When it comes to rugged, water-resistant and portable Bluetooth speakers with big sound, Ultimate Ears has a lineup that’s tough to beat. I reviewed the affordable and ultra-portable WONDERBOOM last year and Ken looked at what has been the top of the UE lineup for the past several years: the MEGABOOM. While both those speakers remain in the lineup, UE has a new flagship in the MEGABLAST. I’ve had one for the past few months and here’s what you can expect from UE’s biggest, loudest wireless speaker yet.
Same Energetic UE Sound, but Bigger and Louder
The MEGABLAST looks virtually identical to the MEGABOOM, with a few minor visual differences. It sports the same cylindrical form factor with brightly coloured cloth and silicon, the same big “+ and -” volume controls on the front and the same D-ring on the bottom for hanging the speaker. The MEGABLAST is discretely stamped with Ultimate Ears instead of UE badging, and it’s noticeably (although not dramatically) larger and heavier. The MEGABOOM measures 8.9-inches tall, 3.3-inches in diameter and weighs almost exactly 2 pounds. The MEGABLAST grows to 9.3-inches in height, 3.5-inches in diameter and a weight of 2.65 pounds.
Like other UE wireless speakers, MEGABLAST is durable and water resistant. Its IP67 rating means it is dust-proof and can survive being immersed in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Charging is via a sealed Micro USB port, and a charger is included.
Naturally, the MEGABLAST also features the sound signature that has helped to make UE portable speakers so popular. Audio is projected 360-degrees. It’s fairly well balanced, with crisp highs, but also well represented at the lower end with some pretty impressive bass. Not what you would call studio sound, but energetic, very fun to listen to and well-suited to outdoor use.
Compared to the MEGABOOM, the MEGABLAST offers a little more detail, I found the bass was even stronger and it’s definitely louder — UE says up to 40% louder than the MEGABOOM. A key reason for the upgraded sound is the inclusion of a pair of dedicated tweeters instead of relying on full-range drivers, and boosting the size of the drivers and passive radiators. Obviously the amplifier has to be more powerful as well, but UE hasn’t released the details on that. However, it will get plenty loud and provides more than enough volume to power a party in a good-sized room or out on the deck.
If you want to know exactly what’s inside, here are the audio specs according to UE:
• two 1-inch tweeters
• two 2.2-inch active drivers
• two 3.3-inch x 2-inch passive radiators
• Maximum Sound Level: 93 dBC
• Frequency Range: 60Hz – 20kHz
It’s Smart: Voice-Activated Alexa Onboard
The biggest change for the MEGABLAST isn’t the boosted audio performance, though. It’s the inclusion of voice-activated Amazon Alexa, supported by multiple far field microphones. No smartphone required, no button to push, the MEGABLAST acts like an Amazon Echo. Except it sounds better, it’s portable and it’s IP67 waterproof and dust-proof… That means voice control for supported streaming music services including Amazon Music Unlimited and Spotify, voice control for Alexa-enabled smart home devices and the ability to ask Alexa for the weather forecast. And you can do this out on the deck, without worrying about rain or even an accidental dunk in the pool (and yes, I tested the claim, dropping the MEGABLAST in the dog pool on several occasions with no ill effect).
To make Alexa work, the MEGABLAST adds Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n) to its wireless connectivity repertoire. To use Alexa or stream music using the speaker itself, you need to be connected to a Wi-Fi network, so this isn’t going to work on the beach. However, it also functions as a traditional Bluetooth speaker (and the other UE speakers) for streaming music from your smartphone — pair and stream from pretty much any mobile device, and with a range of up to 150 feet. There is no 3.5mm AUX input.
If you want to have the MEGABLAST always available and listening — like an Echo — UE sells a clever charge base called POWER UP. The $39.99 accessory includes a replacement for the D-Ring attachment on the bottom of the speaker (it’s still a D-Ring but a version that’s conductive) and once that’s swapped out, the MEGABLAST can be left on the POWER UP base so it’s always-on and always fully charged. If you’re worried about Alexa listening in, you can mute the microphone using a button combo, or with UE’s mobile app.
MEGABOOM Still Has a Few Advantages
The MEGABLAST offers excellent battery life at up to 16 hours of use. However, for extreme battery life, the MEGABOOM has it beat at up to 20 hours. Unlike the MEGABOOM, you can’t use the MEGABLAST as a speakerphone. And for now, if you were hoping to have a group of speakers playing together, the MEGABLAST lacks that capability — although UE says a coming firmware update will be bringing multi-speaker functionality.
UE still has the MSRP for the MEGABOOM at $249.99, meaning it is the exact same price as the MEGABLAST. Between the two, it’s pretty easy to make the case for going with the MEGABLAST. After all, it’s bigger, louder and smarter…
Should You Buy It?
If you’re looking for a powerful, water-resistant portable wireless speaker, the UE MEGABLAST is a great option. It’s big, but not too big, with long battery life and energetic sound featuring plenty of bass. This is also an excellent alternative for Amazon Echo fans who wish they could pick up their smart speaker and take it with them from room to room, or even into the back yard.
The $249.99 MSRP is on the higher end for portable speakers (although I think it’s worth it), but at time of writing, Amazon is selling the MEGABLAST for as low as $174 (depending on color).
Disclosure: Ultimate Ears provided a speaker for evaluation but had no input into this review.