Headphone style terminology seems dodgy at best, but I'm trying to determine what company first sold this style of headphone in the US:

Example of the headphone style

I've seen them variously described as "on the ear," "clip on" and "behind the ear." But note that this is not an in-ear sport headphone like they sell in this style now a days. The speaker was half the size of your ear and sat on the outside of your ear, not in it.

These would have been sold for fairly cheap around the turn of the 21st century in the US. I thought it was Philips, but I have yet to find anything online to confirm. In their marketing whatever company it was pushed the fact that it used a new type of magnet which allowed it to be so flat/thin but still have decent bass.

  • 3
    What a neat question - I have no idea how to even begin researching this. So, I'll begin by researching how to research this. :) Nov 15, 2012 at 19:09
  • i was watching the Americans a television show on FX and it shows one of the characters wearing a clip on stile earpiece. possibly the first market for these headphones was the US government in approximately cold war era. maybe earlier than early 21st century
    – franklin
    Mar 7, 2013 at 2:46

1 Answer 1


The earliest I could find was by a John R. Norris in 1957 for a radio earpiece:enter image description here

There are a lot of behind-the-ear headphone/microphone combos, but that's not quite what you're asking about. The first dedicated behind-the-ear headphone I found was Simeon Schreiber's 1988 "Bone Conduction Audio Listening Device and Method":enter image description here

But importantly, the first patent I found that was actually assigned to a corporation was to Philip's 1997 "Wireless Ear-Worn Audio Device":enter image description here

So long story short: I think the answer is the first marketer may have been Philips, but there are a lot of patents shortly after this assigned to Sony. I don't know who got to market first.

EDITS: Apologies for all the edits. It was my first time navigating the patent office's website.

  • 6
    Extra points for braving the patent office website. Nov 21, 2014 at 0:31

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