Arcam MusicBoost review

Arcam is a well-respected leader in high-end audio, so its entry into the iPhone case sector is both interesting and welcome. In 1988 it launched the first offboard digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) to improve the sound of CD players, so it has a rich pedigree in quality Hi-Fi tech.

Now that many of us listen to music via our phones rather than CD players or other old-fashioned devices we’ve had to compromise audio quality for convenience.

Until now that is as Arcam has engineered its first product for mobile music lovers, the MusicBoost.

MusicBoost is an iPhone case that promises to massively increase the audio quality you get from your phone, as well as offering iPhone protection and extended battery life. It combines a dedicated headphone amp with a DAC and a battery case. Read next: Apple iPhone 6 review.

Arcam MusicBoost: audio quality

All music players need to convert your digital audio files into analogue sound, and so the quality of the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) is paramount. Arcam uses a high-quality DAC from amplifier innovators Texas Instruments /Burr Brown.

The ARCAM MusicBoost houses a Texas Instruments PCM1502 DAC, which bypasses the iPhone 6’s Cirrus Logic 338S1201 Audio Codec, which is known to produce a reasonably neutral sound. See more: Best sounding phone 2016 UK.

I enlisted the help of our resident audiophile to help me on testing the audio-enhancement benefits of this interesting product.

The MusicBoost offers you a slightly different sound signature over the iPhone 6’s in-built DAC, and also is able to deliver around 15 percent extra volume with no audible distortion at any level.

So, if you want just a little bit of volume from your iPhone 6, the MusicBoost will do just that. However, this isn’t a solution for those looking to power their full-sized high-impedance headphones.

During close listening tests, we found the MusicBoost to alter the sound signature of the iPhone 6, where we felt the soundstage was one of the biggest aspects that were improved.

Music felt slightly more alive and had a little more room to breathe versus the in-built DAC.

However, for those looking to have a neutral sound, which is close to the iPhone 6’s reproduction, listeners will be disappointed as the MusicBoost does give a slightly warmer, more V-Shaped sound signature that can be heard from the emphasis on the lows and highs.

Both the lows and highs were improved, with bass frequencies having more impact and extension, while the highs were slightly more extended and did provide that little added sparkle to our music. Note, that due to an emphasis on the highs, the MusicBoost’s output was ever so slightly sibilant with certain sensitive earphones.

Finally, the mids were a little recessed, but still were well presented as they are on the in-built DAC.

Overall, we found the sound quality to be a slight improvement over the iPhone 6’s in-built DAC, but given the price we feel that there are other external amplifiers that will not only deliver a more rounded sound, but also provide you with the driving power for full-sized headphones.

Arcam MusicBoost: battery life

The case boasts a decent 2,800mAh battery, about the same as a Mophie Juice Pack Air – one of our favourite iPhone battery cases. This should give a fading iPhone at least another full 100% boost.

The case comes with a Micro USB cable to charge, and it sensibly charges the iPhone first and then itself.

Arcam MusicBoost battary case

Arcam MusicBoost: case design           

Like all battery cases the MusicBoost makes your slim iPhone a rather more chunky package, but one that we feel is worth the extra bulk.

It’s pretty lightweight (102g, so only 3g heavier than the Mophie Air), and has that slightly rubbery smooth, soft finish we love in other iPhone cases.

It’s available in black only. Read next: iPhone 6 vs iPhone 6 Plus comparison review.

Arcam MusicBoost: price

At £120 the Arcam MusicBoost isn’t at the cheap end of the iPhone battery case range. The Mophie Juice Pack Air (2,750mAh battery capacity) costs £89.95. That extra £30 is what you pay for the improved audio quality, but that’s why you’re interested in the MusicBoost in the first place.

You can buy the Arcam MusicBoost via Amazon UK for £120, or from Amazon.com for US$189.

If improved sound quality has real appeal to you, then the MusicBoost represents good value for money – but maybe only to audiophiles who can truly hear the difference. We certainly found improved audio, but not on a revolutionary scale, so this is maybe more for the committed hi-fi audiophole rather than the casual music fan. Read next: iPhone 6s review.

Arcam MusicBoost: Specs

  • 2,800mAh battery case
  • High precision DAC with dedicated headphone amplifier for high quality sound
  • 2,800mAh battery case
  • High precision DAC with dedicated headphone amplifier for high quality sound

OUR VERDICT

The Arcam MusicBoost is an iPhone battery case with a mission – to improve the audio quality of music (or gameplay audio) from your smartphone. It succeeds on improving audio quality (although maybe not to such a degree as Arcam suggests) so is a good choice for audiophiles who use their iPhone to listen to music. It’s good-looking and lightweight for a battery case, and can extend your daily iPhone usage through its decent added power.