Headphones are items that we can take for granted right now. There is such an abundance of types, brands, and qualities that each person can be sure to find something suitable for themselves, whether you’re looking for a truly perfect pair regardless of the cost, or the best budget headphones available. But do you ever wonder when and how it started? Where is the place of headphones among the development of technology and all the significant inventions?
Not very musical origins
At the very beginning, in the late 1800s, when the first item similar to today’s headphones appeared, it had nothing to do with music. Back then, it was only a single earpiece that you had to put on your shoulder, which wasn’t very comfortable, as it weighed around ten pounds. It was only used by telephone operators, and it was the only way to amplify the sound enough to be able to communicate.
“Electrophone” for entertainment
Electrophone was a specially designed system that allowed London people to listen to live performances all over the city. If you look at the pictures today, these headphones looked more like your doctor’s stethoscope connected to a switchboard. However, it was quite a pricey, luxurious item for the times.
The rise of headphones
The first headphones that were actually similar in looks and use to the ones we know today were designed and produced by Nathaniel Baldwin, an engineer who created his great invention in his own kitchen. It wasn’t a big commercial success back then, but Baldwin managed to sell it to the US Navy where they used it in defense.
The first headphones manufactured for personal listening were produced by Beyerdynamic (still known as a headphones producer today) in 1937. These were on-ear type headphones with a metal headband and two cables, one for each earcup.
AKG, an Austrian company, was the first to consider the looks of headphones as an important feature, and their first product was a great success in 1939, both practical and stylish. However, they needed to stop production because of World War 2.
How stereo saved headphones
After the war, people didn’t really think about this invention, and for a while, it seemed like that was it for headphones. But in 1958, John Koss invented the very first stereo over-ear headphones, and that’s how it all started. Koss’s first design wasn’t very good-looking, but it began a new era in music and technology history, as suddenly, more and more companies decided to get into the business. Koss dominated the US market by adapting to the times, the rise of rock and roll, and endorsing the Beatlephones when the Beatlemania began.
Around that time, a company called Stax developed the first electrostatic pair of headphones, and Koss was the first to do it commercially in the USA.
The Walkman revolution
In 1979, Sony revolutionized the headphone market by launching their Walkman, which had to be, first of all, portable and comfortable, both the device and the headphones. The on-ear design was very simple with thin, sliding, metal headbands that you almost didn’t feel on your head. Not long after that, more companies started to appear on the market; a lot of them we still know today, such as Philips or Onkyo. Many sold their headphones a lot cheaper than industry giants, making them available to the masses.
The Apple stylish revolution
The 1980s were the time of the rise of in-ear headphones and earbuds, and there weren’t that many significant changes up until 2001 when Apple changed the market with an iPod and its white, distinctive earbuds, a very minimalist and widely-loved design.
Since that time, headphones have been as much about looks as they are about high-quality sound and comfort, with Skullcandy being a vital part of the skateboarding subculture, or Beats by Dre and Monster tuning in with the Hip Hop lifestyle.
The next step was, of course, wireless technology that eliminated the very much-irritating cables. Soon enough, all the brands had all their headphones available in the wireless version, though it took some time for the Bluetooth technology to achieve a satisfying level of sound quality and connectivity.
Who knows what more we will see in the future.