The UE Boom (US$199) by Ultimate Ears is a portable, Bluetooth-enabled wireless speaker compatible with Mac and iOS devices. If you've ever grown tired of the limited quality of your MacBook, iPhone or iPad's speaker (and let's face it, who hasn't?), the UE Boom is designed to bring high-quality, long-lasting audio to your device in a robust, easy-to-use, portable form factor.
The Boom is small, about the size and shape of an old-school cylindrical pencil case (diameter: 6.5cm,
height: 18 cm). It's easy to pick up, and even hold for extended periods of time in your hand. It's compact enough to shove in a bag and durable enough for you not to worry about it getting damaged while it's in there. It's solid too; nothing rattles and there are no moving parts. It's weighty (538g), but not heavy. It's even water resistant with a Level 4 Ingress Protection Rating. The Boom is designed to be used anywhere: the kitchen, the bathroom, the car, a camping trip or even on a bicycle ride.
There are four buttons on the Boom. On the top are the power button and a Bluetooth pairing button. On its side are two large, indented volume-up and volume-down buttons in the shape of "+" and "-" symbols, which are easy to find, but sometimes difficult to push. Pressing the power button turns the device on. The button lights up and the Boom plays a little drum roll, telling you it's alive and well. Pressing and holding the Bluetooth pairing button allows the Boom to be paired with up to 8 devices. When pairing happens, a shorter drum-roll sounds. The effect is endearing, and it's useful too. The Boom's underside has a micro-USB input for charging, a 3.5mm audio input and a hook to affix the Boom to things.
The Boom is colorful. It comes in a multitude of dual-color pairings or more extravagant custom editions. The color really adds to the Boom's appeal, saying so much more about the excitement of listening to music than other wireless speakers that remain dull and neutral.
In terms of design and quality, the Boom is one of the best accessories I've had the pleasure of reviewing. It really is a pleasing and exciting piece of kit to behold and use.
Finally, the Boom has a companion iOS app to update the Boom's software as well as adjust settings, enable 2x pairing of two Booms, for a stereo sounndfield or just double the volume, and a handy alarm clock feature, where your Boom plays the last played track as a wake-up call.
The Boom continues to impress in the audio department. Sound is clear and dynamic. Whatever you seem to put through the Boom, it produces an exciting and engaging listen -- all this coming from a portable, wireless speaker. The 360-degree sound is room filling and can get very loud. I found I never really took the Boom much past half-way volume when indoors, but would happily crank it up for an impromptu social gathering or using it outdoors. At high volumes the Boom held its composure and didn't distort. If anything, I found putting the volume up exposed the nasty flaws of lesser-quality audio files. Using Spotify's high-quality playback, the Boom provided a compelling listen, even distracting in a good way. As engaging as the sound is, I did find the Boom missed out on the finer details that might be found on higher-end equipment.
Pairing the Boom to my iPhone and iPad was effortless. Once paired, you choose the Boom from the AirPlay menu wherever you see it in iOS. Volume is adjusted and mirrored whether you change it on the Boom or your iOS device. It's important to note that the Boom doesn't take advantage of Apple's AirPlay technology, so you don't need a WiFi router to use it. However, using Bluetooth means that signal range is limited. UE says the Boom has 15 meters or 50 ft of range. However, I found that indoors, with walls and doors to contend with, the Boom started to drop signal after about 8 meters.
A great little bonus feature is that the Boom has a built-in mic, which means you can take and receive phone calls through the Boom. However, all control needs to be done on your iOS device. It was a little disappointing to find that the Boom couldn't take advantage of Siri to make or take calls, let alone change tracks.
Pairing on the Mac was just as straightforward as on iOS, but I found the Boom didn't have the same ease and responsiveness in terms of controlling volume, switching apps, etc as it does on iOS. Playing music was fine, but I couldn't always get system sounds to come through the Boom. In another instance, I couldn't hear a Skype call ringing, but could have the conversation through the Boom. Things seemed temperamental. It'd be great to see these little kinks worked out in a software update.
Bluetooth pairing also means that multiple devices don't always work as coherently as multiple devices do with AirPlay. If I was playing a track on my iPhone and then "interrupted" that track by playing a track from my Mac, the track from my iPhone wouldn't stop, but just become disjointed and distorted. I found I had to stop playback on one device before I could play something from another. A couple times I had to power down the Boom and re-pair it to get rid of little distortions and corrupted playback.
UE says the Boom has a battery life of 15 hours. While I didn't do an extensive battery test, I found the battery lasted extremely well when the volume wasn't pushed excessively for long periods of time. I easily got through a day of playback with the Boom sitting at my desk. The Boom can also be powered by the included USB cable plugged into a wall socket or USB power supply, so if the Boom's battery does run out, the party doesn't have to end there!
In short, the Boom is the best portable music speaker I've used. It looks fantastic, is seriously portable, is a pleasure to use, and the sound it produces is exciting and entertaining. At this price point, there's not a better wireless speaker out there that I know of.
There are a few niggles; no Siri integration for iOS devices, operation as an audio output on the Mac is a little buggy when working with certain applications, and Bluetooth range is somewhat limited in comparison to AirPlay when indoors. However, the pros far outweigh the relatively minor cons here. The UE Boom is the portable wireless speaker to get.
Rating: 4 stars out of 4 stars possible