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Everyone in the modern era has owned at least one pair of headphones in their lives.
But where do headphones come from and how did they evolve into what we use today?
Our brief and exciting history of headphones will help you find out.
The first headphones were more of a headphone, as they only served one ear, which was probably a relief to the user as they weighed 10 lbs.
They were used by telephone operators to man switchboards (back in 1890!) and we imagine that each shift was something of a drag.
It was an engineer called Nathaniel Baldwin who smashed out the first set of headphones that looked like the ones we buy today.
He was making them at home in his kitchen, so his first order for 100 pairs for the Navy probably came as quite a shock.
It took 68 years for headphones to go from mono to stereo and it was John Koss who invented them in 1958.
He was a huge jazz fan and was tired of listening to music that lacked the full scope of sound, they were awkwardly made from cardboard and sofa foam but they did the trick.
And then in 1979, Sony did something that meant everyone could finally listen to music wherever they were in the world, they invented the Walkman.
They sold nearly half a billion of the things and each one needed a pair of headphones and suddenly, everyone was grooving, everywhere.
Headphones started to shrink in the digital age as people wanted nice earbuds to go with their sleek iPods rather than the huge can lids of yesteryear.
Wherever you went, you could see Apple’s earbuds peeking out from people’s ears and casual conversation took a further beating at the hands of headphones.
It’s fair to say, however, that the design of headphones was pretty much terrible right up until the late 2000s, when Beats, Skullcandy and others realized they’d been missing a trick.
Now, there was a whole generation of consumers willing to pony up extra cash as long as their cans were in bright pink.
In 2013, headphones entered a new space and LSTN became the first headphones company to take their profits and plough them into social wellbeing rather than their investor’s pockets.
To date, they say they’ve helped over 30,000 people hear for the very first time due to the efforts of their non-profit partnership with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Finally, in the 2020s somebody finally noticed that all the headphones we throw away each year were probably not doing the environment any favors.
Now, companies like Thinksosund, The House of Marley, Woodbuds, Jamboo, etc. are making headphones from recycled or sustainably sourced materials and are looking to a future where headphones can be easily repaired or recycled at the end of their lifespan.
We love speakers, see our feature on Audioengine for proof, but we all need headphones at some point and the humble headphone has had an exciting century or so to arrive at where we are today.
The first time Nicholas went to a live gig, 31 years ago, it turned out to be an Iron Maiden secret gig and he became hooked on the music scene. He was one of the founding writers for Astro Zombie a heavy metal and new world techno-inspired zine and his interview with Rob Caggiano of Anthrax brought in over 300,000 readers. He’s based out of Southeast Asia now, but his love of music is as strong and diverse as ever.