As a stealthy way of sneaking AI into your living room, Amazon’s Echos are moe effective than Seal Team Six - but they aren’t exactly portable.
Both the Echo and Echo Dot need plugging in, which isn’t great for moving the party outside when you’re using them to play music. Even with an extension cable, they aren’t waterproof, so you’d still need to run for cover should the heavens open.
That won’t be a problem with the Blast and Megablast.
Ultimate Ears has taken two of its most popular portable speakers, the Boom 2 and Megaboom, and upgraded them with Alexa. That means the built-in assistant will be with you wherever you have a Wi-Fi connection, and the ultra-resistant construction means Alexa can be as adventurous as you are.
I got to listen to both speakers ahead of the official reveal - here’s what I thought.
BUILT TO LAST
The differences are subtle, but the Blast and Megablast look a little more mature than the Boom and Megaboom. Both are still tubular speakers with cloth material, rubber coatings and big, chunky buttons, but here things are a little less smooth, with sharper angles and a flat top.
Then again, how mature can you get in bright yellow and flourescent green colours?
The Blast is roughly the same size as the Boom, and will still fit in a bike bottle holder. The Megablast is a little larger than the Megaboom, but that’s because it finds room inside for an upgraded bass radiator and extra tweeter drivers, which should give it a leb up when it comes to sound quality.
Both have a handy D-ring at the bottom that can be fixed onto a carabiner clip - or you can swap it out for the optional Power Up pad, which adds cable-free charging for an extra £35 (S$65). It’s especially handy if you plan on carrying the Blast around with you, rather than leaving it in one room. The pad itself is simple enough, and the speaker drops onto it effortlessly.
If you’ve used an Echo or Echo Dot before, you’ll have a good idea how Alexa works in the Blast - the setup process is almost exactly the same, and once you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network, you can use all the same commands, too.
There’s no blue light ring to let you know Alexa is listening, but the tiny red LED does at least let you know when you’ve muted the microphone, in case you want a bit of privacy.
Directional microphones should mean your voice is easily detected. I was in a tiny demo room, so it wasn’t a fair test, but the Alexa trigger word still worked perfectly. You can stream from any connected service, so you don’t need the track on your smartphone - just ask and you shall receive.
Ultimate Ears reckons you’ll get roughly the same amount of charge, whether you’re connected over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. That means twelve hours for the Blast, or 16 hours for the Megablast. If you’re partying for longer than that (without questionable substances keeping you going) then bravo.
I only got to hear a few sort tracks during my demo session, so I certainly can’t make a final judgment on audio quality just yet, but there’s one thing I know for sure: the Megablast is loud.
Turned up to 80%, it comfortably filled the room with sound, and I don’t doubt it would have done justice to a larger space as well. It did it all without distorting, even once I’d cranked it to full blast, and the vocals stayed clear and precise.
I was pretty impressed with the bass, which had noticeable presence - that tweaked passive radiator is clearly doing its job. I would have liked to have tried different genres, but a bit of peppy R&B showed this is a speaker with great range.
Ultimate Ears Blast initial verdict
The Boom 2 and Wonderboom are some of our favourite rugged speakers, so it’s no surprise the Blast and Megablast impressed us on their first showing.
Considering the £199 (S$360) Blast is only S$90 more than the Boom 2, you’re essentially getting a rugged Bluetooth speaker and an Echo Dot, in one package, for the same price. That screams “good deal” to us. The £270 (S$485) Megablast is a bit more costly, but the audio upgrades seem worth it if you’re a serious music fan.
The Power Up charging base is a great touch, too. We can’t wait to see a second generation Wonderboom with this feature, but for now we’ll happily use it on the Blast. £35 (S$65) doesn’t seem wildly overpriced, either - thumbs up, Ultimate Ears.
We’ll be giving both speakers a full review a little closer to launch.