The History of Headphones (Everything you Should Know!)

What is the History of Headphones? Aside from a wallet, phone, and keys, what is a “must-have” item in your bag or pocket? The solution is actually quite simple – headphones.

Despite the fact that the original use of headphones had nothing to do with listening to music, they have been a part of our lives for nearly 140 years and have evolved significantly since their introduction.

Headphones have been an extremely important part of our lives, regardless of their purpose or mode of use, and our love for them has been growing for decades.

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The History of Headphones

It appears that no human can leave the house without a pair of headphones. Whether they are full-size headphones or earbuds, they are a must-have accessory for any modern person. There was only one model of headphones available when they were first introduced, but now there is something for everyone. You name it: full-size, open, closed, or semi-open headphones, earbuds, wired or Bluetooth. Each one has a distinct purpose, sound signature, and mode of operation. You can use them indoors (basically all types, as well as open back and semi-open headphones) or outdoors (closed-back headphones, earbuds, all Bluetooth models, etc.) while commuting, working out, and so on.


Given their current role in our lives, let us take you on an interesting journey and present you with a brief history of headphones.

The History of Headphones | Beat
The History of Headphones

The History of Headphones – Early Works


Who invented headphones? The first headphones were invented in 1881, making this the most significant year in the evolution of headphones. Their purpose was far from what headphones are used for today, and it was only related to the telephone industry. The first headphones were only used by telephone operators, and they were large and heavy, weighing more than ten pounds per earpiece.


After the invention of the first headphones, switchboard operators used them as work equipment. Many women worked as telephone operators from the 1890s to World War I and World War II. They had large switchboards in front of them, as well as wired headphones with jacks that had to be plugged and unplugged from the switchboards in order to operate and transfer calls from one home/institution/office to the next. Those headphones featured a single earbud attached to a very thin headband, which was linked to a mic in the shape of a horn, which was placed on the operator’s shoulder.


Following the success of the first headphones, a set of in-ear headphones was invented and patented by Ernest Mercadier, a French engineer who improved telephone reception by implementing handsfree headphones and was awarded for it. The new improved headphones were a success because they were significantly lighter than the original headphones, making them easier to use. The installation of miniature receivers weighing less than 1.75oz was the primary reason for weight reduction. The receivers were designed to fit human ears, making insertion easier, thanks to a rubber cover. These headphones can be regarded as the forefathers of modern in-ear headphones.


A few years later, Britain unveiled a fantastic new invention: the electrophone system. We’re talking about a cross-shaped headset that looked like a cross between a tennis racket and a stethoscope. The headphones, which were supposed to be worn on both ears, were linked below the chin by a long stick that the users held in their hands. When the handheld device was removed from the user’s ears, everyone in the vicinity could hear the same audio content, allowing for group listening.

The electrophone system was designed primarily to allow opera fans to listen to live performances in London theaters while sitting comfortably in their own homes. The system was based on an annual subscription fee of about 5 pounds.

Headphones 1910 to 1919

There were no major inventions or patents in the headphone industry until the early decades of the twentieth century, when one of the true forefathers of modern headphones was invented by a religious man Nathaniel Baldwin with the main goal of amplifying the sound of sermons at a Mormon temple he frequented.

Despite the fact that they were created on a kitchen table, Baldwin’s headphones quickly became popular in military circles. The headphones were connected to both cups by a long copper wire, but they received sound without the use of electricity. The cups were made of brass, resembled modern headphone cups, and were connected by two elegant bands. They were lighter than Electrophone headphones, and they looked and functioned better.

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When the United States When the Navy learned about Baldwin’s invention, they purchased it to outfit sailors and isolate them from distracting ambient sounds. After establishing the benefits of headphones, the U.S. The Navy offered Baldwin the opportunity to patent the product, increase production, and relocate from Utah. Baldwin, on the other hand, was convinced that the invention was trivial and refused to proceed with production. His movement to another area, on the other hand, was practically impossible because he was a polygamist.

Following Baldwin’s refusal, Wireless Specialty Apparatus Co. took advantage of the situation by deciding to build a factory in Utah, manufacture Baldwin’s headphones, and sell them in the United States. Navy, but only at the initial price, which was never to be increased under any circumstances.


Almost two decades later, some of the industry’s future leaders took their place and altered the course of headphone history. Beyerdynamic, the company that produced the first dynamic headphones on the market – the DT-48 – was the first pioneer. Dynamic headphones are still the most popular type of headphones on the market today. This particular model is still available.


Ten years later, AKG released its new model, the K120 DYN, which marked the moment when AKG, as the film industry’s leader, abandoned movies in favor of manufacturing audio equipment.

Despite the fact that neither of these products was a huge success, these moments in headphone development are crucial to remember because these companies established the trends and values of headphone production that led to their current status.

History And Evolution of Headphones Gear Gadgets and Gizmos
The History of Headphones

How Did Headphones Change Over Time? (Find Out Its History!)

The History of Headphones – Historical Changes

The year 1958 is significant in the history of headphones because it is the year when the first hi-fi stereo headphones were created.

John C. Koss, a jazz musician and entrepreneur from Milwaukee and the founder of the Koss Corporation, heard some stories about binaural audiotapes and when he actually heard them through a pair of military-grade headphones, he simply had to share his experience with others. He was determined to make the sound available to the general public, so he created the Koss Model 390 phonograph, a “private listening system” that included a phonograph, speaker, and headphone jacks all in a small package.

However, there were no commercial headphones that could be used with his phonograph because all of the headphones that were compatible with it were designed for military applications – communication and warplanes. Despite this, Koss was so determined to carry out his plan that he struck a deal with an audio engineer who assisted him in creating a prototype headphone compatible with the phonograph.

The first pair were nothing more than cardboard and foam-covered mini speakers, but he managed to improve them and create the first hi-fi stereo headphones. They were known as the Koss SP/3, and they were made up of two brown plastic cups, three-inch speakers covered by a light plastic cover, and foam cushions for added comfort. The cups were connected by a metal headband, and the overall appearance is very similar to modern headphones. The headphones were much lighter than before, weighing only 3-5 pounds. Aside from their appearance, their sound was improved as well, because the headphones used different signals for each ear, simulating the sound of concert halls for ordinary people.

The headphones were first shown at a hi-fi trade show in Milwaukee in 1958 and were an instant success. They even had a “privacy switch” that allowed them to listen in private and silently. The headphones were popular among a variety of groups, ranging from ordinary citizens to soldiers. Other headphone manufacturers quickly began to imitate the design.

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The first Koss headphones were based on Baldwin’s design, but had larger cups and better sound quality and audio technology. Koss kept Baldwin’s thin headband but added padding to the cups for a more comfortable fit. This model was to be improved over time, with hi-tech looks, noise isolation, wider headbands, and so on.

To be honest, if John Koss hadn’t used a clever trick, the Koss SP/3 would probably never have become so popular. Koss enlisted celebrities such as Bobby Hackett and Tony Bennett to promote his headphones, but his greatest success came when he struck a deal with the Beatles and released the Beatlesphones. Their release coincided with the popularization of Rock ‘n’ Roll, resulting in teenagers constituting the majority of Koss fans and customers. Following that, Koss dominated the headphone market for the next 10-20 years, while new brands such as Sennheiser, Philips, and Onkyo were poised to take the lead with their affordable models, great sound, and trendy designs.


The first pair of electrostatic headphones were introduced in 1959. Stax presented them in Tokyo as the SR-1 – the world’s first open-back headphones. The headphones were officially launched the following year.


This period can also be considered a part of the Koss era because all of these years were marked by Koss’s accomplishments and innovations.

In 1966, Koss released the first mid-range headphones with celebrity signature – Beatlesphones, which were a huge hit due to the Beatles sticker on them.

The first Koss electrostatic headphones made in the United States were released in 1968. The headphones were called ESP/6, and their main selling points were their light weight (approximately 2 pounds, which was a huge success at the time) and distortion reduction.


Sennheiser, Koss’s main competitor, decided to work on the design after Koss improved stereo headphone sound quality and noise reduction. They came up with the idea of slightly opening the headphone cups to allow some sound in. As a result, the Sennheiser HD414 open-back headphones with yellow foam cushions and a proto-80s neon vibe were born. They were light, allowed human ears to breathe, and were a huge success, with approximately 100,000 pieces sold by the end of the same year they were introduced. This Sennheiser model had one of the most popular designs ever, and it’s also one of the best-selling Sennheiser headphones ever, with over 10 million units sold.


Although some of the preceding years were significant in the evolution of headphones, the year 1979 saw the true revolution, thanks to a company that is now well known all over the world – Sony. This company created the first portable device that could be carried around in a larger pocket. If the first thing that came to mind was Walkman, you are correct. The first Walkman was called the TPS-L2, and it allowed users to take their favorite music with them wherever they went while still being able to listen to it privately without disturbing others.


These were the years when the first earbuds and in-ear headphones resembling modern models were introduced. Finally, people had the opportunity to replace those large and bulky headphones with much smaller, lighter, portable, and practical headphones. They were less expensive than full-size headphones, easier to use, fit in any pocket, and were ready to use whenever the user needed them. Aside from being lighter, soft foam or rubber ear tips improved overall comfort.

Dr. Amar Bose developed the first noise-cancelling headphones in 1989. He was inspired by the fact that people were beginning to travel more than ever before, even by plane, making noise isolation/cancellation a necessary feature. The headphones weren’t a huge success at first, certainly not as big as they are now, but frequent flyers/travelers were grateful to Mr. Bose.


The 1990s saw the rapid development of portable music technologies. This was made possible by the creation of cassettes, CDs, DATs, and mini discs. As players shrank, so did the size of the headphones. Furthermore, they were more common and much cheaper than before, making them more affordable and accessible to the general public. Of course, this was partly due to the use of less expensive materials, as more and more headphones were made of plastic. These were the years when manufacturers began including free headphones with the purchase of a new music player, much like you now get a new pair of headphones with the purchase of a new smartphone.

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The tradition of invention continued with the release of Sony’s neckband headphones in 1997, which were not well received, and the invention of Bluetooth technology in 1999. Bluetooth, on the other hand, did not become popular until the early 2010s, but its invention was extremely important for the advancement of audio technology.


This is the point at which extreme headphone popularity begins. In addition, experts create new audio technologies that make various types of audio devices more affordable to everyone. The primary goal of all modern audio equipment has become to make the user fashionable and stylish, while the actual audio quality has been partially overlooked.

The popularity of in-ear headphones with improved noise isolation and a better and tighter fit in the ear canal marked the 2000s. They are also distinguished by the introduction of the Bose QuietComfort product line, which improved noise-cancelling technology and established some new benchmarks.


2001 is the most significant year in modern history. The first iPod was released in this year. This pocket-sized device, which could store over 1000 songs, brought the craze for earbuds to a head. Even their sworn enemies seemed to be smitten with these miniature headphones. The iPod was lighter, smaller, and faster than any previous audio device, but when combined with amazing earbuds, it created a stylish and prestigious set that everyone desired. Apple used the same trick that Koss used previously to increase the popularity of the iPod by enlisting celebrities to promote this intriguing device. Since then, Apple has been one of the market’s leading brands, synonymous with prestige and quality.

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The History of Headphones

2003 to the present

Following Apple’s success with iPods, other companies decided to increase their promotional efforts. Some of them decided to improve sound quality, but almost all of them, at least partially, concentrated on design experiments.

Skullcandy, the well-known headphone manufacturer, began releasing headphones with stylish and unique designs that could satisfy almost any customer in 2003. They make low-cost products with poor overall sound and build quality, but they have managed to maintain their position as the leader in the “best design” category.

V-MODA introduced extremely resistant and durable military-grade headphones in 2004 that can withstand many drops and all types of heavy use.

A few years later, in 2008, there was a true revolution that could be compared to Apple’s revolution. Beats by Dre was created by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Lovine as headphones with a distinct bassy sound signature. Their marketing and quality (but mostly marketing) made them prestigious and desirable to people of all ages.

Following the introduction of Beats, almost all brands decided to collaborate with celebrities to popularize their products. They appear to have succeeded because we can’t imagine our lives without headphones today. Whether they are full-size or in-ear headphones, we always have them with us – on the bus, on the plane, in the gym, at the library, and so on.

FAQs About History of Headphones

Who first invented headphones?

Nathaniel Baldwin was a supporter of the early Mormon fundamentalist movement and the inventor of an improved telephonic earphone, among many other inventions.

What was the original purpose of headphones?

The first headphones were created in the late 1800s for telephone operators to use to keep their hands free. Initially, audio quality was mediocre, and the invention of high fidelity headphones was a step forward.

When did headphones get invented?

Ernest Mercadier, a French engineer, patented what he called a “bi-telephone” in 1891. This was the first recorded version of in-ear headphones.

Trina Oralde

I'm a tech writer and contributor who covers the latest in gadgets and technology. I keep my finger on the pulse of the tech world, so you don't have to. Stay up-to-date on the latest with me!


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