The Best Radio Headphones – Top Rated AM/FM Models Reviewed & Compared
Nowadays, radio isn’t as used as it was a few decades ago. Our parents and grandparents practically grew up around the radio and later on the color TV replaced most of the entertainment and news sources. Still, there are young people who prefer the accessibility of local and global radio stations through their car or mobile devices. Most workers that are at remote locations also find radio as a decent getaway from the mundane cycle of their job. Having the best radio headphones will not only guarantee that you will stay entertained but will also make time past easier when you’re working in a loud environment.
Some of the most important features that you should look for in your new radio headphones are their design, the comfort they provide, their frequency coverage, how good their receiver and sound quality is, and how well they isolate your ears from the outside noise. Of course, there are other small factors that should be taken into consideration. That is why I’ve made this thorough guide in which we will talk top models, their features, and above all – dive into the specifics of radio headphones. So, let’s get started!
3M WorkTunes AM/FM Hearing Protector
3M is a world-renowned brand that is a leader in manufacturing protective equipment for almost all industries. Their ear protection headphones are among the most durable and well-priced on the market. Pair that with solid radio performance, and you get the 3M WorkTunes Hearing Protector.
These radio headphones are fairly simple in terms of their design but the durability and material quality are on par with other premium models in the category. They can be worn for prolonged periods of time thanks to their well-padded headrest and large earmuffs. While this won’t work in your favor in warmer days, it does a good job of not causing any discomfort on your head or ears. The right earcup houses the radio module along with all the controls. It has an AM/FM button, a “Mode” button to select between AM/FM and MP3. Below the tuning knob, you also get a volume control knob and a 3.5mm jack for the audio-in. Above all that is the radio antenna which is fairly flexible. On the other earcup, you have the battery housing which fits 2xAA batteries that are good for up to 140 hours of playtime.
There are 15 different levels of volume control here and the headphones can be switched between mono and stereo use in case you want to have only one of the earcups on. The noise reduction rating (NRR) here is rated at 24 decibels (dB) which is less than some other brands but is more than good enough for most jobs.
One last thing I want to touch on here is the Audio Assistant. It allows you to save and later toggle between 50 different radio stations. It also gives you voice notifications when your battery levels run low. As a whole, there aren’t many disadvantages for this model apart from the poor sound quality some model years have due to the different drivers used (2018 and 2019 model years).
- Very well priced
- Durable design
- Well-padded earmuffs and headrest
- Good control layout
- Decent radio quality
- NRR of 24
- MP3 Compatible
- The 2018 model year is notoriously bad in terms of sound quality and reliability
Honeywell Howard Leight AM/FM Radio Earmuffs
Honeywell is another brand that specializes in hearing protection for workers. Their Howard Leight line of headphones is one of the most common radio headphones on our market and with each year’s improvements, it becomes a more well-rounded model than it was before. The only slight disadvantage I can think of here is that they are almost twice as expensive as some other radio headphones with similar features. Due to the LCD display, the battery life isn’t up there too.
What sets up that price difference is the material quality as well as the sound quality that these headphones bring to the table. They are superior in terms of signal strength and clarity to almost all of their competitors, apart from brands like Retekess which have mastered radio devices. In terms of their design, they are quite similar to most other radio headphones with the controls and display on one earcup and batteries on the other. The key feature here, however, is the hearing protection which is made with the help of Honeywell’s patented AirFlow technology which works thanks to the foam, non-woven base plate, and a system of holes to provide superior protection against hazardous outside noises. That results in an NRR of 25.
A few other cool features here are the removable ear cushions which facilitate replacement and maintenance. The bright green color and reinforced fork sliders are other small things that set these headphones apart from their competition.
- NRR of 25
- Superior noise cancellation properties
- Bright Green/Yellow colors available
- Easy controls
- Has an LCD display
- Auto-search feature for radio stations
- Too expensive compared to some models similar in functionality
- Battery life isn’t great
Stanley RST-63012 Digital AM/FM/MP3 Earmuffs
The Stanley RST-63012 Sync Radio Earmuffs bring a familiar design and quality to the table. They are very similar to the Honeywells in almost any way even price-wise. That makes them a direct competitor.
The main differences between these models are the weight, with the Stanleys being slightly lighter, as well as the sound quality. The RST-63012 has a Hi-Fi digital stereo reception when it is in its radio modes (FM and AM). It can also work with external MP3 devices via the 3.5mm jack. These also come in a solely MP3 version that doesn’t have the radio properties and is much cheaper.
On the side, you have the radio running buttons as well as the volume controls. Above them are the LCD display and the antenna. The display is good for showing you the mode you are in as well as the radio station frequency. On the other side, you have the battery housing. The batteries here are 2xAA and most good brands will typically last you more than 100 hours of playtime. Just like with the Honeywell,s these headphones have removable ear cushions that snap in and out easily. The headphones are easy to carry around due to their foldable construction. That typically creates weak spots in the construction, but the fork slides here are reinforced.
- AM/FM/MP3 compatible
- Lightweight construction
- Easily foldable
- Removable ear cushions
- LCD display
- Good battery life
- NRR of 25
- Hi-Fi Audio
- Reception signal isn’t always strong
Protear Digital AM/FM Radio Headphones
The Protear Radio Headphones are one of the best deals on the market currently and bring excellent value for the number of features they have. In terms of design and comfort, they are superior to almost all other radio headphones. The headrest is wide and well-padded and the earcups are also fairly big meaning they easily accommodate your ears distributing their weight evenly over a large surface. While this will add bulk it will certainly make wearing them over long periods much easier.
For those who are working on a construction site, there are three more colors, two of which are bright and distinguishable from a long distance which might improve safety. I personally like and recommend the orange and red ones which also come with the huge advantage of having a rechargeable battery inside instead of 2 AA batteries. That will hinder the battery life by a lot but will also reduce the long-term cost of owning them.
The Tuning knob here is easily accessible and can be felt and turned even with thick gloves on. It allows you to toggle between AM and FM radio stations. The signal has decent quality and the 30mm speakers inside are fairly loud. You can memorize 8 stations for quick access later on.
The hearing protection here is also quite good. They are ANSI S3.19 Certified with an NRR of 25 dB. While the company is misleading you a bit with its marketing, this amount of NRR is more than good enough for most jobs. What I mean is that they’re claiming that the headphones reduce an 80dB noise to 55 dB which isn’t how NRR works. We will dive deeper into that in the buyer’s guide section…
- Great value for your money
- Super comfortable design
- Large LCD display
- Big and easy-to-use knob
- 3.5mm audio jack
- Quite bulky
- The antenna strugles to keep up in remote locations
DeWalt DPG15 Industrial Safety Hearing Muffs
When it comes to industry leaders in protective and worksite gear, DeWalt has always been at the very top with their premium-class products. The DeWalt DPG15 makes no exception to that with its unique design and convenient functionality. All that comes at a price, however, which is typical for the brand. Is the price jsutified, though? Well, let’s find out…
The first thing that will make an impression on you here is that these earmuffs are quite bulky compared to the slim designs from Honeywell’s premium products. Still, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most of the bulk comes from the extra padding. The earcups are a bit wider than normal as well, though, which is due to the radio components and large speakers inside. These are controlled via the button cluster on the right side of the headphones. There, you have AM/FM toggle button, on/off button, forward and backward rewind and search buttons that work both for MP3 audio and the radio. Below these, you have the volume control knob and the 3.5mm jack. Above all that is the large LCD display which shows you the radio station and other information regarding what’s playing.
While the DPG15s come in black and the patented DeWalt yellow, I wish they were slightly more visible in order to provide even further protection apart from the NRR of 25. What’s worse is that this model is as expensive as some other ones which aren’t necessarily better in terms of build quality but have better radio receivers and a more consistent signal.
- Material quality is top notch
- Well-padded earcups and headrest
- Nice button layout
- Large LCD display
- Come with a 3.5mm cable
- Somewhat expensive
- Radio signal isn’t great
- Too bulky for some people
Retekess RT101 Walkman Headphones
Retekess is a brand known for their radio technologies and various products using radio signals. Their headphones, despite being less-known, are a shockingly good value for their money. Now, there are a few major differences between these headphones and most of the other radio headphones on this list.
For starters, these aren’t over-ear headphones but rather on-ear, making them a bit more uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. Due to that design feature of theirs, they also don’t have a noise protection rating in place, making them rather useless for people looking to block out the external noise from their worksite or commute. This is where the bad things end, though. When we look at the radio features of the Retekess RT101 we quickly learn what they’re trying to accomplish with the model. They are absolutely sublime in terms of signal quality, reception, and even sound quality, especially considering they are less than a third of the price of some DeWalt and Honeywell models.
The radio signal quality here is mainly achieved through a few important factors. First, there is a copper tie rod in the antenna which prolongs its life and improves durability. It also helps with signal clarity. On top of that, the antenna is given a wide receiving range with a small acceptance angle change meaning almost minimal impact on the radio signal. All that translates to an excellent sound quality which you can regulate at 15 different sound levels. You can have 10 radio stations as your presets and there are 0-9 keys that allow you to easily select stored or non-stored stations.
While the FM band is covered from 50 to 108 MHz (which is more than any other pair of headphones here) there is no AM mode which is a huge downside for some people. The overall construction quality of the headphones isn’t stellar either. Still, the cheap price tag might make up for that.
- Extremely cheap for what they are
- Excellent radio signal
- Advanced controls
- Potent external antenna
- Long battery life
- LCD display
- Cheaply built main frame
- No AM mode
WulfPowerPro Wireless Radio Headphones
The WulfPowerPro Wireless Radio Headphones are the most expensive model on this list and there are a few very good reasons for that. The very first thing I want to talk about is the Bluetooth and hands-free features.
The built-in Bluetooth in these headphones is compatible with all Bluetooth-enabled devices, meaning it can pair with your smartphone, MP3 player, laptop, or even TV. That makes these headphones a good all-in-one product for people that want a single pair of headphones doing all the work for them. When paired with a phone, these headphones also allow you to receive calls and talk hands-free thanks to the built-in mic. In terms of audio and radio quality, there have been no compromises here. The 40mm speakers inside are excellent and crisp and the signal quality is quite good considering there is no large external antenna here. The Active Noise Reduction chip blocks out any external noise making these headphones ideal for super loud environments. They have an official NRR rating of 29 dB which is above most of its competition by quite a lot.
Apart from all that, the construction here is top-notch, fitting to the premium price tag. The headrest is flexible and not too tight. That, combined with the very soft earmuff cushions, makes for a pleasant experience throughout a full day of work. The 800 mAh rechargeable battery can also get you through a full day on a single charge which is very important for people who do long shifts at remote locations. Still, the more you use the Bluetooth, the faster you will drain it.
Another unique feature these headphones have is the microphone. While I mentioned that in the hands-free calls feature earlier, it is important to note that not that many radio headphones have a built-in mic. All of that comes at a price though, which is the biggest disadvantage in my opinion. Most people will be looking for basic functionality and a good NRR rating when looking for radio headphones for their work or commute. That is why most models are priced in the 40-60$ range, while these greatly exceed that.
- Premium build quality
- Brightly colored
- Rigid construction
- Flexible headrest
- LCD display
- Easy-to-use controls
- Has Bluetooth connectivity
- Hands-free calls
- Very expensive
- Bluetooth doesn’t always pair right away with your device
Honeywell RWS-53012 Sync Digital Earmuffs
The Honeywell RWS-53012 Sync Digital Earmuffs are yet another familiar pair of radio headphones that has all the bells and whistles of the more expensive Honeywell and Stanley models but comes with a much cheaper price tag. That, combined with the durable and brightly colored construction, is enough of a reason most people opt for them.
In terms of construction and durability, this is no exception to any other Honeywell pair apart from the fact that materials feel a notch cheaper and aren’t as flexible and durable as they are on the more premium models. Everything is still lightweight, though, which adds to the overall comfort. The LCD display works well in combination with the different modes (AM/FM/MP3) and the Aux input. There have been some complaints of the headphones glitching and getting stuck in Aux-only mode after users have inserted an audio jack to listen to MP3s.
The other common issue here is that the battery compartment is flimsy and sometimes opens by itself or even breaks. Apart from those issues, everything else is fairly durable. The battery life is great and two normal AA batteries easily give you more than 100 hours of play time. The radio reception as well as the auto-search function work flawlessly and the signal and sound quality are good enough for the money.
- Excellent value for your money
- Colored in bright red/orange
- Durable radio antenna
- Decent padding
- LCD display
- Automatic radio station searching
- The battery compartment opens easily
- Ear cushions aren’t very durable
- It sometimes get stuck in Aux mode
Radio Headphones Buyer’s Guide
Radio headphones are used by a wide variety of people all connected through their love for local and global broadcasting stations. Radio has always been a way to listen to new music without losing your touch with the world by also listening to news, podcasts, and other talk shows where important issues are discussed. While radio headphones were a relatively old invention, the surge of interest in the past decade has pushed companies to modernize them by quite a bit. Now, they are smaller, with better build quality, and sound nothing like they did before. This has increased the demand for them even further since manufacturers combined them with proper noise reduction which catered heavily to workers since they can radio in their otherwise boring (but mandatory) noise-cancellation cups. Before we dive into the important features, let’s answer one important question.
How Do Radio Headphones Work?
Let’s start things with the simplest possible explanations – radio headphones use antennas to catch the radio signal and convert it into sound via their speakers in the earcups. They can either have an FM/AM tuner or just an FM one, depending on how complex the model is. FM models can have a different frequency band starting at around 50 MHz (sometimes 80 or 88) and always ending at 108 MHz. Above those, are the aviation and weather frequency bands that are out of reach for these types of headphones.
The more complex explanation to how these headphones work is that this mentioned radio signal reacts with the electrons in the antenna and creates a current (electrical signal) which is then fed to the headphone’s processor and is transformed into a clean signal which is passed onto the speakers. Things like static interference and noise are stripped out at the processor level and the quality of the said processor greatly determines your headphones’ quality and their ability to tune in to a station without much additional noise. Where is the antenna in the headphones, you ask? Well, it is the headphones themselves! They are the perfect antenna since they have a metal lining in their headband and also have two magnets with coils surrounding them. All that acts as the perfect receiver antenna without the need for a long pointy one as you’re used to seeing on traditional radios. Still, these long antennas are very common with radio headphones since they add a lot to the reception capabilities of the headphones as well as their sound quality and sensitivity. Some models that only work with the FM band don’t have long external antennas.
Features To Consider Before Buying
There are a number of things that you have to keep in mind when browsing for a good pair of radio headphones. There are countless of models out there all catering to the needs of different groups of people. Construction workers and lumberjacks might need headphones with solid ear protection, while radio enthusiasts and people who want a wireless experience at home might not benefit too much from having that. Either way, here is the full list of features that you should go through when selecting your first headphones:
- Design & Comfort
- Signal & Sound Quality
- Battery performance
- Noise cancellation
- Volume regulation
- Price & Warranty
Let’s start with the most important thing when it comes to something that will be on your head for prolonged periods of time…
Design & Comfort
The design of any pair of headphones is its most important and user-oriented feature. While most companies emphasize on sound quality and their radio receivers, others focus primarily on material quality and user comfort. Most radio headphones on today’s market have a similar design with one of their earcups being housing the control keys for your tuning and sound settings. The headband and the earcups are typically well-padded but are fairly bulky due to the noise protection and technology packed inside. The pads on the earcups are going to be the key feature that determines the comfort. Whether or not the headrest is padded is also important if you’re going to wear them over long periods of time. Don’t worry too much about that, though, as almost all new models have padded headrests. The headrest also houses the sliding adjustment mechanisms of the earcups. Reinforced fork slides are an industry standard at this point and are quite durable and easy to use.
The earcup design is another important factor for the wearer’s comfort. Look for slim and lightweight earcups that won’t add too much bulk and weight to the headphones and respectively to your ears. Earcups are also important when it comes to visibility on your work site. That is why most ear protection radio headphones are bright green/yellow/red in color.
When it comes to the type of radio headphones, there are only two main ones you can choose from – standard headphones with a radio receiver and sound insulated headphones that provide ear protection. The distinction between these two is fairly obvious with the standard ones having no noise protection other than the one that their closed earcups provide. The models with ear protection typically have an NRR (noise reduction rating) which helps with lowering the environmental noise inside the earcups. We will talk about that in detail further down the guide…
There are also some models that feature an in-ear or on-ear design but those aren’t as common and aren’t that good at protecting your ears and hearing.
Signal & Sound Quality
The signal strength and quality are what ultimately determines how good a pair of radio headphones are. While there are a ton of factors that play into the signal strength, it can be boiled down to the material quality of the antenna and the processor’s power. While most headphones have both AM and FM receivers, some work with the FM frequency band only. Additionally, some headphones cover a bit more of the FM frequency band (88-108 MHz). There are models that cover the full VHF band. Those will allow you to tune in to other frequencies that are used by weather services, aviation, and others.
The sound quality will depend primarily on the speaker size, although there are other features like the power (Watts) and impedance (Ohms) that are also important for a good sound. Most headphones use speakers with a diameter of around 20-50mm. The bigger the driver the more bass and sub-bass soundwaves there will be but that won’t necessarily mean that the speaker will sound better, only louder. For it to sound better it also needs good impedance (5-10 Ohms) and a good amount of power going to it. Even with those aside, there are things like magnet and membrane quality which are in-depth properties of the companies that manufacture those speakers. The higher the Watts of the speaker the more you will be able to adjust the volume from low to high. Some headphones even have airflow control paths to keep your ears from being damaged after prolonged sessions of listening to loud music.
The battery life you get out of your headphones will determine how portable they will be. While almost all modern radio headphones use 2xAA batteries, they can have wildly different battery life numbers. That is because some have bigger and more powerful speakers, as well as LCD displays that drain more of the batteries. Still, an average battery life out of 2 AA batteries is around 100-120 hours. Anything more than that is considered really good and means that the headphones are well-optimized. If you don’t want to constantly buy regular AA batteries, you can invest in a pair of rechargeable NiMH ones which won’t last as much but will be able to go through more than 500 recharge cycles, ultimately returning their otherwise high initial cost.
Apart from AA batteries, some top-shelf models also use rechargeable lithium batteries. While those won’t last you more than 20-30 hours on a single charge, they will never need external batteries making them cheaper to own in the long run.
The connectivity of your radio headphones is determined by the means by which it can pair with your mobile device or music player. Most models have a 3.5mm audio jack which allows them to play MP3s from phones and music players. Some even have Bluetooth which allows them to pair with your smartphone, TV, or other devices that will broadcast its sound to the headphones. Those typically have lesser battery life and are more expensive. Nevertheless, they are far more practical than headphones with a 3.5mm jack only or no connectivity at all.
Noise cancellation is one of the most crucial features of radio headphones which are used in construction sites or otherwise loud working environments. Since headphones can rarely block out all the sounds, this feature is often called Noise Reduction (noise reduction rating – NRR). It determines what is the level of noise reduction the headphones or earplugs provide. The higher the number means better noise protection. For instance, headphones with an NRR of 30 will provide a 12-13 dB noise reduction from the outside noise. How did I calculate that? Well, the math is fairly simple.
If you’re at a gun range and you are constantly exposed to 130dB firing sounds, your NRR 30 headphones won’t actually deduct 30 dB from the outside noise but will rather deduct an amount based on this formula – NRR-7/2. You subtract 7 and then divide by 2 to get the total number of dB reduction your headphones or earplugs will be providing. That means that an NRR 27 headphones will reduce the outside noise by 10 dB (27-7/2 = 10 dB).
That doesn’t stop companies from falsely advertising their products, however, and you will see examples like “the noise outside the headphones is 80 dB but since our headphones are NRR 25, the noise inside the headphones will be around 55 dB”. That is simply wrong and you shouldn’t be misled by it. Just aim for better NRR even though most radio headphones have an NRR of around 25.
If you want extra hearing protection in case the work noise is too loud, you can always combine your headphones with earplugs. That works best for people that use power tools like chainsaws, compression tools, jackhammers, and others.
One other thing that can sometimes be overlooked is the microphone of the headphones. While models that you specifically buy for work won’t really need a headphone, models that are meant to let you listen to radio from home might benefit from the presence of a mic since this will allow you to take calls from your phone, especially if there is Bluetooth connectivity on your pair. Mics are also better for headphones which can double as walkie-talkies and can tune to different frequencies with other similar headphones.
Volume control is an important part of any pair of headphones since it allows you to raise the volume to a level where it will drown out the external noises depending on their intensity.
Some more expensive radio headphones have the feature to auto-set their volume levels based on the external noise and what is safe for your ears. That feature most commonly works in combination with the active noise cancellation (if present). It really helps to have that since it will lower the headphones volume level as soon as you stop being in a loud environment and it will protect your ears better in the long run.
A headphone can be as good as it gets when it comes to its speaker quality and radio reception but if it breaks easy it is as valuable as a cheap model that will outlast it. Look for reinforced connections between the earcups and the hearest, as well as durable earcup materials. Split headrests also don’t last as much as one-piece (solid) ones.
If all the boxes so far have been checked by a model you like, it will most likely fail in the last category that we have to discuss…
Price & Warranty
The price of the model you want will be determined by all of the above-mentioned features. What really pushes the price up is NRR, quality of the radio components, and materials used in the earcups, padding, and headrest. Radio headphones range from 10-20 dollars for the cheaper models and go up to 80 dollars for some of the premium models which are packed full of features. The middle price range of around 40-50 dollars is the golden middle where headphones are a healthy compromise of quality, durability, and affordability. Look for models that have extended warranty (up to 5 years for some) that covers most of the structural components as well as the electronics which are prone to malfunctioning over time.
Now, let’s sum up everything we’ve gone through so far and see how exactly those headphones are used by people all over the world every day.
How To Use Radio Headphones
Radio headphones are pretty straightforward to use if you’re already used a radio in your life. They consist of a control panel on one of their earcups which has the following controls:
- Tuning knob for the different radio stations
- AM/FM switch button
- Volume control knob
- On/Off button
- “Set” and “Mode” buttons for additional features
Apart from those, you can also have an LCD display and a 3.5mm jack for MP3 device compatibility.
You use the headphones by first turning them on. Then, you need to first choose your mode between MP3/Bluetooth/Radio.Within the radio mode, you will be able to toggle between AM and FM if the headphones cover both of these bands. When you choose either FM or AM, you should turn the tuning knob to find the radio station you want. Some headphones will have quick-tuning buttons that will get you to the nearest radio station that is available either up or down in the band.
When you control the sound levels with the volume knob, some headphones will also provide an automatic feature that will base the inner volume to the outer noise of your environment.Let’s say that you’re using a chainsaw. That feature will allow the headphones to raise their inner volume once the chainsaw starts in order to protect your hearing from the loud outside noise. Once you turn it off, they will lower the volume according to the outside noise once again. This makes things easier for people that don’t want to constantly adjust volume levels when working.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all radio headphones tune into the AM frequency band?
No, not all radio headphones have the processor and antenna to tackle the AM (amplitude modulation) of the Shortwave and medium-wave frequency bands. Models who can tune in the AM frequencies are typically more expensive and have a larger antenna on their side.
Are radio headphones heavier than regular ones?
While they do have more components in them, radio headphones which are meant for working people are typically made out of lightweight materials with weight in mind. Those materials do bring the weight down by quite a bit making them the same if not lighter than normal over-ear headphones.
Do radio headphones have a good signal quality?
Typically, the signal quality in the expensive radio headphones is of the same quality as the one in portable or desktop radios with almost no detectable differences. Now, the field in which radio headphones struggle against their bigger counterparts is frequency coverage, with most headphones only covering small FM/AM bands.
When you’re choosing between some of the best radio headphones, you need to make sure that you are clearly set on the right type of headphones. If you’re going to use them for a construction site or a loud work environment, I strongly suggest headphones with ear protection and proper noise reduction. For casual radio listening, these features aren’t mandatory and are just going to unnecessarily bump up the price. If you plan on listening from home, focus on sound quality and comfort.