Review: Arcam MusicBOOST – Define ‘Boost’

Despite my issues, for the hardcore iPhone 6 fan not given to hardware mercuriality, MusicBOOST is an elegant option for the music lover that needs greater signal stability than the iPhone 6, an elegant portable battery solution, and who can’t be bothered to carry around their lightning cable.

Personally, I find soft-touch a bit naff. It mires up quick. It smells faintly sweet- but not in a fruity way: in a chemical way. And while MusicBOOST is reasonably well fastened, its chassis flexes here and there; I can wedge a paper between this review unit’s edges.

What’s spot-on is the battery indicator, which, while not detailed, is easy to suss. Turning it on and off is breezy easy. Finally, volume is digitally controlled via the iPhone’s rocker buttons or on screen. Elegant.

Arcam MusicBOOST-5

Which leads us to sound. Simply, MusicBOOST performs up to its design, its build quality, and in general, with the amp/DAC case market. Measurably, it is stabler than an iPhone 6 under the strain of low-impedance multi-BA earphones. Barely. And both THD and IMD levels remain remarkably low irrespective load. When driving the Earsonics SM2, the iPhone 6 ramps up THD and IMD by about 70x and 86x respectively. In comparison, MusicBOOST keeps THD and IMD levels to just 10x their unloaded base.

By the way, here are the RMAA measurements I made of the MusicBOOST.

At the ear, MusicBOOST hisses more than an iPhone 6 with the same earphones. And, at maximum volume — and despite MusicBOOST boasting a stronger spec-sheet amp head-fi post #36 —, the iPhone 6 outputs a marginally louder signal through the same DT880/600 as measured by my ADC.

Because MusicBOOST doesn’t hit an IMD wall at full power driving the Audio Technica ES7, my guess is that, no matter the volume setting, its high-spec’d amp is being fed by a weak signal by its DAC. Not that listeners like me need more volume. I find that in a comfy listening room, even a 600Ω DT880 gets plenty of volume straight from an iPhone 6. The Chase Emorys of this world may beg to differ.

Because of higher-than-iPhone levels of hiss, I can’t recommend MusicBOOST to listeners of sensitive earphones. Earphones that aren’t that sensitive: Ocharaku’s Sakura Plus, Radius’s TWF31, Dunu’s Titan 3, and others, aren’t bothered by hiss. And neither are any headphones in my stable. Final Audio’s Pandora VI HOPE, however, that should hiss.

All of that said, MusicBOOST sounds good to me, according to my preferences. I hear more of the iPhone 4s signature in it than I do the iPhone 6.I find the iPhone 4s to be warmer, and lusher, if by the thinnest of mists. Naturally, those differences are almost fatuously small. Volume-matched the difference between the two are close enough to make me wonder. Whatever. Since MusicBOOST and the iPhone 4s share a similar signature, as a rule, the Arcam’s sound sig is more up my alley than the iPhone 6. If it weren’t for its hiss, MusicBOOST would be an excellent match for the sometimes-quirky Ultrasone IQ, especially for New Order, Joy Division, old Duran Duran, The Cure, Petshop Boys.

Arcam MusicBOOST-1

Not that Arcam designed it for 70s and 80s post-punk. But that bare mist of richness, of warmth, items which induced me to purchase an extra iPhone 4s, are real. For those that prefer warmth over absolute detail, it’s a boon.

Combine that with 2800mAh of extra battery juice, a micro-USB jack, and the convenience of a one-box solution, and you have an argument for MusicBOOST. However, I reckon it’s not the argument Arcam were fronting. In fact, I think it better to think of MusicBOOST as a decent battery and micro-USB connection with a hissier version of the iPhone 4s packed inside.

Relevant links:

Review: Radius Wn3 HP-TWF31
Ultrasone IQ And IQ Pro Review
Review: Ocharaku Flat4-Sakura Plus – Atmospheric
Review: Dunu Titan 3 & 5 – Top Sound
Final Audio Pandora Hope VI – No Hope
VentureCraft GoDAP in Review

3.6/5 - (7 votes)

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.


  • 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


    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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