We’ve hit peak bluetooth speaker. Actually, we probably hit it about a year ago. But honestly, I’ve been so buried in the damn things, I’ve stopped keeping close track. The madness all began in late 2010 when the original Jambox arrived. Sure, we’d had Bluetooth speakers before then, but it wasn’t until that little brick arrived that the gaggle of nervous participants turned into a bona fide pile-on. Everyone wanted a Jambox, and the things started to sell like hotcakes. Now everyone (and that’s a very gentle hyperbole) is making something Jambox-like to cash in on the trend. The results are sad, mostly.
But thank goodness for the good people at Logitech. The company’s Ultimate Ears division turned out last year’s best tiny Bluetooth speaker, and this year, it’s turned out another must-have. The UE Boom earns the highest marks across the board: it’s superbly portable, the battery lasts a very long time, it works in a variety of environments indoors and out, and it sounds downright fantastic âÂ especially for a small speaker priced at $200.
The Boom is a cylinder, so it stands vertically like a large beer can. In fact, the thing is technically somewhere between a Eurocan and a Tallboy, so while you can’t squeeze it into your jeans pocket, it easy slips into a tote bag, a car’s cup holder, or your bike’s bottle cage. And actually, “beer can” is a good metric; just imagine the size and weight of a 20-ounce can of whatever watery brew you’re fond of, and you can easily gauge what it’s like to carry the 19-ounce Boom on your person. Coincidentally, the places you’d carry a beer are the same places you’d carry the Boom. The beach, the garage, the back deck, the bathroom.
There’s a power button on top, and next to it is a smaller button for Bluetooth pairing (it also pairs via NFC). The volume controls are wide and chunky, and sit at the top of the cylinder, hidden beneath a vertical top-to-bottom strip of rubber. The speaker grill wraps all the way around the cylinder, and provides some level of water resistance (Logitech says the Boom is “splash-proof,” but don’t dunk it). On the bottom is the USB charging port, an aux-in jack, and a small D-ring â I used this to hang it from the roof of a dome tent.
Behind the grill are a pair of 1.5-inch full-range drivers and a pair of 2-inch passive radiators. The speakers fire outwards, though I suspect they aren’t on a perfect axis â the Boom sounds best and offers the widest degree of lateral separation when the large volume buttons are facing the listener. Though spinning it around has only a very subtle effect on the stereo image, and it could just be that my ears are teasing me. Regardless, the sound is impressive: clear, well-balanced, and certainly louder than you’d expect from something so small. I’ve had the chance to listen to literally dozens of $150-200 Bluetooth speakers so far, and the Boom is at the very top of my list as far as audio quality goes.
Don’t expect a wide stereo image. However, you can group two Booms together to create a stereo pair, which is a nice feature for a dinner party or a backyard gathering. But what the Boom does well is provide ambience. It throws sound in a wide arc, so it sounds great just hiding out on a shelf or a side table. The tiny footprint means you can plop it anywhere, and the minimalist design helps it blend in among the flower vases, pillar candles, and pitchers of Pimms Cup.
During my few months of testing, I used the Boom in multiple rooms around the house, as well as in the backyard and at the park. I took it on trips and used it in hotel rooms. Carrying it on road trips, I discovered perhaps its greatest strength â its phenomenal battery life. Logitech quotes the battery life at 15 hours, but I routinely got more than that out of it. Several times, I packed a charger for a weekend trip and never needed to plug it in. Seriously, the thing is a camel. And that’s the reason I can recommend it over all others, including the venerable Jambox with its comparably paltry 10 hours of battery. Because what good is a great-sounding portable speaker if it can’t sustain the endless jams?