We all love a good bluetooth speaker, don’t we? They’re like headphones…there are 723,000 options for under $45, and then there’s a jump to the $100 range, then you get to the big players at $200-$300. Anything over $400 is very hard to justify.
And you buy. every. single. one of them.
I’m a bit of an audio nut, and like most things in my life, I am constantly hard to please when it comes to good-sounding consumer audio equipment. I don’t have some crazy setup in my house, but I do spend money when it’s merited—in the car, for instance, where I struggle to settle for the lower trim models with the boring 160-Watt stereo systems because I GOTTA HAVE THAT RUMBLE. Yet I digress.
And much like I have an ideal set (and by set I mean array, meaning multiple types for multiple use cases) of earbuds/headphones, I also have an ideal array of bluetooth speakers that any self-respecting music enthusiast should entertain. It goes a little something like this:
The budget: This is the throw away bluetooth speaker you picked up from the local big-box retailer for $20 on vacation because you forgot your favorite bluetooth speaker when you were packing. It’s light, it charges extremely slowly, doesn’t hold a charge for long at all, and if you lost it you would never wonder where it went. It is disposable—and largely unused, sitting on a table in your basement.
The go-to: This is the speaker that you would marry if you could. It is dependable, good quality, portable (enough), inexpensive (enough), classy (enough) looking.
The beast: It’s big. It’s heavy. The bass is ridiculous. The 30-pin iPod connector is bent from years of neglect, the bluetooth functionality is shoddy at best, but that auxiliary cable (that you lose constantly) is a tried-and true work-around to the aforementioned abuse. Oh, and it’s not portable—it has to be plugged in—but you don’t care because you can hear it over your running lawnmower and that’s good enough for you.
We know our review item isn’t a device that fits into the first or third categories above—it’s too small to be a beast, and too expensive to be considered budget. The question I hope to answer is—is it a good go-to speaker?
The UE Wonderboom is a delightful little speaker with typical UE design cues—a mesh look with oversized volume buttons, and offered in an array of colors depending on your personal preference.
This speaker aims to make a statement and be noticed. This isn’t the speaker you buy to blend in with your decor—rather—to be a bit of a conversation piece. At a price point around $100, it is right in the thick of it in terms of competition, but with its unique feature set stands apart from its rivals. The price tag will get you an (allegedly) reasonably capable speaker that is IP67 water-resistant and has a bluetooth range up to 100 feet, with battery life up to 10 hours. It is labeled as drop-proof, and UE claims it floats (I tested in my bathroom sink, but couldn’t get the water deep enough). This is not a feature set you’ll find in every $100 bluetooth speaker—although some brands less heavily marketed offer competing products.
The stuff that got my attention the most: it is water proof, and drop proof. Those seemed like important features for a speaker rated for the elements. Full disclosure—my current “go-to” speaker is neither water proof nor drop proof. And to be honest those features aren’t particularly important to me, but if they are to you, it might be worth reading on.
The unboxing is simple and pleasant; minimalist and well-designed. As far as the speaker itself is concerned, the build quality is solid—it is a very sturdy feeling device, has a good weight (but also not too heavy), and the buttons are clicky (albeit sometimes difficult to find, believe it or not). The pairing process was incredibly fast. The speaker arrived with some charge, and a quick tap of the power button followed by browsing to the bluetooth settings on my phone and choosing the Wonderboom had me connected. And these are all things that any bluetooth speaker over $75 should get you—so while there are no demerits here, there’s nothing ground-breaking going on from that perspective. On to the sound quality.
Rating sound is extremely subjective and justifiably difficult to do. Your opinion of the sound quality for this product can be entirely different from mine—so keep in mind this review indicates my personal preferences in music, and indicate why this is or isn’t a good fit for me…and hopefully that’s helpful to you.
Considering its size and price point, the overall sound performance of this device is generally above average: the bass is noticeable but not necessarily impressive, the mids and highs are decent as long as the volume isn’t too high. All sound starts to become a bit “blatty” at the speaker’s highest volume, but it does a decent job at filling a medium-sized room with enough sound to prevent any quiet conversations. The speaker’s “blattiness” at high volumes makes it ideal for bathroom environments where, just like my shower singing, audio quality isn’t particularly important and the room’s acoustics are relatively forgiving. Also, it’s waterproof, so a decent-sounding speaker you can keep with you in the shower is a nice option (you wear it around your neck, right?).
The speaker is in many ways designed to be used outdoors—but to be honest, I’m not sure there’s a good use case here. Sure, it would be nice to be able to bring your speaker inside last when it starts raining during your cookout, knowing it would be safe. But unless you have a decent sized property, I don’t know so much about just leaving it outdoors all the time. And, being a native Clevelander, the weather around here gives us a small window for pool parties so not much value there for me. That said, this could be a great device for a pool party, perhaps if it truly does float, it could make for some good swimming tunes. The only catch to that is, when I set it a sink full of water the speakers were largely submerged, muting the sound to those not under water. I’ll admit it would be kind of neat to swim under water and here this thing jamming along, but just like my oxygen supply in that situation, the attraction would fade fast. I’m sure, though, we could conduct some really interesting experiments on goldfish. Just sayin’.
Ultimately, as with any small speaker that aims to push out a little bit of bass, placement is key—and locating this speaker on a table up against a wall made the best-quality sound the speaker can push out. And it’s because of that little detail that I wonder if this is truly an ideal outdoor speaker, knowing that on your patio it would be sitting on a table with nothing behind it. They even put speakers all around it (“360-degree sound,” the package says). I guess it depends on how crazy your pool parties get.
So, who should buy this? People who have pools…and who don’t live in Cleveland. All joking aside, this would be a decent device for a small, quiet outdoor gathering, perhaps with your in-laws or grandparents (or grandparent-in-laws) to break some of the awkward silences. It’s a nice small speaker that does about what I expect a $100 speaker to do, and if you’re looking for a good all-around speaker that is less expensive than some of the bigger, more pricey names like Bose or Sony, this might be a good fit. And, at that price point you get some added features in the drop proof-ness and waterproof-ness.
A quick note about the speaker being drop proof—I did a couple of test drops that you might do while handling the device, nothing crazy, and the speaker didn’t miss a beat (see what I did there?). It is a bit of a rugged little guy, WAY more rugged than my current go-to speaker.
But, if you already have a good go-to speaker that you really like, you may consider passing on this. I’m sure for the money you can find something a bit better in the audio department, as long as you don’t need the features that rate this for outdoor use.
I have limited experience with the speakers from Ultimate Ears—but what I’ve heard is as expected. Not amazing, certainly not terrible. I would expect UE to stay in the market they’re in, not step up to any higher-quality, high-end speakers. The Wonderboom is at the low-end of the UE lineup, so this may be a good opportunity to check out what the brand has to offer. Personally, if the goal were to find a new go-to speaker, I would look north of the $100 price range into some of UE’s other products.
Overall—this is a really solid speaker with decent audio performance and some special tick marks in the durability column. It’s also nice that you get your pick of colors; this is something that you don’t see from a lot of other players in the space. For me personally, this can’t replace my go-to speaker, but that’s not to say it isn’t a decent performer. If the price tag hits your budget and you’re looking for a more rugged speaker to use outdoors, without fear of water damage or drops, or even if you love to sing in the shower and want the sound really close to you—I think you’ll be happy with what this thing can do. Meanwhile, here in Cleveland, I’ll be thinking about the pool parties I won’t be invited to.