UE Boom 2: Australian Review

Back in 2013, we were blessed with the launch of the UE Boom -- a small, portable, waterproof speaker that sounded great for its size and had enough battery life to last a full day at the beach. But that was two years ago, and since then we've had the UE Roll and the Megaboom -- a smaller speaker and a larger one. Since then, we've been waiting for a new Boom. The second incarnation of one of the best Bluetooth-toting portable speakers we've ever used is here, and it's better in every single way.

What Is It?

Specifications
  • Waterproof: Yes
  • Bluetooth: Yes (4.0 LE)
  • Wi-Fi: No
  • Playback Controls: No
  • Battery Life (claimed): 15 hours
  • Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
  • Ports: microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm stereo analog audio

The UE Boom 2 looks almost identical to the UE Boom. It's a cylinder, 180mm tall with a 67mm diameter, slightly tapering at its top and bottom where the tightly-woven hydrophobic fabric speaker grille meets the rubberised plastic base and spine. On the speaker's top you'll find a slightly recessed power button with a LED light hidden behind it, and a slightly embossed multipurpose Bluetooth toggle button in front of that. On the spine, there are big volume controls -- press both for an audible battery level reminder -- and on the base is the microUSB charging port and 3.5mm stereo analog audio jack, both hidden behind waterproof doors, and a 1/4-inch tripod screw thread.

UE says that you'll get 15 hours of battery life from the Boom 2, from a 2.5-hour charge through that microUSB port with the bundled 10-Watt USB wall charger and flat cable. (We measured three hours, but near enough is good enough.) There's a complementary app, too, for iOS and Android, that lets you set smart alarms, pair a second Boom 2 for stereo sound, adjust the sound of the UE Boom 2 with a five-point equaliser, and download firmware updates remotely -- very useful, especially since Ultimate Ears is working on an x-up feature that will let you pair dozens of Boom, Megaboom and Roll speakers simultaneously.

At 180x67x67mm and 548g, the Boom 2 is small but hefty; that weight makes it feel solid and dependable rather than bulky and cumbersome. And, as an improvement on the weather resistance of the previous Boom and other UE speakers, the Boom 2 is IPX7 rated and waterproof to one metre for up to 30 minutes -- it'll survive a trip to the bottom of the pool. Because those ports are covered straight out of the box, too -- something that UE had to solve quite hastily with mailed-out replacement parts for the original -- it'll more importantly survive an accidental immersion. Pretty impressive, considering its identical looks.

What's It Good At?

The most significant changes to the UE Boom 2, though, are on the inside -- where it counts most. The biggest and most fundamental differences are in the sound quality of the Boom 2, and the maximum volume; two 1 3/4-inch full-range drivers and two 3-inch passive bass radiators are responsible for all the Boom 2's audio oomph, which UE says is 25 per cent louder than the already small-room-filling Boom. With a 90Hz rated low-end on the frequency response, you're not going to be shaking any floors with the Boom, but it actually has plenty of lower frequency power for a speaker of its size; it's very similar to the Bose SoundLink Mini II in that regard.

It also has singingly sweet treble, too, which is impressive when you're listening at louder volumes -- there's a combo of strong mid-bass and strong treble that makes the UE Boom 2 sound musical and enjoyable and immersive. It just sounds good as a single speaker, sitting upright on a table or on its cylindrical face, at moderate to maximum volume, where and how most people are going to use it. At lower volumes, it loses some of that even frequency response, but still sounds pretty damn nice. Those integrated microphones, too, make the Boom 2 work even better than ever as a speakerphone as long as you're not more than a couple of metres away and talking at a reasonably audible volume.

Like the previous Boom, its speakers are arranged in a wide dipole and can project sound over a vaguely omnidirectional pattern. That means the Boom 2 works equally well in the middle of a room, in the middle of a table that you're sitting at with all your friends, as it does placed against a wall or in a corner and reflecting audio out around the room you're in. You'll get the best sound when you're sitting with the spine of the Boom 2 facing directly away from you, but there's not a great deal of variation wherever you're listening to it. If you want proper stereo, you'll need to buy a second Boom 2 and pair them in Double Up mode.

New to the UE Boom 2 is a feature that lets you tap the speaker to play or pause music, or tap twice to skip a track. It'll only work when you have the Boom 2 in your hand and are holding it slightly diagonally, so you can't activate that feature accidentally when the speaker is on a table and you're drumming away at it. It's super-useful if you have wet or dirty hands and don't want to tap at or unlock your smartphone (especially if you have a fingerprint unlock), but it doesn't work as you want it 100 per cent of the time -- so think of it as a useful extra but not a huge reason to buy.

What's It Not Good At?

You're paying a little more for the UE Boom 2 than the original Boom -- part of that is the higher quality materials used inside, and part of it is the mediocre US exchange rate at the moment. That makes it a little pricier than I would have liked, and a little expensive when you consider that the original Boom is really quite similar and a lot cheaper if you can still find one. At $249, it's certainly still one of the best speakers for the price, but facing strong competition from the $299 Bose SoundLink Mini II. If you can find it on special or at a discount, then the Boom 2 sets itself apart again and becomes even more alluring.

Like the original UE Boom, the Boom 2 is very well made and well constructed, but there are a few small gaps in the bodywork -- where the canvas meets the rubber -- where you'll get a lot of dust and dirt and granules of sand stuck inside. Because the gaps are small, too, it'd be difficult to clean them out. The edges of the rubber, too, are more likely to pick up a bit of dirt and become discoloured, especially on the white and lighter coloured variants. Since the Boom 2 is an all-weather, every-environment speaker, you'd reasonably expect it to be getting a bit dirty; just don't expect to get it perfectly clean after a couple of picnics or trips to the beach.

Perhaps the biggest potential stumbling point with the UE Boom 2 is the fact that the original UE Boom is already very very good. Stocks are starting to dwindle as far as we can tell, but when you can find them for literally half the price of the Boom 2, you're getting 95 per cent of the sound quality and future upgradeability through the companion app anyway, making it an easy choice for the time being. You can even use that extra money to buy a second Boom, and Double Up the two for stereo audio. If you already have a UE Boom, there's no real reason to upgrade to a Boom 2 -- unless you really need that waterproofing or that tap-to-play accelerometer-enhanced feature.

Should You Buy It?

UE Boom 2
88

Price: $249

Like
  • Great sound, good maximum volume.
  • Excellent construction.
  • Waterproof out of the box.
Don't Like
  • More expensive than original Boom.
  • Small gaps between canvas and rubber spine.
  • No stereo separation.

The UE Boom 2 is an excellent little portable wireless speaker. It continues absolutely everything we liked about the original UE Boom -- which continues to sell like hotcakes -- and improves slightly on a few key areas like waterproofing and the quality of the sound. The two speakers are themselves pretty similar, but the Boom 2 is a worthy incremental upgrade and an extra reason for anyone that doesn't already have a Boom to go and buy one. And, like the original, you can find the $249 UE Boom 2 in a range of fresh and funky colours, which seems to be the most important thing for these little fashion-forward devices.

The only issue that presents itself with the Boom 2 is the price tag. That's a story we're hearing more and more with the relatively recent fall of the Aussie dollar from its position of parity with the USD, and it means we will be paying more for high-tech gadgets in Australia. When you take exchange rates into account, we're actually paying a little less than buyers in the US are, dollar for dollar, but the Boom 2 is still expensive. It's absolutely worth it, of course, but when you check out the sound of the Boom 2 in a retail store you should absolutely check out competitors like the Bose SoundLink Mini II as well.

We tested this device and wrote this review on Gizmodo's 2016 gaming PC: a machine built with the help of ASUS, Intel and Corsair. The PC runs on an Asus Maximus VIII Gene motherboard, an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, Corsair Ballistix DDR4 memory and a Samsung 950 Pro solid-state drive.