UE BLAST: A BOOM with a Bonus
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.
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, 360° 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 – 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.
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 “smarts” through Amazon, thus making your new digital assistant Alexa just a spoken “Alexa” 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. “Alexa play...” 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 “Other”
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
· Maximum Sound Level: 90 dBC
· Frequency Range: 90Hz - 20kHz
· Drivers: Two 35mm active drivers and two 81mm x 39mm passive radiators.
HANDS-FREE VOICE CONTROL
· 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
· Multiple microphones with beam forming technology and noise cancellation enable a smooth far field voice recognition and control experience.
· Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery for up to 12 hours of battery life.*
· Requires a Wi-Fi router with 802.11 a,b,g, or n for first time setup. Audio Playback supported for Bluetooth® devices with advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP).
· Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks
· Bluetooth - Pair up to 8 Bluetooth® enabled source devices.
· Wi-Fi range: 100m / 330ft
· Bluetooth range: 45m / 150ft
· 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.
· IP67 waterproof and dustproof. BLAST can be immersed in liquid up to 1m for up to 30 minutes.