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UE BLAST: A BOOM with a Bonus https://www.ultimateears.com/en-us/wireless-speakers/blast.html Ultimate Ears for Ultimate Bluetooth Audio Time and time again, I have been impressed with Ultimate Ears speakers. Those of you who have followed along with the speaker reviews, or checked out my audio addendum thread, know that my love and respect for the tune delivery of UE speakers is based upon not one or two models, but SIX MODELS. From the ROLL to the WONDERBOOM, these speakers are the gold standard portable audio units for me, by quite a large margin. Today, we add a seventh model to the review set, the UE BLAST. With the BLAST, Ultimate Ears brings their superior audio delivery to the world of smart speakers. Not only are we looking at a speaker that will pair with your phone through Bluetooth, but also one that has the potential to do so much more through the power of Amazon's Alexa wireless connectivity. Audio First For me, the most important thing to address first is sound quality. I really don't care what else a speaker can do if lousy sound quality makes me not want to listen to it. I am happy to say, and not a bit surprised, that the UE BLAST has UE BOOM audio prowess. This speaker delivers the same rich, 360Â° sound that the UE BOOM and MEGABOOM speakers are known for producing. Bass is deep, perhaps not trunk-rattling, but like the other UE speakers, the BLAST delivers more bass than one would expect from a small speaker. You can see from the family photo that the BLAST is not quite the same size as the BOOM. My guess is that UE needed just a little more room to house the Alexa-enabling hardware. Regardless, we are still looking at cup-holder portability. The BLAST will have an easy ride along in your golf cart, or in the drink holder on your pushcart. The on-unit controls are just like those found on the other UE speakers. You control volume with the larger + and â€“ buttons, with power and pairing controlled by the buttons on the top. The BLAST charges with the included USB cable and outlet adapter. Additionally, keeping with the BOOM design, the BLAST is equipped with a carabiner-friendly D-Ring on its base. That D-Ring allows you to attach the BLAST to just about anything, but it also can be removed to enable a new way to charge the speaker. UE Power-Up The UE Power-Up system is new to the UE BLAST (and MEGABLAST) line. Once you swap out the original D-Ring for the one included in the Power-Up package, you can now charge the BLAST by setting it on the Power-Up base. This will allow the UE BLAST to become a more permanent digital appliance, though it can be moved off of the base easily enough. This does ensure that the BLAST will always be charged and available, and charging no longer requires flipping open the charging port and attaching the cable. Plus, it's pretty hard to forget to charge the speaker if you have a charging base to put it away on. All in all, the BLAST audio is just like BOOM audio, and for me, that's a really good thing. The only real negative sound-wise with the UE BLAST is that it cannot pair with the other UE speakers in the PartyUp section of the UE BOOM app. Sadly, the BLAST must party solo. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed with a software/firmware update down the road, allowing the BLAST to join the party too. Getting to the Point: The BLAST is SMART If all we had to look at was the audio of the BLAST, I can see where one would wonder about why UE would release the BLAST when we already have the BOOM. To put it simply, the UE BLAST is smarter than the BOOM. Smart speakers are really starting to take hold in the marketplace. I think that Apple's iPhone Siri function is likely responsible for introducing consumers to the concept of voice control. Now, two of the tech biggies, Google and Amazon, are pushing the voice-control envelope, ideally pushing it right into your living room. The UE BLAST gets its â€œsmartsâ€ through Amazon, thus making your new digital assistant Alexa just a spoken â€œAlexaâ€ away. When it comes to voice command, I'm kind of old school. I don't use Siri much, and I definitely did not have a smart speaker in the house before the BLAST arrived. As such, I went into the whole smart speaker thing bright-eyed and blank-slated. As a long-time Amazon Prime user, I was most excited about using the BLAST to access Prime Music without the necessity of a cell phone intermediate. â€œAlexa play...â€ was the first command issued to the BLAST, and then the music began to play. If you use Amazon Music, the Alexa interaction is very seamless. IHeartRadio and Tunein are also supported over wifi, but the real killer app is Amazon Music. They even hook you up with three months of Amazon Unlimited when you sign-in with the BLAST app. Yes, you will need to download an app on your phone to get everything connected and the BLAST running, but after that, BLAST can fly solo. You can use the voice control to play specific songs, artists, and Amazon Music Stations (my favorite). Communication is easy, and Alexa does a pretty good job of understanding you, though when I ask for The Smiths, she always sends me to Sam Smith. What's wrong with The Smiths, Alexa? You can also adjust volume, skip songs, repeat songs, play, and pause all just by asking Alexa to do so. It's actually more convenient than I expected, especially when doing something that is occupying your hands, like typing. As for what else Alexa can do for me, that I'm still exploring, and I think that it's expanding as well. Here is a LINK to the Alexa part of Amazon. If you scroll to the bottom, you can see more of the things that you can do with Alexa, from ordering an Uber, to controlling the lights and thermostat in your house (add on products required). As I mentioned before, I'm new to smart speaker land, and I don't know exactly what Alexa's job description will ultimately look like. I think that it will take some time to move from a phone-based wireless interface to the voice-based one from Alexa. It is cool though to see the technology, and capabilities develop. Check that link above. You really can do a lot of stuff with Alexa! BLAST vs. BOOM vs. Amazon â€œOtherâ€ The MSRP on the UE BLAST is $229.99, coming in at $30 over the BOOM 2's MSRP and more than that when you check the BOOM 2 prices on Amazon and Best Buy. Alexa hardware can be had for as low as $30 for an Echo Dot. So is the BLAST worth it? That's really up to you and what you want to use it for. If you have neither speaker, nor Alexa hardware, the BLAST is right there price-wise. Remember too that the speaker will work just like the other UE speakers too. That's a huge plus if you don't have one yet. If you are on the fence about the whole smart speaker thing, maybe saving the money to just get a BOOM 2 is the way to go. If you just want to chat with Alexa and hear music through her tiny speaker, go with the cheap Amazon device. Anyway, the UE BLAST is a solid marriage of the UE high-quality audio and Amazon Alexa's smart-speaker platform. I'm curious to see if the whole smart-speaker thing really becomes an integral part of our daily lives or not. If not, you'll still be left with a great speaker. Specifications: UE BLAST Smart Speaker 360 SOUND Â· Maximum Sound Level: 90 dBC Â· Frequency Range: 90Hz - 20kHz Â· Drivers: Two 35mm active drivers and two 81mm x 39mm passive radiators. HANDS-FREE VOICE CONTROL Â· Amazon Alexa built-in for hands-free voice on Wi-Fi, both at home or on-the-go. BLAST / MEGABLAST is a standalone Alexa enabled device and does not require an Echo or Dot. FAR-FIELD VOICE RECOGNITION Â· Multiple microphones with beam forming technology and noise cancellation enable a smooth far field voice recognition and control experience. POWER Â· Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery for up to 12 hours of battery life.* COMPATIBILITY Â· Requires a Wi-Fi router with 802.11 a,b,g, or n for first time setup. Audio Playback supported for BluetoothÂ® devices with advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP). WIRELESS CAPABILITIES Â· Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks Â· Bluetooth - Pair up to 8 BluetoothÂ® enabled source devices. Â· Wi-Fi range: 100m / 330ft Â· Bluetooth range: 45m / 150ft SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS Â· Wi-Fi network and a compatible Android or iOS mobile device required. Minimum OS requirements are iOS 10.2 or Android 5.0. Certain skills and services may require subscription or other fees. When tethering to a mobile device hotspot, standard data rates may apply. WATERPROOF Â· IP67 waterproof and dustproof. BLAST can be immersed in liquid up to 1m for up to 30 minutes.
Insufferable Originality Sometimes variety can be exhausting. Seriously, how many different kinds of soup do we need, and does your order at Starbucks really need to be dialed into the half pump of a Stevia-based caramel syrup? Maybe it’s the old man in me rearing up, but lately I’ve been tempted to move into a choice-free lifestyle, where each day I eat the same meals, wear the same clothes to work, and watch only broadcast television. Gotcha! Those of you who have read everything that I have written here at mygolfspy during the past ten years (Hi Mom!), know that I am typically the first person in line for cosmetic customization, be it golf gear or otherwise. My twitter feed is perpetually peppered with pleas for plenteous in purple products. Why blend in when you have the chance to stand out? Custom Fit is the Sh*t When it comes to the choosing to use custom gear, perhaps only the sumo wrestler has a greater appreciation for custom equipment than the golfer. How many of you reading this right now are playing pure stock gear, where you made no choices as to your preferences? Any of you? I bet that many of you have made choices beyond the playability in your gear as well, like choosing the blue grips over the red ones. The gear is dialed, but you want that little bit of aesthetic alteration to make it truly your gear. The Golden Age of Wireless If we explore the category of Dave’s Worst Kept Secrets, right up there with my inability to ever break 80 is my perhaps unnatural affinity for all things portable audio. It’s not a new thing for me either. I wish that I had a photo of the huge boom box that I moved into the dorms with. It was just two mix tapes, and one piece of cardboard away from unleashing a traveling breakdance battle royal. Thankfully things have changed, at least on the portability front, and the battery front as that beast took ten D batteries. Forgive me while I shake my liver-spotted fist a bit, but the younger generations just can’t relate to the amazingness of the technological advances when it comes to portable audio over the past twenty-five years. The fact that you can store every CD that you’ve ever owned on your phone, and then play the music wirelessly through speakers with better sound quality than creepy come-check-out-my-hi-fi guys tower speakers blows my mind every time I think about it. For you youngsters, CDs were small plastic plates that held recorded music. Custom Creations with the UE myBOOM 3 Forgive my previous rambles, but as you can likely see, the UE myBOOM 3 that I am sharing with you today hits multiple boxes on my bingo card. It’s a personal audio peanut butter cup, with the ability for customization getting mixed in with great audio. Needless to say I was pretty pumped when I saw that one could now create custom versions of the UE BOOM 3. Based upon my previous reviews, and head to head Most Wanted validation, the audio prowess of the UE BOOM line is basically unmatched in the category, and now you can design it exactly how you want it to look. And so, what I have for you today is a comparison between what I saw on the myBOOM 3 design screen on my computer, and what actually arrived at my home. Spoiler Alert: There will be purple. Making myBOOM 3 When you pull up the myBOOM 3 design online interface, you’ll see that there are six different aspects of the speaker that you can customize. Again, let’s take a look at the expected vs. observed. Fabric Pattern Your first option, Fabric Pattern, is the big one. This selection will cover most of your speaker, likely establishing the foundation for your design. You can choose between simple solids, or outlandish patterns, selecting whatever suits your psyche. Initially, I went with the Ultraviolet fabric, but then in a reality ripping paradox, I chose Forest. End Caps Once you lock in the fabric, you will get to choose from eight end cap colors. Nothing is actually locked in by the way. You can bounce back and forth between the options and see how changing one thing affects the interactions with the others. This is why I ultimately went with Forest for the fabric. I liked the contrast with the Ultraviolet end caps, and opposed to just going all in on Ultraviolet. Volume Buttons Once again you have eight color options with the large volume buttons. What you don’t have is any commitment to make any of these colors match. I did, but that’s how I roll. Should you desire, you can just adorn you BOOM with your chaotic Neapolitan whims. Spine Again you have eight color options, and again I chose to keep the Ultraviolet theme rolling. The more I think about it, someone who orders one of these with all of the colors different should probably be on a government watch list. You can see the spine in hand photo below under the text heading. Don't want to give away the text surprise early... Loop Though also fabric, the loop options are not at extensive as those of the main body fabric. Still though, with eight colors to choose from, you’ll likely be able to pick one that matches, or clashes nicely with your design. The loop is a great feature by the way as you are just one carabiner away from attaching the speaker anywhere. Text To put the custom cherry on your speaker sundae, you last option consists of twenty characters of text that will run along the spine of the speaker. Perhaps the best option here is a cell phone number should your speaker somehow go rogue. I went another direction as I wasn’t really interested in blasting my cell number out there when these photos hit the web. But What About The Sound? At this point, it seems prudent to take a short detour into the land of performance. Looking pretty is amazing, but if the speaker can’t spit the tunes, it’ll live out its days unpaired. Not too long ago, I reviewed the larger edition of this speaker the UE MEGABOOM 3. That speaker is sooooooo gooooood. Having owned and operated multiple generations of MEGABOOMS, I am confident in saying that the third incarnation is the best to date. Feel free to just copy and paste that for the myBOOM 3 too. This is the fourth small UE speaker that I have run through the paces, and it too is the best to date. The great thing about the older versions though is that they too are awesome. The Skrillex first gen BOOM still pumps tunes like a champ, and you have not heard anything until you pair all of these, and the MEGABOOMS together with the UE app. Just go Party Up, and you will never need that component stereo system again. My tune testing toolbox consists of three main songs: Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night? Papa Roach – Getting Away With Murder 2 Live Crew – Mega Mixx III While that list may seem a eclectic, it actually does a fine job of exploring the range of a speaker. With the myBOOM 3, you’ll be able to hear all of the subtle tones of Nirvana Unplugged, and turn it up all the way without distortion with Papa Roach. The only weakness with the speaker really comes with the 2 Live bass. Unlike the MEGABOOM 3 that will actually put some bump in your trunk, the much smaller MyBOOM 3 just can’t do justice to big bass only jams. 2 Live is really the outlier song here, where bass is everything. When you move just slightly from that extreme, you’ll find that the low tones are perfect for Primus, The Prodigy, and Peaches. The myBOOM 3 SMASHES! After all of my clicks and decisions, the myBOOM 3 that I designed ended up with a very old school Hulk palate. Though a bit corny to say so, I think that the Hulk theme is definitely appropriate as this speaker is incredible. The ordering process is super easy, and it just took a couple of weeks to go from computer to mailbox. The coolest thing is that the upcharge to go custom is either $30 or nothing. Some of the stock BOOM 3 speakers can be had on the ultimateears.com site for $119, but other limited colors will run $149, the exact price as the myBOOM 3 custom. If you are going to spend $120 on a speaker, I just can’t fathom not dropping another $30 to make it custom. The results of my selections were definitely worth $30 in my opinion. And so, Hulk and I will be blasting tunes and annoying neighbors of all form for the foreseeable future. Feel free to get your BOOM on and join us. Just for fun, let’s see your designs. Go to the myBOOM 3 site and take a screen cap of your BOOM 3. And no, I won’t call the authorities should your design push the boundaries of decorum.