In less than 10 years the average person has had the ability to move their physical music library from CDs, tapes and records to music files carried in their shirt pockets. Unfortunately, the iPhone was never really designed for audiophilia and though the built-in DAC is good, it is not the very best for serious music lovers. Enter Arcam’s Music Boost.
As a reviewer, some products you stumble across. Sometimes products stumble across you and show up at your door. After a brief introduction from the Arcam representative from England via e-mail, I received the Music Boost from a US distributor in Texas. The Music Boost is newly arrived in the US and is a device that acts as an iPhone 6 protective case, battery pack, DAC and headphone amplifier all in one. The box it came in was nice and sturdy with magnetic clasps. The instructions are simple enough that they are posted on the outside of the box in case you would actually need them. Cost will be around $160.
The Music Boost has a bit of weight to it, I’d say it doubles the weight of the iPhone 6, and adds about twice the thickness as well. The iPhone simply slides into the Boost and connects into the lightning port at the base. A supplied USB power cord charges the battery and iPhone simultaneously. Once charged the battery will increase the phone charge by approximately 120%. For me, that was like getting and extra day out of my phone.
As the device charges, LED lights flicker on the bottom right. To fully charge the device it took almost twice as long as charging my phone alone. It will charge the phone first, then the battery pack. The Music Boost felt good in my hand, not too heavy and bulky and the grip was good. (Have you noticed that the naked iPhone 6 feels like a slick bar of soap sometimes?). When my phone battery waned, I pressed the button on the bottom left and the battery pack kicked in and replenished my phone battery in no time.
The unique feature of the Boost is, of course, the headphone amp and high quality DAC which is from Burr Brown. As far as I know there is nothing like this device on the market. Having very recently received a new set of cans from a company called Cleer, I was ready to take the Music Boost for a test drive. I don’t store a lot of music on my phone. No. I’m too “hi techy” for that. I have a WD MyCloud (2TB) which allows me to stream my high resolution audio files to my phone from anywhere in the world. I spent a lot of time listening to Rock, Jazz and Classical over the course of a few weeks using the Music Boost and I can say that it really did sound superior to the iPhone alone.
Through the Music Boost, music had better dimensionality, tighter bass and smoother treble. The soundstage in my head was noticeably wider and deeper. A-B comparisons demonstrated that the improvement in sound was not subtle either. My wife and son auditioned it to and commented on how much better the sound was through the Music Boost. I don’t know how sensitive my cans with dual drivers were, but I had no trouble driving them to loud volumes. I suspect that the Boost could kill off some poor quality ear buds in no time flat. With the extended battery life, I could listen to music all day and well into the next without a charge.
As nice as the Music Boost was however, there were a few problems that showed up early on. I could not get the volume/pause/play button to work from my headphones. This was true with the Cleer and the original iBuds. Controlling the buttons from the iPhone itself worked fine, but this could still be an issue for some people. Also upon occasion, the headphones would not connect when plugged in and the sound came out of the tiny iPhone speakers. Popping the iPhone 6 out of the case and reseating it would fix that issue, but I don’t understand why it would happen in the first place. This only happened a few times during my review, so perhaps it is not a common issue.
The protective case itself was satisfactory, but it leaves the top part of the iPhone somewhat exposed. Also, if you lay the phone down on its face, the glass screen touches the surface of whatever you lay it down on which could potentially lead to scratches. A slight lip around the edge would have been nice. The case also muffles the ringer on the phone, though talking on the phone was not a problem.
In spite of a few weaknesses, I thought the Music Boost did what it set out to accomplish; it makes your music sound better, drives just about any headphones and charges your iPhone 6 when you run low on juice. It is certainly a unique device and I am sure there are plans for a newer version when the next iteration of the iPhone comes along. It makes a great companion for the music lover on-the-go!