Does bigger mean better for UE's popular 'Boom' speakers?

The short answer? Yes.

It's taken me years to overcome my vinyl-based anachronistic tendencies. I've been particularly reluctant to buy digital music files; to me it's right up there with e-books -- spending good money on "virtual" products. Still, the accessibility of digital music and being able to stream wirelessly are more compelling than being a Luddite. So I began the search for a quality portable speaker. That ended two years ago after I tried the UE Boom. It quickly won me over with its design, sound quality and 360-degree speaker setup. I stowed it in my backpack's side pouch for long bike rides and could easily hear it over the wind. The speaker never sounded "boxy" either, with its omnidirectional output. This year, Ultimate Ears decided to pump up the specs, size and, inevitably, the price for its newest model, the aptly named Megaboom. I was curious to see how this would compare, since it seemed less portable. So I took the Megaboom (a pair of them, actually) for a spin to see how they stacked up.

The speaker is nearly identical to the original Boom, except it's grown a bit. At around nine inches tall and three inches wide, it's not tiny; even though it still has a screw-in hook that can accommodate a carabiner, I won't be clipping it to a bag or belt loop anytime soon. It's also less apt to fit into the small side pocket of your bag or backpack -- that's where the go-anywhere Boom still prevails. That said, the Megaboom is still relatively light at just under two pounds. Indeed, I've had a pair of them in my messenger bag along with a bottle of wine and didn't feel weighed down too much.

Nothing much has changed about the app: You still get a customizable EQ, an alarm and the Double Up feature so you can pair with a second Megaboom for spreading out the sound. You can even connect with the original Boom as long as you update its firmware to version 7.0 or above. You also don't need the app to use the Double Up feature; just press and hold the Bluetooth and "plus" volume button to get started, and then double-click the second speaker's Bluetooth button to connect.

The company made its intentions pretty clear by naming it the Megaboom: It was shooting for a louder, more powerful Bluetooth speaker, and I'd say it succeeded. It's definitely louder than its sibling and provides a more expansive sound. The low-end frequency is now 65Hz, an improvement on the original's 90Hz rating, and basslines are noticeably beefier. You're not going to feel it in your bones or match the output of a full-sized stereo, but you can host a passable dance party. When you use the "Double Up" feature to pair with a second speaker, the whole actually seems greater than the sum of its parts; you can really fill a room with palpable sound. Plus, you can easily move these around from room to room or just experiment with the placement to find the best acoustics.

During an evening of dinner and drinks with about eight people, I never approached full volume playing French-themed beats from I:Cube to Tony Allen. Even after the wine raised our spirits and voices, levels were bumping enough to prompt a few boogie sessions. On a quick run for supplies, we also found that they were easily heard in the building's hallway.

Another big improvement on the Megaboom is the Bluetooth range, which is now rated for 100 feet. If you have a big place or want to spread out in the park, you don't have to worry too much about proximity with a music source in your pocket. I was able to run upstairs to the other end of the apartment with my smartphone (about 50 feet) and was pleasantly surprised that there was no break in the music from downstairs -- a distance the smaller Boom struggles with.

The original model was always shockproof and although I never tested the waters (literally), it seemed OK under a few drops of rain. The Megaboom, however, is decidedly waterproof, rated to survive in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Since it still isn't really beach weather, I decided to give it a dunk in my sink for a minute or two. I had two speakers paired playing Jackmaster and Jasper James' recent mix and plopped one into the water, fully submerging it a couple times. First off, they float, but their ability to pump out sound is incredibly dampened diminished in water. Both speakers stayed connected and continued to play music, but the soggy one cut out for a few seconds until it dried. The takeaway is that you'll be safe in the rain and the occasional dip in the pool shouldn't hurt them, but you won't get much audio enjoyment if they're floating alongside you partially submerged.

Resilience, audio quality and range are all great, but battery life is a major deciding factor for a wireless speaker, especially one that costs $300. When I paired a set of original Boom speakers and let them play continuously at mid-to-high volume for a small backyard party, they ran out of juice after about four to five hours (and they were brand-new). I should note, too, that the host speaker ran out a little bit quicker than its daisy-chained partner. The Megaboom speakers fared a good deal better. They're rated for up to 20 hours of playback on a charge (the Boom promised 15); after four or five hours of mid-volume playback both speakers were still at 80 percent. Of course, if you're playing loud music at full tilt, the battery will drain quicker. Conversely, if you listen at a lower volume, you might well get a full day's worth of playback.

Over the course of testing, I did run into some odd pairing issues. After a few sessions, and a good deal of pairing, Doubling Up, unpairing and so forth, the speakers failed to show up in my phone's Bluetooth settings (Android 5.1). Other devices were usually still able to connect to the speakers without a problem, so it's possible it was simply a glitch with my phone. (Ultimate Ears is going to run some tests and I'll update this when I hear back.) I finally managed to get it sorted out by resorting to repeated NFC attempts to force the connection. Aside from that, the only minor niggle I had was that the ports are stoppered up and recessed for waterproofing, making them difficult to get at, but that's just a trade-off.

Just like the sticker shock of seeing $200 Bluetooth speakers hit the market, spending $300 on one will take some getting used to -- and perhaps some saving up. If you can swing it, though, the sound and feature set are worthwhile -- especially if you spring for a pair of them. Sure, they're a bit pricey, but they deliver an impressive amount of sound for their size and can handle disco duty in all kinds of locations. They may not be the equivalent of full-sized stereo speakers, but if you're looking to slim down your setup and free yourself from wires, the Megaboom is a sound investment.