One of the more interesting products of the CES cycle thus far (granted, the show is technically still two days away from kickoff) is this little dongle that unintentionally shares a name with Ash Williams' non-prosthetic weapon of choice.
The Boomstick is the first of a promised suite of products from Boomcloud 360 that promise to increase music fidelity without having to repurchase albums or pick up Neil Young-endorsed music players. It's a tempting proposition for audiophiles - $100 for an accessory that'll up the ante on the music and hardware you already own.
The company visited offices a few weeks back, promising a "revolutionary audio product," without giving up much more information. Based on the initial pitch, I assumed they were selling a sort of software solution, so I was a bit surprise when they pulled unzipped a small oval case and revealed what looks like a flash drive with an audio cord sticking out of one side.
On the other side is an audio input. Connect your headphones, plug it in, and hit that big circular button on top, and the company promises a "profound" audio upgrade. In fact, they cite the evolution from black and white to 4K TV as as frame of reference. And there's certainly something to the argument that we've been putting up with increasingly compressed audio while demanding the highest-definition video possible.
According to the company, the stick uses a newly devised algorithm to fill in some of the artifacts that are lost as we degrade audio for reasons of storage and streaming. Tapping the button, the first thing that's immediately clear is the volume. It's like you've turned things up a couple of notches. I found myself having to compensate by turning everything down.
The inclusion of the button is a nice touch - it lets you A/B the audio to see what things sound like with the technology on and off. I'll be honest, I had some difficulty detecting the difference (aside from volume and the addition of some white noise) in music quality when I first took it for a spin, but the add-on does seem to offer some improved clarity. The difference with film trailers is more apparent. It's not exactly night and day, but the experience does feel a bit more like seeing things at a movie theater, particularly with that bass grumble.
It's a compelling technology, and one that likely has a future being built into headphones and devices with audio playback. For many listening scenarios, however, the addition of a dongle is a bit cumbersome, and for many others (like the increasing use of wireless headphones), it's not really possible.
Interested audiophiles can pre-order the BoomStick now. It'll be available starting in spring for $99.