How earphones and headphones work

Earphones and Headphones – How they Work!

Among the most common forms of technology on the market today are headphones and earphones. Whether it’s belting out Green Day while roller-skating, cancelling out the noise around you for the ideal flight nap with some mellow tunes or playing that adrenaline-pumping game on very high volume, you’ll find yourself reaching for your headphones or earphones all the time! In fact, earphones and headphones are the one go-to piece of technology that were built for one purpose: to make life one long, smooth, sonic-boom ride for you!

A Brief History

Earphones originated from headphones, which originated from the ear-piece, that weird contraption that was once the main-stay of the communications industry. Before the advent of the amplifier, the ear-piece was the only way one could receive electrical audio analog signals, which is why they were used by telephone operators in the 1880s. The ear-piece easily weighed between ten and twelve pounds!

In 1910, Nathaniel Baldwin, a scientist, decided to make the earpiece lighter and more comfortable, thus leading to ‘headphones’ as we know them today. Beyerdynamic then brought in the DT-48 headphones into the market in 1937, followed by the K120s by AKG in 1949. By then, music was rocking and the Koss SP-3 by John Koss stepped in to change the way we heard and felt music with more vibrations and smoother signal receiving!

Time and technology waits for no man, especially with the likes of Sony entering the game to produce the first portable headphones, the MDR-3L2s, with the market-entry of the Walkman in 1977. Headphones morphed into earphones in the eighties, but were all-too-forgettable then. The new millennium opened with a bang with Bose launching the noise-cancelling QuietComfort line. A year later, there was the re-birth of the ‘earbud’ earphones as Steve Jobs let loose the iPod on the world. This event was soon followed by Beats by Dr. Dre with its intense bass and sonic-extravaganza which was launched in 2008 and became the eighth wonder of the world!

Difference between headphones and earphones

There’s quite a lot that differentiates headphones from earphones. While most people seem to think that the experience both provide is similar, the truth is: It’s far from!

First of all, headphones are technically two speakers that are connected by a band and lie snugly over the wearer’s ears. Headphones are considered to give the wearer a more enhanced, comfortable, immersive listening experience where the music in all its richness is delivered right to the ears and outside noises are filtered out with noise-isolation! In fact, most headphones in the market today have some sort of noise-isolation or noise-cancelling technology which makes them ideal for the user in a noisy environment.

Earphones, on the other hand, are a direct descendant of headphones and are built in a manner whereby they can be fitted directly into the ear canal. They settle into the auditory canal itself which means that the ear is even more intimately acquainted with music from the source as compared to headphones! Earphones are definitely more ideal for sports-people since they can be fit snugly with little to no chance of dislodging. However, with the lack of noise-cancelling technology on earphones (due to their size and design), there’s a chance you won’t be able to enjoy your music in noisy spots such as the subway or an airplane.

How they work

The premise of headphones and earphones is technically the same: they’re both a set of speakers that can be fitted on or in the ears. Like any other type of speakers, they consist of the same set of parts: a diaphragm cone, a permanent magnet and a coil of wire. The concept is quite simple: Electromagnetics! The electrical energy from the source passes through the coil of wire thus turning it into an electromagnet which is then attracted and repelled by the permanent magnet thus moving the diaphragm cone back and forth creating sound.

However, the size of the components of headphones are bigger as compared to earphones, which is why the headphones may also cause the air around the ear to vibrate whereas the earphones only vibrate the air in the ear canal. While the basic notion is the same, there are different types of headphones and earphones which relate to the ear in different ways.

Types of Headphones and Earphones

There are many different types of headphones and earphones out there today, since most audio-tech firms are always trying something new to appeal to different demographics of people!

Wireless headphones -Wireless headphones are ideal for those who are constantly on the move and love the portability that these provide. Wireless headphones work on three types of technology: using Bluetooth, Infrared waves of via radio-frequency. The most common are those that use Bluetooth Technology. Initial wireless headphones were a headache due to the loss of quality of sound transmitted but with Bose and Beats bringing in models such as the SoundLink and the Solo2 respectively which incorporate the AptX Bluetooth codec, wireless headphones are now the rage.

Earbuds Earphones – Earbud earphones came into prominence with the advent of the Walkman and were re-invented for the iPod! They’re classy and portable but they have a few disadvantages: they have a one-size-fits-all feature which means they tend to fall out easily.A new ear-hook design didn’t appeal to the masses either. Also, the lack of noise-cancelling technology didn’t do too much to help, so these earphones are now on the wane.

In-ear Headphones – These are quite popular today, with most phone manufacturing firms providing these as part of the standard in-box kit. They’re favoured because they’re light-weight, they have foam ear-tips which adapt to the ear and seal the ear canal thus blocking out outside noise and they offer little to no signal attenuation so you can sit back and enjoy your music wherever you go! However, since they fit snugly into the ear-canal, consumers are advised to use them for limited periods of time to avoid damage to the ear.

On-Ear Headphones – These are famed for their noise-isolation, since they’re closed over the back thus preventing a lot of noise from leaking in. However, given that they don’t seal the ear completely, there’s always ambient noise coming in which tempers the musical experience. They’re popular because they’re light-weight, can be easily stored and are quite portable! However, the fact that ears get too warmed up over long use is a no-no for most people.

Over-the-Ear Headphones- On first impression, over-the-ear headphones are very bulky and large. But if you’re looking for a great listening experience and complete noise-isolation, then these are meant for you. These headphones are mostly for home use (since they’re too bulky to carry around) and can be worn for long periods of time without damaging your eardrums because the diaphragm is far, far away! They come in two types: Open-back is for those who want the most amazing sonic experience, whereas closed-back is ideal for those looking more for complete noise-isolation.

In-Ear Canal Earphones – These are meant for people who like their bass! In-ear-canal earphones have smaller tips which fit in much deeper into the ear-canal thus sealing the canal and leading to complete noise isolation. These earphones are not advisable for use over a prolonged period of time and tend to be more expensive than other types of earphones.

What to Go For!

With a choice so vast and varied, consumers are completely spoiled for choice! Before you buy, it helps to do some research and think about what you need them for. Indoors or outdoors? Portable or not? Great-sound or OK sound? Is noise isolation OK or do you want compete noise cancellation? All these questions will also help you figure out how much you’re willing to spend. Also, since headphones and earphones cannot be returned once bought (unless they’re damaged in some way), it helps to check some out before buying. You can try out your friends’ pairs or visit a music shop. They normally have some that you can try before you buy.

The Best Headphones and Earphones!

Given customer reviews, some of the best headphones and earphones available today include the Sony MDR-1A, the Sennheiser Momentum 2.0, the Bose QuietComfort 35, the BeatsX, the Bose SoundSport Wireless, the Apple Airpods, the Audeze Sine and the Audio –Technica ATH-M50x, to mention a few!

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