Anyone who knows me knows that I through earbuds the way some people go through their BoardPlus. I’ve tried everything, from buying an $8 pair at Target to much pricier Apple ones (thinking I’d treat them with more care—I didn’t) to obsessively hoarding the slightly questionable, logo-touting ones passed out at career fairs. Inevitably though, each pair of earbuds finds itself broken or misplaced en route to the Science Center. Tragic, really.
I thought it would be fitting for me to do more research into these items I’ve spent so much money on and effort finding—hopefully now that I know more about everything that goes into their design, I’ll do a better job hanging on to them (fingers crossed!).
In-ear listening devices—starting with stethoscopes—have been around since the 1850s, but it wasn’t until a few decades later that people started listening to recorded music with similar “ear tubes.” In 1891, a man from Paris named Ernest Mercadier patented the “bi-telephone,” a pair of rubber-wrapped tips that would “close the ear to external sounds.” A few decades later in 1910, N.C. Durand filed a patent for a phonograph hearing tube that included pretty much all the components of modern day earbuds—soft rubber covering the parts inserted into a person’s ear, flexible tubing in a rigid Y connection connecting the more rigid ear tubes. So while technology and design may have greatly updated the appearance of earbuds, their fundamental components have remained essentially the same for over a century.
There have been a number of innovations intended to make earbuds more comfortable for consumers—from noise canceling functions to styles that wrap around your ears. Kits were even sold that allowed people to take individualized impressions of their ear canals (molds would be made at home, then mailed in to receive a pair of customized tips). While I haven’t seen any such kits on the market, some particular innovations that do pertain to Apple earbuds include:
- Unique shape (perfectly round earbuds aren’t always the best fit for your ear)
- Forward facing main speaker ports (rather than facing your ear canal directly)—determined by Apple acousticians to optimize your listening sound experience
- Larger cable wrappings near the remote and areas that experience more strain and wear-and-tear