By Jason Snell
January 4, 2016 11:59 AM PT
BoomStick punches up headphone audio, if you like that sort of thing
Warning: This story has not been updated in several years and may contain out-of-date information.
What makes audio sound good? Back in the day, you could buy a little audio adapter for the iPod that boosted the sound coming out of your iPod in order to make it sound more fun. Audio purists will cringe at that memory. The argument goes that amplifying the bass and increasing stereo effects is just distorting the actual sound, and that the right sound is the most neutral sound.
I get where they’re coming from, but there’s no denying that sometimes fast food that’s been engineered to hit your pleasure centers just right is satisfying, even when you admit that it’s not necessarily real or pure. Beats has built a headphone empire on amping up the bass in music to make it sound more fun.
If you’re frustrated by the limited, almost empty sound of iPhone EarPods or other cheap headphones, there’s a forthcoming product called BoomStick that’s been made just for you. (If you are an audio purist, it’s time to run far, far way.) Like the old iWOW adapter from SRS Labs back in the day1, BoomStick is a battery-powered inline audio adapter that processes the audio from your smartphone and punches it up before it reaches your headphones. It was announced this week and ships this spring.
The results are impressive. My good in-ear monitors sounded thumpier and offered a more pronounced stereo effect when I tried BoomStick, and a pair of EarPods sounded much better, too. The $99 BoomStick connects via the standard headphone jack and charges via USB. It passes through the microphone and clicker from your iPhone headphones of choice, and you can toggle its effects on and off with the push of a button. (Though I found that even when toggled off, the BoomStick added a lot of hiss to my audio until I powered it down entirely.)
It’s a clever product, and I do believe there’s an audience for a sound that’s more fun, even if it’s less authentic. Whether it’s worth a $99 accessory attached to the end of your headphones remains to be seen—it’s kind of a long way to go to improve those EarPods that came with your iPhone. But it definitely works.
It would make more sense for companies like Apple to include options to have its devices process audio in a similar way, but according to BoomStick creator Alan Kraemer, the philosophy of most phone makers and platform owners is similar to that of the audio purists—namely, that the more neutral you can make sound, the better.
If you’re intrigued, you can listen to sample tracks on the BoomStick website and toggle the enhancement effect on and off. If you’ve always wished that your EarPods could sound a little bit better, maybe this could be the ticket.
- The creator of the BoomStick is Alan Kraemer, who used to work at SRS Labs. ↩
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