Boombox is a common term for a portable cassette or CD player with two or more loudspeakers and a carrying handle. Other commonly used terms are ghetto blaster, stereo, jambox, boomblaster, Brixton briefcase, and radio-cassette. A boombox is a device typically capable of receiving radio stations and playing recorded music (usually cassettes or CDs, usually at a high volume).
The first boombox was developed by the inventor of the audio compact cassette, Philips of the Netherlands. Their first ‘Radiorecorder’ was released in 1966. The Philips innovation was the first time that radio broadcasts could be recorded onto cassette tapes without the cables or microphones that previous stand-alone cassette tape recorders required. Although sound quality of early tape recordings was poor, improvements in technology and the introduction of stereo recording, chromium tapes, and noise reduction made hifi quality devices possible. Several European electronics brands, such as Grundig, also introduced similar devices.
Boomboxes were soon also developed in Japan in the early 1970s and became popular there due to their compact size and impressive sound quality. The Japanese brands soon took over a large portion of the European boombox market and were often the first Japanese consumer electronics brands that a European household might purchase. The Japanese innovated by creating different sizes, form factors, and technology, introducing such advances as stereo boomboxes, removable speakers, in-built TV receivers, and inbuilt CD players.
The boombox was introduced to the American market during the mid-1970s, with the bulk of production being carried out by Panasonic, Sony, Marantz, and General Electric. It was immediately noticed by the urban adolescent community and soon had a large market, especially in metropolitan centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.
The earlier models were a hybrid that combined the booming sound of large in-home stereo systems and the portability of small portable cassette players; they were typically small, black or silver, heavy, and capable of producing high volumes. The effective AM/FM tuner the coupling of devices such as microphones and turntables.
The development of audio jacks brought the boombox to the height of its popularity, and as its popularity rose, so did the level of innovation in the features included in the box. Consumers enjoyed the portability and sound quality of boomboxes, but one of the most important features, especially to the youth market, was the bass. The desire for louder and heavier bass led to bigger and heavier boxes.
Regardless of the increasing weight and size, the devices continued to become larger to accommodate the increased bass output; newer boombox models were affixed with heavy metal casings to handle the vibrations from the bass.
The 1990s were a turning point for the boombox in popular culture. The rise of the Walkman and other advanced electronics eliminated the need to carry around such large and heavy audio equipment, and boomboxes quickly disappeared from the streets. As boombox enthusiast Lyle Owerko puts it, “Towards the end of any culture, you have the second or third generation that steps into the culture, which is so far from the origination, it’s the impression of what’s real, but it’s not the full definition of what’s real. It’s just cheesy.” The Consumer Electronics Association reported that only 329,000 boombox units without CD players were shipped in the United States in 2003, compared to 20.4 million in 1986.
Although many boomboxes had dual cassette decks and included dubbing, line, and radio recording capabilities, the rise of recordable CDs, the decline of audio cassette technology, and the popularity of high-density MP3 players and smart phones have reduced the popularity of high-quality boomboxes to such an extent that it is difficult to find a new dual-decked stereo. Dubbing remains popular among audiophiles, bootleggers, and pirates, though most tasks are now accomplished through digital means or analog-to-digital conversion technology.
Starting in mid-2010, there are new lines of boomboxes that use Bluetooth technology known as Stereo Bluetooth, or A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile). They use the wireless Bluetooth technology to “stream” audio to the boombox from a compatible Bluetooth device, such as a mobile phone or Bluetooth MP3 player. An example of this is the JAMBOX, which is marketed as a “Smart Speaker” as it can also function as a speakerphone for voice calls in addition to being an audio playback device.
Are they coming back?