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UE Wonderboom Review: Continued Excellence

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UE Wonderboom Review: Continued Excellence

Ultimate Ears’ line of portable Bluetooth speakers have long been favorites among nearly everyone in the tech industry and consumers alike. They combine a distinct style with rugged, durable construction and excellent sound to create some of the best portable audio options in the marketplace. The company’s latest venture, the $99 Wonderboom, is another solid addition to the ever-growing, but consistently excellent, Boom line.

If the original UE Boom, and its successor the Boom 2, are beer cans, then the Wonderboom is a mini keg. Unlike the Roll 2, which was formerly the most affordable offering from UE, the newcomer’s design is more in line with that of its older brethren. It retains the 360 degree soundscape but is shorter and wider to make it more compact. It looks exactly like what would happen if you simply smushed a Boom 2. Unlike the Roll, which always felt somewhat out of place when compared to its cylindrical family members, the Wonderboom fits right in.

Obviously, the smaller frame lessens the overall footprint, but I question if it actually makes it more portable. The long and lean nature of the Boom made it great for shoving in backpacks or cupholders. It was easy to find a space for it on the fringes of your luggage, where only a thin device could be stored; the wider Wonderboom can’t slide into nooks and crannies as well. That isn’t to say I think this is a poor example of a portable speaker, merely that I don’t think it gains any more portability over previous UE efforts thanks to its size.

uewonderboom_3_680.jpgIt does come with a hanging loop, allowing users to easily clip it to packs, bikes or what have you, which is useful if you’re the clipping kind of person. Really, though, if you were to take a hint from UE’s promotional materials, what you’re supposed to do is use the loop to hold the Wonderboom with your finger.

Just like previous offerings from Ultimate Ears, Wonderboom is built to last, and withstand, a host of elements. It’s made with the same rubberized material, and feels just as chunky and solid as any UE offering I’ve tested in the past. I don’t have an urge to be reckless with any tech gadget, but this device inspires confidence that if things were to get a little hairy, it wouldn’t skip a beat. On top of the speaker you’ll find the power and Bluetooth buttons, the same as in previous products, and set in between those is a UE logo that can be pressed to play and pause music as well as initiate the Double Up feature, which lets you connect two speakers together for increased sound.

uewonderboom_7_340.jpgIt’s a small addition, but one that really improves the experience. Before, the company employed an interesting, but awkward, method in which you could tap the top of the speaker to start or stop whatever you were listening to. This almost never worked for me, for numerous reasons, so I always resorted to using my phone any time I needed to control something. Having a dedicated button is miles better, and makes the simple act of pausing your audio much less of a hassle.

uewonderboom_4_340.jpgAlong with the rubberized exterior, the Wonderboom is IP67 rated, meaning it can be submerged in up to one meter of water for 30 minutes. Essentially, as long as you don’t throw it in the ocean for an extended period of time, it’s waterproof. This means there is a rubber flap covering the micro-USB port (I would have loved to see UE embrace USB-C here, but no luck). In the past, the flaps covering the important connectors have been one of my least favorite things to deal with. In order to do their job, they need to secure tightly and stay that way, which means it can be a chore to open them up when it comes time to charge. Here, however, UE figured out a solution to keep the flap in place when closed and make it easier to open. No longer is it a struggle to undo, even if you’re lacking in fingernails.

The Wonderboom offers 10 hours of battery life, which is one more than the Roll 2 and five less than the Boom 2. Not the most robust battery life in UE’s lineup, clearly, but still plenty for a day trip. I’ve never had any issue with the battery life of any of UE’s devices, as I tend to use them in short bursts, but I do wish the company would improve the charging time. It takes the Wonderboom 2.8 hours to fully charge, which feels like an eternity in the age of fast charging employed by most modern smartphones, but is an improvement over the Roll 2 which requires an absurd 5.5 hours to charge completely.

On the connectivity side of things, the speaker can be paired to eight Bluetooth devices, connected to two at the same time and has a range of 33 meters. As I mentioned above, you can connect two Wonderbooms together through the Double Up feature which, in my previous experience, can be occasionally finicky and tough to set up. Further complicating issues is the fact that Ultimate Ears has not yet released an app for the Wonderboom, like it has for every other product in its lineup.

uewonderboom_8_680.jpgI will continually be confused as to why the company chose to make multiple apps rather than a primary one, but I am even more confused why it would release a brand new product without any software support. Without the app, there is no way of monitoring updates, battery life or extra features (like Double Up). Hopefully there is one soon to come, but it still doesn’t make any sense why UE would leave, potentially new, customers in the dark like it has.

Much of this review has focused on how the Wonderboom continues the exceptional legacy of Ultimate Ears’ previous devices. That remains the case when it comes to the sound quality. Though not as powerful as the Megaboom, of course, I was pleasantly surprised with the punch delivered here. I’ve considered the Roll to be a good product for its price from the beginning, but the separation between it and the Boom was always distinct in my eyes. With the company’s latest entry, that line is muddied. There is very little stopping me from making this the primary UE speaker I turn to. It has more than enough oomph to fill my, admittedly small, apartment and does so with little distortion at high volumes.

uewonderboom_5_340.jpgThe sound isn’t quite as warm as with the company’s larger speakers, but it does deliver the bass where you’d want and pushes highs and mids effectively, as well. It won’t blow your mind with detail, but you won’t come away thinking the sound was thin either. Just like with the Megaboom, Boom 2 and Roll 2, the sound of the Wonderboom is solid top to bottom. It may not leave you drooling the way a thousand-plus dollar piece of audiophile kit would, but for a gadget you’ll use on a roadtrip, or by the pool or while you do dishes, you’ll be more than pleased.

The best audio equipment melts away. It doesn’t leave you questioning the sound, but simply presents your audio in a way that’s satisfying, in a way that lets you focus on the music. Instead of wondering about highs, mids and lows, you just listen. Ultimate Ears has understood that from the beginning, and it’s shown. The Wonderboom is no different.

At $99, UE’s latest product may be the best bang for your buck in the portable Bluetooth speaker market. It’s a definite upgrade over the Roll 2, which previously held the most affordable spot in the company’s profile, with a bigger sound and better design. If you’re looking for an affordable speaker that you can throw around and not worry about, but doesn’t sacrifice on sound or battery life, the Wonderboom is your best bet.

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