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Saturday
Jun152013

Ultimate Ears UE Boom Review

5.1 speaker systems? Who needs them. The only speakers being expeditiously released lately are portable Bluetooth speakers you can take along with you everywhere you go. Ultimate Ears, now a Logitech brand, are one of the many names fighting to sell you their own take on these self-powered speaker modules. You're in for quite a treat if you're shopping around for that awesome package of portable audio goodness because Ultimate Ears has recently come out with the UE Boom, a powerful wireless Bluetooth speaker capable of pushing out loud 360-degree sound to liven up your boring party wherever it may be.

Marketed as a versatile "life-resistant" wireless portable speaker with speakerphone features and oversized on-board volume controls, the UE Boom also carries an origianl design we think might land it a wireless speaker modeling contract. We said the day will come, and that day is today. JBL had a great run with the outstanding Flip portable wireless speaker, and now there's a new speaker on the block that we are thrilled to dive into. Head past the break for the full review!

To begin, the UE Boom comes packaged inside this cylindrical tube which opens almost like some time capsule to reveal the speaker itself along with neatly organized disc-shaped compartments where you'll find the accompanied accessories. It's one of the best complimenting packaging I've ever had the pleasure of unboxing. And that's always a wonderful experience when purchasing a product. You know very well that the company behind it spent time and effort to make something that actually has and adds value to the overall product. When you spend $200, you should expect to be amazed by even the little things. Ultimate Ears did good.

Inside those accessory compartments you will find the coolest, flat and tangle-free USB to micro-USB charging cable on planet earth. Ultimate Ears was kind enough to also include a very useful and compact USB wall adapter with a retractable outlet prong. I say that because most portable speakers only come with a USB charging cable and no wall adapter to help charge your device in more places. Notice the accessories are bright tennis-ball yellow to match the color scheme of this particular UE Boom speaker. Others will may come with different colored accessories to match individual UE Boom flavors.

The UE Boom is an attractive speaker built to deliver impressive 360 degree sound and sensible functionality

Most importantly, there's the unit itself. Ultimate Ears and Logitech have done just a phenomenal job in creating a unique and iconic design which we haven't seen before. The UE Boom is a stunner, the first portable wireless speaker with a functional design that speaks volumes and is for once iconic amongst a saturation of products which all seem to want to copy one another. A white strip of smooth rubber runs along the front of the speaker that coincides with the concave top and bottom portions, while the rest of its cylindrical shaped body features a woven mesh surface that wraps around the unit covering all of its internal hardware. As much as it is part of the design, it's also serves as a very functional role too.

The UE Boom was meant to be used standing upright, and it's about as tall as a 16oz can of Red Bull at 7 inches. Hard to miss, are the oversized plus and minus volume controls placed at the front side of the speaker where they are seamlessly integrated into the rubbery surface as are the rest of the controls. At the top of the UE Boom is where you'll find the power button which lights up with a neat white LED light followed by a smaller Bluetooth pairing button which subsequently lights up with a white LED dot.

You'd be right to think the UE Boom is an improved alternate version of the much smaller and low-profiled UE Mobile Boombox sold under the joint Logitech UE brand. It shares the same type of build which combines rubber with other elements, albeit the UE Boom is significantly better designed and put together. In this case the metal speaker grille is covered by an acoustic skin and the rubber doesn't peel away from the device like we've unfortunately experienced with the UE Mobile Boombox. For those who are still unaware, Logitech has purchased Ultimate Ears, and has since brought many audio products including outstanding headphones to the market which we have previously reviewed.

Offered at a mid-range price point of $200, Ultimate Ears smartly made the UE Boom available in 6 different color combinations. Taking into account the vast selection of portable speakers currently available, most are priced under the $150 mark. The UE Boom competes with the $200 Beats Pill, which is a pretty good sounding and well designed portable speaker mind you. But as far as we can hear, the UE Boom comes out on top.

Facing the opposite end of the speaker are the micro-USB charging and 3.5mm audio input ports. Plugging the UE Boom to charge will also turn on a white blinking LED light which will display the charging status. Dead center is a black metal D-ring adapter which you can actually screw to detach enabling you to carry the UE Boom while it is attached to your backpack. Although I don't see it as a useful feature, it's nice that it's inconspicuously there. There's a small rubber flap that seals up the two ports against dirt, sand and water, but our review unit lacked it so it isn't shown here.

UE Boom is built unlike any other portable speaker

Ultimate Ears made it abundantly clear that the UE Boom can be taken with you no matter where you go or plan on using it. One of the stand-out durability features of the UE Boom is that it is made using a special type of material that protects it from water and all weather elements. Of course Ultimate Ears has a name for this which is a plasma coated acoustic skin. And what it means is that this mesh speaker grille of a skin covers and protects the internal audio drivers and electronics from liquid damage without degrading or interfering with the output of the sound coming from the speaker. The texture of this acoustic skin feels like a combination of rubber and fabric. It's really something special and unlike anything we've ever seen being used on such a product before.

In addition to its water-resistant prowess, this plasma coated acoustic skin has a layer that makes it stain-resistant so it'll continue to look good with use. You can definitely feel the impressive amount of durability that the UE Boom has when touching the slick surface of the acoustic skin material which essentially is wrapped around a concrete construction. 

Taking a much closer look at this wondrous acoustic skin reveals its durable textured finish which closely resembles the fabric speaker mesh found on Marshall speaker amps, and the like. Touching it gives you the feeling of durability and rigidity as it isn't soft nor flexible - most likely due to the metal build underneath.

Besides its protective acoustic skin, the UE Boom has a set of really awesome features. Pairing the unit over Bluetooth is nothing short of easy. Like the UE Mobile Boombox, the UE Boom puts a smile on your face as it plays a series of instrumental and very much charming hand-drumming chimes that highlight various phases like power on/off and Bluetooth connectivity status updates. But Android, Windows Phone 8 and Blackberry users can use their NFC enabled devices to effortlessly pair up with the UE Boom thanks to its NFC enabled rubbery surface. Tap your device up against the front edge of the UE Boom and it'll automatically pair. It's that easy, and it works fanatically well.

Another feature that takes advantage of wireless Bluetooth streaming is the fact that you can pair two UE Boom speakers in a dual-mode of awesomeness to play music simultaneously from one audio source such as an iPhone to create a dangerously powerful stereo experience. But for that to work you'll need to use the UE Boom app supported by iOS and Android.

Then there's the UE Boom's speakerphone functionality, naturally. And surprisingly, the microphone built-into the UE Boom and covered with that water-resistant acoustic skin isn't muffled, but actually clear as a sunny day. You can answer phone calls and hear the caller thru the UE Boom's speakers which is obviously a convenient bonus feature to have.

The hand grenade sound feature of wireless portable speakers

The last feature is perhaps the most satisfying of them all, and one that I'm most thrilled about. The UE Boom's 360-degree soundscape is absolutely brilliant. It outputs audio effectively all around it thru the use of multiple speakers which are positioned to fire sound at literally all directions without it sounding uneven. More specifically, the UE Boom's internal hardware consists of two 1.5-inch performance audio drivers as well as two 2-inch passive bass radiators.

360 degree sound is such a valuable component to have when talking about small portable speakers because when wireless portability means that you can place the speaker anywhere you desire, there's most likely going to be people that surround it from multiple angles. The UE Boom's immersive 360 degree sound is the hand grenade sound feature of wireless portable speakers. 

Battery status shows up on iOS devices such as the iPhone at the top near the Bluetooth icon to inform you of the remaining battery life on the UE Boom. Alternatively, pressing the two volume buttons simultaneously prompts a vocalized feature that actually speaks the remaining battery percentage to you in a female voice that is alluring.

While were on the subject, battery life has lived up to Ultimate Ears' marketing claims of 15 hours, and I really couldn't ask for better battery performance out of such a compact device. Seldom have I found myself having to recharge this thing and that's great. The UE Boom features a rechargeable battery built-in that isn't removable, and can be recharged very quickly we find.

Make way, there's a new best portable wireless speaker and they call it the UE Boom 

I'm literally blown away by the outstanding sound quality coming from the UE Boom. We thought JBL really had it all thought out, but as it turns out that Ultimate Ears and Logitech have studied harder than any company with a portable speaker on the market including Jawbone and Beats.

Vocals are unreal, as in incredibly clear and separated resulting in near life-like clarity. The highs sound pure and undistorted at high volume. I felt like I was at a live concert from the first moment I turned on the UE Boom and sent it my first song choice. As it played it, I knew right there and then that the UE Boom had it made sonically.

To put things into prospective, the UE Boom is frighteningly powerful, and that's not not something we say about a lot of portable speakers with the Flip being the exception. We certain Ultimate Ears sat back whilst it jotted down what people want and what works in these small form factor wireless speakers, primarily from JBL and its outstanding Flip speaker. In comparison the UE Boom has an emphasis in clarity and treble in order to spit audio that's very defined and clear to the user's ears. Which is also why the UE Boom's sound signature is on the clarity of treble side with a minimal focus on the low end, but there's a good reason for it.

When pitted against JBL's Flip as well as the Beats Pill, the UE Boom pushes out thumpier lows and slightly more discernible midrange which really translates into a more richer, fuller sound experience that I prefer over the Flip with all due respect. It also helps that the UE Boom can impress with its 360 degree push of audio reach.

People often mistake portable speakers to have great bass performance. But that isn't the case. Anyone looking to get a portable speaker, especially one that has a very small form factor should know that there is a limit to the amount of bass these speakers are capable of outputting. There's simply not enough space to make your beats go boom. With that being said, portable speakers do vary in bass performance and I think the UE Boom bests nearly every portable speaker comparable to its size and price tag.

Although the two sound very close, the UE Boom has an emphasis on mids and lows which just sounds richer yet without losing that incredible clarity and high end brightness that the two respectable speakers are capable of producing. The winner although not by a great deal, is the UE Boom. But if we take design and durability into account - then the UE Boom had clearly managed to amaze us.

Remarkably the Flip managed to hang on by its finger tips. They sound quality isn't much different when put up against the UE Boom. Having said that, the UE Boom does float to the top thanks to its speaker driver specification and well balanced EQ. It sounds better, but it also doesn't blow away the Flip by no means. $100 vs $200 is a big difference, and it definitely apparent considering the sound quality and overall polished and well thought together package that is the UE Boom.

In one significant way, the UE Boom is very much a JBL Flip at heart. It almost shares the same form factor minus the slanted base, and is designed to stand tall and proud so that audio can be distributed evenly at a 360 degree angle. Setting it down is fine too, but we don't recommend because the audio is partially blocked by the surface on which you set the speaker on.

You can drastically improve the audio output of your MacBook Air or Pro using the UE Boom without having to use a traditional external speaker setup. The portability to sound performance ratio is unbelievably insane. You won't believe how great the UE Boom sounds, especially the enormous volume output.

As much as we admire Logitech, letting Ultimate Ears independently (we speculate) release a speaker has turned out to be a great move because the UE Boom is down right awesome. It's apparent that a lot of research, time and effort went into making the UE Boom. And you can appreciate it all from the moment it gets unboxed, let alone fired up for the first time. The price seems more than acceptable given the result.

I like the UE Boom so much, that I'd purchase one myself. And I don't even find myself using a portable speaker that much as I'm more of an in-ears and full-on headphones type of person for the most part. It's got outstanding battery life, resiliant features and impressive sound quality stuffed into a tall body of iconic design. And for that reason, the UE Boom deserves our Editors' Choice Award for offering the complete thrill ride of quality user experience. If you're in the market for a solid portable wireless speaker, and I do mean extremely portable, the UE Boom offers a lot of bang for the $200 required to snag one up. Well done, UE, welcome back.

At the $100 price range, we still think JBL's Flip is the portable speaker to get. But if you're looking to spend a bit extra in return for slightly better sound at an extremely attractive package that's also durable, the UE Boom is without a doubt the must have portable speaker at the $200 - to even as high as the $300 price range.

Ultimateears.com

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