So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
UE Megaboom wireless speaker
The Megaboom may be larger, louder and bassier than the Boom, but is it actually better?
- Excellent ruggedised design, waterproofing and apps
- Fantastic sound, including improved bass
- Exceptional battery life well beyond 20 hours
- Weight and size have reduced its portability
- Price jump hasn’t seen a comparable jump in audio or feature quality
- Cylindrical design not to everyone’s tastes
Price$ 350.00 (AUD)
Ultimate Ears has a strong professional audio pedigree, but was perhaps not so well known among other brands in the consumer market. That all changed last year with the launch of the UE Boom wireless speaker -- a classic marriage of good design, excellent usability, waterproofing and some phenomenal sound for the size and price.
The Boom was around the size of an oversized beer can and cost $199, but sounded like far more expensive Bose and B&O systems, spilling noise in a 360 degree arc. Yes the bass was slightly lacking, but it was a brilliant speaker you could shove in your pocket, take to the beach, play in the shower (I know, I’ve done it) -- and it also paired with another unit to give you decent stereo surround sound. Best of all, it had battery life in excess of 12 hours. Reviewer’s confession: I bought one, and three of my friends bought them based on their experiences with mine.
So a year later, here we are looking at the UE MegaBoom. It’s size has taken a leap, as has the sound quality and battery life -- but so has the price. The larger model will now set you back $350 a piece -- is the jump worth it?
Design and features
The original UE Boom came in quite a wide range of funky and off kilter colours, from white to electric green. The UE Megaboom at the Australian launch has just navy blue and charcoal models to choose from. It retains the same physical cylindrical design as the original Boom, with a rubberised coat along its top and base and the buttons, but the majority of the body is wrapped in a very cool looking coarse cross hatch fabric -- which is coated in a ‘superhydrophobic finish’ to keep water out.
UE has taken on board some of the feedback regarding ports. Previously, it had a rather flimsy rubber seal covering the USB power and headphone jacks that easily fell off and could go missing. This is now a proper, permanently attached, thick rubber stopper that isn’t going anywhere. The plus and minus volume buttons remain simple and elegant, and there is a simple power button on top, plus a Bluetooth ‘find’ button. One of the best design features of the original remains, a D-ring (for hanging) that unscrews and is actually tripod-attachable -- very useful for outdoor parties.
The intricate controls are via the downloaded smartphone app, which is very capable -- it has a wide variety of equalizer settings, the device can now be turned off remotely (previously you had to turn it off with the physical button), and you can pair the device to other Booms (discussed later in this review). It can also now function as an alarm clock. Being firmware based, all these features are now backwards compatible to the previous UE Boom. Any other devices that connect via Bluetooth to the Megaboom (such as laptops) simply use it as a ‘dumb’ speaker.
The Bluetooth in the Megaboom now reaches 30m and is much more reliable than its smaller predecessor, which would often cut out or jump when more than 5-10m away, especially if you went behind walls.
The most significant change for users is the size of the megaboom. It’s gone from the size of a beer can to the size of a 1.5L bottle of Coke. There are plusses and minuses to this.
As mentioned earlier, the battery life has taken a huge jump. It will last for 20 hours easily, depending on how you thrash it. I have regularly exceeded this -- it lasted the entirety of the Australia Day weekend away without a charge. It is also significantly heavier, around 900g. This is not enough to be a burden, but it’s now no longer a device to shove in your pocket on the way out the door. It needs a bag of its own.
Overall, the design is excellent. Like the original, it’s sturdy, functional, completely waterproof, and takes a hell of a beating. It leans towards the ‘ruggedised’ aesthetic, rather than any exotic Bose-esque luxury flair, entirely appropriate for its use case.
The original UE Boom produced astonishingly good quality sound for its size and price range. No, it didn’t topple a Bose mini-speaker or anything more high-end, but it was half the price and a leader for the price point.
Unfortunately for the Megaboom, the sound quality jump -- while remaining excellent -- does not justify the price jump. The bass is vastly improved compared to the original UE Boom, and the maximum volume level is very, very loud. But for $350, you start drifting into the $399-$500 market area, which is beyond casual users and into the luxury end of the mini-speaker market. You do get better quality from Bose systems in that price range, even if they can’t match the volume.
The sound quality remains beautifully crisp and clear, and well rounded. The bass improvement now means that pop, hard rock and hip-hop sound much better, but subtlety has been lost for more intricate music, such as acoustic, classic or multi-textured sophisticated arrangements -- again, not this product’s target market. The volume is more than enough for anyone, and can fill any house, backyard or beach scenario -- I regularly use it as a TV speaker. The oomph you get from such a small unit, while not as impressive as the size-quality/volume of the original, remains outstanding.
One of the best features of the original UE Boom and the MegaBoom is its pairing. UE is now boasting that it can have 10 Booms or Megabooms paired to the same source, giving a crazy surround sound experience. That’s right, you don’t have to just pair Boom with Boom or MegaBoom with MegaBoom. With a firmware update, they will all pair seamlessly.
Unfortunately, at the time of print, the Boom-Megaboom pairing feature was not yet available, so I was unable to test it. But UE did provide me with a demonstration. The problem is, again, buying two $350 speakers for pairing purposes really means you should just plonk down on a Bose; the sound quality just isn’t quite there. Put simply, we don’t recommend going out and buying several booms, but if you and a friend each have one, and go on holiday together, it does create a better sound experience.
What’s the verdict?
To conclude, the UE Megaboom is an excellent all round speaker, with brilliant battery life, a great feature set and superb design. The problem I have is with the pricing. This is now in the premium-priced Bluetooth speaker category, and its sound quality, while good, is not going to be keeping Bose and others up at night.
The size and weight of the unit also removes the portability of the original -- which was another key selling feature. Personally, I would recommend readers get two UE Boom’s and pair them (they were selling for $180 at JB Hifi at the time of writing).
Ironically, UE may have made such an excellent product with the UE Boom, and offered it at such a great price point, that it its successor, the MegaBoom, is a less desirable speaker system.
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