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Hearing aids, headphones and the timeline of hearable tech

Contributed by James Pocock

25/02/2022 • 5 min read

Many modern hearing aids are Bluetooth®-enabled, allowing you to connect them to your TV, tablet, smartphone or any other device, essentially making your hearing aids headphones. While the history of hearing aids precedes headphones by many centuries, their history became closely intertwined during the 20th century.

Now, with wireless technology and Bluetooth®, the lines between hearing aids and headphones aren’t as clear cut. Because when you look at the major developments in hearing aid and headphone technology, it’s clear to see how closely linked hearing aids and headphones really are.

Headphones and hearing aids timeline

Pre-17th century - Rudimentary hearing aids were made of animal horns.

1634 – First documented description of ear trumpet.

1898 – First electronic, portable hearing aid invented by American Miller Reese Hutchison.

1890s – Electrophone headsets available – allowed subscription-paying users to connect to theatres, music halls and churches via telephone lines and listen to performances in their own homes.

1910 – Utah-based engineer Nathaniel Baldwin starts manufacturing audio headphones – “headsets that can amplify sound” –  and sells them to the US Navy.

1913 – First commercially manufactured hearing aids become available, using vacuum tube technology.

1948 – Transistor technology replaces vacuum tubes. Hearing aids become smaller, require less battery power and have less distortion.

1958 – John Koss invents first stereo headphones for personal listening.

1970s – Invention of microprocessor paves the wave for minituarisation of hearing aids. Hearing aids begin to incorporate digital technology.

1979 – Sony Walkman introduced. Headphones can be used on-the-go.

1996 – First fully digital hearing aid, the Widex Senso, becomes available.

1997 – First MP3 player, SaeHan’s MPMan, becomes available.

2004 – First wireless Bluetooth® headphones.

2007 – Oticon Epoq – first hearing aid with wireless connectivity.

2016 – Wireless earbuds such as Jabra’s ‘Bragi The Headphone’ and Apple’s AirPods start gaining mass-market appeal.

2016 – Oticon OPN – first internet-connected hearing aid.

If your hearing aids are Bluetooth®-enabled, you can find out how to connect them to a range of devices by watching our hearing aid ‘how to’ videos. Or follow the link to see our range of connectivity accessories.

Sources: 
In Pictures: The 10 Most influential Headphones, The Guardian, 2017
A Partial History of Headphones, smithsonianmag.com, 2013
History of the Electrophone, blog.sciencemuseum.com, 2021
How Headphones Changed the World, The Atlantic, 2012