For other uses, see Boombox (disambiguation).
"Ghettoblaster" redirects here. For other uses, see Ghettoblaster (disambiguation).

Boombox is a common word for a portable cassette or CD player with two or more loudspeakers. Other terms known are ghetto blaster, jambox, boomblaster, Brixton briefcase or radio-cassette. It is a device capable of receiving radio stations and playing recorded music (usually cassettes or CDs), usually at relatively high volume. Many models are also capable of recording (onto cassette) from radio and (sometimes) other sources. Designed for portability, most boomboxes can be powered by batteries, as well as by line current.


The first Boombox was developed by the inventor of the audio Compact Cassette, Philips of the Netherlands. Their first 'Radiorecorder' was released in 1969. The Philips innovation was the first time that radio broadcasts could be recorded onto Cassette tapes without cables or microphones that previous stand-alone cassette tape recorders needed. Early sound quality of tape recordings was poor but as the Cassette technology evolved, with stereo recording, Chromium tapes and noise reduction, soon HiFi quality devices become 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 relatively compact size matched with impressive sound quality.[1] The Japanese brands soon took over major parts of the European Boombox market and were often the first Japanese consumer electronics brand that a European household might purchase. The Japanese innovated with sizes, form factors and technology, introducing such advances as stereo Boomboxes, removable speakers, in-built TV receivers and later 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.[2] They were immediately noticed by the urban adolescent community and exploded onto the streets of America’s metropolitan centers such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. The early models were an attractive hybrid which fused the booming sound of large in-home stereo systems and the portability of small portable cassette players – they were typically small, black, heavy, and most importantly very loud.[2] The effective AM/FM tuner, standard in all early boomboxes, was the most attractive feature of the early boombox – up until the incorporation of input and output jacks into the boxes, allowing for the coupling of devices such as microphones and turntables.[2] This development brought boombox to their height of popularity, and as their popularity rose so did the innovative features included in the box. Urban adolescents loved boomboxes for their portability and sound quality, but most important to the youth market was the bass. 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, usually requiring “D” size batteries – sometimes up to 10 or more per box – leading to extremely heavy, bulky boxes flooding the streets.[3] Regardless, the boxes kept growing in size to accommodate the bass output and newer boombox models were affixed with heavy metal casings to handle the vibrations from the bass.[2]


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, with a handle for portability. Most units can be powered by AC or DC cables, as well as batteries.

As they 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 the radio and off of other pre-recorded cassettes. Equalizers, balance adjusters, Dolby noise reduction, and LED sound gauges were later additions.[4] In the mid-1980s, the bigger and flashier the boombox the better; it became a status symbol among young urbanites which in turn called for increasingly 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, often made of plastic as opposed to their metal counterparts from the decade before.[3] The rectangular, angular, chrome aesthetic of many 1980s models were replaced with black plastic in the 1990s, and modern designs are dominated by curves instead of right angles. The designs of older models are a source of much interest amongst enthusiasts and collectors. The larger feature-packed models, and rarer models, are often the most sought after. Most boomboxes today 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]

Various boombox designs differ 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, including 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 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 and less acceptable on city streets.[2]

The boombox became intrinsically linked to hip hop culture and, as Fab Five Freddy puts it, was “instrumental” in the rise of hip hop.[8] 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 and were used in music battles.[9] The Beastie Boys embraced the boombox as a signature, The Clash always had a boombox with them, and Schoolly D lugged around a Conion 100cf in the UK.[10]


Music videos
  • LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio" (1985) is a love song to the boombox.[14]
  • Daft Punk's "Da Funk" (1995), an anthropomorphic dog walks around New York with a boombox playing the song
  • Madonna's "Hung Up" (2005), Madonna gyrates to a Dynasty[15] Disco Lite ES-555[16][17][18][18]
  • Madonna's "Sorry" (2006) also features the Disco Lite ES-555[18]
  • Lady Gaga's "Just Dance" (2008) has the Disco Lite ES-555 too[18]
  • The Lonely Island's "Boombox" (2010) features a Lasonic 931
  • Tim Finn's "Fraction too much friction" features Boomboxes.
  • Eminem's "Berzerk" features Shady rapping and standing in front of a giant boombox for most of the video.


Other appearances

The 1980s television game show Press Your Luck's animated character Whammy would sometimes breakdance next to a boombox.[22]

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[34] boombox[35] that belonged to Fab Five Freddy.[14]

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.”[36] 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.[2]

Compressed digital audio and the future of boomboxes

Even though many boomboxes had dual cassette decks and included dubbing, line, and radio recording capabilities, the rise of recordable CDs first and of high-density MP3 players later have further reduced their popularity to such an extent that it is difficult to find a new dual-decked boombox.

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. 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.

From mid-2010 there are new lines of boomboxes that use JAMBOX, which is marketed as a "Smart Speaker" because 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.[37] 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


External links

  • Mentions of the boombox in songs, movies, television, film and print at the Boombox Museum, PocketCalculatorShow
  • New York Times Review - The Boombox Project
  • CBS Sunday Morning - Boomboxes: A REAL blast from the past
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