What's the History of Headphones?

Evolution. Necessary for development, improving and refining at every turn.

Everything on this Earth has evolved from something.

Headphones are no different

By 1881, ‘the speaker’ had been around for some time.

They were incorporated into the telephone operator’s system and the whole switchboard process, enabling us to call someone, something that at the time, we took for granted.

Those that operated the system at the time would hold up the telephony equipment, (some of them quite heavy) for hours on end just to enable people to make a call!

That was until Gilliland strapped the speaker and microphone to their shoulder, creating the Gilliland Harness. The single earpiece weight was around 10lbs and rested on the shoulder – ingenious!

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

Jumping forward just fifteen years and Spotify was formed! No not really but an 1800’s version of a streaming service!

What was essentially 19th century audio streaming, wealthy listeners could tune in to the Royal Opera House via their Electrophones (the ugliest of all headphone developments) That said, the concept was again, 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. Incredible stuff!

This evolutionary (if a little ugly) step reigned as the audio king for just over a decade until another revolutionary, Nathaniel Balwin manufactured the first modern headphones.

Balwin set the tone for how headphones would be designed for many years to come and to this day we use a very similar design (more or less).

1900 headphones

Two years before World War Two, 1937, Beyer released Beyer Dynamic, the first dynamic pair of headphones.

1950s headphones


During the war effort, radio’s, headphones and the Battery Civilian receiver (The Wireless) would become common place but development of the domestic headphone came to a relative halt.

Fast forward some 12 years from the start of the war, 1949 and AKG developed the K120’s. Whilst they look a little uncomfortable, they are now pretty trendy with the retro, bulkier, circular design. 

Time passed and in 1958 Koss developed the first stereo headphones.

Stereo headphones work by playing sound from two independent channels, a left channel for the left speaker output and a right channel for right speaker output.

This revolutionised the headphone industry and began to dominate.

1960s headphones

A decade later and 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. This reduces distortion and improves sound quality another revolutionary step and again, common place nowadays!

1970s headphones

Then in 1979, Sony released the Walkman and with It the Sony MDL-3L2 headphones!

Making the 80’s the year for portable music and some pretty interesting fashion statements!

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

2000 apple earphones

With the introduction of Apple’s classic in-ear earphone we saw the white cables draped over the front of almost every commuter, office worker and pretty much anyone in the street. Whilst we know now that wires are can be inconvenient to some, at that point in time the landscape had changed, in design, in function and in sound.

It was a true evolution of the ‘headphone’.

Now we had ‘the earphone’

Since then, the industry has continued to grow, new technologies and companies are emerging. Even the use of headphones has changed.

Now they’re a fashion accessory, a sporting accessory, as much as they’re something to listen to music to. Companies are focussing not only on great sound but also great and innovative styling for all uses.

Even more recently we have a new phenomenon, a new evolutionary requirement, convenience. We want wireless, tangle free but with all the style and sound quality we had before.

Wireless headphones


I imagine you’re asking, what is true wireless? Surely, it’s the same as wireless? – Well yes but with one distinct difference! This time you need no cabling or joining head peace. Just two independent channels that connect together to give you that surround sound in both ears. NOW THAT IS A HEADPHONE EVOLUTION.

True wireless earbuds

That’s the history. That’s the evolution. That is the headphone revolution.

If you’re after some ‘every day wireless earphones’, take a look through our range of wireless earphones, available at a great price as you might be surprised as to what you find there.


Written by Crystal Rosen. Adapted by James Dyer.