While we may never see a resurgence in the 8-track or cassette singles, one method of music consumption previously considered outdated is making a big comeback…and not just so your friendly neighborhood hipster can feel like the coolest kid on the scene.
Thanks to advances in technology, the boombox — that iconic symbol of ‘70s urban street life and hip-hop culture — is back and decidedly better than ever. Sleeker, louder, and higher in quality than their decades-old predecessors, today’s portable, Bluetooth-enabled speakers are currently a multi-million-dollar industry featuring the biggest players in music technology.
From Skullcandy’s water-resistant Air Raid to Beacon Audio’s sleek Blazar, today’s portable speakers boast a range of styles and technical specifications, but why are companies choosing to revisit the boombox now, 30+ years after the devices first rose to prominence?
When I asked Beacon’s Creative Director Shane Kofoed to shed some light on this current explosion in the portable-speaker space, he pointed out several contributing factors.
“The Bluetooth technology is far more widespread than it was even a year ago, said Kofoed. “Virtually every connected device (smartphones, tablets, music players, etc.) ship with Bluetooth, and the market is now educated to the uses and possibilities for wireless technology and what Bluetooth can actually do.”
He said the product category is exploding with growth, and growth always gets attention.
“Consumers do everything from their phones these days. Placing it in a dock to listen to music isn’t really a great solution, so consumers are demanding more wireless solutions so that their phone/device can stay in their hands at all times. The Bluetooth technology is reliable, easy to use, universal, and relatively cheap for the end consumer.”
Music is shifting to a more social experience, he said.
“Since the iPod, mobile music has been a lot about listening to music by yourself on a set of headphones or earbuds. Now with the explosion of social media and social music services — Spotify, Rdio, Pandora, etc. — people want to listen to music with their friends. It’s not about listening by yourself anymore; it’s about playing music and playlists that can change the mood and atmosphere for your entire group of friends or co-workers.”
With so many years worth of technological advancements between the last boom in boombox usage and this one, how do developers approach balancing audio quality, design, and mobility? According to Skullcandy engineer/product developer Sam Noertker, it isn’t easy.
“Finding the balance between those three aspects was probably the most difficult part of the design process,” said Noertker. “In order to tackle this challenge, we didn’t solely focus on each aspect individually and then try to compromise in the end. We really looked at the speaker as one whole unit with a single purpose: provide a way for users to take music anywhere they want.”
This led his team to focus on a few obvious components, such as mobility and portability, he said
“But it also drove the attention to volume potential with a durable design. All of these aspects had to work together if we were to achieve what we set out to do. If the speaker isn’t rugged, you can’t take it anywhere you want to. On the other hand, it doesn’t matter how durable it is if it’s not loud enough to provide music in large spaces.”
Noertker said that from the conception of the speaker, it was a back and forth process “between the Industrial Design and Acoustic teams to get the best sound in a package that was portable enough to be taken anywhere. If one of the aspects started to slip, the teams got back together and re-thought how things would fit together in order to keep the perfect balance. All three components were equally important to the design. We never cut any corners of one to make way for the others; we just made sure they were all meeting our main goal.”
Kofoed and Noertker agree that music will likely continue this trend toward being more of a social experience in the future, and with so much planning and technology going into making these new devices stylish, portable, and of course, of the best sound quality possible, the only thing left is to decide which of these portable speakers is the one for your wish list.
As the Co-Founder and Lead Writer/Editor for LA Music Blog, a Los Angeles-based music news and review website, Kristin Houser’s life revolves around music and technology. She has been an avid fan of music ever since discovering her parents’ vinyl collection while still in elementary school, and she is fascinated by all the ways technology allows her to discover new music and share it with the world. She currently manages a staff of fifteen writers and contributors at LA Music Blog, and when she isn’t scouring the internet for her latest musical obsession, Kristin frequents Los Angeles’ many music venues where she can usually be found hovering near the front of house engineer while jotting down set lists in her smart phone. She is very pleased to share her latest music obsessions and all the ways technology allows her to discover and enjoy music with iQ by Intel’s audience.
Image and videos courtesy of Sean Davis, Beacon, and Skullcandy.