Shaped like an energy drink and named like one, the Ultimate Ears Boom has some kick to it — and that kick lasts all day long.
This rugged wireless Bluetooth speaker is being touted as a more powerful and durable version of the Jawbone Jambox, and has a special "acoustic skin with plasma coating" that makes it water and stain resistant. This means you can wash it should it get dirty, and it's being marketed as a speaker you can take with you everywhere you go — indoors and outdoors. At 540g, it's not heavy, but it's also not light, and has a little bit of heft to it.
What's interesting about the speaker is that when using it indoors, we were initially a tad underwhelmed. Yeah, it delivers good sound for a speaker its size, but, at AU$200, it's pricier than competitors such as JBL's cylindrical Flip and Charge, so we were expecting a little more, particularly in the bass department.
However, our appreciation for it grew when we took it outside. Over the course of a day, we stuck it on a table out on the patio, left it sitting on a bench near the edge of a basketball court and perched it in a small tree, wedged between two branches.
We were very impressed by how loud the Boom played, and how long the battery lasted. In taking it for a weekend spin outside the office, we became quite attached to it — enough to think that we wouldn't regret paying AU$200 for it.
The Boom comes in a variety of colours, including red, black, blue and white, and is designed to sit horizontally or vertically, though it seems better suited to being propped up vertically.
Since the speaker is water resistant, you could use it as a shower speaker, though you probably wouldn't want to keep it directly in the shower stream for too long. While UE failed to include rubberised caps for the USB and audio input ports on the first units it shipped, all units now come with those caps, and Logitech said it will send the caps to any customers who didn't get them for free.
On the end of the speaker where the audio input and USB connection are, there's a hook, so you can clip the speaker to a backpack with a carabiner. If you unscrew that hook, you'll find a threaded tripod mount.
The speaker charges via USB, and is rated at 15 hours of battery life, which is very good for a portable Bluetooth speaker. We ran it for a full day from about 9am to 10pm, and then for a couple of hours the next day before the juice ran out — that worked out to be about 14.5 hours playing at mostly moderate volume levels.
There are volume controls on the speaker, but most people will simply use their smartphone or tablet as a remote. And, as noted, this speaker, like the Jambox, has speakerphone capabilities.
Behind the fancy fabric covering the speaker are two 1.5-inch full-range drivers and two 2-inch passive radiators. UE, which is owned by Logitech, has designed the Boom to produce 360-degree sound, so it sounds the same whether you're standing in front of it or behind it.
The UE reps gave us a sneak peek at the drivers inside the speaker (the speaker cover is not removable).
(Credit: David Carnoy/CNET)
Like a few other premium wireless speakers, the Boom has its own app — it's called UE Boom — which is available for Android and iOS devices. The app allows you to tweak the speaker's bass and treble, and, if you have a second Boom, you can use the app to daisy-chain two speakers together to help fill a larger space with sound. Or you can have one speaker act as a left channel and one as a right channel to provide real stereo separation.
UE says the speaker has a range of about 50 feet, which is better than the usual 33 feet that your typical Bluetooth speaker is rated for.
The speaker will remember up to eight devices it's been paired with, which makes it easier to make a connection once you've set up the initial pairing. And while there's currently no aptX support, company reps said that could be added at some point through a software upgrade. (Certain smartphones, such as the Samsung's Galaxy S3 and S4, support aptX streaming, which allegedly offers better sound quality for Bluetooth transmission, though it matters less with smaller speakers such as the Boom.)
There's also near-field communication (NFC) support — sometimes referred to as "tap to pair" — which works with certain smartphones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4.
The Boom plays very loudly for its size. If it has a deficiency, it just doesn't deliver a ton of bass, though few if any of these small speakers put out great low-end sound. You'll also get some distortion with bass-heavy material, particularly at louder volumes, and while it's got a bit more dynamic range and fuller sound than some competitors, it's not a huge advantage.
The speaker offers decent though not exceptional clarity, and like most of these small speakers, it's strongest in the midrange, so it sounds best with acoustic tracks.
Indoors, the speaker's limitations are more apparent. Outdoor listening is a different game. You're dealing with wind and ambient noise, and what a lot of folks are looking for is a portable speaker that can play loud and sound decent while doing it — and that's just what the Boom can do. It easily bests the Jawbone Jambox, which just isn't well suited for outdoor use. It can also play louder than the JBL Flip and Charge, and seems more durable than those models (no carrying case is included, because UE says the speaker can hack it unprotected). It also has better battery life.
As far as speakerphone performance goes, it seemed good. If it's windy outside, people will have hard time hearing you, but when we set the speaker in the middle of large table on the patio on a windless day, speakerphone conversations worked well. We could hear the other party just fine and they said we sounded "pretty clear".
And what about combining two Booms? Well, if you can afford it, you'll definitely get augmented sound — with the same flaws (the bass doesn't sound any fuller). We'd say the left/right configuration works a little better indoors (it's nice to get some stereo separation), but we found ourselves gravitating toward the double mono set-up outdoors to widen the footprint of the speakers, so to speak.
The UE Boom is one those products that grows on you the more you use it. Judging it purely from an audiophile perspective, it has some shortcomings, particularly in the bass department. But on a less nitpicky level, it's a well-designed compact speaker with sleek looks, good build quality and a long battery life. It also happens to be water and stain resistant, making you more confident about taking it places — and perching it in spots — that might seem a little precarious for other speakers.
Where the speaker excels is in outdoor use. If you trot it out at the next barbecue, you're sure to get a guest or two asking what company makes it and what it costs. Yeah, it's a bit pricey at AU$200, but once you use it for a while, we don't think you'll regret buying it.