UE's First Smart Speakers
Ultimate Ears Blast and Megablast Review: High-End Portable Bluetooth Speakers, But They Won’t Replace Your Echo
In terms of sound quality and portability, the UE Boom 2 ($94+) and UE Megaboom ($150+) are still some of the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Now, with the surging interest in smart speakers, Ultimate Ears has released its first Bluetooth and wi-fi enabled speakers that work with Alexa voice commands: the UE Blast ($230) and UE Megablast ($298).
Both new speakers share the familiar look, portability and ruggedness of the Boom 2 and Megaboom, but these “Blast” speakers are integrated with Amazon’s Alexa and, when connected to wi-fi, can now function similarly to an Amazon Echo Tap ($130). You can ask Alexa to play certain songs, set alarms and answer simple questions. And both speakers can be carried with you from room to room, while an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot always needs to be plugged into a wall outlet.|
The Good: The sound quality of both the Blast and Megablast is excellent. The smaller Blast isn’t as powerful and won’t fill a room like the Megablast, as you’d expect, but both can get very loud without really any distortion. Over the holiday break, I took the Megablast and listened to it while my friends and I played outdoor paddle tennis; at max volume, the vocals and highs in “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons were super clear, for example, even amidst the song’s heavy bass. If you’re a fan of other UE speakers, the Megablast is the loudest speaker the company has ever made (40 percent louder than the Megaboom). The two speakers retain the familiar design and easy-to-use functionality of UE’s other Bluetooth speakers. You won’t really have to think about recharging because of their superb battery life. Nor will you really have to worry about breaking either speaker — they’re very durable.
Who They’re For: The Blast and Megablast walk the line between a smart speaker and a portable Bluetooth speaker. I’d recommend them if you don’t already have or need a multiroom speaker at home, like a Sonos or Play-Fi system, and if you’re also looking for a Bluetooth speaker. The Boom 2 and Megaboom are more convenient (and better sounding) than an Amazon Echo because they are both portable. If you want to listen to music and talk to Alexa in the living room, bedroom or kitchen, these speakers can simply be carried with you.
Watch Out For: Don’t expect the Blast and Megablast to work just like (or just as good as) your Amazon Echo device. For starters, voice commands only work with Amazon Music, iHeart Radio and TuneIn. You can still obviously stream music using other services, like Apple Music Unlimited, Spotify or Pandora, but Alexa can’t access them (yet). Also, compared to my Echo or Echo Dot, it takes noticeably longer for Alexa respond using these speakers. I’d often say “Alexa” and the light on top of the speakers would light up, but it would take several seconds for the speaker to process my request or answer my question. It just wasn’t nearly as easy as using my other Echo devices. There’s no multiroom functionality, even between two of UE’s “Blast” speakers, which is kind of a shame given that you can pair multiple “Boom” speakers together. The last thing is that, unless you purchase the charging dock ($40), you have to turn the speaker upside down to listen and charge it at the same time.
Alternatives: Unless you subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited (you get a three-month trial with the purchase of a Blast or Megablast), I think most people will use this as a very good portable speaker. For substantially less, you can buy the UE Boom 2 ($94+) or UE Megaboom ($150+). I also recommend Bose’s SoundLink Mini II ($205) as a great-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker. The JBL Flip 4 ($85+) is a more affordable and rugged alternative.
Verdict: From my experience, the Blast and Megablast have two main drawbacks. The first is price. At $230 and $298 for the Blast and Megablast, respectively, they are expensive. You can buy a range of other quality portable Bluetooth speakers, both rugged or elegant, for less. The alternatives might not be as loud or sound as great. The second issue is that Alexa’s abilities are super limited in this form. Voice commands only work with a few services — Spotify and Pandora not among them (yet) — and they won’t work when used outside the home as a portable Bluetooth speaker, which is how I think most people will use them. Also, unlike the majority of other wi-fi speakers, UE’s first entries don’t support multiroom, so there’s no incentive to get more than one of these.
That said, the Blast and Megablast are top-of-the-line Bluetooth speakers. For the average camper and backyard barbecuer, they’re as waterproof and drop-proof as you’d want. Most importantly, the two speakers sound terrific. The ideal consumer for these speakers is somebody who values portability within the home — someone who wants to be able to carry the speaker from the kitchen to the dining room to the bathroom and give voice commands without being tied down to one location (like with a Sonos speaker, for example). If you’re just going to use them as Bluetooth speakers, you’ll be more than happy with either the Blast or Megablast. Although, if you’re attached to the colorful and simplistic design, you could save a decent amount by purchasing the Boom 2 or Megaboom instead.
What Others Are Saying:
• “If you want an amazing, portable Alexa speaker to carry around the house, the Megablast is an amazing music machine that can do it all and go anywhere. The Blast is great for its size too. But if you’re willing to shed some smarts, connectivity, or portability, there are more affordable options.” — Jeffery Van Camp, Wired
• “Ultimate Ears is on excellent form here. Alexa’s inclusion in a portable speaker is a bonus, but the Megablast’s real strength lies in its hugely enjoyable and mature performance.” — What Hi-Fi
Max Volume: 90 dBC
Frequency Range: 90Hz – 20kHz
Drivers: two 35mm active drivers, two 81mm x 39mm passive radiators
Battery: 12 hours
Max Volume: 93 dBC
Frequency Range: 60Hz – 20kHz
Drivers: two 25mm tweeters, two 55mm active drivers, two 85mm x 50mm passive radiators
Battery: 16 hours
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