Instead of simply updating its line of wildly popular Boom wireless speakers, Ultimate Ears has blown up the Boom line entirely. The audio company's portable speakers have been redesigned,
rebranded—what was once Boom is now Blast—and relaunched with Wi-Fi capability, charging docks, and Amazon Alexa.
The new Ultimate Ears Blast and Megablast look very much like the Boom and Megaboom, the speakers that came before them. They're still cylindrical, still have the chunky rubber buttons, and still covered with woven material that seals out water. But inside, you'll find new guts. The most notable addition is Alexa—you can bark voice commands at these speakers, asking them to turn the music up and down or to play specific artists, genres, podcasts, or radio stations. Voice commands can play music from most of the services Alexa can access, though you can't use your voice to play Spotify, Deezer, or Pandora at launch. (Ultimate Ears says Pandora and Deezer are coming in an update, with Spotify likely to follow later.) You can also do all the normal Alexa stuff: ask for news and weather, buy toothpaste, and control your smart home.
Put You on Blast
The Blast is the smaller of the two speakers and, like the Boom, has the volume, size, and price that make it the more sensible choice for most people. The design is instantly recognizable as an Ultimate Ears speaker, though close inspection reveals new stuff. The Boom's rounded edges have been replaced by sharp angles on the Blast, and the power button and its status LED are larger. The branding is different too. Gone is the small tag with the "UE" logo, which has been replaced by a more prominent "Ultimate Ears" badge.
The screw-in D-ring is still there on the bottom of the new models, but now you can swap that standard black D-ring for a silver one that works with a new charging base. The base, which is just a squat white disc, is available as an accessory, and it can charge both the Blast and the Megablast. (It can't charge Booms or Megabooms. Bummertown.) Battery life is essentially unchanged on both of the new speakers: 12 hours for the little one and 16 for the big one.
Sonically, the Blast is virtually identical to its predecessor. Not so with the Megablast, which has been reengineered to squeeze out fuller, more well-rounded audio. The old Megaboom has two drivers and two passive radiators, and it sounds pretty damn decent. The new Megablast has two bass drivers, two tweeters, and two passive radiators. Discrete drivers for highs and lows means you get better clarity across the whole dynamic range, especially when you dime the volume. Bass isn't just thumpier, it's crisper and imbues the music with drama and weight. I got to hear a demo, and the new driver layout makes a big difference—if you're a stickler for quality sound, try the bigger speaker.
To get Alexa working, your speaker has to be connected to your Wi-Fi network. That makes setup more complex, since instead of just pairing the speaker to your phone with a tap, you have to download the Ultimate Ears app, then register your speaker with the Alexa app too. But the hassle has a payoff: Once on Wi-Fi, your speaker can receive automatic updates over your home network. When new Alexa capabilities get added (or when Spotify gets added) you don't need to futz with firmware flashes. You can just manage the updates inside the app. And, if you hate Alexa (you monster) or if you're out spearfishing and away from Wi-Fi, the Blast and Megablast still work as regular old Bluetooth speakers.
Pricing and Caveats
The Blast is $229, which is a pretty significant price increase from the UE Boom, which you can find right now for well under $200 on the web. The Megablast is $299, the same retail price as the Megaboom. Pick one of six colors, including a fetching neon yellow and a wine-soaked purplish red. The charging base (called the Power Up) is $39 and only comes in white. Everything ships later this month.
None of the old UE speakers are going away. The Boom, Megaboom, Wonderboom, and Roll remain stocking-stuffer candidates for the time being. Also worth noting: While the older Bluetooth-only speakers could be synced through the "Double Up" feature, giving you the ability to play the same song through two or five or 21 speakers and create a multi-room listening experience, the new Blast models will not have that feature at launch. So, to recap: no Spotify via voice, no speaker syncing, no multi-room audio. But the presence of Amazon's smart, always-improving AI certainly dulls the sting of those thorns.