How headphone technology has transformed the way we work and play

By Takakiyo Fujita, Managing Director at Sony Middle East and Africa

Despite the numerous changes that society has undergone, like swapping traditional office settings for lounges and bedrooms, some things have stayed the same. For instance, it’s likely that a pair of headphones are still next to the laptop, whether at home or the office, and Bluetooth earbuds are never left behind when going on a jog.

How headphone technology has evolved over the years

Whether they’re used to drown out external disruptions or help the mind focus on meeting a tight deadline, headphone technology has continuously evolved over the years to improve the way we work and play. 

Modern headphone designs stem from the invention of a technically-inclined churchgoing Nathaniel Baldwin, who wanted to amplify the sound of sermons at his temple. Baldwin’s headphones contained a kilometre long copper wiring in each earcup, which received sound without using electricity.

This design effectively set the precedent for the large cup-shape of modern headphones, which took off when the U.S. Navy bought them to outfit sailors during World War I.  

It wasn’t until 1979 that the world was introduced to the compact size and lightweight design of the first Walkman® companion headphones. These headphones were essentially the next big thing, connecting music-lovers to their favourite music, anytime and anywhere. They essentially revolutionised the way people go about listening to music on the go.

Designs have evolved to help people work and play better

Of course, unlike booked-out boardrooms at the office, working from home comes with its fair share of distractions. It can be challenging to conduct video conference meetings over tools such as Zoom and Webex, which require participants to tune in to important meetings and tune out any outside noises.

Evolutions in design and technology can now mute these distracting noises better than ever before, which has been proven to be key to a productive workday. According to a study by Harvard Health, music has the potential to enhance cognitive performance by helping to organise the firing of nerve cells in the right half of the cerebral cortex – the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. According to the findings, music can act as a form of exercise that warms up selected brain cells, allowing them to process information more efficiently.

Sony first introduced noise-cancelling headphones in 1995. The headphones were designed with travellers in mind and were capable of reducing outside noise by 70 percent. At the time, the headphones featured a noise-cancelling circuit that sensed outside sound with the built-in microphone and sent an equal but opposite cancelling signal to the headphones.

In the past, listeners would need to press the Hot Line Switch to temporarily hear outside sound. Today, headphones, like the WH-1000XM4, can utilise adaptive sound control to automatically detect activity such as walking or travelling and adjust ambient sound settings accordingly. The latest innovation in these next generation headphones is the Speak-to-Chat feature. The headphone will automatically pause anytime you start speaking, allowing hands-free, hassle-free conversation.

Innovations that exist today

Headphone technology is capable of enhancing any experience, whether it’s chasing a work deadline, going for a jog or an intense gaming session. Listeners are taken even deeper into silence with advancements like the WH-1000XM4, which feature industry-leading noise cancellation technology and smart listening that adjusts to any situation.

Thanks to these advancements, people can work at home without distractions, especially when undivided attention is non-negotiable while enjoying the freedom of a truly wireless music-listening experience.