Ultimate Ears finally released a great new set of Bluetooth speakers, now with Amazon Alexa built-in.
Hey everyone. I’ve been waiting a long time for this, finally, UE rolls out some new Bluetooth speakers. The Boom and Megaboom are still sold on UE’s website so they’re not technically being replaced, but the Blast and Megablast that I have here are similar models now with Amazon’s voice assistance. I’ll have the bigger speaker up on the website quite soon. As always being transparent, UE did send these over for review, our assessment was not altered in any way. Please read the entire review for both pros and cons. This one retails for $229, but as always, I’ll place my affiliate link above. Click on that link and it’ll give you the most updated price in real time. You never know when these things might go on sale.
Starting off, I’m loving the minimalist approach that UE tweaked on their new speaker. It’s a slim cylinder with sharper lines on either end. The Blast has the same super durable fabric grill. It’s designed to be stain proof, dirt, dust, mud proof, waterproof, even drop proof. I’ve buried this thing as best as I could and as you guys see, this thing is still working. Because it’s IP67 certified, this can be placed in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes, I can hose this down and it’s ready for use again. Another positive note, the speaker is able to float giving you peace of mind when you’re on the lake. On the negative side, the Blast cannot float in water.
Buttons are clicky and tactile, though I didn’t receive any audio indication if I was at maximum volume or not. Usually, there’s a beep that tells me I can’t go any higher. Also, on the older Boom and Megaboom speakers, you’re able to press both Plus and Minus signs to hear the speaker tell me how much battery life is remaining. We lose that feature on the Blast. On the flip-side, and this is the biggest highlight of why someone might buy this over the Boom or other Bluetooth speakers on the market, there’s Amazon Alexa built-in. I’m going to call her Lex from here on out so I don’t activate everyone’s devices around the world.
Finishing up the physical features, you can’t skip or go back on songs. To mute the microphone so Amazon doesn’t hear you speaking, pressing the minus and Bluetooth pairing button on top is the only physical way.
Flipping to the bottom of the speaker, there’s a small D-Ring for attaching this to a carabiner and such. Underneath this little flap, we have USB 2.0 for charging the Blast and oddly, I mentioned this two years ago and it hasn’t changed… their port is too narrow to use my other random USB cords around the house. Plugging this into a random power bank I have on the go, the opening doesn’t for this generic usb cord to work either. Although it’s USB 2, it’s not as universal and most of the time, you gotta use their supplied cord.
UE does sell a docking pad that includes a replacement D-Ring. This has contact pins that allows for charging the speaker without touching any cords. Also, you’re able to keep the speaker upright while charging and have music blasting. With the USB cord, the speaker has to lay on it’s side, which still works, but you’re getting vertical audio direction instead of horizontal audio blasting throughout the room.
Touching base on battery life, UE is claiming up to 12hrs of use, which is on the low end of Bluetooth speakers in this price range. With my testing at 50% volume, I was able to get 8 hours and 37 minutes from a full battery to dead. And to recharge, that takes approximately 3 hours to do. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no way to get battery percentage, and calling up Amazon Lex, she doesn’t provide battery levels either which was a letdown. The only way at the moment is opening up the UE app to check.
BLUETOOTH TESTS & MISCELLANEOUS
Finishing up our final tests, Bluetooth strength outperformed much of the competition. I was able to walk 160 linear feet away from the speaker before it started to cut out, and 154 linear feet with my Pixel XL and that’s with a straight line of sight. I did test this with phone calls and oddly, this Bluetooth speaker at the time of this review does not work. Although I have it paired via Bluetooth with my iPhone X, it’s not taking phone calls.
AMAZON ALEXA FEATURE
Getting into Amazon’s Voice Assistant performance, this is one of the biggest selling points of the speaker. As I’ve mentioned previously on the channel, Voice Assistants like Google’s or Siri are going to be the next big thing, at least I think so. For those who are not too familiar with Amazon Lex, there are about 25,000 voice commands, and growing…
Some capabilities include voice control of your smart thermostat, lighting, smart door locks, power outlets, and switches. Other features that don’t require buying additional hardware, there’s streaming of audio apps. Since the speaker is connected to your home’s WiFi, you don’t need your phone to listen to podcasts, radio stations, streaming music apps, etc. The speaker can do it itself. The Voice Assistant, like many other speakers on the market, you can get weather, traffic, movie times and the list goes on.
Some of the limitations I’ve found: if you’re streaming through Bluetooth, you can’t skip and go back on songs when listening to IHeartRadio, Pandora and other similar streaming services via Bluetooth. If you’re using the speaker through Wifi and through the Lex App, then it works. Testing this also with my local music player via Bluetooth and then calling upon Lex, she pauses my music but doesn’t execute the action which was unfortunate. As mentioned earlier about battery life, I can’t verbally ask how much battery life is remaining which was somewhat a letdown.
And right before I touch base on the audio tests, the UE App is available for apple and android. It’s very straightforward and simple, but at the time of this review, we’re missing some of the good-to-great features that are currently on the Boom and Megaboom. There’s no equalizer, and more importantly, there’s no way to Double Up and have two or more speakers play in-sync at the same time. Keep in mind, Bluetooth speakers have the ability to receive firm updates, I’m certain these features would come back. Other than that, the app is really used to pair the Blast to Wifi and my Amazon accounts. The occasional battery look-up and that’s about it for the time being…
So there you have it. First off, the speaker can get pretty loud – I was able to fill up small and medium-size rooms with sound at 50 to 60 percent volume. At the maximum volume, it can even push large rooms, though you do lose a bit of audio performance at those levels.
I listened to the speaker at several distances and found the most comfortable range to be about five to ten feet, maintaining the most clarity while still sounding balanced. The Blast performed well outdoors, with the music staying strong over most environmental noise.
In discussing the specific audio ranges, I found the Blast to be a bit light in the lower frequencies. Bass was present but didn’t have much impact or body to the sound. That was okay in less-bassy genres like acoustic, classical, and some rock music, but it felt lacking in richness for genres like EDM and hip-hop. In bass-heavy songs, testing this with Drake, listening to Kanye, Jay-Z’s more recent album 4:44, I felt the speaker really struggled to hit those low resonating frequencies, but instead of boosting them, they flattened them out and lost some audio characteristics. In listening to Warren G’s classic, “Regulators”, most of the warm, rolling bass notes were difficult to pick out. In comparing to a similar speaker, the JBL Charge 3, that clearly outperformed the Blast in the low ranges.
In the middle frequencies, where most instruments and vocals are heard, mids were more forward than bass. The genre’s that absolutely stood out and did great in were rock, classical and songs strong in vocals. Melodies were clear and stood out. In songs like The Bold Arrow of Time by Tame Impala, their busier midrange was still clear and discernable at moderate volume. At the loudest volumes, I heard some raspiness in the upper mid-range that could sound harsh for folks.
Heading into treble, there was a decent performance. In some songs, I felt the top end could become slightly distorted and lose clarity, though this occurred more on treble-heavy songs like pop and electronic music – in my testing, specifically with the song “My Girls”, by Animal Collective. It varied from song to song, and some performed better than others, but there was some inconsistency in this range. On songs with a more balanced spectrum, the speaker handled higher ranges pretty well, and I never felt any ear tinging or piercing noises.
Also as a reminder, the Blast provides a 360-degree sound. Wherever you place this, you’re going to get an equal amount of audio throughout the room. There is, of course, no audio separation.
Overall, the UE Blast is a good speaker but moreso for the right genres of music. This did sound similar to the UE Boom in my opinion as it had very similar audio characteristics. The biggest selling point and why you would consider getting the Blast over the Boom or most speakers on the market at the moment, it’s because of Amazon Lex, and how darn rugged this speaker is. When someone asks me for a speaker to use outdoors, I always tell them, the Boom is practically bulletproof. Alright folks, hopefully I did help you in some way. I’ll catch you guys, on the next one.
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