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Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speaker update lets friends share DJ duty

Jon Turi, @jonturi
10.20.15
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Ultimate Ears has been redefining its lineup of Bluetooth speakers lately, waterproofing them and fine-tuning their innards so they all have the same tech at their core. As part of this unification, the company's pushing a new over-the-air firmware update around 1PM ET that adds the Boom 2's tap control functionality to Megaboom speakers. That's not all: An app update for iOS and Android is also rolling out with a new feature called Block Party. It takes the multi-user playback feature (which, to be honest, I've rarely had much success with before) and gives it an easy-to-use visual interface. Up to three users (including the host), can connect to a UE Roll, Boom 2 or Megaboom speaker and jump in with their own tunes. To keep potential mayhem in check, the primary user can moderate that input by playing, pausing, skipping to the next track or removing a user entirely from the DJ roster. If a spot opens up, anyone with a Bluetooth connection can hop in and join the party, playing their own jams or letting the host skip through their playlist. It's yet another step forward for UE's speaker line, but there are a few inherent limitations to this new feature.

Outside of the Boom 2, which shipped with the feature on board, only the Megaboom will be receiving the tap control update, leaving the lower-priced UE Roll out of the fun. When holding the cylindrical speakers in your hand vertically, a single tap or pat on the top will pause or play the music. A double-tap skips ahead to the next track in your playlist. It's accelerometer-driven, so when the speakers are lying on their sides or standing up on their own, the tap controls don't work.

As for Block Party, the main attraction to this update, it's entirely controlled through the app. The primary user who connects to one of UE's latest speakers simply needs to swipe left to access the Block Party section. Once activated, they'll automatically occupy the top spot, leaving two open spaces for anyone in the area with a Bluetooth device to connect. The speakers serve as a hub for all the connections, which then feeds them to the app. Anyone who snags an open slot can immediately start playing music, superseding whatever's playing at the time. You'll want to keep this feature under wraps unless you trust everyone's tact and taste as far as keeping the vibe flowing. The app owner can control speaker volume via the plus and minus icons (or the speaker's physical buttons), and pause, play or skip to the next track in any of the guest DJs' queues. They won't be able to scrub through the tracks, though, so it's either start to finish or straight on to the next tune. The DJ-in-charge can also delete people from the roster, but as long as there's an open slot, there aren't any tools to kick backseat DJs off for keeps.

Overall, this new Block Party feature works solidly and takes the guesswork out of multi-user connections. As long as everyone who earned a slot shows some respect (and restraint), the ability to jump in at any time could be a positive and social experience. People can play from their own music collection or through streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody, too. One drawback we've found with Block Party (although a queueing feature would be nice) is the lack of Double Up functionality while sharing DJ duty. Apparently, Bluetooth limitations ensure that your Block Party will issue from a single speaker and will be less likely to disturb the neighbors -- at least the ones who weren't invited.

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