Gadget makes your $10 earbuds sound like $200 headphones

The secret of making quality headphones

What if those lame EarPods that Apple included with your iPhone could sound like top-of-the-line headphones?

I'm no audiophile, but even I can hear a clear difference between cheap headphones and high-quality headphones. That is, until I plugged my crappy headphones into the new BoomStick.

A tiny $99 gizmo, the BoomStick plugs into your headphone jack, and you plug your headphones into the BoomStick. Turn it on, and like magic, your headphones' quality soars dramatically.

In a few weeks of testing, I found that the BoomStick made a pair of $10 headphones sound even better than $200 Beats by Dre Solo2 headphones (without the BoomStick). I actually preferred my cheap headphones, when they were plugged into the BoomStick over the $200 headphones that were plugged right into my phone.

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When I used the BoomStick with the Beats headphones, the sound was off-the-charts awesome.

With BoomStick, you hear instruments you wouldn't otherwise hear. But it's not just louder -- sounds are more realistic, making it feel like you're immersed in the music. When watching videos, sounds feel like they're coming from all around you -- approaching you, moving away from you, off in the distance or up close.

The secret sauce in the BoomStick, according to parent company BoomCloud 360, is a chip with some particularly smart software. Inside the BoomStick, the chip analyzes the sound profile of the content you're listening to, and in real time replays it in a more natural sounding way, with deeper bass and better-optimized high-frequency sounds.

"With the BoomStick, you can make your free earphones outperform expensive headphones or you can take your expensive headphones to a whole new level of enveloping sound," said according to George Appling, co-founder of BoomCloud 360, which makes the BoomStick.

boomstick

There are a couple of notable, unfortunate quirks to the BoomStick.

For example, it's a bit awkward carrying your phone and your connected BoomStick in your pocket, particularly if you're using your phone while listening to music -- it just kind of dangles off your phone and weighs it down.

It also has a confusing button system. One button turns the power on, but another toggles the BoomStick's software on and off.

The company says that's designed so that you can easily hear the difference between the sounds your headphones play -- with and without the BoomStick. But I didn't see a point to that. Why would you want the BoomStick to be on while you hear lower-quality sound?

Another quirky feature: Hold down the button for a few seconds to hear even better sound, which BoomCloud says is designed specifically with cheap headphones in mind. I actually often found that feature to make music sound worse, with over-saturated sounds -- particularly in the bass range.

You've really got to jam your headphones into the BoomStick jack, too. I had to twist my headphone plug in a few times to make sure the sound wasn't just playing in my left ear.

As amazing as the BoomStick is, I kind of wish the company just made a really great set of $99 headphones. It would be simpler and less awkward to carry around.

Still, if you're someone who appreciates great-sounding audio, the BoomStick is worth a try.

The BoomStick will hit stores in the spring.

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