How have headphones progressed over the years?

I’m curious how much headphones have improved and changed over the years. For instance, in the 70s there were “orthodynamic” headphones from Yamaha, and I wonder how their sound would compare to planar magnetic headphones like PM-3 or LCD-1. I assume the new ones blow the old ones out of the water. On the other hand, I’ve seen fans of Beyer love the DT-48, particularly the early ones, from the 1940s. I’ve seen people say an older model of the DT-990 sounds better than the current one, or that the first generation of the T1 sounds better than the 2nd or 3rd (especially the 3rd). With electrostats there seems to be a common opinion that the SR007 sounds better than the 009, even though the 009 is the more advanced and expensive phone. Now people are saying the Abyss headphone (forget the number) is the best in the world, and of course it’s the most expensive and ridiculous looking too, so I assume in five years it will be considered quite mediocre.


In the old days, they were often only one ear. Possibly because you could electrocute yourself with one on either side of your head.

Gaming Headphone Prototype. Courtesy Trilobyte Images, Pre-Cambrian Period.


really? I saw one from the 30s and it was two

or 20s


Both were common, although the earliest were one. Depended on use to some extent. Telephone operator, radio operator. If the operator was in a room taking orders from others, etc.


Has headphone technology reached a peak with the best dynamic drivers (Focal, Beyer, Senn, etc.) of recent years, the best planars, Stax’s electrostats? I mean was it already close to the best possible even by the 90s? A lot of people still like the HD 600 and beyer 770/880/990. I was watching reviews preferring 770 to 1770, 990 to 1990.


I think that preferences play a large role in headphone selection, as they do in speakers.

I don’t think anyone can deny that the technology has advanced hugely but that doesn’t stop people prefering the sound from older technology.

I mean, in the bass guitar world, there is no doubt that something like a micro class d amp paired with a Babyface cab is amazing as far as details and technology, however, there is a reason players still want an Ampeg tube head and a fridge (Ampeg 8x10 cabinet).

The same goes for the guitar world, the studio world and the hifi world.

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This is one where I can comment from personal experience. My late Grandmother bought me a pair of Yamaha HP-3 Orthodynamic Headphones for my 20th birthday in 1978. I still have them some 42 + years later.

I recently bought a pair of HiFiMan DEVA headphones which feature similiar tech for their drivers.

Comparing the two the HP-3’s hold up quite well, they don’t have the bass that the HiFiMan does which isn’t a surprise as they are On-Ear vs Over-Ear for the DEVA. They do have an otherwise very similar sound and are a little easier to drive.

I still like the Yamahas and replaced the 40 year old pads on them in 2018. I’m also happy with the HiFiMans and hope to enjoy them for many years as well

The orthodynamic Yamahas aren’t being blown out of the water at all, but I think it is great to have both old & new to enjoy.

Mark Gosdin


I don’t believe headphone technology has peaked but there has been a shift in certain priorities when it comes to manufacturing which can lead to bad synergy.

There was a strong push for detail, low distortion, and low output impedance which I believe pushed the sound signature of more modern headphones to be a bit colder and less enjoyable. Pair the DT1990 with a THX and topping D90 and you might be looking at a bad time. There used to be a push for details before but not at the expense of enjoyability (unless you’re looking at a studio setting).

You also have to look at the DT770/880/990 and HD600 from a value perspective. When they were the TOTL headphones, they all went for 300-500 bucks new. When you look at prices now, you can pick up one of those used for ~100-200 bucks. Compared to what is available at that range currently, I think the beyers have better build quality and will last you a long time (I’ve had mine for 10 yrs).

If you check out the TOTL headphones of today though, the older TOTL don’t even come close. The detail retrieval and speed that the Focal Utopia has is on another level compared to the beyers or sennheisers. There’s definitely a large gap between the Abyss headphones and the early Audeze headphones when you compare technicalities. However, this hobby is all about preferences. Currently one of my favorite headphones are some Sony’s developed in the 80s so just cause there are new options doesn’t mean they’re always better.

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Of course it has not reached best possible. Maybe in 3 or 5 centuries, we will use something like magnetic resonance or telepathy yet to be discovered that will directly stimulate the audio centers (why stop there?) of the brain to achieve a sensation indistinguishable from a live performance. Or better than one.

Elsewhere on the forum there was talk about plasma speaker technology,

And then there’s my Dad’s point of view, expressed about color TV back in the 1980s. “It’ll be perfected when it’s as cheap as black and white.”

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I think there has been quite a lot of innovation and moving forward in the audio world as a whole.

Raal is in my opinion a company that does deserve more praise as a whole, but most of us here know all about it. It would be interesting if their ribbon technology gets perfected and improved.

Dynamic driver headphone keep featuring more interesting technologies. Beyerdynamic/iBasso with the Tesla magnetic flux technology, some other companies with angled drivers, iBasso with the silicone suspension, different diaphragm materials. Definitely interesting!

We also have Meze Audio with the Empyrean.

Electrostats have also made major progress (imo). There are new companies that are doing a great job. Kaldas Research is one of them.

A lot of new stuff, a lot of progress. Perhaps it has slowed down lately, but maybe people are just working hard on the new stuff :wink:

I should also add the Meze Empyrean array driver design that reminds of Tekton tweeter array loudspeakers.


Interesting responses. I wish I understood music better. I think that a lot of the problem is that there are a lot of headphones to choose from now so it might be a bit overwhelming. Prices, too.

The Tesla magnet technology, I did not understand if that was just more efficient sound (louder listening levels despite high impedance) or if it really enabled better quality sound too. It seemed tied up with marketing.


I feel a lot of headphones are not an after thought like a lot were when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, 80’s. Today more science is put into the overall design and operation of the headphones, the drivers, the materials, the comfort, the customization when it comes to IEM’s. And lets not forget the introduction of the dedicated headphone amps as compared to the severely lacking after thought of a headphone driver in home theater or 2 channel receivers. So much has been improved upon.


THIS is what almost 100 years of headphone Evolution look like:

Only the processing was a little better -----------------------------------back then :smile: :rofl: :rofl:


You are being soooooo unfair! Evolution led to this design:



Oh @generic… What about THESE?!

Credits to Mulle Meck (a head-fi member)… featuring 6.5" car speakers, and only weighing 2kg =)


After several decades no real product tops the Jecklin Float



Agreed. It is legendary and will forever remain unbeaten. The rumors says that aliens actually use them to listen to music :man_shrugging:t2:

On a real note, I always wondered how people with too small/large heads used the Jecklin Floats.

Oh, and to amke make things better Quad still makes their newer version of the Jecklin Float, and Precide (Swiss manufacturer) makes something very very similar.

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That’s why I do this training every day so that I can listen to music with these headphones for twenty to thirty minutes at a time :muscle: :rofl:



"If you check out the TOTL headphones of today though, the older TOTL don’t even come close. The detail retrieval and speed that the Focal Utopia has is on another level compared to the beyers or sennheisers. "

Is there perhaps a test that can be devised which measures this objectively? For instance, very slight, subtle and quiet sounds could be played back to a number of listeners, and they would report whether they hear anything at all, or what the sound is, and so forth.

I remember one time I was reading a review of a nice pair of headphones that was saying they could every detail in the song now, every whisper, pages turning, etc., details they’d never noticed before, and I tried listening to the music in question using a cheap pair (Panasonic RP-HT21, I think), and I could hear those details too. Of course I was listening for them then, to notice them.

And like what Mark was saying, about the Yamaha HP-3s holding up well against the Hifiman Devas, except in bass.

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