When Were Headphones Invented? (Understand the Development Process)

Brandi W. Cortright

Headphones have become an essential part of our daily lives, whether jamming to our favorite tunes, immersing ourselves in a podcast, or simply seeking quiet amidst the chaos. But have you ever wondered when these magical devices first came into existence? Keep reading to know when headphones were first invented.

Unleash the power of music with headphones, a revolutionary invention that has transformed how we listen to our favorite tunes. From humble beginnings in the late 19th century to cutting-edge wireless technology, headphones have come a long way. Read on as we explore the fascinating history of these audio companions.

Table Of Contents

1880: Gilliland Harness

The Gilliland Harness was invented by Ezra Guilliland and consisted of a leather strap that held two receivers against the user's ears. These receivers were connected to a carbon microphone, allowing private voice communication without disturbing those nearby.

Although bulky and far from portable, this groundbreaking invention marked an important step toward personal audio experiences. It set in motion a chain reaction of innovations that would eventually lead to sleek and lightweight headphones that we now take for granted.

1891: The First Earbuds

In 1891, a significant milestone in audio technology was reached with the invention of the first earbuds. It was known as Bi-telephone.

Developed by Ernest Mercadier, a talented engineer from France, these earbuds were bulky and uncomfortable to wear. They consisted of large metal receivers that had to be clamped onto the ears. Despite their less-than-ideal design, they marked an important step forward in personal audio experience.

1890s: First Audio Subscription Service

In the 1890s, a groundbreaking innovation emerged in audio entertainment: the first audio subscription service, Electrophone. The revolutionary concept allowed individuals to enjoy live performances from the comfort of their own homes. Can you believe it?

Electrophones utilized telephone lines to transmit sound directly into people's homes. Subscribers would simply pick up their specially designed receivers and tune in to their desired program. The subscription was only £5 per year.

1910: Audio Headphones

Nathaniel Baldwin invented the first audio headphones in his kitchen in Utah. His design included two padded ear cups and two bands attached to the user's head. Baldwin then contracted with the United States Navy to deliver 100 headphones.

Unfortunately, Baldwin did not acquire a patent for this invention, making it not a long-lasting success. His company faced a series of bad investments.

1950s: The First Earphones

During the 1950s, a new era of personal audio listening was born with the introduction of the first earphones. These small devices revolutionized how people enjoyed music and brought it closer to their ears than ever before.

Unlike headphones, which were bulkier and covered both ears, earphones were designed to fit directly into the ear canal. The innovative design allowed for a more immersive listening experience while providing convenience and portability.

The technology behind these early earphones was simple yet effective. A small speaker driver housed within each earpiece produced waves that traveled directly into the listener's ears.

1958: Stereo Headphones

The birth of stereo headphones marked a significant milestone in audio technology and forever changed how we listen to music.

John Koss, an American engineer and inventor, developed the first stereo headphones. Koss recognized the need for a more immersive listening experience that could replicate the depth and richness of live performances. He introduced his creation to the world as "SP/3 Stereophones."

These early stereo headphones allowed listeners to enjoy music with enhanced clarity and separation between left and right channels. They were light, made from plastic with sofa foam earbuds.

1960s: The First Wireless Headphones

The wireless headphones development marked a significant shift in audio listening experiences, granting users greater freedom and mobility.

Wireless headphones eliminate the need for pesky cords that restrict movement and cause tangles. Instead, they relied on innovative transmission methods to deliver audio signals wirelessly. During this time, wireless headphones primarily utilized radio frequency technology for signal transmission.

1968: Open Back Headphones

In 1968, Sennheiser invented the advent of open-back headphones. These revolutionary devices featured an open design that allowed sound to flow freely in and out of the ear cups. They were the first hi-fi stereo headphones, popularly known as Sennheiser HD 414.

With their perforated ear cups and exposed drivers, these headphones became popular among audiophiles and studio professionals seeking accurate sound reproduction. The open design provided a wider soundstage and resulted in a more transparent and immersive audio experience.

1979: Portable Headphones

The first portable headphones were lightweight and compact devices that allowed people to enjoy their favorite music on-the-go like never before. It came with the famous Sony cassette Walkman.

The first portable headphones featured a sleek and streamlined design, making them stylish accessories. They quickly became popular among music enthusiasts who wanted to listen to their tunes while commuting or traveling.

1989: The First Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Active noise-canceling headphones use built-in microphones to detect ambient noises and generate sound waves that cancel out those unwanted sounds. Bose invented them for aviation communication between the crew and the control tower. The headphones had an 8-hour battery or could be powered by the plane.

These early iterations of active noise-canceling headphones may not have been as sleek and compact as today's models, but they paved the way for future technological advancements. As the years passed, manufacturers continued to refine and improve upon this concept, leading us to today's highly sophisticated noise-canceling options.

1994: The First Bone Conduction Headphones

Bone conduction technology bypasses the eardrums and transmits sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through bones in the skull. Werner Bottesch patented them, and they were available in the market.

The initial purpose behind bone conduction headphones was to aid individuals with hearing impairments. However, they quickly caught on among militaries and outdoor enthusiasts who wanted to stay aware of their surroundings while enjoying music or making calls.

1999: The First Bluetooth Headphones

The Bluetooth wireless communication protocol allowed for seamless connectivity between devices, eliminating the need for messy and tangled wires. The first Bluetooth headphone was used at the COMDEX show in 1999. With Bluetooth headphones, users can now enjoy their favorite music or take phone calls without being tethered to their devices.

Introducing Bluetooth headphones opened up a whole new level of convenience and freedom. No longer were people restricted by the length of a cord; they could move around freely while still enjoying crystal-clear audio.

2001: The First EarPods

It was in 2001 that Apple introduced us to the first-ever EarPods. These sleek and compact earphones were a game-changer in portability and convenience.

Gone were the days of bulky headphones that tangled up in our bags or took up too much space. The EarPods provided a lightweight alternative, allowing you to carry your favorite tunes wherever you went. The Earpods came in white, shiny plastic cases that had quality sound.

2015: True Wireless Headphones

The first truly wireless headphones introduced advanced Bluetooth connectivity, allowing seamless pairing with smartphones and other devices. With a tap or two on your smartphone screens, you could effortlessly connect to these tiny earbuds and immerse yourself in sound.

These headphones also brought improved battery life to the table. Not only did these revolutionary headphones provide convenience and portability, but they also delivered excellent audio quality. The first true wireless headphones were the Onkyo W800BT. However, it had issues like no playback buttons and subpar performance.

2017: The AirPods

The sleek and wireless earbuds revolutionized listening to music and interacting with our devices. With their intuitive design and seamless connectivity, they quickly became a must-have accessory for tech enthusiasts worldwide.

The AirPods offered freedom of movement without compromising on sound quality. They seamlessly paired with iPhones, iPads, and Macs, allowing users to switch between devices while enjoying an immersive audio experience.

The compact charging case provided convenience on the go, ensuring that your AirPods were always ready when needed. And let's not forget about Siri integration – a simple tap would activate Apple's virtual assistant for hands-free control.

The Future Headphones

In the future, headphones are set to become an integral part of our daily lives, offering a range of innovative features and functionalities.

One exciting possibility is integrating augmented reality technology into headphones. Picture yourself wearing a pair of sleek AR-enabled headphones that overlay digital information onto your surroundings as you walk down the street or explore a museum.

Another advancement on the horizon is brain-computer interface technology integrated into headphones. It would allow for direct communication between your thoughts and the device, eliminating the need for physical controls or voice commands.

The possibilities truly seem limitless when imagining what future generations of headphones will bring us.


The evolution of headphones has come a long way since their inception. From the humble beginnings of bulky and uncomfortable earpieces to the sleek and wireless options we have today, it's clear that technology has played a significant role in shaping this essential accessory.

Looking ahead to the future of headphones, it's hard not to be excited about what lies ahead. With virtual and augmented reality advancements (AR), we can expect headphones to become even more immersive and interactive.

Featured Reviews

1,562,766 Reviews Analyzed
70,697 Reviews Analyzed
450,246 Reviews Analyzed
791,164 Reviews Analyzed
48,140 Reviews Analyzed
2,046,442 Reviews Analyzed
223,312 Reviews Analyzed
375,177 Reviews Analyzed
10,627 Reviews Analyzed

Related Posts

Ambient Noise Headphones (Beginner's Guide)

Wondering what ambient noise headphones are? Find out what ambient sound headphones are in this guide. Learn more about these headphones that let you hear ...