Headphones are smaller versions of loudspeakers, one that can be carried around one’s neck all day. They cover up both the ears reaching across from around the head. They are generally cushioned for comfort and this also helps in noise cancellation. Over the years, the headphones have found themselves useful in more ways than one. ‘Airplane pilots are among the many professionals to use headphones on the job; most often headphones are used as auxiliary stereo equipment, to listen to music without disturbing others, and in the production of music in the recording studio.'(Thomson Gale, 2006)
The History of Headphones
The headphones were originally adopted from the idea of telephones. By 1919 radio headphones, as shown in the picture below, had started being manufactured. These headphones were initially used more by the professionals in comparison to the public. The original headphones were far from the ones that are used today with extremely poor sound quality and no cushioning for comfort. The radio operators and telephone exchanges were the initial users of these original headphones.
The drawbacks in these headphones were covered for by the invention of the first ‘Dynamic Headphones’. A German company called ‘Beyerdynamics’ created these in 1937 and called them the ‘DT 48’. The production of these headphones sets a fine example of innovation in the late 1930s. However, they were incapable of producing stereophonic sounds that we get from the headphones today.
Stereo Headphones can be dated back to 1958. The first ‘Modern’ stereo headphones came into being as a result of the innovation of entrepreneur John C. Koss, a Milwaukee-based jazz musician and audiophile. Before this advancement by Koss, simplistic headphones were merely used in industries by telephone operators for around a century. Koss designed his version distinctively for music and they also supported stereo sound.
Koss’s first headphones, ‘SP/3’, were marketed as an accessory to a suitcase-sized phonograph. The phonograph was not as big as a hit as the headphones since they were largely accepted by the recording industries. Koss made a number of improvements in his original headphones and introduced the ‘Pro/4’ model in 1962. It had a microphone transducer that included an improvement in the sound quality. Gradually, new methods of producing sound in headphones were employed by Koss, such as the introduction of the electrostatic headphones, which used stator plates per ear to vibrate air molecules and create sound (Valens Quinn, 2008). These innovative steps had changed the look and quality of headphones. But they were still bulky and heavy. There was a need to make them lightweight and compact. By the 1980’s, Sony introduced the Walkman Headphones. These were small, portable stereo headphones. They were designed completely different i.e. supra aural as oppose to the circumaural design. The first cordless headphones were by john Koss that used an infrared signal to link the amplifier to the headphones (Thomson Gale, 2006).
In the 1990s, the earbud headphone came to light; a small headphone that fit inside the ear instead of sitting over it. Canalphones also came along in the 1990s, providing sound directly into the ear canal for superior sound quality and the combined effect of earplugs to prevent outside noise from leaking inside. (Dachary Carey, 2009)
From Theory To Practice
Competition when first innovated
There was not much competition in the initial period of the birth of headphones. Beyerdynamics was the first to produce the first dynamic headphones in the 19030s. Whereas Koss Corporation produced the first stereo headphones in the 1958. With a number one rating according to the Consumer Report magazine, Koss stood for quality. Though there were other companies that tired to over their monopoly, the company managed to squelch competition from cheap imports by offering a superior product. Research shows that when a Japanese firm began selling an inexpensive $12 headphone set in the early 1960s, Koss raised its own prices, widening the gulf between the two. The company grew at roughly 15 to 20 percent annually in its early years, with profit of around ten percent (James Press, 2001). This proved Koss’s company to be a lucrative one, thereby withstanding any competition that was thrown at them.
But Koss Corporation’s principal competitor was Sony (James Press, 2001). Sony had its own set of competitors. The Walkman craze began in Japan and reached the US by 1980. Other audio companies jumped on the personal stereo bandwagon, and by Spring of 1981, at least two dozen companies were selling similar devices, many of which were marketed with catchy names of their own. Toshiba had their Stereo Walky, Infinity had their Intimate, and Panasonic sold their Stereo-To-Go. (Walkman History 101, 2002)
Resistance to Innovation
Innovation in the field of headphones continues to occur, but even the highest quality headphones have drawbacks and limitations.
‘When the headphone speakers are inserted into the ear, the sound bypasses the natural conditioning and sensing elements leading to a disconnected effect of sound coming from the middle of the listener’s head.
Noise cancelling headphones can create a level of social isolation and feeling of detachment from the surroundings. A listener is not able to engage with the outside world.
Environmental safety is compromised, as listeners can’t hear traffic or other social safety cues when enjoying their favorite active hobbies.
Health issues can arise when a headphone fits deep inside the ear, because a plugged ear during exercise can cause growth of micro-bacteria. In addition, many users report increased earwax.
Long term or permanent hearing damage has been reported when users are exposed to higher dB levels over long periods of time.’ (Head History And Evolution, 2007)
The future has much in store for us when it comes to headphones. A lot of research has been done to improve the way headphones look and sound. In the near future, we will be seeing something called ‘bonephones’, that use bone conduction to create vibrations against the head to transmit sound to a listener. Its principal benefit is that it prevents ears from damaging due to the outside environment.
Also new to the headphone world will be the introduction of the InAir technology. This technology uses the ear to its full advantage, i.e. its uses all the parts of the ear to create sound, allowing personal listening with an experience similar to having a high quality, surround sound home stereo system while still allowing ambient sounds to be heard.
Over time, as developments have taken place, headphones have become sleeker, more stylized and comfortable to carry, thereby replacing the huge music players. As innovators find means and ways to attract customers to headphones, their health is at stake. The in-ear headphones may cancel sound for better hearing, but it can also lead to bacterial growth inside the ear if plugged on for a long time. Nowadays, headphones have become Bluetooth enabled, though it clearly known that these rays are injurious to our health. Inventors should focus on these issues rather than stylizing headphones to make sales. With the gradual increase in the population of the world and it becoming more technology savvy, headphone use has increased. Nowadays millions of people use headphones during online gaming, online chatting such as Skype and watching videos on Youtube.
Another issue with the headphones is that they sometimes do not fit the price tag. They have recently become expensive due to the intrusion of new technology, e.g. sound cancellation frequency used in Bose speakers, cordless headphones. Either the headphones are too expensive or too cheap to work properly. Another problem faced by the “old school” headphones lovers and myself rather than the cordless headphones lovers is the tangling of cable. Not much has been done to check the problem. However, keeping in mind the growing number music lovers, the future of the headphone market seems to be a profitable one.
Thomson Gale. (2006). World of Invention. Available: http://www.bookrags.com/research/headphones-woi/. Last accessed 7 November 2009.
Valens Quinn. (2008). Time Warp: A History Of Headphones. Available: http://www.gadgetguy.com.au/time-warp-a-history-of-headphones-article-3769-115.html. Last accessed 7 November 2009
Dachary Carey. (2009). The History Of Headphones. Available: http://www.life123.com/technology/home-electronics/headphones/the-history-of-headphones.shtml. Last accessed 7 November 2009.
James Press. (2001). Koss Corporation. Available: http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Koss-Corporation-Company-History.html. Last accessed 24 November 2009.
Anonymous. (2002). Walkman History 101. Available: http://www.pocketcalculatorshow.com/walkman/history.html. Last accessed 24 November 2009.
Anonymous. (2007). Headphone History and Evolution. Available: http://inairtechnology.com/development.html. Last accessed 24 November 2009.
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