We live in an age where entertainment is everywhere. We have our entire music collection available on our phones, movies at the push of a button and video games on demand. But this world is noisy and if we want to immerse ourselves in whatever it is we’re enjoying, we need a top quality set of headphones.
Headphones allow us to concentrate our own little cocoon of audio, even when we are in the company of other people&mdashat work, in school, while commuting, even walking down the street.
Headphones originated from a single earpiece used by telephone operators in the 1800s. Placed over the wearers shoulder, these headphones weighed over ten pounds and, as you can imagine, could be quite tiring to wear. As with all technology though, they shrunk in size and in 1891 French engineer, Ernest Mercadier was awarded a patent for the first ever in-ear headphones. Yes, those tiny little bits of tech you have hanging from your head were invented over a hundred years ago!
However, the real pioneer for the headphones’ role in entertainment was the British Electrophone service in 1895 in which people used stethoscope-like headphones to connect via switchboard and listen to a live performance happening across London theatres and opera houses.
The first headphones that closely resembles what we wear today was developed by an engineer named Nathaniel Baldwin in 1910 in his kitchen table and sold to the US Navy. In the early 1900s headphones were commonly used by radio workers and switchboard operators, and were highly sensitive. These early models lacked padding, often produced excessive clamping forces on the user’s head and created a crude sound quality.
In 1958 John Koss, an audiophile and jazz musician from Milwaukee in the US produced the first stereo headphones (Koss SP-3) and revolutionised the way headphones were used, from being radio communication equipment and aviation hardware to something that is entirely used to appreciate music.
In the late 1960s the Sennheiser HD 414 was produced, the world’s first open headphones. This lightweight device replaced the bulky closed back claustrophobic cans of old and produced a smooth clear open sound.
Big things were yet to happen though. You see, most people listened to their music at home at this point and so headphones didn’t have to be sleek or fashionable, they could be bulky and nobody would notice.
This changed when in July 1979, Sony unleashed the Walkman which was a game changer for the headphones. Portable headphones became the standard and in the 1980s those who didn’t like getting ‘headphone hair’ welcomed the earbud and in-ear headphones.
In 1979 Dr Amar Bose invented noise cancelling in response to the pathetic headphones provided during transatlantic flights. Understandably the first noise cancelling headset was designed for pilots and it wouldn’t be until 2000 when the Bose QuietComfort (QC1) line would sell commercially, but his patented Acoustic Noise Cancellation Technology was well worth the wait.
In 2001 the arrival of the iPod changed the whole music universe and made the white earbud so hot a commodity that people with a thin white cord running from their pocket to their ears became a common sight the world over.
Although undoubtedly fashionable, there was still something missing. It took Dr. Dre to lend his name to a range of headphones that would change everything, again.
For these, it was the brand that really sold them. Although not bringing anything new in terms of quality, the looks really hit the mark and they were snapped up by fans the world over.
Today headphones range from buds, cans, on-ear, in-ear, closed back, custom fit to waterproof sports headphones that cater to every ear, every wallet, every lifestyle and every fashion proclivity. In a variety of colours and materials too! A $1 million dollar pair of diamond-studded Beats headphones, anyone?