I’ve owned an iPhone since the release of the 4S generation following the purchase of my first iDevice, a 3rd generation iPod touch. The 4S was my first foray into the smartphone world having previously owned a range of Nokia devices, the last of which (an E71) possessed a few limited internet capabilities and a music player. Mobile accessibility was the reason behind me being so late to the game; it wasn’t until the release of the iPhone 3GS, and the introduction of the voiceover screen reader, that modern smartphone technology became accessible to those such as my self who are visually impaired – or in fact completely blind.
Since then I’ve continued to upgrade the phone once in a while, transitioning to an iPhone 5 and later to an iPhone 6, which I still own to this day. And after 6 years following a battery failure and dwindling software support, my faithful iPod touch was retired rendering the iPhone is my only on-the-go music player.
And it has to be said that unlike many audiophiles, I’ve found the performance of the iPhone to be more than adequate for on-the-go music playback, feeding a reasonably priced pair of headphones via its built-in 3.5MM connection. I don’t buy into high-resolution content, nor do I subscribe to any streaming services. But I do store a huge library of music on my phone in 320KBPS MP3 format, and for the most part have been happy with the iPHone’s audio capabilities.
That said, I’m certainly not one to turn down the prospect of better sound – particularly when the accessory in question can improve my iPhone’s battery life. Enter Arcam’s Music Boost – an iPhone 6 battery case and headphone amplifier designed to double the iPhone’s battery life, triple the power of it’s headphone output and dramatically improve its headphone sound quality.
An officially licensed ‘Made for iPhone’ accessory, the Music Boost incorporates a 2800 MaH lithium polymer battery, a high-resolution Texas Instruments PCM5102 32-bit DAC and a headphone amplifier into a sleek soft-touch case weighing in at just 100 grams. It’s Apple MFI licensed for iPhone 6, though the 6S will fit; the case being slightly tight as the 6S is thicker but easing up after a few uses. There are currently no plans to support the 6+ and 6S+ models at this time. It’s slim, measuring just 69 x 153 x 14mm, and features a soft-touch texture on the rear and a large cutout for the camera and flash.
The Music Boost receives digital audio via the iPhone’s lightning audio module, and uses its dedicated digital to analogue converter (DAC) to process the audio rather than the inferior device inside the iPhone. Consequently it does not support inline remote controls as there is no feed back to the phone through the lightning audio module. I never use such devices; in fact I don’t own a pair of headphones with an inline remote, so this wasn’t an issue for me.
Lifting the magnetic flap of the box reveals the plastic-wrapped Music Boost itself resting in a foam cutout, with a standard micro USB cable situated in a cutout beneath. A small slip of paper is all that is included in terms of documentation; it’s nice to see a product that doesn’t come bundled with heaps of unnecessary paperwork.
The device itself features a holder for the phone with a rectangular block at the bottom containing the DAC and control circuitry. The device features 2 controls (power and battery check) and 4 battery status LED indicators. Installing the phone is as simple as sliding it between the 2 side grips which cover only half of the length of the phone allowing access to the power, volume and mute controls.
Once installed, the phone sits flush with the front of the case with a smooth indentation either side where the rounded glass panel of the phone meats the frame of the case. Despite being a battery case the Music Boost adds very little bulk to the phone, and the little bulk it does add serves to protect the protruding camera so is a welcome addition. The phone’s speaker is not obstructed, and the music boost will allow the phone speaker to operate when no headphones are connected. The case also doesn’t obstruct the microphone and doesn’t affect the iPHone’s call functionality.
The bottom of the case features a 3.5MM jack to interface with the headphone amplifier and a micro USB charge and sync port. The case features a priority charge mode whereby the case will allow the iPhone to charge to 100% before taking over the power supply and charging its own battery.
Said battery is responsible for powering the DAC and headphone amp circuits as well as charging the iPhone and enables the music boost to offer up to 120 hours of music replay with the phone in airplane mode, more than doubling the standard battery life of an iPhone 6. The headphone amplifier supports headphones with an impedance rating between 16 and 300 ohms, and will output 44MW, 22MW, 11.5MW and 2.5MW per channel into a 16, 32, 64 and 300 ohm load respectively.
The Music Boost is characterised by a sound signature not unlike that of other recent Arcam products. This is certainly no bad thing; the sound is involving and crystal clear yet never becomes fatiguing. The bass especially is better defined and the notes easily discernible. Instrument placement is excellent, as was the Music Boosts ability to reveal subtle nuances and drive just about any pair of headphones I had to hand.
A/B comparison tests showed that when using the headphone output of the iPhone 6, bass notes had a tendency to blur into one another and the highs could become shrill or harsh particularly at the upper end of the volume scale. The music boost on the other hand exhibits neither of these issues. Individual bass notes stop and start with precision and while the Music Boost isn’t significantly louder than the iPhone, it remains composed and shows no signs of clipping or high-frequency distortion even at the top of the volume scale.
The Music Boost is a must-have accessory for gadget lovers and audiophiles alike. It doubles your battery life, serves as a tough protective case for your costly phone and it’s a joy to listen to. Never has my iPhone sounded so good. Highly recommended.
Update: Since this review was published, Arcam have updated the music boost with a revised body moulding designed to more easily fit the iPhone 6S. The new model is identical to the old in all other respects. A sticker on the box denotes the version suitable for the iPhone 6s.