When was the last time you bought the technology and pleased you? It was the first time for me to listen to my favorite song on a set of Apple AirPods Max headphones. This allowed me to listen to songs that I had never heard before. You can ask what the artist is playing. Sometimes you may think you can hear what the artist is thinking.
Wireless headphones have come an incredibly long way in a very short amount of time. But their history goes far beyond what you might expect and contains some incredible innovations.
1880s: Headphones that cause headaches
Headphones were not originally designed for music. They were created for telephone operators who need to physically connect everyone’s phones. The first models introduced in the 1880s didn’t look much like today’s headphones. It looked like a phone that was cut in half and attached to my head. And it weighs about 5 kg, which is equivalent to 111 pairs of AirPods.
The first headphones were designed by Thomas Edison’s friend Ezra Gilliland, who also designed the telephone exchange, and set templates for many models. These weren’t headphones for fun. They were tools for the workplace and I couldn’t wait to tear them apart at the end of work.
1890s: Original earphones and Spotify
If you think earphones, like me, are a very modern invention, think again. Earphones have been used with us since 1891, when Ernesto Mercadier patented the “bi-telephone” and proposed using a rubber cover for comfort. Like Gililand’s operator telephones, bi-telephones were intended for use by telephone operators.
In the same decade, Electrophone, a kind of pre-digitized Spotify, was invented that allows you to wear headphones, dial in to the switchboard, and listen to live performances in London theaters.
1910: The first headphones that looked like headphones
Nathaniel Baldwin devised the first recognizable headphones-like headphones in 1910 and sold them to the US Navy for use by radio telegraphists. His headphones featured a new, more sensitive type of receiver that Baldwin rejected the patent because he thought his invention was “insignificant.” But he patented his headphone design. It can also be seen in today’s over-ear headphones.
1958: The first stereo headphones and the first can made for music
You can thank John Kos for whatever you are listening to music today. His Kos SP-3 headphones were the first cans specifically designed for personal music listening, as well as introducing stereo listening. Kos is a big jazz fan and he wanted to recreate the excitement of live music so he could enjoy it everywhere. Today, Kos is a huge audio brand that manufactures all kinds of headphones and speakers you can think of.
1960s: First wireless headphones and open back can
The first wireless headphones were released decades before Bluetooth. In the 1960s, several manufacturers offered solid-state radio headphones. This allows you to listen to the radio while looking like Doctor Who’s Cyberman.
Headphone design really evolved during this time. John Koss – Yes, he too – originally used Baldwin’s Navy headphones, but in the 1960s his headphones were borrowed from airlines and military models for wider, more comfortable headbands and noise reduction ears. We introduced a cup so that you can hear the music more clearly. In the image above, you can see the airline-style design of the time, which was an RCA ad in 1972.
Koss didn’t just make headphones. He also made a deal and one of his best was The Beatles. The Beatles were the first well-known brand of headphones and were sold like pancakes while Dr. Dre was still taking the first baby step long before the beat.
In the 1960s, there was another important development. This is the Sennheiser HD414 released in 1968. These are the first open-back headphones that allow you to input external audio, provide a more spacious sound, and make listening on the move safer. It was still relatively rare in personal audio. They also introduced something else that would soon become symbolic: brightly colored foam ear pads.
1970s: Future Orange (and Blue, and …)
By the 1970s, headphones had become a true mass market product, functioning in two major markets: the teen market and the audio fan market. Then Sony came and changed everything. Launched in 1979, the Walkman comes with ultra-lightweight open-back headphones and an ultra-skinny headband that you can wear on your head or around your neck. Its brightly colored headphones were as symbolic as Apple’s iPod headphones were in the 2000s in the 1980s and effectively introduced Main Character Syndrome. Wearing a Walkman and headphones made me a star in my movie with an incredibly ubiquitous soundtrack. ..
1990s: Brand new retro
Portable headphones have also improved as new technologies have introduced high quality portable music formats (portable CD players, portable DATs if loaded, later digital compact cassettes and minidiscs). In many cases, new audio hardware was included. But that was great for the third party market. With the growing popularity of portable audio, no one thought you were weirdly lonely when wearing headphones in public. In fact, they have become proud badges. In the 1990s, large closed-cup headphones were a sign that music was taken more seriously than the bubble-eared brigade. Maybe you were a DJ!
Headphone design has spread to all sorts of interesting places in the 90’s, as headphones are firmly in the fashionable category. Headbands, neckbands, earphones, over-ears and open-ears are available in all possible shapes and sizes.
2001: Apple changes everything
In 2001, Apple launched the iPod. You may have heard of it. It wasn’t the first hard disk digital music player, and some said it wasn’t the best, but it became a digital music walkman and made digital music mainstream. Headphones weren’t always great, but they’re cool enough to have an iPod, and Apple-inspired ads show that they’ve made them the stars of the show.
2004: Kind of Blue
Bluetooth was named after King Haral I of Denmark in the 10th century and was launched in 1999 as a way to connect microphones and headphones wirelessly. Frankly, it wasn’t used for music because of its terrible sound quality, but it was popular with business and professional drivers. After blinking the Bluetooth earpieces for a while, all traveling salesmen and taxi drivers looked like Star Trek’s Borg.
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a Bluetooth headphone for music. The first product went on the market in 2004. They weren’t very good.
2007: iPhone is here
Like the iPod, the iPhone wasn’t the first of its kind. But history has been repeated, or at least rhymed, and the iPhone has put the iPod in everyone’s pocket. Fierce competition in the smartphone market has meant that R & D will be heavily funded, resulting in smaller and more efficient batteries than ever before. A constantly improving version of Bluetooth. Software-based noise canceling. Improvements in materials, manufacturing techniques, etc. will soon affect all types of devices, including headphones.
Bluetooth headphones became huge in the 2010s, and brands such as Beats drove the mass market. The sound quality of the audio fan market wasn’t there yet, but it was heading in the right direction.
Yes, Apple also stop us if you’ve heard of this. AirPods weren’t the first wireless earphones, nor were they the best. However, they were very successful and dominated the earphone market by 2020. They have been in development for a long time and the first recognizable patent was filed in 2011. Part of its success is due to Apple’s disposal of the headphone jack on the 2016 iPhone. 7, Immediately using wired headphones can be very painful.
That decision was very unpopular at the time and may have been very criticized, but it solidified the position of wireless headphones as the present and future of mobile audio and set a template for what to expect: high quality. Sound, easy pairing, and the ability to find them You misplaced them.
2022: What is it now?
The final step in wireless headphone technology is to overcome the bandwidth that is the Achilles heel. Bluetooth can only stream a very large amount of data. Basic Bluetooth is not enough for true high resolution audio. However, Bluetooth aptX HD and its equivalent Sony LDAC have been significantly improved, with more advanced aptX Adaptive and aptX Lossless.
I’m currently testing a pair of aptX Adaptive earphones and the sound quality is really extraordinary and the price of the buds isn’t more than the AirPods Pro pair. Just as they thought wireless headphones couldn’t get any better, they got better again.