Remember that first day of spring a few weekends ago? Not the annual affair determined by the people who make calendars, the actual first day of spring, when the clouds peeled back and the sun decided to call in with its warm charms?
We, like most, grabbed a football, a disposable barbecue and headed down the nearest available patch of green. However, rather than being greeted by the customary hubbub of birdsong and ice cream vans, we were met with a cacophony of dubstep and Bieber.
It seems the world has gone mad for portable speakers, an antisocial breed of tech that’s beginning to show some real advancement. The latest offering to the noisy party is the £169 UE Boom, a compact-yet-powerful speaker from Ultimate Ears, a company with an impressive 20-year heritage of providing custom in-ear monitors to the who’s-who of live music.
Design and features
Roughly the size of a tennis ball tube (6.5 cm by 18cm) and weighing a solid 538g, the UE Boom is a portable speaker that connects with your smartphone via Bluetooth or its own app (limited to iOS and Android for the time being).
Linking up to the UE Boom is pleasantly straightforward: one button powers it up, while a second allows the device to be discovered by your Bluetooth-enabled device. A 3.5mm audio output is also included for those still living the wired life, along with a micro USB port for charging.
Once connected the UE Boom outputs the audio of your phone, allowing you to broadcast music you might have stored or from any apps you’re streaming from, such as Spotify. Volume can be controlled from your phone, or from the large plus and minus buttons on the spine of the UE Boom, allowing others to control the degree of your antisocialness without the need of passing your mobile around. Should you receive a call while using the UE Boom, the audio fades out seamlessly, resuming once you’ve hung up.
The compact cylinder of the UE Boom holds four speakers, sandwiched back-to-back in design that looks to offer 360-degree sound. Coated in a water and stain resistant “acoustic skin” weave, it’s reassuringly sturdy: the compact body feels well made, surviving our attempts to give it a good soaking and repeatedly drop it onto hard flooring.
The app is as straight forward to use as the speaker itself, allowing you to broadcast your tunes across two synced UE Booms in tandem or in stereo. It’s a shame that a full graphic EQ isn’t available on the app, offering instead three preset modes.
The UE Boom is wonderfully easy to get acquainted with: we had not trouble connecting via the app or Bluetooth, allowing us to terrorise the public with our questionable music collection while out and about. A pleasing bongo-rumble issues from the device whenever it powers up or syncs with a device, allowing you to understand its actions without a screen readout. The rechargeable battery lasts an impressive 15-hours – more than enough juice to churn out your most extensive playlists – and recharges in around two hours.
But what of the sound quality? Vocals, middle and high frequency sounds are crisp and clear, and tracks maintain their clarity well even when you crank the UE Boom up to its maximum 88 dBC output. There’s hardly any noticeable distortion at loud volume, handling Podcasts with the same precision as meatier music tracks. The 360-sound design also performs admirably: place the UE Boom in the middle of a room and it delivers a consistent sound to all quarters.
The one major flaw of the UE Boom is its lack of bottom end. Be it the funky rhythms of ‘Get Lucky’ or heavier offerings (from Skrillex to the Black Keys), the compact UE Boom fulfils its purpose as a go-anywhere speaker, but isn’t the right solution for laying down the beats at your next house party.
There’s also the price: £169 buys you a gadget that will survive the worst of the British summer, making it more versatile than the similarly priced Jawbone Jambox, but it’s still quite a wodge of cash for a device that doesn’t deliver the same sound quality as similarly priced docks.
We really like the UE Boom. It’s a robust, durable travel speaker more than capable of supplying a soundtrack for your next barbeque – but it may disappoint those looking for an all purpose speaker.