Leaving our homes without a mask might continue to be the taboo even two years after the coronavirus pandemic struck but there has been one item of lesser importance but equal necessity that we would absolutely carry on our person whenever we are stepping outside. Doesn’t matter if it’s just a short run to the nearby grocery store or even a mere pursuit in experiencing the outdoors for as few seconds of our day as possible, or it might be something more elaborate like taking the bus to office or sprinting around town just because. Forget the experiencing the world necessity and delve instead into the comfort of the interiors and one would still not be able to part with their possession of such particular preciousness in all purposefulness of them.
We sure might be sounding like alluding to something at least as essential as the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter upon which human life first and foremost depends as the quintessential mode in living. But what we are actually referring to in such prominence of its play as absolutely undoable though while not in any way entertaining some need even remotely basic is instead the plugged in way of modern life. The need might be rather real today what with digital connection assuming even elevated a place of pride in the world dictated by a tiny sized virus of immense potential. But even long before the technological became the only way of life, earphones and headphones and the like had already manifested their identity as one impossible to do without.
This premise of their essentiality had been rather amusing though to begin with. As accessories of the gadget world complementing therefore pursuits in entertainment and relaxation rather than catering to something primarily functional, those dangling lengths of wires presenting so ubiquitous a vision in the exemplary ‘flaunting’ of them were made use of for such activities as listening to music or audios of videos or to talk over the phone handsfree or to maintain personal decorum in not bashing others with unwanted monologues and epilogues on one’s part or such other daily routines that while might be essential enough surely weren’t indispensable.
But even in adhering to that specific scheme of things of an essence not revered yet to warrant its exaltation in common conscience, the earphone had grown to be something of a status symbol in the perceived ‘cool’ sporting of it. There sure had been a certain charm in plugging those buds into one ears and go about one’s life business either in complete nonchalance or totally engrossed in their own, taking the luxury of ignoring the world in utter convenience, allowing themselves thus a privilege of doing exactly in what pleases them. Zoning out to dwell in their own universe of whatever composition, fending off some a bit too friendly strangers, successfully evading the scrutinising glare of a familiar face had been only but a few of the ancillary services availed out of these in ear apparatus back in the days when they had almost established as some sort of a fad itself.
Subsequently the status of earphones saw its coming to dwell in a more popular space with the advent of advanced features in the technological realm as its reputation in show came to be effectively paralleled by its as potent delivering in realer purpose. For all it mattered therefore then and continues to do so even now, in fact only exemplified by the demands of current times and in scenarios less certain, headphones and/ or earphones would be accorded a greater importance in all areas of their manifestation. Their underlying identity in streaming continued unabated but as simultaneous acts in video calling and digital meetings and online interviews and so on and so forth of the more ‘working’ kind found unfurling, this trending trait of the times amassed for itself an image as steeped in the rigours of routine existence. And thus flowed through the forever entangled cord of the headphones a substance defining its dimensions of dwelling in as much clarity as what ensued through the length of it.
Remarkably though, this premise in contemporary prevalence of headphones being yet another means of attending to the rigours of work had been the exact consideration behind its coming to be an entity of the modern world. By times as early as the 1800s itself a certain kind of what would most definitely identify as a headphone was already in the offing, albeit in the closing decades of the century. It had been precisely in 1891 when a set of in- ear headphones was patented by French engineer Ernest Mercadier- an invention that he called a bi- telephone. Even in the preceding decade though there had existed an iteration of the headphone that however was way too weighty a device to allow for work to be carried out in all directing of attention.
That object of the 1880s had been a 4kgs something feature with an earpiece attached to a telephone and a large microphone intended to rest upon the shoulder and one that would only mimic the earphone essence as we interpret it today. The decade later invention that followed however would be quite preluding of the present profile, being as it was a lightweight option in telephonic advancement and one quite evocative of the now common IEM kinds. A commendable invention indeed in its imagination even more than a century back, this first of what could sure classify as an in ear headphone though would have to endure quite some passing of time to establish itself in the more amusing context of the musical.
This heralding of the hearing of melodies through earphones as their first facet of fame dawned pretty soon thereafter. As early as in the 1890s the streaming of music became a reality albeit in a manner different that what we experience today. Created by a British company called Electrophone, the namesake system of enabling users to listen to live streams of performances and concerts around London occurred as a telephonic still service amounted to by a pair of massive headphones. Interestingly it wasn’t just the premise but the presentation also that would be not exactly aligning to the times of today for the Electrophone device had been one that rested not on top of the head but dwelt instead under the chin as a handheld long rod connecting the two ear pads.
The first proper headphone would not come to be in the public sphere till until the turn of the century. It had been in the year of 1910 that a prototype of audio headphones was developed by American Nathaniel Baldwin to serve his own purpose in listening to sermons during Sunday service. With the two padded ear cups connected by a band meant to be rested on the hand much like they do even now, the true handsfree identity of the headphone would find unfurling as an idea that immediately caught up with the US navy. Armed with a 100 something order from the military helped Baldwin pursue a commercial route of success for his invention that would go on to form the basis for other such innovations as sound powered telephones that did not require electricity for their functioning.
And yet it wouldn’t be roughly around half a decade later after Baldwin’s remarkable product found some sort of acceptance that headphone would really emerge to the fore of commercial demands. With the first stereo headphones developed in 1958 by an US musician John C. Koss, it wasn’t just a new phenomenon that the world was presented with in such diverse potential indeed laudable as revolutionary. The Koss initiative also marked the beginnings for brands to dictate terms when it came to headphone manufacturing with the non communicative aspect finding expression through the Koss Corporation itself.
So dedicated had been Koss to the pursuit of music through the medium of headphones that he developed what was called ‘a private listening system’ dubbed the Koss Model 390 phonograph and an accompanying set of the listening device, the Koss SP-3 headphones with plastic earcups and foam earbuds for others to follow on this trail of successful novelty.
Wireless headphones followed next in the evolution journey of what had by then been more conforming to the listening experience in music. The radio headphones as these were called then emerged in the 1960s and ruled the roost for at least a couple of decades, particularly peaking with the introduction of the iconic Sony Walkman in 1979 even as Koss continued to dish out innovation after innovation in his very own space of ruling.
Particularly impressive of such Koss ventures have to be the Beatlephones introduced in 1966 as a collaboration with the legendary band The Beatles marking therefore a definite establishment of the headphone frenzy as a popular culture entity. Just three years later in 1969 another significant achievement entailed with the development of the first open back headphones though not by Koss with noise cancelling headphones conceived of a good two decades later in 1989 as Bose aviation headphones. Exactly midway through these two significant developments it had been the Walkman indeed that endowed a different charm upon the headphones as a ‘way’ very personal in allowing one to plug in to exactly their choice of songs.
It was still in this ‘headphonedly happening’ times of the 1900s that such interpretations of what classify rather distinctly as earphones also emerged in the scene. As smaller and more portable headphone types, these earphones or earbuds or in ears or neckband headphones further accentuated the factor of convenience of these by now century old inventions well by the closing decade of the 20th century making therefore for even more hip and happening an identity to come to characterise the headphone hype.
And here we stand today, in a new century and a new millennium and not to forget of course a rather new way of existence with the latter more imposed upon us, forging and nurturing such a ‘connect’ to the headphone and/ or earphone as if it were some umbilical cord that holds the very basis of our life itself. From working to relaxing and connecting to even disconnecting, headphones have simultaneously helped us to plug in and plug off at will to and from such causes and concerns that inevitably sum up the substance of life.