UE Boom 2 review: Top Bluetooth speaker gets improved sound, full waterproofing
The UE Boom has been a mainstay at the top of CNET's best portable Bluetooth speakers list the past couple of years, so we were very curious to see what UE (Ultimate Ears) had in store for its successor, the UE Boom 2, which retails for $200 (£170; AU$250). Like all such Bluetooth speakers, the UE Boom 2 allows you to stream audio from nearly any smartphone or tablet, regardless of the source app or operating system.
On the outside, at least, not much has changed. That's because the two speakers look very similar, although there are some small but important cosmetic changes. The new model, which comes in six color options at launch, has a tighter weave on the fabric cover, making it more durable. Also, the flap that covers the ports is now better integrated into the unit with a groove in the top of the speaker that makes everything flush.
The other external change is the degree of weatherproofing. The original was water resistant, but this model is fully waterproof (iPX7 -- immersion up to 1 m for 30 minutes), as well as drop-resistant to five feet or 1.5 meters. UE says that even if you forget to close that little flap that covers the USB charging port and audio input, you don't have to worry about any water getting inside the speaker.
All the other changes are on the inside. UE has completely redesigned the driver so the speaker not only sounds a little better than the original but also plays 25 percent louder at its top volume. That said, like all these compact Bluetooth speakers, it still distorts a bit at higher volumes with certain tracks, but most people will be very impressed with how loudly the speaker plays for its size and that it's able to deliver as full sound as it does (more on that in a minute).
While the driver is heavier in the new model, UE took out a hidden weight that helped the original Boom balance itself when lying down in horizontal mode. With the weight gone, at 548 grams or 19.3 ounces the Boom 2 weighs just a few grams more than the old Boom.
UE's also added gesture controls -- you tap the top of the speaker to pause your music and double-tap to skip a track forward (you have to be holding the speaker in your hand to use the gesture controls).
Other new features included the ability to update the speaker's firmware over the air via UE's new app instead of having to connect the speaker to a computer. You can also turn the speaker on and off via the app instead of going over to the speaker and pressing the power button on top. Nice.
As with other UE speakers, you can wirelessly link a Boom 2 with another UE speaker, and in the future you'll be able to join up to 10 UE speakers. With two Boom 2 speakers linked, you can choose to make one a left speaker and the other a right speaker for stereo sound or simply have them play as separate speakers with synced sound.
As for battery life, it's rated at 15 hours at moderate volume, matching the original's Boom's strong battery life. It's also worth noting that the speaker offers extended Bluetooth range when paired with many newer smartphones. UE says you get up to 100 feet, but that's direct line of sight with no obstructions. I found range to max out at about 60 feet or 20 meters, more than double than typical 10m range of most Bluetooth speakers.
We first compared the Boom 2 to the original Boom and it quickly became apparent that the Boom 2 played louder and offered a little better bass and overall improved sound quality. It wasn't a night-and-day difference in sound quality, but the Boom 2 definitely delivers fuller sound than the original.
We next put it up against the JBL Charge 2+ , which retails for about $70 less. The JBL couldn't play as loud, but it's a little warmer speaker with boomier bass (the Boom 2's bass is punchier) and some people may prefer its sound.
If you're on a budget, the JBL Charge 2+ or the step-down Flip 3 (half the price of the Boom 2) are arguably the better values. (Remember, too, that the step-down saucer-shaped UE Roll , also half the price of the Boom 2, remains a great option.) However, those speakers are more directional while the Boom 2 casts a wider sound field -- UE touts its 360-degree sound -- and really excels in outdoor listening tests. The Charge 2+ also sounds good outdoors, but it doesn't have the range that the Boom 2 does. By that I mean that if you're standing 5 to 10m away from the two speakers, the Boom 2 sounds fuller and better overall.
As comparatively excellent as the Boom 2 sounds, it still exhibits the performance shortcomings that all these compact Bluetooth speakers exhibit -- even the best ones like the Boom 2. It's strongest in the midrange (vocals), so tracks like Sam Hunt's "Take Your Time" or Laura Marling's "Strange" sound quite clean and powerful. But hit the speaker with some heavier bass -- Miguel's "Coffee" for instance -- and things get a little rough around the edges. But for casual listening, most people will be quite happy with how the Boom 2 sounds.
Sure, the Boom 2 is a little pricey at $200/AU$250, but like the original model it remains one of our top picks in the portable Bluetooth speaker category and is a great choice, particularly if you're looking for a rugged wireless speaker you plan on using outdoors a lot.