In recent years, Ultimate Ears' Boom speakers have been among our favorite portable Bluetooth speakers. Compact and well-designed, they deliver big sound for their small size and are particularly well suited to outdoor use, thanks to their waterproof design.
So we were excited when the company introduced its next-generation Blast and Megablast portable speakers. Shaped like the earlierand , they add Wi-Fi connectivity and Amazon Alexa voice control.
Yeah, they're a little pricey at $230 (£200) and $300 (£270) respectively, with an optional Power Up charging base costing $40 (£35), but we've tested expensive portable speakers such as theand that seemed well worth considering. (There's no word yet on Australian pricing or availability, but the UK prices translate to about AU$345 and AU$470.)
First, the good news: These are arguably the best sounding portable Alexa-enabled speakers you can get right now. Now the bad: The move from Boom to Blast isn't an entirely uplifting experience.
It all starts with a new Ultimate Ears app that gets your speakers connected to your Wi-Fi network and Amazon account. I didn't have a problem setting up my Blast and Megablast review samples and updating them with the latest firmware (the app will allow you to add new features over time). But the app does seem rather stripped down and barebones, particularly compared to the Sonos app.
As with Amazon's Echo devices, to use Alexa you have to be connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot. You get access to the more than 25,000 skills available for Alexa, including the ability to control smart home products.
That said, you don't get every Alexa skill that you'd get with a full-on Echo speaker. Currently, only Amazon Music, iHeartRadio and TuneIn music services are Alexa-enabled. UE expects to add voice control for Pandora and Deezer in the future, but there's no word yet on when the speakers will get voice control support for Spotify. However, you can stream any music service via Bluetooth just like you would with the UE Boom 2 or Megaboom, both of which cost a lot less.
The Blast is very similar to the Boom 2 but UE says the Megablast has been completely redesigned from the ground up and is equipped with new drivers that deliver enhanced sound with a top volume that's 40 percent louder than the Megaboom's.
After listening to both, I can attest that the Megablast indeed offers a step up in sound quality from the Megaboom, while the smaller Blast sounds a lot like the Boom 2. You'd hope that the sound quality of both could have improved, but I can see where UE would have an easier time wringing out better sound from the larger Megablast.
Both are fully waterproof, with an IP67 rating that allows them to can be "immersed in liquid up to 1 meter (3 feet) for up to 30 minutes." In other words, they're both bathroom and poolside friendly. They have a range of 330 feet (100 meters) on Wi-Fi and 150 feet (45 meters) on Bluetooth.
Battery life for the Blast is up to 12 hours, and 16 hours for the Megablast. Those number will vary with volume levels and your network connection, but I found the speakers' battery life to be pretty decent.
However, there's a big downside to not buying the Power Up charging base: It's actually a little bit of a pain to access the USB charging port. The speakers have a threaded tripod mount on the top, which is cool, but you have to unscrew and take off the flap (which keeps moisture out) to access the charging port. If you plan on using these primarily inside your home, the charging base seems like more of a must-have accessory, which adds to the total price of the speaker.
It's also worth mentioning that while the earlier Boom 2 and Megaboom remain in the line, they're only compatible with the old UE app. That means you won't be able to link older UE speakers with the new Blast and Megablast. And currently, you can only play music through one Blast or Megablast at a time -- you can't link them -- which is a bit disappointing.