With the pandemic-induced lockdowns having sent most kids I know hurtling down a one-way street of increased technology adoption, be it a laptop for online schooling, a tablet for entertainment or even a Nintendo Switch for portable gaming, the need for kid-friendly headphones isn’t an often stated one, but one that you should absolutely consider -- instead of handing them one of your own.
Headphones made for larger, adult ears are not suitable for smaller (and developing) ears of kids, not just on account of size, but also due to their limited ability to handle the louder volumes that adult headphones are capable of. So, when Belkin reached out with their SoundForm Mini ( ₹3,999) wireless on-ear headphones meant expressly for kids, my 10-year-old daughter and I were intrigued enough for us to take them for a spin.
Straight off, Belkin gets a bunch of things right in terms of design and appeal for its niche audience. They’re available in black, blue, pink and white colors, but Belkin packs in a sticker pack in the box to customize the headphones - with a range of options from emoticons to dinosaurs and unicorns - and easily identify them if they’re carried to school.
That was half the battle won with my daughter, as the ability to make the headphones her own was a big draw. Outside of this, they’re fairly plain-looking, with a strong plastic shell and band that feels like it can take a bit of tough love from a boisterous kid.
Controls are simple – power, volume up and down – and there’s a micro-USB port for charging and a 3.5mm jack for wired connectivity, plus a built-in microphone, all on the right earcup. All the buttons are somewhat recessed, so it’s unlikely that they will be pressed accidentally. Double pressing the volume buttons will skip forward or go back a track, but that’s about it – no fancy gestures, no extra buttons, nothing complicated.
Worn on the head, these are noticeably smaller and more lightweight than adult headphones, almost akin to some of the better headphones you get on long-haul flights. The headband is extendable, and the cushion cups are comfortable, but the smaller curve of the headband means slightly bigger heads may experience a bit more clamping force on the ear. Also, the headband isn’t cushioned. This may well be a hidden blessing as it may discourage extremely long periods of use.
With Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, the headphones connect to the TV, a tablet or the laptop. Used wirelessly, battery life varied between 20-30 hours on one charge, which is decent for a pair of cans this lightweight, and you can switch to wired mode when they run out of juice – useful for vacations where you may end up forgetting the micro-USB cable behind (as we did!) One wishes Belkin hadn’t gone down the micro-USB route, as Type-C cables are just more easily found around the house, but they have provided both the charging and the stereo cable in the box.
Now, my expectations were suitably tempered that these on-ear headphones were not intended to be anywhere close to audiophile grade stuff, and the on-ear fit in any case would not do a lot to block out the outside world. Any temptation to crank it up is met by the SoundForm Mini’s best feature – a volume limiter that caps the volume in Bluetooth mode to 85 decibels. According to Belkin, this is the limit beyond which extended exposure can impact hearing, particularly on the developing ears of children and teens. Bear in mind, the audio limit only applies to Bluetooth mode, and the cans can go a bit louder when plugged in directly, so you’re going to have to keep an eye out for that.
Expectedly, the audio quality is middling, and adults may find them a bit lacking, but your kids will probably love them irrespective. Despite asking repeatedly, I have heard no complaints from the child as she’s happy to use the lightweight headphones wire-free, allowing her to get up and get a snack without having to pause the YouTube video. The smaller form factor that sits lightly on her head was a big win in her books…and this is coming from someone who occasionally gets to try far better headphones.
At ₹3,999, the Belkin SoundForm Mini is an affordable yet rather robust pair of headphones for your child, and it ticks the right boxes for a child-friendly pair. The volume limiter, albeit only in Bluetooth mode, is a big plus, as it exposes their tender ears only to appropriate volume levels, and that is a strong reason to consider these headphones.
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar.