The Headphones

Personal Selection (What are some reasons you selected this tool?)

The design tool I chose to describe is the headphones! I chose this tool because it is something many of us use everyday. From hiding your love for Justin Bieber’s music from your best friend by listening through your iPhone EarPods, to tuning out you mom talking to her best friend in the car, using you Beats by Dre headphones, headphones can turn a room into a place that you can only hear Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” playing beautifully in your ear.


In 1881, when our ancestors first created headphones, they were not made for fun things like listening to your favorite song or movie. They were made for and used by telephone operators! It was a single earpiece that you would put on your shoulder and it weighed over 10 pounds, that’s like having your cat on your shoulder to call to your mom! Thankfully in 1910, an amazing guy named Nathaniel Baldwin came and improved upon the 10-pound ear-weight. He created a more modern solution similar to the headphones we use today.

Nathaniel Baldwin worked at a hydroelectric plant . He was an electrician and an air compressor operator and he experimented with sound amplification using compressed air, or in other words made megaphones out of tightly packed air. He used the information from his experiments to invent a more sensitive telephonic receiver. Nathaniel made these headphones at home in his kitchen and sold his handmade creations to the Navy!

In 1958 John C. Kross took Balwdin’s invention one step further and created the first pair of stereo headphone, headphones that gave the illusion that sound was coming from all directions. These are the headphone we currently use. This was important because it allowed headphones that were orginally used just by telephone and radio operators, to be used by the common people.


Today’s headphone’s primary function is to give us power to control what goes into our ear and what sounds we choose to hear. It allows us to make places like a loud New York train station sound like front row seats at a relaxing classical music concert. Another important function that headphones allow us to do is control the loudness or softness of the sound we hear.


Modern headphones are a universal, product meaning they are able to be used by anyone! You do not have to be a certain gender, age, or height to use headphones. You don’t have to be an old telephone operator anymore or in the Navy. They even have specially made headphones for people that are hearing-impaired! This product is also used for both personal use and in the work station.

Materials + Production

Headphones are not as complicaited as you think and you could even make your own pair too in your kitchen like Nathaniel with the right supplies.

The main componets for earbuds,(which have the same main compents as headphone but scaled down), are:

  • A back case: this holds everything together. The wires run up through a hole at the bottom.
  • A front case: This is the part that goes into your ear where the sound comes out of. Sometimes it’s covered with a little fabric pouch to keep it clean.
  • A seal: This is a rubbery circle that clips the front case to the back case and holds the two pieces together.
  • Wires: The wires carry signals from the stereo to the speaker.
  • A magnet: This pieces is what gives the headphones its weight, it is the heaviest part of the earbud and sits in the back of the speaker.
  • The coil: This becomes an electromagnet when electricity flows through it.
  • A transparent plastic cone: This makes the sound when it moves!

Headphones are made by both hand and machine methods. The inside speaker on the headphones must be wired first before being placed in the headphone casing. This is usually done by hand on an assembly line. Most headphone casings are made by machines to cut cost and save time.


Headphones and earbuds are both easy to use and the shape of these object give you clues on how to use them. The headband shape of headphones give you an idea that it goes on you head from ear to ear. Earbuds are a lot smaller and look like they are perfectly sized to fit in your ear, or maybe your nose if you are silly. The shape of these items give us ideas on how to use them, even if we have never seen them before.

Resources: Pictures and Sources

Berkman, Fran. “Listen Up: Here’s a Brief History of Headphones.” Mashable. Mashable, 26 Sept. 2012. Web.

Carnoy, David. “Apple Ships Mic-less EarPods with New IPod Touch.” CNET. N.p., 09 Oct. 2012. Web.

“How Are Headphones Made?” Techwalla. N.p., n.d. Web.

Raven. “The History of Hi-Fi Headphones!” Audio Affair Blog. N.p., 14 Oct. 2015. Web.

Thompson, Derek. “How Headphones Changed the World.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 30 May 2012. Web.

Woodford, Chris. “How Do Headphones Work? What’s inside Them?” Explain That Stuff. N.p., 15 June 2016. Web.

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