The History and Evolution of Headphones

The History and Evolution of Headphones

Unfortunately, we cannot give the answer to who invented headphones. The original inventor of headphones has perished in the fog of history of headphones. But since phone, radio and music recordings exist, humans have needed a "listening device" for them.

The history and evolution of headphones by the Baldy Phones is well documented.

Nathaniel Baldwin (1878-1961) invented an acoustic amplifier out of personal distress but was economically a disaster. The U.S. navy saved him and ordered 100 headphones to equip the radio operators during World War I.

Baldwin's Radio Company in Salt Lake City ordered more than 200,000 until 1922. The box-office hit, however, was only mediocre isolated and gave the non-professional user like a surge in case of improper use.

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History of Headphones Timeline


The history of headphones and their evolution

#1) First steps

Before the amplifier was developed, headphones were the only way to hear any form of electrical audio. First versions of the gramophone or phonograph gave only unamplified acoustic signals.

A connecting medium was needed, which brought the latest rhythms of the charts, current radio news and legendary opera evenings directly to the ear. This finally became possible with the first headphones.

#2) Baldy Phones from the kitchen workshop

The first major breakthrough came by the American Nathaniel Baldwin with the invention of the so-called "Baldy Phones", a mono-earpiece with two on the ear lying shells with a headband. Commissioned by the US Navy, Baldwin made these in his home kitchen. With success: as part of the broadcast Baldwin sold up to 200,000 copies of the Baldy Phones per year. The headphones had reached their first major milestone on the way to becoming a commercial product.

#3) The Golden Twenties and the "Wireless"

The twenties, which are considering wild, exuberant and crazy about music, owe their name to a pioneering invention: the wireless radio.

The increasing availability of electricity led to a rapid improvement in sound engineering. This also cleared the way for powerful headphone innovations.

#4) Beyerdynamic on a stick

The decisive innovation came in 1937 from German company Beyerdynamic, which designed the first electro-dynamic headphone, the DT-48.

 This "Dynamic Telephone" (DT), originally developed as headphones for telephone and radio technicians during the Second World War, is still producing today.

Even more significant for the way the headphone to the mass production was Beyer's successor to the 1950s: the DT-49 or colloquially called "Stielhörer".

Their success is based on the happy coincidence of another innovation of the time: the stereo record. In "Plattenbars" both came together and listening to music with headphones became the public cult of the economic miracle era.

#5) A jazz musician goes stereo

What is more obvious than a Milwaukee jazz musician inventing the world's first stereo headphone? John Koss stereo headphones were the answer to the new record mania and the growing music industry.

With the 3-4-pound headphones, the Koss Cooperation dominated the US market of the 1960s and 1970s. The1968 developed Koss ESP / 6, we consider as the first electrostatic headphones with lower sound distortion and lighter weight.

#6) Music goes for a walk: from the first Sony Walkman to the Apple iPod

1979 marks the beginning of the mobile generation of headphones. The Sony Walkman, the first portable cassette player, brings music to the streets. But not without headphones: part of the Sony Walkman is the MDL-3L2, a feather-light and pliable on-ear listener. During the 1980s headphones era, so-called "supernatural" on-ear listeners made their way. Provided with a soft foam material, they were not only more comfortable to wear, but also much lighter than their predecessor models.

With Steve Jobs' iPod in 2001 finally hit the hour of popular in-ear listeners, whose technology not only optimized bass reproduction enabled, but also the immersion in the beat of the current song. Completely encapsulated by the sounds of the outside world, the Ear Bud listeners made listening to music a very personal experience.

#7) Climb to the VIP area

In 2010, the headphones have become a fashion symbol and often serve a specific marketing image. Already John Koss used the concept of the so-called signature models - the contractual connection between the product and famous artists - for the commercial success of his headphones.

 The Beat Beatles Koss Beatlephones are the first example of the clever and lucrative connection between the product and the music industry.

How profitable this connection can actually be, showed the cooperation of Apple with the headphone trend brand Beats of the rapper Dr. Dre. Beats rose in 2009 with the bondage of stars like Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber to the "celebrity headphones" par excellence. 

Most popular headphones brands

Headphones have become an integral part of our daily lives. But there are the practical earplugs not for too long - at least for the broad mass of people.

From earbuds to Dr. Dre over-ear headphones, everyone will find the right ones for themselves.

  • Earbuds – This type of headphones is among the most popular ones. They are easy to store, easy to carry and they are almost unnoticeable as they blend in almost every look of your outfit. They are cheap and affordable and give you a perfect sound experience – if you are not a music fanatic.
  • Over-ear – The over-ear type of headphones is the most used in the music and gaming industry. With great sound quality, amazing sound isolation and voice focus, these headphones are your best choice if you are a music lover or a gaming fanatic.

Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that those headphones look very cool and are a great accessory for your outfit. No wonder why you see that every football player uses those while getting out of the bus.

  • On-ear – Where are over-ear headphones, there are the complete opposite too. While over-ear headphones are able to block the environmental sounds, on-ear are affected by them. However, they are small, compact, they will fit the size of your ear and are light.
  • Bluetooth headphones – These are confirmed as the best and were the only wireless ones until recently when Apple launched their wireless headphones that will be explained later. Bluetooth headphones really made a big change in this era and considering the fact that you don’t have to get caught up in boring wires while listening to music or playing a video game was not even possible, as the scientists back in the 2000s claimed.

Apple iPods (the newest) – Apple launched their wireless headphones that are modern, sophisticated and very high quality! They fit your pocket, with their little box, because they are smaller than an average finger and can be lost easily! Apple, once again, showed that they dominate in every area of technology development.

Today we consider headphones as a “must-have”. The difference between their usage now and only 25-30 years ago is best shown by the statement of a man who came out of prison. He said that “When he was on the streets, only CIA and FBI agents were wearing headphones”. He also said that “He can’t get used to it now, as now everyone looks like an FBI agent”.

That shows us how fast this trend came up and became popular.

Interesting facts about headphones

  • Did you know that telephone operators used the first headphones to operate? They used them to hear a caller and redirect him on the correct line. Today you can just call someone, and you’ll directly get that person on the other line. But back then, it was a struggle.

  • The first person who manufactured headphones never patented them! That almost caused a bankruptcy! We are lucky because if they were patented, we would buy them at the much higher price today.

  • US Navy than saves the exact same person and orders 200,000 pairs of headphones. Radio communication was the purpose of headphones usage. Military didn’t only help headphones rise. They helped us with the most important tool we use today – the internet!

  • The first ever signed headphones by a celebrity were the KOSS Beatlephones. They are still manufacturing headphones actively.

  • First earbuds would never be popular without Apple and its iPod! Apple was also in front of bankruptcy, but Steve Jobs made a miracle and saved the company. Now, it’s one of the most valuable companies all around the world.

  • When we don’t talk about special orders, you can one of the most expensive headphones on the world for around $55,000! Special orders are way more expensive. For example, in 2012 a famous rapper, called “Lil Wayne”, ordered and purchased a $1 million dollar worth headphones specially designed by Beats electronics.


From the Baldy Phones and the Stielhörern to Koss's stereo headphones to Apple's Ear Bud listeners, the history of the headphones not only reveals the technological milestones that the headphones covered.

Each of their versions always served the technical needs of their era and the demand for mass culture.

If the headphones in the world without radio and TV still played a major role in connecting entertainment and cultural values, they have become an everyday accessory and trendy fashion symbol. Cool headphones really make an impact today when it comes to fashion and style, am I right?

Nowadays everyone will find their right headphones, and we can freely say that the evolution of headphones helped us a lot, no matter if the focus is on the sound experience or the fashion statement. And let's be honest, what else can be "reinvented" on headphones?

That will remain as the question that maybe you can give the answer to and get on the list of people who made history in the headphones industry and evolution.

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