PNG images: Headphones

Headphones (or head-phones in the early days of telephony and radio) are a pair of small loudspeaker drivers that are designed to be worn on or around the head over a user's ears. They are electroacoustic transducers, which convert an electrical signal to a corresponding sound in the user's ear. Headphones are designed to allow a single user to 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 and supra-aural headphones use a band over the top of the head to hold the speakers in place. The other type, known as earbuds or earpieces consist of individual units that plug into the user's ear canal. In the context of telecommunication, a headset is a combination of headphone and microphone. Headphones connect to a signal source such as an audio amplifier, radio, CD player, portable media player, mobile phone, video game console, or electronic musical instrument, either directly using a cord, or using wireless technology such as bluetooth or FM radio. The first headphones were developed in the late 1800s for use by telephone operators, to keep their hands free. Initially the audio quality was mediocre and a step forward was the invention of high fidelity headphones.

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Headphones are made in a range of different audio reproduction quality capabilities. Headsets designed for telephone use typically cannot reproduce sound with the high fidelity of expensive units designed for music listening by audiophiles. Headphones that use cables typically have either a 1/4 inch (6.35mm) or 1/8 inch (3.5mm) phone jack for plugging the headphones into the audio source. Some stereo earbuds are wireless, using Bluetooth connectivity to transmit the audio signal by radio waves from source devices like cellphones and digital players. Due to the spread of wireless devices in recent years headphones are increasingly used by people in public places such as sidewalks, grocery stores, and public transit. Headphones are also used by people in various professional contexts, such as audio engineers mixing sound for live concerts or sound recordings and DJs, who use headphones to cueup the next song they will play without the audience hearing, aircraft pilots and call center employees. The latter two types of employees use headphones with an integrated microphone.

Headphones originated from the telephone receiver earpiece, and were the only way to listen to electrical audio signals before amplifiers were developed. The first truly successful set was developed in 1910 by Nathaniel Baldwin, who made them by hand in his kitchen and sold them to the United States Navy.

These early headphones used moving iron drivers, with either single-ended or balanced armatures. The common single-ended type used voice coils wound around the poles of a permanent magnet, which were positioned close to a flexible steel diaphragm. The audio current through the coils varied the magnetic field of the magnet, exerting a varying force on the diaphragm, causing it to vibrate, creating sound waves. The requirement for high sensitivity meant that no damping was used, so the frequency response of the diaphragm had large peaks due to resonance, resulting in poor sound quality. These early models lacked padding, and were often uncomfortable to wear for long periods. Their impedance varied; headphones used in telegraph and telephone work had an impedance of 75 ohms. Those used with early wireless radio had to be more sensitive and were made with more turns of finer wire. Impedance of 1000 to 2000 ohms was common, which suited both crystal sets and triode receivers. Some very sensitive headphones, such as those manufactured by Brandes around 1919, were commonly used for early radio work.

In early powered radios, the headphone was part of the vacuum tube's plate circuit and carried dangerous voltages. It was normally connected directly to the positive high voltage battery terminal, and the other battery terminal was securely grounded. The use of bare electrical connections meant that users could be shocked if they touched the bare headphone connections while adjusting an uncomfortable headset.

In 1958, John C. Koss, an audiophile and jazz musician from Milwaukee, produced the first stereo headphones. Previously, headphones were used only by telephone and radio operators, and individuals in similar industries.

Smaller earbud type earpieces, which plugged into the user's ear canal, were first developed for hearing aids but became widely used with transistor radios, the first truly portable radios, which were developed around 1960. The most popular audio device in history, the transistor radio changed listening habits, allowing people to listen to radio anywhere. The earbud uses either a moving iron type driver or a piezoelectric crystal to produce sound. The 3.5 mm radio and phone connector, which is the most commonly used in portable application today, has been used at least since the Sony EFM-117J transistor radio which was released in 1964. It became very popular with its application on the Walkman in 1979.

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