What does UE do for encore after releasing one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers of the last two years? Go bigger, of course, with a larger model appropriately called the UE Megaboom.
Not surprisingly, a bigger speaker means a bigger price, and the Megaboom costs $299.99 and AU$349 in Australia (pricing in the UK yet to be announced) or $100/AU$150 more than the Boom , which remains on the market. While the speaker is just hitting stores now (in January), we got some early review samples and have been playing around with them for a few weeks in advance of the launch.
Available in several color options, the Megaboom is little over 8 inches tall and roughly twice the volume in size of the original Boom, with a weight of 1.93 pounds. Even though it's bigger, it's still easily transportable and is seems as durable as the original, if not more so thanks to a couple of design improvements.
For starters, it's waterproof (IPX7 certified) instead of water-resistant and can be fully submersed in water for several minutes without getting damaged (we did dunk it). It's also worth noting that the rubber gasket that covers the USB and audio ports has been better integrated into the unit and is easy enough to get open (like with the original Boom, when you unscrew the gasket's fastener, you'll see you have a threaded tripod mount).
The speaker has some other technical upgrades. UE has equipped the speaker with longer-range Bluetooth, and depending on the device you pair with it, you can stray up to 100 feet away from the speaker and still stream audio to it. I did get a few dropouts, but overall playback was pretty smooth.
The Megaboom employs Bluetooth Smart, which allows you to turn the speaker on and off remotely from the free UE app. That app also allows to pair two speakers together -- or even pair the Megaboom with the original Boom -- and it includes equalization features for tweaking the sound along with an alarm function.
I had a little trouble pairing the speakers and making them a left/right stereo pair (you can also join multiple speakers together to augment the sound and better fill out a larger room or outdoor space). It took several attempts to get the stereo pairing set up correctly, but I was using an early version of the new app that probably wasn't entirely bug-free (yes, it will get updated, and the speaker's firmware is upgradable as well).
As you might expect, pairing two speakers together and creating real stereo separation significantly improves the sound quality. That said, $600 is a lot to spend on a pair of speakers and you can certainly get a lot better sound with a pair of $600 wired bookshelf speakers. Of course, the key word there is "wired." If you're reading this review right now, you're probably looking for a portable wireless speaker, not a wired one.
For those wondering whether the speaker supports AptX streaming from devices that support it, it does not. AptX is said to improve the sound quality of Bluetooth streaming, but I don't think it would have a noticeable impact on a speaker this small (yes, even though the Megaboom is larger than the original it's still a small speaker in the grander scheme of speakers).
As you might expect, this new larger speaker offers more bass than the original Boom and plays louder, with good clarity and minimal distortion. It does have its limitations and when it's pushed very hard by certain tracks, you can hear it tone down certain frequencies, particularly in the low end, to prevent distortion.
Editor Ty Pendlebury and I had a listen to the Megaboom both as a single speaker and as a stereo pair in our audio room in New York City. Ty's used to listening to higher-end audio gear and was only mildly impressed, but for a portable Bluetooth speaker, the Megaboom performs quite well for what it is.
We pitted it against Bowers & Wilkins' first Bluetooth speaker, the T7, which actually costs more ($350). The Megaboom got the better of the T7 with bigger bass and smoother sound.
I also tried it against the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III , another excellent $300 speaker. The Bose matched up well against the Megaboom; you could find yourself arguing over which is better, depending on the placement of the speaker and other factors (for indoor use, I give a slight nod to the Bose, though your opinion may vary depending on your music tastes).
Like the original Boom, I think the Megaboom and its "360-degree sound" is a really good portable indoor speaker, but where it really shines is outdoors. It just seems more optimized to play in open outdoor areas, where other speakers tend to be more directional. For the amount of sound it produces, you would mistake it for a much larger speaker, and it can cover a pretty wide area, which makes it ideal for pool and patio use.
Battery life is also quite good. The original Boom, which remains on sale, has excellent battery life and the Megaboom doesn't disappoint in that department, offering up to 20 hours of battery life at moderate volume levels. It charges via Micro-USB and although you can use any charger, it charges quickest with the included AC adapter.
The UE Megaboom isn't as compact as its little brother, but it packs more punch, particularly in the bass department, and adds waterproofing, Bluetooth Smart, and slightly better battery life to its list of improvements. Most people will be very impressed with the sound it delivers both indoors and outdoors, and like the original Boom, it takes a spot among the best portable Bluetooth speakers. Even at its high price of $300, it's easily recommendable.