What’s the worst thing to leave at home? A trusty pair of headphones that gets you through treacherous walks between classes and long hours of assignments. From AirPods to Beats, the headphone options are endless. But are the trendy options out there worth the hype? Let us guide you into the wonderful world of headphones and help you tune everything out.
Throw It Back
The next time you find yourself sitting in the library grinding out that paper or delayed at the airport, ask yourself: “What do I have in common with the complete strangers around me?” Whether you realize it or not, most of you will have headphones in your ears, drowning out the noise around you. But where exactly does the technology come from?
According to Katherine Losse, a published writer and an early Facebook employee, headphones have a humble origin in the mountains of the American West.
“The modern headphone was invented by a technically inclined, churchgoing man by way of Stanford named Nathaniel Baldwin, who wanted to amplify the sound of sermons at his Mormon temple,” wrote Losse. “His design took off when the U.S. Navy bought them to outfit sailors during World War I.”
For most of the modern headphone’s early history, military officers and troops remained the only ones with access to this innovative technology. However, the invention of the first stereo headphones by jazz musician John Koss in 1958 changed the game and inspired the inventors of headsets that hit the market in the 1970s, such as the Sony Walkman. Jimmy Stamp, design researcher and Smithsonian Magazine writer, proposes that the initial successes of the Walkman could have allowed for headphones to become more accessible to consumers.
“The ubiquity of modern headphones could perhaps be attributed to the Sony Walkman, which debuted in 1979 and almost immediately became a pop culture icon,” said Stamp.
Recently, over-the-ear headphones have swung back into popular culture and escaped the fringes of music nerd Twitter. Take a stroll on the average college campus nowadays and within minutes you’ll pass at least two or three people wearing clunky headsets that might have felt outdated a few years ago. Sophomore Isabella Fitzpatrick, who owns the JBL Live 460NC headset, raves about the sleek earbud’s main rival.
“To be honest, my over-the-ear headphones were like life-changing for me,” said Fitzpatrick.
Although you can find a vast array of headphone options at their local electronics store or online shops, the over-the-ear Apple AirPods Max and the Sony XM5 headphones seem to have a particular hold on college students nationwide. While these headphones carry hefty price tags of $549 and $399, respectively, tech critics have commended them for their durability, performance and sound quality.
Mia Summa, a sophomore math major, recently purchased Sony’s XM5 headset and could not imagine life without the headset’s noise canceling setting.
“I love my Sony XM5 headphones because I feel bathed in the sound,” said Summa, “When people see me with my headphones on, they know to leave me alone.”
Senior Isabelle Castro also recently purchased the Sony XM5 model because of recommendations she received from friends and positive reviews she saw online. However, she now regrets her slightly impulsive decision to splurge on the headphones.
“I bought into the Sony hype, and I unfortunately wish that I could return them,” said Castro.
So did the wired headphones that used to come in every iPhone box and other earbuds mysteriously fall off the face of the Earth? Not necessarily; although they still remain popular, over-the-ear headphones have challenged the earbud’s hold over the headphone market because many of us cannot stand the shrill feeling of cold plastic shoved into our ear canal.
Caroline Frisiras, a sophomore majoring in philosophy who adores her Apple Airpods Max, maintains an odd position on the earbuds versus over-the-ear headphones debate.
“I personally feel as if I have a hot take on headphones,” said Frisiras. “Wired earbuds are better than AirPods, but over-the-ear headphones are better than earbuds altogether.”
Whether you decide to break the bank on the newest headphone release or choose to stick to the basics, don’t buy a pair of headphones simply because they’re trendy or mainstream. Make sure to do your research by reading reviews from critics and consumers. Figure out what exactly you’re looking for in your sonic experience and, most importantly, turn up the music and keep it loud.
words_andrew mccleskey. photo&design_lizzie kristal.
This article was published in Distraction’s Summer 2023 print issue.