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Thursday
Aug292013

Review: Ultimate Ears Boom Bluetooth speaker and handsfree

Text and photos by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

It has been a few years since the Jawbone Jambox kicked off the Bluetooth speaker segment that brought high quality wireless  audio to users of smartphones and tablets. Logitech may be a late entrant into this class, but it has quickly dominated it in terms of innovation, quality and features. The Logitech UE or Ultimate Ears Boom bluetooth speaker is aiming to dominate in this area.

Product specs:

WIRELESS CAPABILITIES:

  • Pair up to 8 Bluetooth enabled source devices  - Connect up to two source devices at the same time.
  • Wirelessly play (stream) to 2 UE BOOMs from one Source.
  • Mobile range of play is up to 15m (50 ft).
  • NFC (passive) enabled - (works with active NFC enabled source devices * Android Jellybean and higher).
  • Maximum Sound Level: 88dBA
  • Frequency Range: 90Hz - 20kHz
  • Drivers: Two 1.5", 4 Ohm Drivers; Two 2" Passive Radiators
  • Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery for up to 15 hours of battery life between Micro USB charges.
  • Actual battery life will vary with use, settings and environmental conditions.Rechargeable batteries have a limited number of charge cycles.
  • Charge time: 3.4 hours
  • Ingress Protection Rating – Liquid – Level 4: Water Resistant Acoustic Skin

Loud speakers are one thing, but it is tiresome to deal with bass-skewed speakers that seem tweaked for hip-hop or pop music. There's a whole universe of music out there and increasingly new ways to play and share it, but a good set of speakers needs to be able to deliver constant quality.

That seems to be the blueprint that Logitech adopted when creating the UE Boom speaker and handsfree. Yes, the requisite Bluetooth connectivity is there, so is NFC (Near Field Communication) for one tap connectivity to smarpthones and other devices that support this technology. It also has a speakerphone function which is extremely useful since most smartphones fail at maintaining passable audio quality once speakerphone functions are engaged.

What's most interesting about the UE Boom speaker is its shape. Designed to be an all-in-one speaker solution (although you can pair two of these via an app to create a full stereo experience) it is cylindrically shaped.

The idea is that it offers 360' of sound, can be situated in a horizontal or vertical position and is even rough and tumble enough to withstand dirt, dust and some water since it is sealed and proofed. The UE Boom speaker is exquisitely designed and almost feels and looks delicate but it isn't. I just wish they included a travel case to protect it, but I think they're saying that it doesn't need protecting.

All of these features really don't add up to much if sound quality is crap and this is one are where the UE Boom completely blew away my expectations. These speakers sound simply divine.

To test the range and quality, I connected the UE Boom speaker to the line in of my vintage Sony Discman D-12 (or D-22 in certain markets) CD player. I then sat down for four hours completely stunned by the depth of sound, clarity and quality this small speaker produced. I threw a remastered recording of John Coltrane's Blue Train, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone and the experience was sublime. There's something to be said for uncompressed digitally mastered music being played back on a good set of speakers.

Logitech is positioning the UE Boom as a party speaker so I popped in some classic tunes from the Death Row: The Singles Collection for some Snoop, Dre, 2Pac and Warren G and got that deep and groovy bass but without drowning out the vocals, funky midrange and the wah-wah effects that were key ingredients of early 90's West Coast gangsta rap.

I was amazed at what was coming out of the Discman and the UE Boom speakers, the Discman was running on batteries and the UE was as well, there was no amplifier involved but you would swear the sound was coming from a bigger, more complex set-up.

Pairing and playing back from an iPhone 5 and HTC One was simple and just as rewarding. The NFC connectivity of the HTC One made for a quicker pairing experience. HD Voice calls were spot on clear while using the UE Boom as a speakerphone.

The Logitech UE Boom Bluetooth speaker has easily become my favourite bluetooth speaker. This much power, sound separation and depth in a portable set is simply unprecedented. It is incredibly lightweight as well which makes it a no brainer for impromptu trips to the cottage, quick jaunts to the beach or anywhere where excellent sound is required. 

I've not even been able to fully explore all the features such as enabling two users to hijack the audio (the UE's allow for multiple Bluetooth Connections) to serve as dual DJs.

Accessory speakers are often thought of as janky add-ons but the Logitech Ultimate Ears Boom bluetooth speakers are all about quality, toughness and ease of use. These small speakers can easily fill up a room or even a one bedroom apartment with exquisite audio (provided the source quality is good). They look and feel exceptional and can likely handle the abuse of day to day usage.

At $229, the price is a bit of a premium that might turn off some users. But considering the versatility, quality and multifunctional nature of the UE Boom, these are really the only accessory speakers you would need for your notebook, smartphone, tablet or in my case, vintage Sony Discman CD Player.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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