Headphones (or head-phones in the early days of telephony and radio) traditionally refer to a pair of small loudspeaker drivers worn on or around the head over a user’s ears. They are electroacoustic transducers, which convert an electrical signal to a corresponding sound. Headphones let a single user listen to an audio source privately, in contrast to a loudspeaker, which emits sound into the open air for anyone nearby to hear. Headphones are also known as earspeakers, earphones or, colloquially, cans. Circumaural (‘around the ear’) and supra-aural (‘over the ear’) headphones use a band over the top of the head to hold the speakers in place. Another type, known as earbuds or earpiecesconsist of individual units that plug into the user’s ear canal. A third type are bone conduction headphones, which typically wrap around the back of the head and rest in front of the ear canal, leaving the ear canal open.
The first pair of audio headphones were invented by Nathaniel Baldwin in 1910. The U.S. Navy ordered 100 pairs them because they recognized the potential advantages, despite many people being skeptical about their usefulness.
Headphones come in several shapes and styles. The traditional style looks similar to those shown above. They utilize styrofoam or another soft fabric around the earpieces to provide a comfortable fit around your ear, as well as a plastic or light metal band between each earpiece.
The most basic type of headphones, earbuds, are small and fit inside your ear. They are usually shaped in a specific way to be as comfortable as possible. Some earbuds come with several sets of different rubber inserts. Depending on the size of the user’s ears, they can choose the size of rubber insert that best fits their ear canal.
Headphones may be used with stationary CD and DVD players, home theater, personal computers, or portable devices (e.g., digital audio player/MP3 player, mobile phone). Cordless headphones are not connected to their source by a cable. Instead, they receive a radio or infrared signal encoded using a radio or infrared transmission link, such as FM, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. These are powered receiver systems, of which the headphone is only a component. Cordless headphones are used with events such as a Silent disco or Silent Gig.
Sennheiser HD 555 headphones, used in audio production environments (2007)
In the professional audio sector, headphones are used in live situations by disc jockeys with a DJ mixer, and sound engineers for monitoring signal sources. In radio studios, DJs use a pair of headphones when talking to the microphone while the speakers are turned off to eliminate acoustic feedback while monitoring their own voice. In studio recordings, musicians and singers use headphones to play or sing along to a backing track or band. In military applications, audio signals of many varieties are monitored using headphones.
Wired headphones are attached to an audio source by a cable. The most common connectors are 6.35 mm (¼″) and 3.5 mm phone connectors. The larger 6.35 mm connector is more common on fixed location home or professional equipment. The 3.5 mm connector remains the most widely used connector for portable application today. Adapters are available for converting between 6.35 mm and 3.5 mm devices.
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