Ar­cam Mu­sic-boost S

FOR Adds rich­ness and de­tail; bet­ter pre­ci­sion to note edges AGAINST Trades nat­u­ral flu­id­ity; makes iphone bulky

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Contents -

For­get death and taxes, the two things you can be cer­tain of are the need for bet­ter qual­ity mu­sic and your Ap­ple iphone’s bat­tery de­plet­ing quicker than a jug of Pimm’s at Wim­ble­don. Wouldn’t it be great if some­one made a de­vice to ad­dress both?

Ar­cam has done just that. The Mu­sic­boost S is a por­ta­ble head­phone am­pli­fier, DAC and bat­tery pack that fits your iphone like a glove, for £120. It is de­signed specif­i­cally for the Ap­ple iphone 6 and 6S, but con­sid­er­ing there are tens of mil­lions of those smart­phones in use, it’s not as niche as you might think.

Tight fit

The orig­i­nal Mu­sic­boost was de­signed with only the iphone 6 in mind, and while Ar­cam claimed it would also fit the 6S, it was a strug­gle to free it from the case. The fit was far too tight, even with the iphone 6.

With the up­dated model men­tion­ing both iphone mod­els on the box, and tak­ing into ac­count the ex­tra thick­ness of the 6S, the new Mu­sic­boost S is a much bet­ter fit. You still have to ap­ply a fair amount of pres­sure to re­lease the iphone, but it is eas­ier to slide out, and the soft-touch fin­ish makes it nice to hold. The build qual­ity is solid and durable, and es­sen­tially it feels rather like a lux­ury item in your hand.

But the Mu­sic­boost S makes the iphone bulkier, forc­ing you to ad­just your hold on the phone when tex­ting or play­ing games. It's also heav­ier and wider to carry around. You’ll have to ditch your iphone’s pro­tec­tive case too, al­though the Ar­cam isn’t ex­actly the best sub­sti­tute. While the cam­era and bot­tom edge are cov­ered, the top and both sides of the phone are left ex­posed so you can ac­cess the vol­ume and power but­tons. That won’t be enough to pro­tect your iphone if you do hap­pen to drop it.

Another an­noy­ance is the Ar­cam stops the in-line mic and re­mote con­trols on your head­phones from work­ing, as it’s no longer go­ing straight into the iphone’s 3.5mm port. If you’re com­mit­ted to us­ing the Mu­sic­boost S, you’ll have to for­feit be­ing able to change vol­ume, skip tracks or take calls via your head­phones. But it might just be worth all that has­sle, as the best part about the Ar­cam is that bat­tery pack.

Ar­cam claims to pro­vide 120 per cent ex­tra bat­tery life, which in the real world equates to a full charge when your iphone is on its last legs – and leaves enough left over to keep pow­er­ing the DAC.

It’s a quick charger, too. Our iphone 6S went from 10 to 40 per cent in half an hour, which is handy when your phone is fast run­ning down the red bar. After an hour and a half, we were back up to 90 per cent. That’s a god­send for iphone users.

You don’t have to keep it charg­ing, ei­ther. You can turn the charger on or off with the left but­ton on the Mu­sic­boost S. If your iphone’s bat­tery is full, there’s no need to sap the back-up bat­tery while lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. Press the but­ton on the right to check bat­tery sta­tus, and four LEDS in­di­cate how much charge is left on the Ar­cam.

You’ll also find a 3.5mm head­phone port, a mi­cro-usb for charg­ing and speaker grilles that mir­ror the iphone’s placed at the bot­tom edge of the Mu­sic­boost S.

Flow­ing ef­fort­lessly

But does the Ar­cam ac­tu­ally make the iphone sound bet­ter? Plug in your favourite pair of head­phones, and you’ll find a richer, more pre­cise pre­sen­ta­tion.

Whether you’re play­ing Spo­tify streams or FLAC files, there’s a greater sense of weight and so­lid­ity to the sound. Basslines have more im­pact and go deeper on David Bowie’s Lazarus, and the Ar­cam does a bet­ter job at defin­ing the stop and start of notes than the iphone alone. Guitar strums are more raunchy and ar­tic­u­late, and there’s more space be­tween the in­stru­ments too.

The re­sult­ing sound is louder and more full-bod­ied through the Ar­cam, which is plenty enough rea­son to give it a go. The one caveat is you lose some of the iphone’s nat­u­ral abil­ity to make mu­sic flow ef­fort­lessly. That ag­ile, del­i­cate sense of rhythm we love is traded off for more oomph. Fiona Ap­ple’s lilt­ing voice on Ev­ery Sin­gle Night is melodic and ex­pres­sive

"We can’t think of a more el­e­gant way of spruc­ing up the sound qual­ity of your iphone. Ri­vals in­volve car­ry­ing an ex­tra de­vice and a cable. Far too messy"

through the iphone’s own DAC, bolder but not quite as mu­si­cal through the Ar­cam.

We can’t think of a more el­e­gant way of spruc­ing up the sound qual­ity of your iphone. Us­ing some­thing like the Oppo HA2 or Au­dio­quest Drag­on­fly with your smart­phone means car­ry­ing an ex­tra de­vice and a cable. Far too messy.

The Ar­cam isn’t per­fect, and there are com­pro­mises to be made if you de­cide to use it. But the sound qual­ity is a de­cent jump up from the iphone, and we love that it works as a bat­tery pack as well.

The build qual­ity of the Ar­cam is good, but it won't act as a pro­tec­tive case for an iphone

VER­DICT It’s not per­fect, but Ar­cam’s Dac/amp/bat­tery pack com­bi­na­tion is a de­cent com­pan­ion for your iphone

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