Hear we go: the history of wireless headphones


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When was the last time a tech purchase made you laugh with joy? For me it was the first time I listened to my favourite songs on a set of Apple AirPods Max headphones, which enabled me to hear things in those songs that I’d never heard before. Never mind hearing what the artist was playing: sometimes I reckon I can hear what the artist was thinking. 

Wireless headphones have come an incredibly long way in a very short space of time. But their history goes back further than you might expect, and includes some incredible innovations. 

1880s: the headphones that’d give you a headache 

a woman wearing a pair of early headphones

(Image credit: Twitter/Histoire & Odysee)

Headphones weren’t originally designed for music. They were made for telephone operators who needed to physically connect everybody’s phone calls. The first model, unveiled in the 1880s, didn’t look much like today’s headphones either: it looked more like a phone that had been cut in half and attached to your head. And it weighed around 5kg, the equivalent of 111 pairs of AirPods.

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