Most of us would like our music to sound better, even if we're not willing to do much about it. The only real solution — buying better headphones — costs money, and picking the right ones takes time and effort. That's why a new company called BoomCloud 360 created the BoomStick, a simple $99 device that uses algorithms to enhance the sound of anything it's plugged into.
"The problem we’re trying to solve is that audio sucks," George Appling, the co-founder and president of BoomCloud 360, tells me. "If you put a CD in your car and there are four or eight speakers in the car, it’s pretty good. But if you stream Spotify on an iPhone, it’s terrible relative to that." Appling thinks audio consumption has gone backwards when it comes to quality, though he admits it was for good reason. "People chose convenience, and that makes sense," he says. "Convenience is good."
"The problem we’re trying to solve is that audio sucks."
If you have $99 to spend, the BoomStick is definitely convenient. It's a small, light, rounded rectangular device that has a battery that lasts 14 hours, which you recharge via microUSB. Using it is as simple as it sounds: you just plug your headphones into the BoomStick, plug that into any audio jack, and then hit the big, circular button on the device. Whatever you're listening to — music, videos, podcasts — will benefit from the algorithms written to the processor inside the BoomStick, Appling says.
The BoomStick is like a less clumsy version of the "bass boost" button that used to be ubiquitous on CD players, or a more affordable version of portable DACs (digital-to-analog converters). The audio doesn't just get louder, you hear more detail, too. Appling says that's thanks to Alan Kraemer, the company's CTO, and the algorithms he wrote for the BoomStick. Kraemer spent years working for SRS Labs, an audio company that licensed its technology to the likes of Samsung, Toshiba, LG, and more. (SRS Labs also made a very similar product a few years ago.)
"Then he retired, started drinking margaritas, and writing even better algorithms," Appling says. Kraemer and "a bunch of other mad scientists" built algorithms for BoomStick that can augment the audio quality of any source and any headphone.
Audio quality is subjective in a lot of ways, so your mileage might vary with the BoomStick. But in the few weeks I've been using it, there's definitely an appreciable and welcome difference in the way it enhances what you're listening to. That difference means more on bad headphones and earbuds, like the ones that come with your phone. But I even liked using the BoomStick on my Sony MDR-7506 headphones, which I had no problems with in the first place.
The BoomStick makes different instruments in a music mix easier to hear, and things generally sound less muddled. It makes videos, especially dialogue, sound better. Maybe the best example was when I used it on this Star Wars trailer. I had already watched it dozens of times, but with the BoomStick I noticed things I had previously missed, like the scorching sound of the TIE Fighter's laser blasts. That's the big selling point for the BoomStick: flexibility. It's not limited to any type of headphone or audio source, which makes it feel much less like a one-trick device.
The Boomstick works with almost anything, but you can live without it
Even with that flexibility, it might still not be worth the $99. I liked what it did with the audio, but I never found myself missing it if I forgot to take it with me. It's also another device you have to remember to charge. Thankfully, BoomCloud is making it possible to try it before you buy. (After all, algorithms aren't the sexiest way to market a product.) Appling says the company has a deal with "one of the big mobile telecom carriers" to display the BoomStick in brick-and-mortar stores, though he wouldn't specify which one.
You'll also be able to try the BoomStick's sound enhancement on the company's website. There, people can choose from a handful of pre-selected songs and toggle a virtual version of the BoomStick on and off to hear the difference. It's a clever way of showing off the technology, but it's also a hint at where Appling wants to take BoomCloud. The BoomStick is just the first in a line of products on the company's horizon, and it sounds like Appling has big plans for Kraemer's algorithms. Near the end of our meeting, he rattles off a list: "Headphones, speakers, cars, live bands, televisions, home computers, elevators. Anything that’s making sound, our algorithms can make it better."
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