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Title: Boombox  
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Subject: Blaster (Transformers), Da Funk, With the Lights Out, 1980s, Portable stereo
Collection: Audio Players, Boombox Culture, Portable Audio Players
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A boom box
A depiction of a break dancer with a boom box

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).

Many models are also capable of recording onto cassette tapes from radio and other sources. Designed for portability, boomboxes can be powered by batteries as well as by line current.

The boombox was introduced to the American market during the mid-1970s. The desire for louder and heavier bass led to bigger and heavier boxes; by the 1980s, some boomboxes had reached the size of a suitcase. Most boomboxes were battery-operated, leading to extremely heavy, bulky boxes.[1]


  • History 1
  • Design 2
  • Cultural significance 3
    • Music 3.1
    • Films 3.2
    • Other appearances 3.3
  • Decline 4
  • Compressed digital audio and the future of boomboxes 5
  • Gallery 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


a man holding a boombox in 1985

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[3] The effective AM/FM tuner, standard in all early boomboxes, was the most popular feature of the early boombox up until the incorporation of input and output jacks into the boxes, which allowed for the coupling of devices such as microphones and turntables.[3]

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.[3]


A boombox, in its most basic form, is composed of two or more loudspeakers, an amplifier, a radio tuner, and a cassette or CD player component, all housed in a single plastic or metal case with a handle for portability. Most units can be powered by AC or DC cables in addition to batteries.

As boomboxes grew in popularity, they also became more complex in design and functionality. By the late 1980s, many boomboxes included separate high and low frequency speakers and a second tape deck to allow the boombox to record off of both the radio and other pre-recorded cassettes. Equalizers, balance adjusters, Dolby noise reduction, and LED sound gauges were other later additions.[4]

In the mid-1980s, the boombox began to become a status symbol; the popularity among young urbanites caused increasing demand for extravagant boxes. The introduction of the compact disc (CD) in the early 1990s led to the introduction of the CD player in standard boombox design. As the 1990s continued, boombox manufacturers began designing smaller, more compact boomboxes, which were often made out of plastic instead of metal as their counterparts from the previous decade had been.[1]

The rectangular, angular, chrome aesthetic of many 1980s models was frequently replaced with black plastic in the 1990s, and modern designs are typically characterized by curves instead of right angles. However, the designs of older models are a source of much interest among enthusiasts and collectors, who frequently seek the larger feature-packed models. Most modern boomboxes come with iPod docks to access MP3 technology (in place of cassette players), and some even come equipped with integrated or removable satellite radio tuners.[5]

Boombox designs vary greatly in size. Larger, more powerful units may require 10 or more size-D batteries, may measure more than 760 millimetres (30 in) in width, and can weigh more than 12 kilograms (26 lb). Some take a 12-volt sealed lead-acid battery, or can be a portable enclosure for a car audio head unit.

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.

Most brands were manufactured in Japan by companies such as Aiwa, Sanyo, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba.

More sophisticated models may feature dual cassette decks (often featuring high-speed dubbing), separate bass and treble level controls, five- or ten-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 with fine tuning, automatic 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, an 8-track tape player or a (typically black-and-white) television screen, although the basic radio/cassette models have historically been by far the most popular.

Cultural significance

The Beastie Boys Solid Gold Hits album cover with a JVC RC-M90

The boombox quickly became associated with urban society, particularly African American and Hispanic youth. The wide use of boomboxes in urban communities led to the boombox being coined a "ghetto blaster", a nickname which was soon used as part of a backlash against the boombox and hip hop culture. Cities began banning boomboxes from public places, and they became less acceptable on city streets as time progressed.[3]

The boombox became intrinsically linked to hip hop culture and, as Fab Five Freddy puts it, was "instrumental" in the rise of hip hop.[6] Certain models like the JVC RC-M90 and the Sharp GF-777 were known as the boombox kings, having the power to drown out other ghetto blasters; they were frequently used in music battles.[7] The Beastie Boys embraced the boombox as a signature, The Clash always had a boombox with them, and Schoolly D carried around a Conion 100cf in the UK.[8]


The Pyramid Blaster, the logo of KLF Communications, fuses a ghetto blaster with the graphic symbol of the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
Music videos
  • Daft Punk's "Da Funk" (1995), an anthropomorphic dog walks around New York with a boombox playing the song
  • In Madonna's "Hung Up" (2005), she gyrates to a Dynasty[12] Disco Lite ES-555[13][14][15][15]
  • Madonna's "Sorry" (2006) also features the Disco Lite ES-555[15]
  • Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" (2008) has the Disco Lite ES-555 as well[15]
  • The Lonely Island's "Boombox" (2010) features a Lasonic 931
  • Tim Finn's "Fraction Too Much Friction" features boomboxes.
  • Eminem's "Berzerk" features Eminem rapping and standing in front of a giant boombox for most of the video.
  • Jules Larson's "Silly" (2011) features Jules walking all around Los Angeles carrying a large vintage boombox.
  • Michael Jackson's "Jam" (1991) features a boombox.


  • Fame (1980), Leroy is listening to a boombox with headphones attached and the teacher turns it off and informs him "In the future, Mr. Johnson, you will leave your ghetto blaster at home."[16]
  • Flashdance (1983), a breakdancing scene with Rock Steady Crew[17]
  • Breakin' (1984), a stickered up Clairtone 7980/Conion C-100F/Helix HX-4635[18] (see pic above) and an unidentified model[19]
  • Krush Groove (1984), LL Cool J and The Fat Boys sport boomboxes[18]
  • The Wild Life (1984), Jim (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) carries a boombox throughout the film[20]
  • The Last Dragon (1985), in the Sum Dum Goy fortune cookie company in New York's Chinatown sits another Clairtone 7980/Conion C-100F/Helix HX-4635 on top of some boxes,[19] an HGM International[21] (One brand of many cloned same-style boomboxes made by or model-named: Aiko, Elite, Eversonic, Kasuga, KTO, Bon-Sonic, Le Baron, Nippon, Sony, Stereo Sonic, and Tatung)[22][23] used by breakdancing kids in a movie theater that gets broken,[24] and a Toshiba RT-150[25] on the lap of an urban youth[26]
  • Disorderlies (1987), film poster features a Crown CSC-850[27]
  • The Living Daylights (1987), Q demonstrates a boombox rocket launcher to James Bond, calling it a "ghetto blaster"[28]
  • Do the Right Thing (1989), Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) constantly listens to Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" on his J1 Super Jumbo boombox wherever he goes
  • Say Anything... (1989), Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) serenades Diane Court (Ione Skye) with a boombox
  • Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002), the boombox henchman (Nasty Nes) shows up in many of the fight scenes[29] following Betty (the main villain) around while playing rap music while he fights[30]
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Spock administers a Vulcan nerve pinch to a punk who refuses to turn down his boombox on a city bus.[31]
  • In A Night at the Roxbury (1998), Doug interrupts Steve's wedding carrying a boom box, and the boom box is playing the song "What Is Love" by Haddaway. Also, throughout the film, either Doug or Steve is seen carrying a boom box at dance clubs, while the two bob their heads to the Haddaway song.

Other appearances

  • The 1980s television game show Press Your Luck's animated character Whammy would sometimes breakdance next to a boombox.[19]
  • In 2006, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History created an exhibition called "Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life" which featured, among other things, a Sharp HK-9000[32] boombox[33] that belonged to Fab Five Freddy.[1]
  • Photographer Lyle Owerko, who has a collection of over 50 boomboxes, documented the cultural history of the device in his 2010 book The Boombox Project: The Machines, the Music and the Urban Underground, with a foreword by Spike Lee.
  • Juke from Cartoon Network's The Amazing World of Gumball is a boombox-headed character that is a student in Elmore Junior High.


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."[34] 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.[3]

Compressed digital audio and the future of boomboxes

Sony boombox circa 2005

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.

Most modern boomboxes include a CD player compatible with CD-R and CD-RW, which allows the user to carry their own music compilations on a higher fidelity medium. Many also permit iPod and similar devices to be plugged into them through one or more auxiliary ports. Some also support formats such as MP3 and WMA.

The simplest way to connect an older boombox to an MP3 player is to use a cassette adapter, which interfaces an MP3 player's output directly to the cassette player's heads. The 'Line In' (also known as 'Aux In') can be used if the boombox has one.

Some modern boombox designs provide other connections for MP3 (and sometimes other digital formats) such as a USB connector for use with a removable USB drive, slots for various flash memory media such as SD, MMC, SmartMedia, and Memory Stick, or even a CD drive capable of reading MP3s directly from a CD, thus allowing for a relatively cheap and large music storage to be carried and played back at full volume.

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,[35] 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.

Another modern variant is a DVD player/boombox with a top-loading CD/DVD drive and an LCD video screen in the position once occupied by a cassette deck.[36] Many models of this type of boombox include inputs for external video (such as television broadcasts) and outputs to connect the DVD player to a full-sized television.


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Kelly, Frannie (22 April 2009). "A Eulogy For The Boombox". Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  2. ^ Pat Browne ed., The Guide to United States Popular Culture (Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001), 110.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Boomboxes – The History of the Boombox". Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  4. ^ David L. Morton Jr., Sound recording: The Life Story of a Technology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) 169.
  5. ^ Allen, Anna. "Who Invented the Boom Box?". Who Invented It. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  6. ^ "The History of the Boombox, NPR Music". YouTube. Retrieved November 16, 2011. 
  7. ^ (retrieved 24 January 2012)
  8. ^ "The Boombox Project". Sugar Barons. 6 April 2011. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  9. ^ "JVC Boombox Ghetto Blaster Jam Box Boom Box". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  10. ^ "JVC – Part 2". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  11. ^ "Beastie Boys with ghettoblaster, location: outside of University dorms, NY, USA". Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  12. ^ Manufacturer/model varies and could be Cougar, Diamond, Skitronic Breakdancer, Skitronic Vela, or Spacetech
  13. ^ "Cool Boombox | Vintage Electronics Have Soul – The Pocket Calculator Show Website". 2005-11-26. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  14. ^ "SMoCA". SMoCA. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  15. ^ a b c d "Dynasty". 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  16. ^ "ghettoblaster personal stereo". Boombox Cinema. Ask MetaFilter. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  17. ^ "Flashdance 1983 movie Breakdance scene "It's Just Begun" Jimmy Castor Bunch". YouTube. 2011-06-12. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  18. ^ a b "Boombox Golden Years | Vintage Electronics Have Soul – The Pocket Calculator Show Website". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  19. ^ a b c "Boombox Golden Years | Vintage Electronics Have Soul – The Pocket Calculator Show Website". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Boombox Golden Years | Vintage Electronics Have Soul – The Pocket Calculator Show Website". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  25. ^ "TOSHIBA RT-150 Boomboxes |". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  26. ^ "Boombox Decline & Fall | Vintage Electronics Have Soul – The Pocket Calculator Show Website". Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  27. ^ "Crown". 2009-12-19. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  28. ^ "The Living Daylights (1987)". IMDb. 
  29. ^ "Kung Pow: Enter The Fist". Mutant Reviewers from Hell. 
  30. ^ Pollard, Mark (18 November 2008). "Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002)". Kung Fu Cinema. Retrieved 26 January 2012. 
  31. ^ Plume, Kenneth (2000-02-10). "Interview with Kirk Thatcher (Part 1 of 2)". IGN. Retrieved 2009-12-08. 
  32. ^ Gobetz, Wally. "Washington DC: National Museum of American History – Fab Five Freddie's Boom Box and Grandmaster Flash's turntable". Flickr. Retrieved 24 January 2012. 
  33. ^ "Fact Sheet: Hip-Hop Won't Stop: The Beat, The Rhymes, The Life".  
  34. ^ Lyle Owerko and Spike Lee, The Boombox Project: The Machines, The Music, and the Urban Underground (New York: Abrams Image), 2010.
  35. ^ "Jawbone Jambox review". Engadget. 
  36. ^ "Go Video brings LCD to boombox". 2007-08-15. Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  37. ^ "SHARP GF-777 Z Boomboxes". Retrieved December 11, 2011. 
  38. ^ "Pioneer Disco Robo or Multimedia Machine Model J-7". Photo Gallery. Retrieved December 11, 2011. 

Further reading

  • CBS Sunday Morning – Boomboxes: A REAL blast from the past
  • New York Times Review – The Boombox Project

External links

  • Boombox History
  • Mentions of the boombox in songs, movies, television, film and print at the Boombox Museum, PocketCalculatorShow ]
  • Huck Magazine Boombox Retrospective
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