This post includes some assumptions and generalisations about typical headphone manufacturing which can different brand to brand, model to model.
When using regular headphones, I never really gave much thought to how they were manufactured or how they came to be.
However, my shift towards hi-fi audio equipment made me ponder what truly goes into this marvelous piece of tech to give me such a soothing and relaxing experience.
In fact, I have found that the headphone manufacturing process is quite fascinating, and it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “hand-crafted.”
Staring at Mark’s DT 1990 Pro from Beyerdynamic always makes me wonder how such a finely crafted piece comes to life.
Among all the tech inventors, scientists, and companies, I thank two people the most; the one who made the first-ever headphone (Nathaniel Baldwin) and the company that brought the concept of hi-fi into headphones (Koss).
Let’s take a closer look at the entire process, the materials, and other elements – as well as the science behind hi-fi headphones.
The Hi-Fi Headphone Manufacturing Process
The first step in the headphone manufacturing process is sourcing the raw materials. For the cups or “cans” of the headphones, various types of plastic are used, including polycarbonate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polystyrene.
The headband is usually made out of metal or leather, and the earpads are generally made from synthetic leather or foam.
These materials are sourced from different suppliers and are then delivered to the headphone manufacturer. The next step is to start assembling the headphones.
The cups or cans are made first by injection molding the plastic into the desired shape. The earpads are then affixed to the cups, and the headband is attached. After this, the driver, which is the heart of the headphone, is placed inside the cup.
The driver is a small speaker that converts electrical signals into sound waves. It is made up of a magnet, a voice coil, and a cone. The magnet creates a magnetic field, and when an electric current passes through the voice coil, it interacts with the magnetic field and causes the cone to vibrate.
This vibration is what produces the sound.
Finally, the cables are attached to the cups, and the headphones are ready to be packaged and shipped.
A Closer Look At The Hand-Crafted Method
While mass-produced headphones are made with machines, there is a growing trend of hand-crafted headphones made by artisans. This process is more labor-intensive, but it results in a higher-quality product.
Most custom-made headphones or higher-end/limited editions are hand-made and are sure to stand the test of time.
The first step is still sourcing the raw materials, but instead of plastic, wood is used for the cups or cans. The earpads and headband are still made from synthetic leather or foam, and the driver is still the heart of the headphone.
However, some headbands are also made from real leather stuffed with bird feathers for added comfort and life.
The assembly process is naturally different. The cups or cans are made by hand, and each one is unique.
The wood is cut to size and then shaped into the desired form, either with the help of a chisel or die grinders. Next, the earpads are affixed to the cups, and the headband is attached. The driver is then placed inside the cup.
To sew the material, the manufacturers use a special thread and needle that create a nearly undetectable seam. This is important because it ensures that the headphone’s sound quality is not compromised.
The manufacturers are careful about the people they use for this process, as it requires immense skill and experience.
The foam used varies from company to company, but some of the most common types are memory foam, latex foam, and polyurethane foam. As I mentioned, some also use feathers. Each has its own pros and cons in headphones, though.
The whole headphone is hand-polished with the requisite polishes and then left to dry. Different polishes needed for hi-fi headphones include shellac, beeswax, and carnauba wax. The leather (synthetic or real) is also conditioned to increase its life.
It is important to note that the electrical components within headphones CANNOT be hand-crafted. These are usually manufactured in-house for hi-fi equipment or can be sourced out to a reputable company. Some of these components include, but are not limited to:
- Headphone drivers
- Crossover networks
- Batteries (for wireless headphones)
- Soldering materials
After this, the manufacturers perform a series of tests to ensure that the headphone meets their high standards.
The Pros and Cons of Hand-Crafted Headphones
There are both pros and cons to hand-crafted headphones.
The main pro is that they offer better sound quality because they are made with higher-quality materials and have a more precise assembly. This also means a much longer lifespan for the headphones.
The main con is that they are more expensive than mass-produced headphones. Furthermore, the long life may mean that if you are like, “don’t replace it till it’s broken,” you may end up falling behind in terms of technology.
The Science Behind Hi-Fi Headphones
Now that I’ve discussed how headphones are made, let’s take a look at the science behind hi-fi headphones. The quality of sound produced by a headphone is measured in hertz (Hz).
Humans can hear sounds in the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, although this range varies from person to person.
Hi-fi headphones are designed to produce sound in the full frequency range that humans can hear, which results in a more natural and realistic sound. To do this, hi-fi headphones use larger drivers than regular headphones.
Larger drivers are able to produce sound waves with a longer wavelength, which means they can reproduce lower frequencies. This results in wider frequency response and better overall sound quality.
This is one of the costliest elements in hi-fi headphones as it requires a driver that can handle lows and highs better.
Hi-fi headphones are designed and manufactured for people who appreciate high-quality sound and are willing to pay more for it. If you’re looking for the best possible sound quality, hi-fi headphones are definitely worth considering!
A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.