Vintage Wartime Radio Headphones





Introduction: Vintage Wartime Radio Headphones

About: I am interested in the boundaries between engineering and art, with a slightly eco/nature vibe.

How to convert a vintage war-era headphone set and turn it into a working, usable set of ultra retro-chic headphones.

Complete the look at your office desk or cubicle by swapping your phone for a morse key.

Step 1: Get a Pair of Vintage Wartime Headphones

I believe these are the headphones from a "wireless 19 set". I got them from a car boot sale (like a big garage sale in a field, where everyone drives their car there full of junk to sell) for £2 (about 3USD). They just looked cool, and weigh about hald a kilogram.

Step 2: Take the Old Headphones to Bits

everything just unscrews and unbolts. Dead easy.

Step 3: Get a Cheap Pair of Regular Headphones

get a cheap/defunct pair of headphones - airplane type, or the ones you get free with old walkmen. prise out the actual headphone bit of them, so you've got the bits below.

Step 4: Attach the New Headphone Bit

fix the new headphone speaker bit onto the middle of the inside of the earpiece as shown below. I used a mixture of superglue, 2 part epoxy resin, and duct tape.

Step 5: Wire Up the Headphones

I re-attached the old screws into the cans part of the headphones. you now need to tighten or solder the wires form the new headphones onto the screws you see in the below picture. If you don't know how to do this, you should get anyone with basic soldering/wiriing a plug knowledge to help you.

Step 6: Attach Outer Cables to the Cans

screw the whole cans part back together, and then attach some twin cable to the outside screw terminals. I used black and red, but I think this is a mistake. I should have used black or green for that military look.

Step 7: Wire Up the Rest of the Headphones - Done!

I used 3-core mains flex for the bottom part of the lead, and then just used duct tape at the wire joints.
There you go - all done! They sound remarkably good, and are only mildy uncomfortable.

These super retro chic cans will get you crazy props in any ironic neighbourhood.

thanks, any questions, comments, etc, please don't hesitate

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    Not being an EE, i'm ay be wrong, but if they were in working order couldn't you have just used an audio transformer to drive them and not ruin any collectible value they may have had?

    11 replies

    The main issue with that is that most modern headphones have an impedance (resistance) rating of between 4-16 ohms. These old military headphones are rated anywhere between 100 and 3000. Meaning basically that the signal from your modern stereo isn't strong enough to make it through the speaker in these older headphones. And I am an EE student, for what it's worth.

    hello mightywombat you got it backwards remember impedance is not the same as resistance sure its measured in ohms but 3,000 ohm headphones do not have dc resistance of 3,000 ohms remember your dealing with ac in a LC circuit you need less audio to drive high impedance cans ( headphones ) than you need to drive low impedance cans crystal sets which have nearly no audio power work best using high impedance cans in fact the higher the impedance the better yours truly mac ex us army signal corps microwave radio repair

    Resistance is the opposition to the flow of D.C. Current and is Measured in Ohms. While Impedance is the Opposition to the flow of A.C. Current and is Measured in Ohms as well. but that is where the similarity ends!!! Where Resistance Deals with Resistors Impedance deals with thew effects of Resistors Capacitors and Inductors,, So Impedance is a Complex Fellow aand is Controlled more by the Frequency (in Hz.Khz.Mhz) rather than applied Voltage as in the Case of Resistance, Also Total Impedance takes the Form of R+j(XL-XC) where XL=2piFL and XC=1/2pi FL Do You Notice in the XL and the XC formulae The Frequency Component is COMMON to both?? So Total Impedance would be XL*XL+ XC*XC= and then take the Square Root of that Big Mess!!! If XL=3 ohms and XC= 4 ohms then Total Z= 3x3+4x4= 9+16=25,,, Square root is 5,,, Therefore total Z= 5 Ohms Angle would be Tan= X/R=Xc/R =4/3=1.33 or 53.13 degrees.....So Zt =5 ohms @53.13 degrees(This is Referred to as the Complex form whereas R+j(XL-XC) is the Rectangular Form. I hope this Clears up any confusion about Resistance and Impedance!!! XC=1/2 pi FC(not FL what i previously stated!!! And Yes I'm a Electronic Engineering Technologist!!

    Zt = R*R+Xc*Xc and Then Take the Square root of this!! Since Zt=R+j(XL-XC) in rectangular Form,,,Thanks!!!

    A more popular expression for Zt= 5@ 53.13 degrees would be the POLAR FORM while 3+j4 would be called the RECTANGULAR FORM. to convert from POLAR to RECTANGULAR you would calculate Z=R x cosine 53.13 + Xc x sine 53.13 to get your answer.The above mentioned reply shows you how to go from RECTANGULAR to POLAR. So in most cases in A.C. circuits there is a REAL component ( R ) and a imaginary component ( jXL or jXC ) or REACTIVE COMPONENT

    Zt should be 5@ --53.13 degrees since we are dealing with a RC circuit and NOT a RL Circuit here,,,Sorry!!!

    so. in theory, you could just cut off the plug of a old 3kohm, replace it with a modern 3.5mm audio jack, and plug it into your DMP/PC/mobile cellular phone/ etc and it would work, but just be quite loud? or would some sort of impedance matching be necessary?

    Get a BIG amp, lol.

    That might be a good idea if the original pair cost a lot, or were of high quality, but I'm guessing the 3$ wartime pair probably would have sounded quite crappy. Though I do have some nice sony headphones somewhere that are falling apart, I could put the phones from that into some old timey headset.


    Even if they were high quality they might still sound crappy ... if they're designed for speech (telephony, etc) then they probably don't have good response above 3 or 4 kHz, because most speech information is below that frequency, and extra noise just gives more opportunity for noise. (That is, if you chop out everything above 3300 Hz, speech usually becomes *more* understandable.) But for music, you want a flat response past 20 kHz.

    Everything wiml says is right. I would also add that they wouldn't sound very good no matter what the frequency response, because radio communications headsets of this type (and especially of this vintage) are monophonic!

    yeah, a) they were mono b) you couldn't drive them from a normal headphone output, i had to try drive them from an amp, and they did sound crappy. c) tool using animal - what is an EE? I got them for about 3 USD anyway, so I don't htink had any collectible value. Easy come easy go

    1 reply

    Nice Instructable!!!! You Get Top Marks in my Class!!! BRAVO!

    I am a bit confused on your wireing process. Im not seeing it from the photos. In step 5 you said you soldered/tightened the wires from the new headphones onto the screws? . Im lost at this point. What did you mean by that? Where did you run the wire coming from the new headphones? I dont even see in your final photos the headphone cord. Just the 2 red/black cords on the outside. What are those for? Just looks? I have seen another DIY for these, the steampunk ones, and it shows the person cutting a notch in the can bottoms for the cord. I bought a nice pair of these on Ebay. But I like the look of the old braided cord better than new black headphone wire. Wondering if I can run the headphone wire through the cable that came with it, or use something else mhm

     I like 'em.

    I don't understand preservationists - why save obsolete equipment when it can be re-purposed/re-used? As is, the headphones are useful only to the slimmest minority... ebay is full of vintage headphones, btw... Most can be had for under $20.

    I'm one of those who said @#$% when I read what you did. Oh well if you bought them cheap, the seller didn't realize what they had , and the phones may have been toss in the trash anyway. As it is they have a continued life. For anyone one who wants to duplicated the look PLEASE find a way to modify modern head phone to resemble the old ones with out trashing any old ones

    I believe that was EE "student", unless wombat goes back to review his notes, EE may not happen: with all due respect. These phones can produce sound with electrical energy that is literally snatched out of the air. The weak by today's standards audio output of a tiny sized MP3 player, is likely to over drive the phones. Using an audio transformer is a valid thing to try.

    arugh! the pain! I collect and fix old radios, and have a pair of headphones like this that have been modded (stuffed up) aswell - the pain! the sight of these mutilated and twisted (although mine were more mutilated and twisted) have scarred my mind - why dont you just get one of those shiny plugs, stick a midget output transformer in it and screw it up, ready for the digital (shudder) music like sound things you want to listen to. This way, you wont destroy an ancient (70 year old) piece of history, and you'd get alot more for them that way if you sold them to someone later on. Mabye something to try next time? mabye?