How do headphones work?

We use headphones every now and then. From listening to music to making phone calls. Everyone has multiple ways of using it. Some people even use them while exercising. But how do head-phones really work? We explain here about its working in detail.

In-ear headphones
In-ear headphones

The first truly successful headphone set was developed in 1910 by Nathaniel Baldwin. Since then, its evolution began. Headphones are actually small loudspeakers that we can place in or around the ear. They are electroacoustic transducers that convert electrical signals into a corresponding sound.

Furthermore, headphones are actually similar to loudspeakers. However, both of them serve a very different purpose. Head-phones let a single user listen to audio privately. The loudspeakers are very contrasting when it comes to listening. However, the loudspeaker serves a large audience.

In addition, different types of headphones use different technology but the basic principle remains the same. Noise-canceling head-phones use additional features to reduce ambient sound. So, tech changes according to its features.

How do headphones work?

Principally the headphones work the same as speakers. They convert electrical energy into sound by vibrating magnets. These magnets then vibrate the air around them creating sound.

Furthermore, in simple terms, audio is stored in your device in a digital format. When you hit the play button, it sends the 0’s and 1’s to the converter. This converter converts digital signals into electrical signals and sends it to the headphone.

Then headphones receive these electrical signals via wires and process them in the driver unit. The driver unit has three types first is the dynamic driver, second is the planer magnetic driver and third is the electrostatic driver. Most of the headphones use a dynamic driver.

These driver units consist of a permanent magnet, electromagnetic coils, and diaphragm. So, when electrical current hits electromagnet, it rapidly changes its polarity depending upon incoming electrical signals. Thus, it attracts and repels itself from the permanent magnet. Thus, this rapid attraction and repulsion create vibrations.

Furthermore, The diaphragm holds electromagnets and as vibration starts, diaphragm starts vibrating too. The diaphragm is a thin membrane. As diaphragm starts vibrating, it vibrates the air around it creating sound.

In addition, different frequencies vibrate at different rates. The electromagnet vibrates faster to produce high tones and slower to produce low tones.

Types of headphones

The headphones come in different types and applications. The circumaural or full-sized head-phones are the ones that fit on the whole ear. They are heavy too. They can also block external noise completely. Besides, these have circular earpads.

Noise Cancelling headphones
Noise Cancelling headphones

Furthermore, supra-aural headphones are another type. These types consist of pads that press against the ears instead of around them. These are smaller and lighter than circumaural type.

In addition, ear-fitting headphones are small that fit directly on the outer ear. These are not comfortable as they don’t cancel out outer noise. These have fitment issues with ears as every person has different ear shapes. Still, most of the companies give them along with the product as a standard.

In-ear headphones are those that sit directly into the ear canal. These have higher quality and give perfect noise cancellation. These fit extremely well with the human ear and now became more popular. However, these headphones are not suitable to use in traffic, while riding or in any public places as you can’t hear any oncoming sound. Hence, they possess the danger of accidents.

The last type are mixed-fitting pivoting earphones. These types combine the advantages of earbuds and in-ear headphones. These head-phones provide passive noise cancellation in quality mode. In addition, they also give control over the surrounding sound in comfort mode. So, you can hear the sound around your environment whenever necessary like public places.

In conclusion, headphones are definitely a great aid when it comes to day to day conversation or listening to music.

Image Courtesy: Grado Labs, Bose, Sony.

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