The first prototype of wireless earbuds was created in 1978 and it is said that they’re not just for listening to music, but also for calls and hands-free calls. Please keep reading for more details!
History Of Headphones Timeline
1880s: The 10-Pound Headphones
Many people find heavy headphones annoying or uncomfortable. Most people prefer smaller, lighter headphones. A smaller option would not have been possible if you were there for the birth of headphones.
Ezra Gilliland invented a “headphone” that could weigh more than 10 pounds back in the 1880s. The device had one earpiece that was attached to the phone, and a microphone on the shoulder. This was before you could carry a boombox around on your shoulder.
1891: The First Earbuds
Ernest Mercadier, a French engineer, invented what he called a bi-telephone in 1891. This would be the first known in-ear headset.
They are lightweight and portable and closely resemble the IEMs we use today. This feat is impressive considering that it was only 130 years ago. Even suggested that the rubber cover be used to protect the ears from friction when using them.
However, earbuds and headphones were not common in the 1800s. The technology was only used for telephone calls.
1890s: The Electrophone
There are many online ways to share music and listen with your friends. What about 100+ years ago? Before the radio was invented? Enter the Electrophone.
The Electrophone, a subscription service that was launched in London, was innovative and ahead of its time. The Electrophone allowed users to hear live theatre performances via their telephone line.
To listen to the programs, users would connect headphones to their phones. It’s almost like Spotify for opera!
It is similar to the headphones we use today except that they are held on top of the head and not handheld. Instead, the rod connects to the earpads.
1910: First Official Audio Headphones
Although there were many similar ideas in the past – most people believe Nathaniel Baldwin is the inventor of headphones. Because Baldwin’s invention was a significant improvement on previous designs.
Baldwin’s invention was similar to the headphones we use today. It had 2 padded ear cups with 2 bands across the top so that it could rest comfortably on our heads – no need for us to hold them.
Baldwin, not realizing its potential, invented the first headphones in Utah in his kitchen to aid him in hearing the sermons at the Mormon temple.
The idea was ridiculed by the initial investors, but they didn’t realize its true value until the US Navy bought it. Because of the design of these headphones, which didn’t require an external power source, the Navy placed large orders. Baldwin saw this as a huge opportunity.
Baldwin’s financial success did not last. Baldwin was bankrupted by a series of poor investments and a time in prison for mail fraud.
1958: The Birth of Brands
John Koss, an inventor, built the first pair of hi-fi stereo headphones. He did this to show the quality of his portable phonograph. It also featured a “privacy switch”, which allows for private, quiet listening.
The headphones sold more quickly than the stereo because they allowed people to listen to stereos at their homes and were loved by military personnel returning from war. Koss’s first set of headphones took Baldwin’s Navy headphones’ basic design and added stereo technology and larger headphone cups.
Baldwin retained the thin, leather headset band with padding for comfort. The Koss headphones entered the jet age in the 1960s. They had a wider headband, radio dials, and noise-blocking cups that were reminiscent of fighter pilots’ helmets.
1960s: The First Wireless Headphones
Wireless headphones were already popular decades before Bluetooth technology was invented. They were actually popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
These headphones were also known as “radio headphones” and were exactly what their name implies. These headphones were equipped with built-in am/FM radio antennas, 2-inch speakers, and padded earcups. Users could take their radio wherever they went.
Radios were big back then. This model was also helpful for hearing impaired people to listen to their radios from anywhere. These were the first models of radio headphones on the market today.
Koss’ headphone marketing was in sync with popular culture during the 1960s and 1970s. There were advertisements featuring King Kong and smiley faces–the original Emoji–wearing them. They also released new designs such as the Pneumalite Earcup and denim-trim Easy Listening headphones.
Kosss was also a pioneer in branded collaboration. Beatlephones were launched long before Beats by Dre as a Koss-x The Beatles cobranded product. Beatlephones were enamel headphones featuring photos of the Beatles printed on each cup.
Although the Beatles stickers may seem dated, the actual headphone design was a classic example of 1960s hard-cup technology. It featured a wide headset strap and padded cups in navy blue.
The hardware was also metal. Beatlephones opened up the market to a wider audience than hifi geeks and made it easier for youth to purchase headphones.
1969: The First Open-Back Headphones
1969 was a pivotal year for the headphone industry. Sennheiser’s HD414 was the first open-back headphone, and this is why it changed the face of the market. The user can enjoy a greater sound quality by having the earcups open rather than closed. The ear cups are lighter and more breathable.
The audio quality of headphones has improved and it is now possible to comfortably wear them for long-term use.
1979: The Walkman
The Walkman, the first portable cassette stereo cassette, changed the function of headphones. It was no longer a technology for quiet concentration but a way to create individual autonomy and privacy in public spaces.
The 1980s advertisement for the Walkman proclaimed that “The progress in sound continues, but how about Mankind?” and claimed that the Walkman was a new kind of techno-human hybrid experience.
The Walkman’s whisper-weight headphones, which were made of one thin metal band linking two thin foam-covered headphones, could be worn in public either in on or off mode. This created a feeling of private space and mobility.
The Walkman’s two headphone jacks allowed for sharing listening and created a boom in affordable aftermarket headphones. This opened the door to future companies that will be primarily focused on headphone technology.
1989: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones
With the invention of noise-canceling headphones in 1989, headphones became even more popular for private listening.
Noise-canceling headphones use a microphone to capture all outside noise and create an opposite sound wave to cancel it out.
This technology was useful for combat vehicle crewmen in Army and pilots in aviation. However, the technology gained popularity over time for personal use.
1990s: Smaller Technologies Grow In The 1990S
In the 1990s there were a plethora of portable music technology options. These ranged from cassettes to CDs to DAT to minidiscs. This led to greater product variety and fewer iconic devices.
As a result, headphones got smaller and more affordable thanks to the development of smaller technologies such as the minidisc player.
Many of the latest music players came with plastic earbuds. The waning design specifications of mass-market headphones led to the fashion and music scene using hard-cup, robust headphones from the 1970s as stylish alternatives to stock earbuds.
With the rise of rave culture, where DJs became a major part of the entertainment industry, headphones were no longer associated with privacy.
They were now seen as an extension of mass social interaction and public performance. The person who wore headphones wasn’t necessarily reserved or aloof. They might even be the center of attention.
1994: Bone Conduction Headphones
For decades, bone conduction has been used to aid hearing. Even Beethoven was said to have used bone conduction after he lost his hearing. Werner Bottesch was the one to patent the first bone conduction headphones.
Bone conduction, like many other headphone innovations, was originally used in the military.
These headphones transmit sound directly through the bones of the skull, instead of the eardrum. This allows the user to stay connected to the external environment.
With AfterShokz and other companies becoming more well-known, bone conduction headphones became popular with athletes and everyday consumers.
2001: The Rise of iPods
The Apple iPod’s 2001 launch was a revolution in digital music listening, much like the Walkman did in the 1980s for portable cassette stereos. The iPod promised “1000 songs in your pocket” and was smaller, lighter, and faster than any other device. Its iconic earbuds were a visual representation of this innovation.
The iPod’s white, lightweight headphones were a recognizable upgrade to the basic earbuds included with most portable music players.
Apple’s advertising for the iPod cleverly established a visual identity between earbuds & iPod. The ads featured Robert Longo’s dark silhouettes dancing with the iPod’s high-contrast white cord.
These ads show the iPod technology being highlighted while the wearer is hidden in shadow. This makes the user of the iPod a fashion mannequin.
Apple had not launched a product that was a must-have in years, but the world was moving rapidly towards digital media. The iPod’s sporty-punk simplicity became the symbol of millennial modernity.
2004: Bluetooth Revolution
The headphone cord that tied the wearer to another source became obsolete with the advent of Bluetooth technology in 1999. In its early years, Bluetooth technology was primarily used by businessmen who wore spiky headsets that were connected to their Blackberries.
This gave Bluetooth an unfashionable feel. Long before Demna Gvasalia’s 2017 office core collection for Balenciaga, the khaki-wearing, office-park-inhabiting businessman was sporting his earpiece anti-fashion with pride.
Bluetooth’s original fashion curse was lifted in the 2000s and 2010s when Bluetooth headphones were released by headphone manufacturers like Beats and Bose.
2008: Beats By Dre
Headphones continued to gain popularity as they became more integrated into fashion in the 2010s. We saw headphones branded with The Beatles in the 1960s, and this trend continued when Dr. Dre released Monster Beats by Dre, big, bulky, and bold.
Celebrities have also been inspired by their success to get into the headphones industry. There are hundreds of styles today to suit different purposes and preferences, and the link between headphones fashion and fashion has not broken.
2015: The First Truly Wireless Earbuds
Wireless headphones and earbuds were available before 2015. Bluetooth technology was in use for approximately 10 years. Although headphones did not have a wire that connected to the audio source, they did have wires connecting each earpiece.
Onkyo, a Japanese manufacturer that specializes in audio equipment, released the first truly wireless headphones, the Onkyo W800BT. With truly wireless headphones, all the necessary features were contained in the earbuds.
Although it wasn’t as good as the wireless earbuds technology we have today, Onkyo demonstrated the potential of this technology and opened the door for other manufacturers to develop their own.
Although Onkyo might have been the first to release truly wireless headphones it couldn’t make as much impact as Apple’s AirPods.
Apple made a significant change to the design of its iPhone and earbuds in 2017, moving away from wired earphones. AirPods are extremely lightweight at only 4g and can be removed from the ear by double-tapping.
These accessories have become Apple’s most loved accessory with more than 60 million sold.
Airpods’ greatest impact on the headphone market is perhaps their unique and chic style. This product have enjoyed huge consumer success, and many brands have created their own AirPods. Some even copied their design.
What’s Next In Wireless Earbuds Technology?
Wireless earbuds were born out of the pandemic. As everyone was at home and interacted only via video, wireless earbuds offered an easy way to keep in touch. The wireless audio segment saw over 300 million in sales in 2020. This number is expected to rise significantly in the coming two years.
“We expect double-digit growth in global shipments. 31% YoY for 2022, 21% for 2022, and 13% for 2023. Emerging markets will see a lot of this growth as more phones abandon the headphone jack and prices drop. Ubrani says that brands are now bundling their products to make TWS easier.”
Ubrani suggests that lossless audio might be one of the key features in the next generation of wireless earbuds. From a device perspective, I believe we’ll see more emphasis on comfort and fit. We will also see more brands and lossless audio and spatial sound.
Bluetooth codecs are capable of transmitting audio at high bitrates. Major streaming services are now using lossless audio. It is likely that audio brands will use hi-res audio to make their earbuds stand out. It’s exciting!
FAQs About When Were Earbuds Invented
When Was Bluetooth Earbuds First Introduced?
Although the first stereo Bluetooth headphones were released in 2004 on the market, they didn’t become an alternative to traditional wired headphones until the 2010s.
Who Was The Inventor Of Wireless Earbuds First?
Listen up! Two Pasadena brothers invented the technology used worldwide. Earl and Cedric Woolfork are the owners and operators of One-E-Way Electronics, a company located in Southern California.
Did Nasa Invent Wireless Headphones?
NASA created wireless headsets for astronauts to communicate with each other without having to worry about tangled wires. Wireless headphones were later invented as a result of this inspiration.
The history of headphones as we know it has spanned over 100 years. As technology evolves and consumers’ interests change, the industry has innovated to stay ahead. Rezence hopes you find this review of the history of headphones insightful. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.