BoomStick or BoomSchtick?

It’s Monday as I begin to set these bytes in order, so I may be predisposed to be extra crotchety.  Consider yourselves warned.

Today’s news dump was largely unremarkable, with a singular exception thus far; Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff penned a sort of mini-review of an audio enhancement gadget called the BoomStick.


Various aspects of the this piece cause me concern. It’s basically hollow. For example, the author offers:

“According to the manufacturers, it can enhance virtually any audio source with a built an advanced digital signal processor (ADSP) that includes psychoacoustic base adjustment, spatial enhancement and high-frequency contouring. They all combine to, BoomCloud 360 claims, reveal latent audio qualities — things that can get masked in a sound mix. “


The phrase “advanced digital signal processor (ADSP)” is pure marketing hogwash. Yes, it’s a DSP. DSPs are decades old. “ADSP” is merely some jargon (see Marketecture.) Perhaps they mean to trademark the acronym.

Unless I’m off-base “…psychoacoustic base adjustment,…” should probably be “bass” as in, the low notes.

“…spatial enhancement…”  – reminds me of a Society of High Fidelity dinner party in the 1970s. Hello, Mr David Hafler, may I introduce you to Mr Robert Carver. Bob had a knack for great product names. The “Auto-Correlator” and “Sonic Holography” are two of his innovations.

“…and high-frequency contouring.” – continuing in the 1970s dinner party theme, have you seen that paper by Mrrs Fletcher & Munson? Nice curves, non? That was the basis for what we once called simply the “Loudness” feature.

Ah, those were simpler times. When a stereo was a hefty piece of furniture, Hi-Fi was something more, and manufacturers claims were backed by specifications that actually included empirical data!

The BoomStick being described is being offered by a company whose founders hail from SRS Labs. SRS Labs dealt in audio trickery enhancement for many years. Their logo has appeared on many products as other manufacturers licensed their wares. SRS Labs was acquired by DTS in 2012.

You can still buy their iWOW, which was an audio processor add-on for the iPod. Sorry, 30-pin interface only. In 2010 their tech was also available a software plug-in for iTunes. In fact, the 2016 BoomStick looks exactly like the iWOW U circa 2012. I wonder how these various versions differ? If at all.

The most recent BoomStick images I’ve found online show a permanently attached cable (like above) with a 3.5mm TRS plug. That TRS connector implies that the BoomStick doesn’t cope with a headset with an inline microphone. So you won’t be taking a phone call using the headset when connected to the BoomStick. That seems unfortunate.

Having had hands-on experience with SRS-capable products over the years I don’t doubt that the BoomStick does what is claimed, even if the claims are made in terms intended to amaze and confuse the paying public.

Like Mr Ulanoff, I doubt that most people will feel compelled to add the BoomStick to their on-the-go arsenal. Most especially because it’s an add-on that makes their insert-device-name-here less practical for portable use. Plus, it’s yet another device to keep charged. I think that they’d do better to offer the functionality as an app.

trio of headphones

Mr Ulanoff goes on to describe his effort to use the device with various headphones;

“Now here’s where it gets tricky. Yes, when I hit that button virtually every listening device I tried – Apple iPhone ear buds, Beats Audio Solo 2 headphones and Sony Professional Dynamic Stereo Headphones – showed an audible difference.”

…and later…

“Audio quality enhancement on both the Beats and Sony headphones was certainly more pleasant. There’s a warmer sound coming from both those headsets, especially on the Sony’s, which do not seem to add any kind of unwanted signal processing.”

One has to be careful about making statements that torpedo your own credibility. Of course Sony Professional Dynamic Headphones “do not seem to add any kind of unwanted signal processing”…they’re headphones!

Googling that particular phrase turns up the Sony MDR7506 as the most likely suspect, although Sony offers several similar products in that range. All are well-regarded products. They’re an entirely passive electro-mechanical apparatus. Definitely no Signal processing involved. Signal processing is the stuff of electronic circuitry.

This circumstance illustrates a point where the modern era of gadgetry and online media runs counter to my own sensibilities. The press release goes out to the press, who are themselves not especially well-informed about the subject at hand. It can’t be parroted outright. There must be some value-add to lend credibility. So it gets wrapped in some additional copy, hopefully convincing the otherwise unsuspecting reader that the author is really clued-in. Sometimes it works. This time it didn’t.

To his credit Mr Ulanoff makes a great point about headsets. People using the cheap ear buds that came with their portable device would likely be best served by upgrading to better earphones. I myself have just switched to using the 1More Triple-Driver In-Ear Headphones, which also cost $99.

Now, don’t go thinking that I’m against the BoomStick. I assure you that’s not the case. I may not like the way it’s being promoted in this instance, but I have no issue with audio enhancement equipment.

Carver C-9

In fact, some years back I bought a Carver C-9 Sonic Holography Generator on E-bay. It was cheap and I had always wanted one as a kid. Like the BoomStick, it’s effect was is advantageous when listening via headphones. Back when I used MiniDiscs for portable listening I had copied a library of CDs to MD via the C-9 to be able to enjoy it’s effect while travelling.

At the time that I was using MiniDisks I also used Sony MDR-NC10 noise cancelling earphones. These little wonders saved my hearing at a point in life when I was spending far too much time on airplanes. When the active noise cancelling function was turned on they imparted a sort of spatial enhancement. It was never clear if this was by design or an artifact of the phase tricks that were part of the noise reduction.

I still have the Carver C-9 processor in storage. Sadly, such older analog gear doesn’t age well. While it was fun to play with, it’s noisy, the result of electrolytic capacitors that degrade over time. I could sit down with some new capacitors and a soldering iron one day, and restore it to it’s original glory.

I wish that someone would implement what the C-9 did as a plugin for the Logitech Media Server that services our Squeezeboxen. That’s be sweet. Hey, wasn’t that what SRS Labs did? Kinda.

It might be interesting to compare the sound of the C-9 to the BoomStick. If one found it’s way to my office I would surely try such a comparison.

Ash may have a completely different definition of a Boom Stick, but that’s a story for another time.