Boom boxes were introduced commercially by various companies in the late 1970’s, when stereo capabilities were added to existing designs of the radio-cassette recorder, which had appeared earlier that decade. More powerful and sophisticated models were subsequently introduced. They are often associated with 1980s phenomena such as breakdancing and hip hop culture, having been introduced into the mainstream consciousness through music videos, movies, television and documentaries. It was during this time that the major manufacturers competed as to who could produce the biggest, loudest, clearest-sounding, bassiest, flashiest and/or most novel boomboxes. As the decade progressed, manufacturers tended to compete more on price (often at the expense of quality), and smaller designs (often designed for simple background listening) became more popular. This era was prior to the introduction and cultural entrenchment of the Walkman style, personal stereos with headphones which would later displace boom boxes in popularity.
Technically a Boombox is, at its simplest, two or more loudspeakers, an amplifier, a radio tuner, and a cassette and/or CD player component, all housed in a single plastic or metal case, often with a handle for portability. Most units can be powered by AC or DC cables, as well as batteries.
Various boombox designs differ greatly in size. Larger, more powerful units may require 10 or more size-D batteries, may measure more than thirty inches in width, and can weigh more than 20 pounds.
Audio quality and feature sets vary widely, with high-end models providing features and sound comparable to some home stereo systems. Most models offer volume, tone and balance (Left/Right) controls.
More sophisticated models may feature dual cassette decks (often featuring high-speed dubbing), separate bass level control, five- or 10-band graphic equalizers, Dolby noise reduction, analog or LED sound level (VU) meters, larger speakers, ’soft-touch’ tape deck controls, multiple shortwave (SW) band reception, auto song search functions for cassettes, Line and/or Phono inputs and outputs, microphone inputs, loudness switches and detachable speakers. A handful of models even featured an integrated vinyl record player or a (typically black and white) television screen, although the basic radio/cassette models have historically been by far the most popular.
A few of the most modern boomboxes have integrated (or removable) satellite radio tuners. Also in many cases with newer versions of the boombox, iPod docks have been put in place of cassette players, creating a fusion of new technology and old personality.
Artwork by SOLO RM