It’s hard to find a truly unique iPhone product to test drive for Apple World Today, but Arcam has done it with the MusicBOOST. This $189 device combines a portable headphone amplifier with a high-precision DAC and battery pack for the iPhone 6/6s, all in one sleek protective sleeve case weighing just 3.5 ounces.
It’s a great accessor when you’re on the road as it not only makes your tunes sound better, but protects the Apple smartphone with its soft touch sleeve case, and gives it some extra juice. The MusicBOOST essentially doubles the iPhone’s battery life. Who doesn't want extra battery life?
So how does the MusicBOOST improve sound quality? Quite a bit. The audio from an iPhone is good, but the sound quality of most mobile devices (the iPad Pro being the exception) is compromised by build budget, battery life requirements, space constraints and interference from the radio and digital components of the phone. The Arcam peripheral extracts pure digital audio from the iPhone Lightning Port, feeding it via a Texas Instruments internal DAC, then amplifying it with a headphone amp.
The sound quality improvement is noticeable even when using the so-so earpods that come with the iPhone. Plug in some higher end earphones or headphones, however, and you’ll really hear the difference. If an app can play audio, the MusicBOOST will upgrade it, including music from Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, SoundCloud YouTube, FLAC Player, and more.
Both the lows and highs were enhanced, with bass frequencies having more impact and extension. There’s more richness and warmth to the overall sound. What’s more, the MusicBOOST delivers about 15% extra volume with no audible distortion at any level.
Headphone Impedance Output Power
16 Ohm 44 + 44mW
32 Ohm 22 + 22mW
64 Ohm 11.5 + 11.5mW
300 Ohm 2.5 + 2.5mW
Installing and removing the Apple smartphone is a bit tricky. You’ll have to push on your iPhone 6s to insert it into the MusicBOOST and pull to remove it, though this eases after a few uses. That’s not too big a concern as, despite its technical achievements, the MusicBOOST only adds three-quarters of an inch to the length of the phone, a quarter of an inch to the thickness, and practically nothing to the width.
The iPhone 6 slides into the Arcam case from the top, fitting into a Lightning plug at the bottom. However, once it’s installed, external cables can’t be used. The supplied cord with a micro USB connector to charge the phone/case combo takes their place.
Also, there’s no control path back to the phone via the Lightning Module so remote volume, forwarding, etc., won’t function. And there’s no version that accommodates the iPhone 6s Plus or iPhone SE.
At close to 200 bucks, this isn’t a spur-of-the-moment purchase. The MusicBOOST might not fit with the next rev of the iPhone. And the soft cover isn’t the most protective thing around (there’s a lack of wrap-around phone protection at the top of the case).
However, if you want significantly better sound quality and much longer battery life for your iPhone 6, Arcam delivers with this excellent product.