Whether you’re a business traveler or love to listen to music around the house, a good Bluetooth wireless speaker is the way to go and the Ultimate Ears Boombox is a wonderful option.
Why wireless and why bluetooth
Over the last 5 years, we have been deluged by speakers with docking connectors in all shapes and sizes but the era of dock based speakers is dead. Why is it dead you ask? Apple killed it when it switched from its traditional 30 pin dock connector to the new Lightning connector. Millions of iPhone owners cringed when they realized their investment in iPhone gear just became useless and obsolete. Most of these “burned” users don’t want to make the same mistake again.
There are other wireless options (aka Airplay) but these are typically vendor specific and cost considerably more than Bluetooth devices. Sure Bluetooth doesn’t provide high fidelity sound reproduction but I’m pretty sure your 50 Cent and Jay-Z will sound just fine. Remember that most of your music is in compressed MP3 format which is already a down-sampled version of the original.
What was I looking for?
Before I out to find the best affordable portable speaker for the masses, I wanted to create a list of characteristics I would be looking for:
- Since we are talking portable, I wanted something with a decent battery
- I wanted something relatively small and lightweight
- I wanted something that would offer decent sound quality
- I wanted something well-built and reliable
- I wanted something affordable
It wouldn’t have been much of a showdown if I didn’t have at least a couple of models competing for my attention. Search Google for “bluetooth speaker” and you’ll see that there are thousands and thousands of devices vying for your attention. In order to narrow down the testing to a handful of devices, I read hundreds of reviews from users on sites like Amazon, I read shootouts from professional reviewers (on renown tech sites) and then I looked for newer model products that looked promising but didn’t have a lot of reviews yet.
This allowed me to narrow the list down to the top 12.
As mentioned in previous sound equipment reviews, sound quality is very subjective and personal. So your own views may be different but most readers typically agree with my findings. I tested the speakers in different rooms (containing different types of furniture) and in locations with different sound profiles (quiet room, noisy cafeteria, on a busy street corner, etc).
I didn’t think it would make much of a difference but I tested each speaker using different types of music (classic, rock, pop, opera), in different formats (lossless, mp3 in sample rates from 96-320) and using locally stored songs and streamed music.
All the devices were tested one after the other (for each location) using similar placement and configuration. I wanted to test simplicity to every device was used with its default configuration and I didn’t use any proprietary control or configuration apps. I wanted to test the vanilla out of the box experience most consumers would live.
I was testing each unit for the criteria mentioned above
When all my testing was completed, I was surprised and pleased with the winner. And the winner is…….. Logitech’s Ultimate Ears (UE) Mobile Boombox. I own a pair of UE Triple-Fi 10 headphones and absolutely love them but Bluetooth speakers are a late addition to the finally that happened after Logitech bought UE.
Why I liked it:
- The device was small and portable. It is about the size of a medium soup can which means it is pocketable, light (298grams) and easy to carry.
- It offered 8-10 hours of wireless play
- It was extremely well built. The device has a nice rubber covering which holds it in place on the table, helps it when dropped and feels solid in your hand. Overall the build quality is very good (aka it doesn’t creek or crack like most cheap electronics we are used to).
- It was affordable for the masses. It’s under $US!00 on Amazon so it definitely falls into the affordable category for the general public.
- Sound quality was good. It pushes out 78db of sound which is as loud as a washing machine. No Bluetooth speaker (available today) will provide a high fidelity experience so don’t expect it. What I was looking for was clear sound reproduction without distortion. The Mobile Boombox delivers a nice clean sound profile that is well suited for general listening.
- It doubles as a speaker phone. I tested the speakerphone functionality by placing it in the middle of a round table in a typical corporate conference room and the party on the other side said It sounded exactly the same as the high priced corporate speakerphones in most meeting rooms.
Pairing Bluetooth devices with a smartphone can sometimes be problematic but not with this little speaker. I paired it about 2 dozen times with different devices and it worked flawlessly every time. I tested how far I could do before I started to experience streaming issues and found that it worked well until about 25 feet (with clean line of sight between the device and my smartphone). It sometimes worked ok up to 30 feet but I would get more sound artifacts.
The UE Mobile Boombox charges via micro-USB which means you won’t have to carry another charging brick. Most of us already carry a micro-USB to charge our kindles, smartphones (non-iPhone of course) or Nexus tablets.
Those who read my reviews know that I try to take a balanced approach and present both the positives and negatives of each product I review.
- Some of the limitations are to be expected since we are talking about small speakers, crammed in a small package. The device seems to offer the best sound reproduction when music is played 70-80% of its maximum.
- Although there are 2 speakers in the device, they are very close to each other so you won’t really get a stereo experience but who cares.
- The device is small so bass is weak but that seemed to be an issue all of these portable Bluetooth speakers had.
- The device has 3 buttons so music control will have to be done from your device (smartphone, tablet or PC).
My final advice is Buy IT. It is a great little device that is affordable, reliable and fun. You'll get years of use out of this little guy and I know you'll be a very happy customer.