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When were the First Headphones Invented?

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 1/11/2010

Have you ever wondered who invented the headphones? They came into use early in the 20th century but the technology has drastically improved over the years. Surprisingly it didn't occur to anyone that they could be used for listening to music. Read more about the first headphones in this article.

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    Everyone Uses Headphones

    Headphones are an essential accessory and there is no doubt they have saved many an argument over the years. Thanks to headphones you can listen to audio without having to disturb anyone else. Nowadays we use all kinds of headphones from small earplugs with wireless Bluetooth technology to listen to music in the street, to big leather padded cans for listening to music at home. Also, Gaming headsets are increasingly popular as many headsets today come equipped with a microphone, thus allowing users to talk with other gamers, friends and relatives.

    Headphones can give the user a better quality of sound, there is no interruption between the sound and the ear, nowhere for it to dissipate and external sound is blocked out, especially if you invest in a high quality pair of headphones which are abundantly available today. In fact if you go back to the early 20th century before amplifiers were invented, sensitive headphones were the only way to listen to audio signals.

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    What year were the first headphones invented?

    Brandes Radio Headphones 1919-1921 Strictly speaking the very first headphones date back to the early adoption of the telephone and by 1919 radio headphones like the set pictured here were being manufactured. These were for use by professionals rather than the public. There is an argument over who first had the idea to shrink down loudspeakers and attach them to our heads but the very earliest surviving examples date back to around 1910. These were far from the headphones we use today with very poor sound quality and no padding for comfort. They were used by radio operators and telephone exchanges.

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    The First Dynamic Headphones

    If you ask “When were the first headphones invented?" you will often see German company Beyerdynamic taking the credit. They are an audio company with a terrific reputation for producing high quality headphones and they’ve certainly had plenty of practice. They produced the world’s first dynamic headphones back in 1937. Amazingly the DT 48 headphones are still in production today but they have made various changes over the years. These headphones were still not for public consumption and it had not occurred to anyone that they would be suitable for hi-fi listening. In fact DT stood for Dynamic Telephone. The DT 48 headphones were demonstrated to the public in 1950 but it would be several more years before they were widely available.

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    The First Stereo Headphones

    Koss Pro 4AAA Titanium Stereophones The man credited with producing the first stereo headphones was John C. Koss. As is often the case with newly popular inventions, the technology itself was nothing revolutionary, it was the application. What was new was the fact that Koss used the headphones to allow people to listen to music. Along with an engineer called Martin Lange he had actually invented an audio system, a portable phonograph with speakers and he had included a private switch which allowed the user to listen through SP3 stereophones. They demonstrated the device in Wisconsin in 1958 and although no-one was interested in the device itself, they loved the headphones. The Koss stereophones provided a full range for low and high notes and the stereo effect with different signals in the right and left ears mimicked the concert hall. As such people clamored to buy them.

    Since then we have refined the technology and produced many variants on the original idea, including wireless headphones which are becoming increasingly popular. The company that Koss founded still manufacture and sell headphones today.