The iFrogz Boost is a small, very portable speaker that claims to magically boost the sound from an iPhone, or any smartphone or other device with an external speaker. I have to be skeptical of any product that uses the word "magical" on their packaging — unless it's a "As Seen on TV" product, which everyone knows are all magical. While not actually drawing on any dark, mystical powers, the Boost does in fact use its patent-pending NearField Audio technology to amplify the output of a speaker.
There are plenty of speaker docks on the market. Some use Bluetooth, some use WiFi, and others are hardwired. This is different. No wires, no syncing, no problems with this device. Simply place a phone playing in speaker mode on the Boost and the sound is picked up and amplified and played through two speakers on each side of the box.
The Boost is a nondescript black box with a soft-touch rubber coating, about the length and width of an average smartphone but several times as thick. A small speaker is mounted on each of the long sides, and a power switch is on one end. iFrogz claims 2 watts RMS per channel. The other end of the box has a hardwired 3.5mm audio input, so if your phone or MP3 player lacks an external speaker, you can use the audio output directly. It uses three AA batteries, or it can run off of USB — there is a micro-USB "charging" port, though the Boost does not have a rechargeable internal battery. On battery power, it will play up to 15 hours, or in standby mode it'll wait for a phone to be placed on top of it for up to 6 months.
So, how does this magical device sound? Let's put it this way. If you're going for sound quality, you might want to keep looking. It's using the sound from the external speaker in your phone, so it sounds no better than that — just louder. I first tried it coupled "magically" with an iPod Nano that has a built-in speaker, but since that particulr speaker is hidden internally, it did not work with the Boost. I resorted to the hardwired input, which worked fine. I wanted to check out the magical properties, so tried it with an iPhone and my Samsung phone. Both have external speakers and the Boost worked fine with both — as long as the speaker was placed near the upper corners of the Boost, the sound was amplified. Move the phone's speaker slightly away from the corners, and magic won’t be activated.
Not willing to accept that the little box works by magic, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I did what any red-blooded geek would do — I tore it up. Opening the Boost was rather straightforward, and revealed two circuit boards, plus the wiring for the speakers and the battery compartment. Attached to the main circuit board was the secret to the Boost's NearField tech. And it wasn't magic. There are two magnetic pickups — comprised of a series of thin metal fins wrapped around a copper coil — under the top deck in each corner closest to the power switch. These, we're assuming, pick up the magnetic signal from your device's speaker. This, of course, explains why my Nano (or any type of device with a speaker separated from the outside world by anything more than speaker grill) will not activate the Boost.
So how does it sound? You want bass? Driven by it's pickups, the Boost can’t handle the bass. The output from a phone's speaker has a very limited frequency response anyway, so the Boost's own lack of low-end isn't as obvious when you're using its pickups. Also, when the volume is too high, the system seems to develop a feedback loop, activating its own pickups, and the output becomes quite distorted.
The sound quality is slightly improved using the hardwired input, but not by much. The bass is more apparent, albeit a bit tubby and indistinct.
For serious listening, you'll want to find something with better fidelity. But even so, as a convenient way to amplify the sound from your iPhone, this does the job just fine. Leave it in the kitchen and drop the phone down to listen to tunes while cooking dinner, or in the bathroom to give yourself some backing tracks to sing along with in the shower. Magic? Not quite. Practical? Sure enough.
Leslie Shapiro has been an audio engineer for 25 years, with experience in television, film, and the music industry. She is also a member of NARAS, which gives her the coveted privilege of voting for the Grammy Awards.
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