UE Boom wireless speaker
Ultimate Ears’ portable speaker is small, simple, sturdy, and sounds great
- Excellent waterproofing, sturdy construction
- Great sound for its small size
- Good battery life
- Cylindrical design not great for uneven surfaces
- Bass is a little weak
- Want proper stereo? Buy two
The UE Boom is the size of a bottle of water, but it has a surprising amount of audio power hidden away. It doesn’t have the deepest bass we’ve heard from a small speaker, but considering its design we’re impressed.
Price$ 199.00 (AUD)
Ultimate Ears has a storied history of in-ear monitors for musicians and sound techs, stretching back to 1995 when Van Halen’s drummer needed isolation from the noise of the stage. The in-ear monitor that UE boss Jerry Harvey designed to fill that need has evolved over the last two decades into the UE 900 and its variants, but the company is diversifying.
Designed for a purpose opposite to the company’s in-ear monitors, the UE Boom joins the three other wireless speakers in turning your smartphone or tablet into a portable music powerhouse — it’s small and light, but packs a capacious battery and two speakers in a 360-degree arc, so you can throw it down on a picnic rug and play music for a group.
UE Boom: Design, features and setup
The UE Boom we reviewed was finished in white, but you can also buy it in red or black at JB Hi-Fi — and a few other colours might be available from other stores. The speaker has a rubberised coat along its top and base and the strip running between the two, but the majority of the cylinder is wrapped in a coarse fabric — which itself is coated in a superhydrophobic finish that doesn’t let any water in, so you can use the Boom at the beach, or throw it down on the grass at your picnic, and just wash it off afterwards.
It’s hard to know which way is the correct way to place the Boom. Since the speakers are omnidirectional, you can place it on its side, or on either circular end. For the most part we kept it upright with the power button facing upwards, so for clarity’s sake we’ll call that the top.
On the top, the only other button apart from power is for the Bluetooth — a long press will set it up to pair with your smartphone or tablet. Around the ‘back’ of the Boom, along the long rubber strip, there are positive and negative symbols for the volume controls — impossible to miss.
On the base of the UE Boom, you’ll find a microUSB port for charging the speaker’s fifteen-hour internal battery, a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for directly connecting a music source if you’re so inclined, and a flip-out D-ring for attaching the speaker to a clip (on your belt or backpack or similar). You can also unscrew this D-ring to expose a 1/4-inch socket, which you can attach a tripod to.
Setting up the Boom wireless speaker is as simple as you’d expect from a device with a grand total of two buttons. As long as it’s turned on, a single long press will put the Boom in pairing mode, and you’ll be able to see it on your smartphone or tablet when you’re searching for Bluetooth clients. After that, you’re done — it functions just like any other Bluetooth speaker, with a volume control on your smartphone or tablet and one on the Boom itself.
We opted to keep the Boom’s volume control at max and exclusively use our Samsung Galaxy S4’s volume control — it’s easier that way, and there’s no need to pick up the speaker to change the volume.
The waterproofing on the UE Boom is excellent, in line with the excellent build quality of the speaker itself. You can dunk it with no ill effects, so when we took it and kicked it around in the dust (just a little), the simplest solution was to just wash it off under the tap. We actually received a second Boom from Ultimate Ears to test out the speakers’ stereo pairing mode — more on that later — and it arrived wet, having been used at the speakers’ launch party a few days ago. If that’s not testament to the Boom’s good build quality and effective waterproofing, we don’t know what is.
UE Boom: Sound quality and performance
The UE Boom packs two relatively small 1.5-Watt full-range speakers into its cylindrical body, closer to the ‘top’ than the ‘bottom’, with two slightly larger passive bass radiators further down.
When you’ve got it turned down to low volume levels, the Boom is acceptably crisp and clear, but lacks any kind of bass response — not surprising at all given the speaker’s small size. But crank the volume to one-third or beyond — we’re talking enough to fill a small room or larger — and the bass kicks in, with a power that’s surprising given the speaker’s small size and the lack of powered bass driver.
If you’re using a UE Boom for what it’s meant for — playing music to a group or anywhere outdoors — we think this is one of the best-sounding wireless speakers around. Whichever equaliser setting you choose, the Boom’s sound is well rounded, although there is a point at which the bass rolls off. It’s not going to shake your floor, but it sounds great nonetheless.
Maximum volume is also impressive. Realistically, a single Boom is going to be loud enough to fill a medium-sized room with sound, and unless you’ve got a busy party going on we don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The UE Boom app has three equaliser options — Out Loud (boosting mid-range and treble), Vocals (boosting mid-range) and Intimate (boosting bass slightly). We generally kept the speaker in Intimate, although Out Loud is definitely handy when you’re outside dealing with wind noise and other ambient annoyances.
Here’s the UE Boom’s party piece (pardon the pun) — you can hook up a second speaker using the UE Boom app, giving you twice the sound, either as a doubled-up mono speaker, or with each speaker playing either the left or right stereo channel. This means you can get some great stereo effects happening. Two speakers might be overkill for anything but the largest picnic or beach party, but if you’re playing impromptu DJ for the day it’s a great little setup. Our only complaint is that there’s no way to check the battery level on both speakers at once.
Battery life is great. We tested one Boom over the course of a weekend, playing music at a moderate-to-loud volume, and only drained 70 per cent of the battery. Charge time is less than two hours back to max power, and you can use your Android phone’s charger if you don’t want to use the included fluoro green one.
UE Boom: Conclusion
The UE Boom is, for $199, a surprisingly good compact wireless speaker. Great battery life, surprisingly full and rich and clear sound, and a smart, modern, simple design. Pair it with a second Boom, though, and it’s more than twice as good.
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