What is a boombox? A history of the revolutionary speaker.

People dancing to music coming from a Bose SoundLink Max Portable Speaker

Boomboxes changed the way music was enjoyed in the 1980s. They brought high-quality music out of the home and into the streets, providing the soundtrack to urban block parties and setting the stage for break dancing and rap battles.

What is a boombox, exactly? Boomboxes of the late ‘70s and ‘80s were essentially a portable radio, plus a cassette tape deck, and could be plugged in or powered by batteries. Most were rectangular and blocky in shape, often silver or black in color, and were quite large and heavy — which is why you’re likely familiar with the idea of a boombox being carried on someone’s shoulder.

Boomboxes created a revolution. Suddenly, great stereo sound was available in a single unit, easily carried by a sturdy, built-in handle so the music never stopped. Portable and loud, boomboxes came in many sizes and became urban status symbols, often personalized with stickers and graffiti. Most importantly, they were a new and powerful way to bring people together through their shared love of music. Read on to learn more about where boomboxes came from, how they changed the world, and how Bose is harnessing that energy in their new portable Bluetooth® speaker.

When was the boombox invented?

The first boombox was invented in the Netherlands in 1966. Prior to this, the most common option for portable sound was a transistor radio, often with just one small speaker — certainly not enough power to ignite a party. Boomboxes soon took off in Europe, but it was only when Japanese manufacturers started mass-producing boomboxes in the ‘70s and ‘80s that they became hugely popular in the United States and around the world. They were featured heavily in music videos in the early years of MTV and in many ‘80s movies, further cementing their place as a universal symbol of the ‘80s.

Boomboxes became a common sight in cities, either carried on one shoulder on the move or placed on the ground at skate parks, curbside, park benches, or anywhere else you could gather your crew and share music. Used by DJs, rappers, graffiti artists, street performers, break dancers, and more, the boombox was a phenomenon, helping to create hip-hop culture and empower youths in underprivileged areas.

What is a boombox all about?

Classic boomboxes featured two large speakers for stereo sound, on either side of the central radio and cassette players. These speakers were designed to be loud, driven by a built-in amplifier. So how does a speaker work in a boombox? In simple terms, the larger the speaker size and deeper the boombox enclosure, the more powerful the bass response. The bass is part of what made boomboxes so important to the hip-hop community. For the first time, multiple people could actually feel the vibe of a song.

Some boomboxes had two- or three-way speakers, adding more clarity to mid and high frequencies, and some had detachable speakers for more flexibility in projecting their sound. Higher-end models featured multiband graphic equalizers in addition to tone knobs for bass, mid, and treble.

The inclusion of AM and FM radio and tape deck enabled people to record the hits of the day from local radio stations right to their own cassette tapes. This birthed the mixtape, a popular way for people to collate playlists of their favorite songs to share with their friends, keep a party pumping, or entertain a crowd.

Many boomboxes included two cassette decks side by side, which meant you could create a mixtape and then dub a copy to another tape. You could also record and duplicate your own music, a massive contribution to underground music culture and music sharing.

Later, boomboxes came with a CD player, and MP3 players were also incorporated in the ‘90s, along with the usual AM/FM radio and tape deck. While tape and CD technology is now outdated and has been replaced by streaming, many people still enjoy the retro nature of the boombox, and these physical audio formats still spark interest, much like vinyl records do.

After the boombox

The arrival of personal music players in the late ‘80s slowed the popularity of boomboxes, as many people switched to smaller tape and CD players and began listening through headphones. With the advent of streaming and digital audio, outdoor Bluetooth speakers have taken the place of the classic boombox, while keeping its iconic spirit. Both bring people together with the power of music, just in different formats.

The return of the boombox

Bose recognizes the huge impact the boombox has had on music culture. Cassette tapes and CDs may be yesterday’s formats, but the spirit of the boombox lives on in the new Bose SoundLink Max, a modern-day Bluetooth boombox.

The SoundLink Max Portable Speaker provides easy access to streaming services, like many other Bose speakers. The SoundLink Max is also waterproof with a IP67 rating, like its smaller relative the SoundLink Flex, so you can run the vibe, rain or shine. It’s portable, with either a supplied rope handle or optional long rope carrying strap (sold separately).

The SoundLink Max is designed to be powerful, while delivering premium audio quality. It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker for the modern age with one eye on the past, combining technological advances with the spirit of the original boomboxes.

The new SoundLink Max is guaranteed to get the party started and keep it going all night long, old school style.

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