Ultimate Ears (UE) is one of the best Bluetooth speaker manufacturers out there. There’s a reason why I’ve hung onto my UE Boom 2 – it’s slim, durable, waterproof, functions perfectly, and sounds refined and powerful. I’ve had no reason to look elsewhere, that is, until UE debuted a successor years later. Today we have the Blast, and this Synopsis lays out what UE has done to one-up its itself.
In short, the Blast is an iterative update to the long-standing Boom 2. So it largely looks the same, but has slight tweaks throughout the design, as well as an updated list of color choices. This also means updated internals, in the form of polished sound and WiFi smarts.
- Slim and portable footprint
- Waterproof and virtually indestructible chassis
- 360-degree, room-filling sound
- Refined, clean, and detailed sound quality
- WiFi connectivity for stand-alone streaming and Alexa virtual assistant
- Larger body than before
- Less battery life than before
- Some connectivity issues
- Limited WiFi music support
- Not cheap
What it’s like to use
- If you’ve used one of UE’s original Bluetooth speakers, you’ll find familiar territory with the Blast. This isn’t a bad thing. We love UE’s speaker design and don’t see a reason to change the formula.
- This means that the Blast sports an entirely cylindrical shape, comprised largely of a tight weaving that provides ingress protection but also lets sound waves flow through.
- The Blast also carries over the same strip that connects the top and bottom caps, and that holds the large +/- physical buttons atop and logo on the bottom.
- The durable feeling is the same as before. Everything feels tightly constructed and sealed. The solid bits have a thick, rubbery texture that should stand the test of time (it did on our older Boom 2).
- There’s a couple, very slight tweaks that UE made on the new model. The top and bottom caps don’t taper to a chamfer anymore; all these edges are flat now. That little tab that held the “UE” logo is now gone and imprinted on the bottom of the strip (we welcome this change, it looks much better). And the Blast is slightly larger in all dimensions (1mm more diameter and 8mm taller).
- The bottom of the Blast remains largely the same too.
- We were disappointed to see the continual use of the older microUSB standard for charging. Every new device should use the current USB Type-C. Additionally, UE removed the 3.5mm aux jack – making the complete investment to wireless audio.
- Talking about charging, UE developed a dock for its new speakers for effortless charging – though will set you back an extra $40.
- It’s not wireless charging (we would’ve preferred this) but works just as easy via pin connects. The dock packaging comes with a different bottom ring to screw in. It’s metal and has the pin contact point to enable charging.
- The dock is convenient, but no way $40 worth. It would’ve made more sense for UE to incorporate a wireless charging coil on the bottom so that we can use an existing Qi charging pad instead (which run cheaply on Amazon).
- The Blast sports the same water/dust-proof rating as before (can be immersed in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes).
- You can use the Blast like a traditional Bluetooth speaker. That is: power it up, pair with a mobile device, and start streaming music. The volume of the speakers maps to the device’s Bluetooth control.
- The real benefit you’ll see from this update (and frankly, the main reason to buy it over the Boom 2), is its WiFi capabilities, which the Boom 2 didn’t have. What this means is that the Blast can stream music independently. Connect it to your home network and it can retrieve music from the web on its own.
- This is done via the popular Alexa virtual assistant, set up through the Ultimate Ears app. Yes, UE partnered with Amazon to bring Alexa smarts to the Blast. So you can not only stream music, but administer loads of vocal commands and information retrieval that Alexa is capable of.
- A benefit of this is higher fidelity streaming. WiFi can handle higher bandwidth than Bluetooth, so tracks won’t get considerably compressed (assuming you utilize high quality streaming). Unfortunately, with all this attention to WiFi, UE continues to forgo the higher fidelity aptX Bluetooth codec with the Blast.
- A pretty big problem with this system is in that WiFi control can only be done with Alexa. The problem isn’t with Alexa itself but with what you have access to (or don’t) with Amazon’s service. You can only utilize a handful of streaming services.
- This means that you’re not able to use popular services like Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, etc. over WiFi, and you’ll have to resort to traditional Bluetooth. This severely limits the capability, which for me is rendered unusable because I only use unsupported services. But I can still take advantage of Alexa’s other skills.
- Despite the speaker’s size increase, the Blast unfortunately gets a shorter battery life rating (12 hours vs 15 on the Boom 2). We assume that UE is using the same battery size, but the extra WiFi tech takes an additional toll on it. Of course, volume level and WiFi use will largely affect what you get.
- The Bluetooth range of the Blast has increased by 50% (from 100ft to 150ft), and the WiFi range is a whopping 330ft. Despite this we sadly report finicky connectivity. On Bluetooth, we got drops from time to time (where we never did on the Boom 2). We saw drops with WiFi playback too, and we weren’t the only ones (see the reviews on Amazon). UE may have bit more than they can chew with the wireless tech on this one.
- Being that UE can administer device updates via their app, connectivity is likely something that can be improved upon. Even if you just plan to use Bluetooth on the Blast, we recommend to install the app so you can keep it up to date.
- If you look at the specs between the old and new models, it doesn’t seem like UE did much from an audio perspective. The frequency range is the same and there’s still a config of two passive drivers (for bass) and two active drivers (for all other frequencies). But the sound tells a different story.
- Where the Boom 2’s sound leaned on the bass, the Blast has a more even distribution. Bass is still powerful and punchy but no longer dominant. Bassheads may be disappointed, but we prefer this better-rounded sound signature. It lets the treble shine, which is a fantastic thing here, because the treble reproduction of UE’s drivers is clean and detailed.
- We also get more opportunity to enjoy the smooth, full mid-range. Vocals on this speaker prominent and full-bodied, making the sound more engaging, especially when the 360-degree output fills a room. When you’re outside and you crank up the volume, you’ll also be surprised at how loud the Blast can get.
- Not all is perfect with the sound. The speaker still does sacrifice clarity for power. You can certainly get more detail and sharper reproduction from higher-end speakers, but for a premium too. We feel like the Blast is a good balance between both worlds.
The UE Blast is an alright update to the Boom 2, not great. What it ultimately progresses from its predecessor is WiFi capability. But its tight partnership with Amazon means that you have to be invested in that ecosystem to really benefit from it. If you’re not (i.e. we like to use Play Music and Spotify streaming services), then you’ll be missing out on a key feature. Sure, having Alexa on-board for vocal assistance is helpful, but speakers are primarily for music.
UE’s tweaks to the speaker’s features are minor. It is pretty much the same thing as the Boom 2 but with slightly refined audio. You actually take a couple steps back with a larger size and lower battery life rating (though, the extra size can be justified by the more able audio drivers). We’re also seeing connectivity issues that we didn’t on the older model.
Suffice to say, if Alexa and the supported music services appeal to you, then this will be a nifty upgrade. But if you plan to stream Bluetooth primarily, then we’d say stick with the Boom 2. This is especially since the Boom 2 goes for only $100 these days, while the new Blast is well over $200.