We use headphones every day. Whether we’re listening to music, gaming, talking on phone calls, basically, every time we do something that requires us to hear sounds loud and clear, without disturbing anyone else around us. But have you ever wondered how this popular device transformed so rapidly over the past 80 years? Where did headphones actually come from? Who invented them? In this article, we will take to the evolution of headphones over the past 80 years and hopefully will get to know a thing or two along the way.
Mercadier’s Earbuds (1891)
Started back in 1891, A French engineer Ernest Mercadier was working on a set of in-ear headphones design which could be used with telephone receivers. After intensive optimizations and testing, he produced a miniature driver that could be inserted in the ear canal. Mercadier’s earbuds, they were remarkably close to the ones we use today. Of course, the stereo wasn’t invented back then and even though Medicare’s earbuds had two drivers, the same sound was heard on both.
Soon the world saw the potential in his work, and the first most similar to what we call ‘headphones’, were invented in 1894, by a British company famously known as ‘Electrophone’. Their system allowed us to tune into live performances from the theatres or opera houses and news across London. Users were given a receiver through which they could listen to the news or live performances.
Nathaniel Baldwin (1910)
To find out more about the modern headphones we all know about, we need to go a little further ahead to the year 1910, where the American Navy was experimenting with early radio signals and communications. Inventors from all around the world sent letters with their invention’s prototypes. One of the letters was from Nathaniel Baldwin, an electrical engineer from Stanford University, a Utah native who invented a prototype headset in his kitchen. At first, his idea seemed impractical to the navy, but eventually, they tested his headphone prototype and found out that it was actually a drastic improvement in the world of Headphones. Later the navy placed an order for hundred pairs for military use, again the legend fulfilled the order by making 100 pairs in his kitchen and with the received funds he decided to support the polygons movement and sadly went bankrupt. But soon his version of headphones became the standard one used in the US Navy.
Beyerdynamic & AKG (1937)
With this inspiration, in 1937, the famous German audio equipment manufacturer, Beyer Dynamics invented the world’s first dynamic headphones DT48 for personal use.
Another Austrian company, very popular today, is AKG. They invented KY 120DYN, we can say it had the improved sound quality than the DT48
Unfortunately, the production of both these headsets had to be put to a stop because of world war two and at the end of Second World War, the headphone industry showed no signs of innovation in the department.
Koss Electronics (1957)
The next big step of our evolution story is the invention of Stereo headphones that had the ability to play different channels into each ear, this was pioneered by record label EMI in 1957. Later that year in 1958, Jhon C Koss teamed up with Martin lang jr. to develop a portable stereo phonograph player with side-wing speakers and invented the first commercial stereo set of Koss SP 3 headphones.
Just when the Beatles transformed the way people look at music and the rock n’ roll genre was picking up pace among the youth in the mid-60s. Koss also capitalized on the rapid popularity of the Beatles by launching the Beatlephone that didn't offer much of an improvement and was covered in Beatles stickers.
Just prior to this, standardization of 3.5mm audio jack started with the release of the SONY FM11 seven J radio released in 1964. As we now have mentioned Sony, as the Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979, it became so popular all over the world since then the headphones and earphones models had only got better and better. Walkman came bundled with portable MDR 3 and 2 headphones with sliding metal bands.
The most important game-changer was the Sennheiser HD 414 on-ear headphone in 1968. This was the World’s first open-air and super aural headphones which aren't bulky, looked comfortable, and had smooth and clear sound. Over millions of units were sold in the coming years making it the best headphones of its time.
In 1978 Dr Amar G. Bose, an MIT professor was offered a pair of headphones by a teen on a flight from the USA to Switzerland. But, due to constant droning of aeroplane engines, he could barely hear the music. When Dr Bose was back in Boston, He formed Noise Reduction Technology Group with a team of engineers in Bose corporation. After 11 years in 1989, Bose introduced the first noise reduction headset, which later became a standard in the aviation industry, and it took another 11 long years for Bose QuietComfort widely known as Bose QC 1 Headphones to get launched for consumer use.
Apple iPod and Beats by Dr. Dre (2001 - 2008)
Around the same time period, Steve Jobs introduced Apple iPod in 2001, which gave birth to the minimalistic earphones and headphones designs.
In 2008 we were introduced to Monster Beats by Dr Dre. Which were and still are the expensive piece of gear to have, but arguably no other brand in the market offered sounds as close to Monster Beats, it has superior quality sound and deep bass.
With Bluetooth technology came into existence in 1999, came the single-ear headsets and the first users to explore & use the wireless technology were the businessmen. Till 2004, these single-ear headsets were popularly used with blackberry cell phones which offered Bluetooth facility. However, prior to the early 2010’s the reputed headphones manufacturers like Bose and Beats began to realise the potential of the Bluetooth Headphones market and started to produce more classy and stylish looking headphones which can suit all.
Now you have headphones for various usages, and many different types available like, neck bands for sports or working out, noise cancellation headphones to prevent sound leakage from your headphones, some specialized for music which can sustain high quality of bass and treble frequencies, also many other over-ear headphones and on-ear headphones available. Irrespective of the usage, headphones are now indispensable in today’s world with unique benefits to offer. As there is much more to know about these amazing gadgets, stay tuned with us, we will have more articles with different types of headphones soon.
Hope this article helped unravel just a bit of history about the headphones. Watch this space out for more interesting articles like this.