Arcam Music-boost S
FOR Adds richness and detail; better precision to note edges AGAINST Trades natural fluidity; makes iphone bulky
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.
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.
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