gear headphones are more suited to older kids. When one of our testers was younger, his parents had a car with a video system and recalled that he would have to hold the headphones to keep them from sliding off his ears. His parents would frequently have to adjust the volume when he accidentally turned the headphones down or turned them off. The Griffin MyPhones would have been ideal at that age — if the system had come equipped with an appropriate jack, which it didn't.
Perhaps a reason to consider one of these aftermarket kid-friendly headphones is if the ones that came with a stock or aftermarket RSE system have been lost or damaged. By calling dealers' parts departments, I found that Lexus charges as much as $160 for replacements, while Dodge charges $63 and Toyota, $51, although some of these are dual-channel headphones that can tune into two separate sources, such as a DVD or a radio station, on two different channels. Audiovox charges only $14 for replacement headphones and you can also find aftermarket single-channel headphones for less. But in general, all of these can still cost more than the Kidz Gear headphones.
Others To Consider: Kidz Gear wired headphones ($16.99).
The manufacturer provided Edmunds with this product for the purposes of evaluation.