Some might question whether there should be a market for headphones aimed at the very young. The JVC TinyPhones are not recommended for anyone under 3 years, but some would say that 3 is still very young to be plugging in ignoring the rest of the world. We tested the JVC TinyPhones with a 3-year-old on a 21-hour flight to Australia.
The TinyPhones take a relatively conventional over-the-ear design, with nicely padded covers comfortable against the head. The construction of the body and headband is plastic, white with either blue or pink colour highlights as is often the case with kids' stuff.
There is no padding on the headband itself, but you can extend it to fit different head sizes. Given the small dimensions of the headphones they are only suitable for children, as your average adult probably wouldn't be able to get them on their head.
Like the Griffin MyPhones that we looked at recently, the TinyPhones limit the sound levels that pass through them, thereby protecting little ears from the damaging effects of regular exposure to loud volumes. This level is set at 85dB, the same as the offering from Griffin. Unlike those headphones however, you don't get an option to customise the design.
The cord measures 80cm, which is a little on the short side. As these headphones are likely to be used when sitting down or during travel, the short cable might not be a problem. Used with an aircraft's on-board entertainment system this caused no problems, but if you need to plug into a DVD player mounted on a car seat you might not have enough cable, so something to check in advance.
Mounted on the cable is the hardware that does the sound limiting. It is a powered solution (rather than passive) so you need to insert one AAA battery (supplied), from which you'll get 60 hours of life. The headphones then need to be switched on to work, a green LED indicating power. Turned off, or without a battery, you get no sound.
We handed the headphones over to our 3-year-old tester, who found them comfortable to wear whilst travelling and was happy to sit and watch in-flight movies, or play on the Leapster 2, not only providing entertainment, but saving the other passengers from listening to the repetitive soundtrack. Older children could equally use it with MP3 players or consoles like the Nintendo DS, whilst benefiting both from the aural protection and not disturbing others.
We stole the TinyPhones to assess the sound quality and it isn't too bad. The TinyPhones do struggle with a great deal of distortion at higher volumes, i.e., if you turn the source volume up all the way, with bass especially turning into a mush. Turned down a little, however, and the sound is surprisingly balanced, meaning you get good delivery across the audio spectrum, with a leaning towards the high end.
There is no form of noise cancellation, except from the physical isolation provided by the headphones, but we found the limited volume level was sufficient for using on aircraft. You could still hear some background noise, but this didn't intrude too much on music listening or movies. There is a degree of sound leakage, but the limited volume means it is never going to be excessive.
So what are the negatives? The use of a battery rather than a passive system means that you have to have a battery to hand and if they are going to be used regularly, then the 60 hours of life might not seem like much. The on/off switch offers little resistance, ideal for little fingers, but also meaning that they can easily be turned on in a bag. We'd have rather seen a system that auto-switched on and off.
They also don't fold up at all, so if you are travelling they'll take up a fair amount of space. The Griffin MyPhones do have a slight edge with a protective carry case (for home storage), a passive system and the option to customise.
However, our tester was happy to use the TinyPhones, which speaks volumes (pardon the pun). They might sound expensive at £29.99 RRP, but bargains are available if you shop around.