In the Beginning, There Was Iron
The history of headphones began with the telephone. Headphones in the early 1900s consisted of moving iron transducers. Sound was carried across the telephone lines in the form of electrical impulses, making the iron transducers move at the receiving end, transmitting sound. Frequency response on moving-iron headphones was poor, but words were recognizable. Moving-iron headphones were so successful that they were adopted by the radio industry, where they reigned until the 1950s. Moving-iron headphones were large and not easily adjusted, making them extremely uncomfortable, which made them easy to replace when stereo became the dominant form of electronic audio.
The Introduction of Stereo
Although stereo was invented in the 1930s, it wasn't commercially available until the mid-1950s, with the release of the LP, a microgrooved record that could hold stereo audio. In 1958, John Koss, an American, developed stereo headphones specifically for use with stereo recordings. With the arrival of stereo headphones, the history of headphones changed again, bringing stereo headphones into recording studios and homes alike. While these early stereo headphones were uncomfortable and provided fairly low sound quality by today's standards, they were a vast improvement over the old moving-iron headphones used in the telephone and early radio industries.
Progress in the Sixties
The advent of stereo ushered in an era of change for the history of headphones. Early stereo headphones replaced moving-iron transducers with plastic cones. From there, John Koss invested in refining stereo headphones, moving the technology along to a microphone transducer and eventually to the first pair of electrostatic headphones. Advances in technology during the 60s, specifically by John Koss's company, Koss, made it possible to develop smaller headphones that provided better quality audio playback. Koss's advances paved the way for another change in the history of headphones: the Walkman.
The Walkman Changes Headphones in the Eighties
In the 1980s, Sony developed the Walkman: a portable music device you could carry with you to listen to your favorite tunes. Since the Walkman was portable, stereo headphones evolved to become smaller and more easily transported. The completely enclosed circumaural design faded away, to be replaced by a supra-aural design that sat lightly over the ears, with only a little foam padding to protect the ears.
The changes didn't stop there, though; in the 1990s, the earbud headphone came to light; a small headphone that fit inside the ear instead of sitting over it. Canalphones also came along in the 1990s, providing sound directly into the ear canal for superior sound quality and the combined effect of earplugs to prevent outside noise from leaking inside. Today's experiments in noise-canceling headphones are just the latest chapter in the history of headphones.
New research finds that headphones at low volumes can lead to permanent hearing loss. Are you at risk?
How do noise cancelling headphones work? These headsets block out certain frequencies, making it less likely that any offending noises will interrupt your music listening.
How do wireless headphones work? These headphones come in three forms that use three different types of technology: radio, infrared and Bluetooth.