Review: Arcam MusicBOOST – Define ‘Boost’

Disclaimer: Arcam supplied MusicBOOST free of charge for the purposes of this review. It goes for 100£ – 120£. You can find out all about it here: Arcam MusicBOOST.

Prior to handling Arcam’s MusicBOOST, I’d hadn’t touched a soft-touch phone case. Make no mistake: I am a case guy. Tactless and penny-poor in 2007, I gaffer taped my iPod touch. I gaffer taped my iPod nano. I gaffer taped my tripod. Henceforward, I saved, laying out hard-earned dosh for something more protective, half or full cases in silicon or plastic. I even sprung for Italian and Foxconn leather. For the span of this review, I even removed an amazing Quad Lock from my iPhone 6.

That’s dedication.

As a half case, MusicBOOST is pretty clever. It protects the back of the iPhone as well any case out there. It covers the sides from about halfway down the phone, but doesn’t protect the upper portion at all. It’s made to easily slip in and slip out the iPhone. Its soft-touch is grippy in the hand, and its camera cutout is well-placed, but its upper edge flexes thanks to ill-fitting plastic.

But then again, MusicBOOST isn’t just a half-case. It’s also an external battery.

Arcam MusicBOOST-6

To be honest, I was on the prowl for a portable charging solution. Currently, I carry a Goal Zero solar-powered USB charger. It’s a bit cumbersome. MusicBOOST’s 2800mAh, with roughly 1,5x the battery capacity of an iPhone 6, does the job. That it comes with a DAC and headphone amp, not to mention, exchanges lightning for a micro USB jack, is icing on the cake.

To my knowledge, VentureCraft’s GoDAP kicked off this audiophile-meets-case market in 2010. At the time it was revolutionary. But to be honest, it was an awkward first step. I reviewed it back in 2010. Decent performance. Ugly as sin. Absolutely inelegant.

MusicBOOST is one of the latest in a lengthening queue of hybrid audiophile/battery pack devices, few of which have been all that exciting for the dyed-in-the-wool audiophile.

The hurdles they face are obvious:

  1. battery/amp/DAC cases are as big as some dedicated players
  2. they work with only a specific phone, or specific player
  3. many if not most sound no better than the hardware they are meant to augment

Arcam MusicBOOST-4

Number 2 is the tallest hurdle. Hate your iPhone 6 as much as I do? Want to upgrade to an iPhone SE? Well, kiss MusicBOOST’s glove fit goodbye. Fancy a non-Apple player? Downgrading to Android?  😉 Goodbye MusicBOOST. Number 3 is neither here nor there. The audiophile world is littered by examples of people preferring devices that perform worse in every absolute term. Sound preferences are subjective. Sound quality is not.

Suffice it to say that serious concerns about precious tailor-made cases exist.

Sound and more after the jump or the click HERE:

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

7 Comments

  • Reply August 4, 2016

    Barun C

    Welcome back Nathan!! It was a very enjoyable read. The form factor seems to be the only thing going for the Arcam MB, but there might be a lot of folks who will prefer listening to headphones rather than IEMs and earphones with them.

    Too bad they don’t make it for any of the Android flagship offerings. I can understand why, but there will be companies at KS or IGG who will come up with something like this pretty soon.For now Arcam needs to go back to the tool kit board and implement a better amp module.

    • Reply August 4, 2016

      ohm image

      I should be clear: the amp _may_ be very good. I think it’s the DAC module that is holding it back. Arcam’s spec show a powerful amp. But it must not be getting a high enough signal from the DAC- which means that full-size headphones don’t get the power you would assume they would.

      Otherwise, I can’t fault the form factor (much), nor can I fault the brilliant sound character, which really does remind me of the iPhone 4s.

  • Reply August 4, 2016

    Jeffrey Coleman

    I would be curious on your impressions of the CEntrance HiFi-Skyn now. It kinda lives in the same space, but its more expensive.

    You have to admit the appeal of the form factor is real. As much as I like portable amps/DACs, putting a stack in your pocket is at best barely doable…

    • Reply August 4, 2016

      ohm image

      I would love the chance to compare/contrast the two. I won’t be holding onto my iPhone 6 much longer. I hate the dang thing. I want to paint it green.

      • Reply August 4, 2016

        dale thorn

        What’s the real story (iPhone)?

      • Reply August 8, 2016

        jeff Ross

        What’s causing your iPhone 6 angst?

  • Reply August 9, 2016

    ohm image

    Jeff,

    I’ve been an iPhone owner since the 4s. I would have owned one earlier, but I lived in South Korea and foreigners were, by law, not allowed to own feature or smart phones.

    The 6 is a blob. Round, lacking unifying structure, has that awful protruding camera, and antenna bands. It is ugly, precisely in the way that Apple’s competitors are derided for.

    It is a phone whose shape looks like a Samsung design.

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