The History of Headphones

by Ryan Shazier 2 months ago in history

Brief History of Headphones

The History of Headphones

You have probably never stopped for a second and asked yourself about this very handy technological invention. Nowadays, we may take them for granted, but before the second part of the 20th century, the everyday folks couldn’t shut out the world with the music on their headphones. They were forced to listen to other noises and conversations even if they didn’t want to hear them. Additionally, you can now benefit those who don’t want to listen to you blasting your newest musical hits. However, the headphones have many more uses than just making you an antisocial being. Let’s start from the end of the 19th century.

First, the first headphones were not really headphones. More precisely, they were their predecessors which couldn’t be of use to anyone, but the telephone operators. Having weighed around ten pounds, they were not the most practical thing, even though they rested on the person’s shoulders and not entirely on the head.

Next, in 1895, the Electrophone was invented. It was a system that allowed those who could pay for it to listen to live performances of various London theatres. The Electrophone irresistibly stirs up the pictures of the stethoscope in my mind. But many couldn’t afford this “gadget”, so it remained exclusive to the upper class.

In 1910, the first headphones that could be compared to those of today’s came out. Nathaniel Baldwin was their inventor and manufacturer. Although he sold them to the U.S. Navy, he never licensed them. Instead, Baldwin sold the rights to his designs to the Wireless Specialty Apparatus Company. Since the 1910s were the time of other technological innovations, especially radio technology, his headphones also helped in situations when several radio operators had to work in the same room. They brought the sound closer to the ears of a listener and also muffled the outside sounds. Still, having not been the most comfortable, without the padding and with poor sound quality, there continued the search for something better.

A couple of decades later, in 1937, the German company Beyerdynamic produced the first dynamic headphones, called the DT-48’s. The Beyerdynamic’s headphones were the first ones to be used at home, though mainly for listening to radio. They are still popular even in the present, but of course, changed and improved in a lot of ways over the course of time. However, they had to wait another decade or two for the public’s wide consumption.

In 1949, AKG Acoustics, an acoustics engineering and manufacturing company began producing its first model of headphones, the K120 DYN. These became the favorites of many and contributed to the company so much, that it refocused the business’s attention on audio equipment only.

Then, a decade later, in 1958, John C. Koss, together with an engineer called Martin Lange, created the first pair of stereo headphones, meaning that they had separate signals for left and right channel. Also, they were connected to a device via a jack. But the most important thing about this particular invention was that it allowed people of numerous backgrounds to listen to music in the comfort of their own homes. Even though the headphones were still sort of primitive regarding the audio quality and convenience, compared to today’s technology, nothing could come close to their excellence in the end of the 1960s.

In the next twentyish years, the headphones made by Koss and the companies that caught up with the newest technology of the time, rule the audio world. Many new models were created on the market and a wide variety of devices were available. Despite all that, the changes never stopped coming. That’s why in 1979, Sony launched a totally new model of headphones, called MDR-3L2 which came with the renowned Walkman. These headphones came with a thinner headband and foam-covered pads. The essential difference between them and all those models from the earlier years was that, thanks to their easier portability and low weight, you could listen to music in your room, at the park, while walking, pretty much anywhere.

Just one year later, after launching the Walkman, a different pair of headphones appeared on the market. As a matter of fact, they were not actual headphones, since the in-ear buds were introduced for the first time ever. They also had an even thinner headband than the MDR-3L2, very wire-like, that was less likely to disrupt the user’s hair. However, these earbuds would see the rise and peak of their popularity many years later with the creation of the iPod. But before we get to the iPod and its ear buds, let’s see what kinds of models wrapped up the last years of the twentieth century.

In 1997, Sony presented the solution for the people who were bothered even by the thin wire-like headband. Namely, they introduced the model MDR-G61 of neckband headphones that would wrap around behind the user’s neck instead of across the top of their head. What’s written on the Further, on the verge of a new century, Bose introduced the QuietComfort line. Now, aside from pilots, the common people could use the noise-cancelling technology in order to block out the undesirable sounds, e.g. people or children on the plane.

Moreover, in 2001, with the invention of the iPod also came Apple’s epic white earbuds. Their minimalistic and appealing design became a staple of many iPod and later, iPhone owners. These ear buds were definitely a breakthrough in the history of audio gadgets.

In 2008, the famous rapper, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine united to create the Beats, the noise-cancelling, good quality headphones that sold like hotcakes. Later, Apple bought the company from Dr. Dre.

Finally, in the beginning of the 2010s, many new models of headphones and earbuds were introduced, including the cordless ones, that to this day represent the biggest discovery and development in the headphones history.

Ryan Shazier
Ryan Shazier
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