A History of Headphones

The History of Headphones

We often take the process of evolution for granted.

It is in everything, ourselves as a race and individuals included.

Everything on this Earth has evolved from something, a tree from a seed, an empire from an idea, a headphone from arm strain.

By 1881, speakers had been around for some time.

They were incorporated into the telephone operators system and that whole switchboard process that makes all of us realise how much we take the ability to call someone for granted.

The workers that operated there would hold up the pieces, some of them quite heavy for hours on end, until Gilliland strapped the speaker and microphone to their shoulder, creating the Gilliland Harness. The single earpiece weight 10lbs and rested on the shoulder – revolutionary

So the first headphones were really speakers strapped together into a harness; which is still pretty much the general concept today.


Jumping forward a little and we’re already knee deep in the 1800’s version of Spotify.

In 1895 you could pay £5 annually for a music service, nowadays it’s free but there’s ads.

Effectively 19th century audio streaming, prestigious listeners could tune in to the Royal Opera House via their Electrophones, quite easily the ugliest of all headphone developments. But the concept again was quite revolutionary. The headphones would be wired up to the telephone operators, who would resonate the music from the Royal Opera House out of the telephone, through the cables, directly into the electrophones and into the ears of its listeners whilst they sat at home.


This revolutionary monstrosity reigned audio king for 15 years, until Nathaniel Balwin manufactured the first modern headphones.

Nathaniel set the precedent on which headphones would be designed for many years to come, and still to this day we use this design, more or less.


27 years later, in 1937 Beyer released Beyer Dynamic, the first dynamic headphones.

And 12 years after that AKG developed the K120’s. Whilst they look slightly uncomfortable, they are on trend now, with the retro, bulkier, circular design. Shame they’re 67 years late.


In 1958 Koss developed the first stereo headphones. Stereo headphones are headphones that play back distinct sounds out of the two speakers, the left speaker and the right speaker.  They work by playing sound from two independent channels, a left channel for the left speaker output and a right channel for right speaker output. revolutionising the headphones and dominating the industry.

A decade later in 1968 Koss unleashed the first US made electrostatic headphones.

Electrostatic systems work by placing a static (non-moving) electric charge on a film that floats between two perforated metal plates. When audio voltages are applied across the plates, static cling and repulsion causes the entire film to move all by itself. This film is so thin that it weighs less than the air around it, and has no resonances or energy storage which leads to the coloration inherent in moving coil speakers.



And in 1979 Sony released the Walkman and with It the Sony MDL-3L2’s, making the 80’s the year for portable music and clichéd dress.


It wasn’t until 2001 that the headphone changed forever.

With the introduction of apples classic in ear earphone and the drop of their Ipod and timeless ad, we now see white cables draping over the front of almost every commuter, office worker and pretty much anyone in the street, which is silly, because wires are inconvenient but at that point in time the change in design, function and sound was massive.


Since then, the industry continues to grow, new technologies and companies are emerging and the use of headphones are changing.

Now considered a fashion accessory as much as they are hardware for listening to music companies are focussing not only on great sound but also style.

Currently the industry is focussed on wireless, providing a tangle free experience without compromising on sound quality and design, although its not always easy to achieve.

Many companies charge a premium price for this benefit.

If you’re after some ‘every day wireless earphones’, take a look at our sister brand Mixx Audio at mixx-audio.com for wireless earphones at a great price as you might be surprised as to what you find there.


Mixx Audio Memory Fit Wireless Earphones


A quick look at the timeline, from revolutionary to revolutionary, the industry still continues to grow and inspire.


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