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history of music headphones

Piano concertos in orchestra halls and thrashing on-stage guitar solos are all well and good—but mostly, when we listen to music, we want to do so in private, whether that’s on the bus, in the library, or around the running track. That’s why we love our headphones—and that’s why we’re so keen to keep on top of the latest  advances in digital music and audio technology. On the other hand, we’re fascinated by the speedy evolution  of the humble headset, so we’ve done a little digging to find out more…

Electrophone home

 In 1890s Britain, stay-at-home church-goers and theatre-lovers had the option of paying a subscription to listen to live feeds of their chosen productions using enormous headphones that looped under the chin and were supported by a long rod.



The company behind this popular (well, popular amongst the rich, anyway) innovation, Electrophone, weren’t the first headphone manufacturers, though: French engineer Ernest Mercadier patented a set he called the bi-telephone back in 1891, and Ezra Gilliland, of the Bell telephone company, came up with a headset of telephone operators, called the Gilliland Harness, which weighed a staggering 6-22 lbs, and debuted in 1881. Not the most comfortable device…

Come fly with me 

Moving into the twentieth century, we find Edward Beyer, founder of Beyerdynamic and inventor of the DT 48 headphones, a durable piece of kit that came on the market back in 1937 and were sold right up until 2012! Skip to 1958, and there’s John C. Koss, a musician and phonograph-salesman who used a prototype of what he called aviator headphones in order to help flog his phonographs at an expo in Milwaukee’s Hotel Wisconsin. The headphones themselves were the biggest hit, though: these were a pair of vacuum-formed plastic cups containing 3-inch speakers, covered with perforated plastic and foam earpads, and connected by a metal rod.

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Koss went on to great success with these SP-3 models, often erroneously referred to as the very first stereo headphones. In fact, the German Luftwaffe get that honour: their pilots used headphones and radar to listen to a stereophonic version of Morse Code while searching for their bombing targets.

Walk this way

As the century progressed, the over-the-head sets, still beloved by DJS and hipsters, began to give way in many quarters to what we now call earbuds. These aren’t as space-age as you’d think, though: Ernest Mercadier got there first, back in the 1890s, with miniature rubber-capped receivers for telephonists that were designed ‘to lessen the friction against the orifice of the ear…[and] effectually close the ear to external sounds.’ Neat! The birth of the Sony Walkman in 1979, however, made portable headphones a top priority for the home market.

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By 1998, engineers in the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (Nokia, IBM, Intel, Toshiba and Ericcson) were busy working on—you guessed it—Bluetooth technology to enable, amongst other things, wireless headphones. The main challenge here was to match the sound quality of their corded counterparts.

Time to go Pro

Which, rather neatly, brings us to the present day in all its high-tech glory. And where do style and tech merge to form the perfect set of music headphones? In the Nokia Purity Pro Wireless Stereo Headset by Monster, of course! It’s a bit of a mouthful, sure, but, man, if ever a set of headphones were worth a hefty name, then this is it.


First up, of course, they’re wireless—NFC or Bluetooth enabled phones will pair with them—but wires are included, in case you’re in a Bluetooth blackout-zone. The wireless battery-life will make your hair stand on end (24 hours playback, 7 days standby) and they switch on and off as you unfold them. They look ace, in red, yellow, black and white, and they sound amazing, with noise cancellation tech meaning you’ll hear nothing but the thumping beats of your choice.

All this is thanks to more than one hundred and thirty years of ceaseless technological innovation. Think about that next time you pump up the tunes.