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The History of Headphones
The History of head Phones
Headphones have been wrapping our ears for almost a century, gradually evolving from niche product to a mass-market $1+ billion revenue generator. While there has always been the slow march to hi-fidelity headphones from companies like AKG and Sennheiser, the history of headphones can be traced through several notable eras, to today's craze around celebrity endorsements.
Some may dispute their sound quality compared with other brands favored by headphone aficionados, but one thing's indisputable: today, celebrity-branded headphones are flying off the shelves and onto consumers' heads at amazing speeds. With their help perhaps, market research firms IBISWorls projects that revenues for the headphone manufacturing industry will increase to $1.18 billion by 2016. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; the history of headphones starts where most technology originated, with the US military.
The Early Days
1919 headphones originated from the earpiece, and were the only way to listen to electrical audio signals before amplifiers were developed. The first truely successful set was developed by Nathaniel Baldwin, who made then by hand in his kitchen and sold them to the U.S. Navy.
1937 German company Beyerdynamic invented and produced the first dynamic headphones, the DT-48, which are still in production today. Uptake was patchy, as it hadn't yet occurred to anyone that they would be suitable for hi-fi listening. DT stood for "Dynamic Telephone."
1953 After WWII froze Beyerdynamic's production, they emerged in the 1950's with the "Stielhorer" DT 49, which became a cult item of "Plattenbars" (Record bars).
1958 John C Koss, a Milwaukee-based jazz musician, invented the first stereo headphones, designed for listeners to enjoy new fangled stereo LPs at home.
1960s As home use of records increased, so did headphone use. Koss domintaed the U.S. market for most of the 1960s and 70s, with headphones that weighted 3-5 lbs.
1963 Celebrity endorsement was a key part of Koss's strategy. Tony Bennett was an early supporter and still is to this day. Other fans included Mel Torme and Bobby Hackett.
1966 The first celebrity signature headphones were the Koss Beatlephones. Basically some mid-line headphones with a Beatles sticker on it. They were a huge hit.
1968 The Koss ESP/6 were the first electrostatic headphones produced, providing less distortion and lower weight, though then need for lighter headphones would not be realized until later.
1970s Koss also set the tone for headphone advertising, like the above ad, which puts the headphones against bright colors and silhouettes.
1979 The 80's were a disaster for Koss as it diversified into other electronics. The last contribution of the 70's was the HV like of lightweight headphones.
The Portable Era
1979 Sony came out with the Walkman and made music mobile. Lighter headphones were needed so the walkman came bundled with the MDR-3L2.
1980s Circumaural "cans" enclosing the ear gave way to the superaural designs - those that sit lightly on the ear with a piece of foam padding. Light and cheap headphones reigned supreme.
2001 Apple didn't invent the earbuds, but the iPod made them popular and ubiquitous. Their main problem was that they didn't isolate the sound very well and the volume had to be turned up to compensate.
2000s The buds began to transition to earphones that could fit further into the ear canal, creating better isolation at a lower volume.
Fashion and Celebs
2003 While the white iPod buds were iconic, Skillcandy took headphones to new levels with wild and vibrant styles designed to be noticed.
2004 Val Kolton launched V-MODA at a Magic/PROJECT fashion show in Hollywood, dubbed "hearwear." The True Blood V-80, True Blood MAKER and True Blood REVAMP earphones became popular.
2008 Beats by Dr. Dre, by Monster, resurfaced the line of celebrity headphones. These triple-digit priced headphones feature endorsements from the likes of Diddy, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
2009 After the success of Beats, Monster began to expand the family, first with "Heartbeats by Lady Gaga" and, later that year, "Miles Davis Tribute" limited edition in-ear headphones.
2010 The celebrity craze did not remain limited to recording artists for long. Monster launched Powerbeats tm, a like of sports performance headphones endorsed by LeBron James. Other athletes getting into the act were Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose.
2012 50 Cent joined the show at CES 2012, with the launch of his own headphone line for SMS Audio: SYNC by 50 wireless and STREET by 50 wired in-ear and over-ear headphones. Meanwhile, Monster launched several new brands at CES 2012 with a full-blown fashion shows, featuring models and celebrities wearing their designs.
They may have started out heavy and unsightly metal devices for military use, but today's headphones are as much a fashion statement as a device enabling us to enjoy our favorite music in private. Money-making hype or the cool, smat way to listen to your favorite tunes on the go, what do you think of the current celebrity wave of headphones?
The History of Headphones