All images: Adam Clark Estes
It's hard to have long-lasting fun for $129 these days. A fancy dinner is over in a couple of hours. A ticket to Disney World expires not long after sunset. But the Wonderboom, a new waterproof speaker from Ultimate Ears, feels like it could last forever.
The Wonderboom is the latest in a celebrated line of Bluetooth speakers from UE, the audio brand acquired a few years ago by Logitech. Last year, we identified the UE Boom 2 as our favourite portable speaker, displacing the original UE Boom from the top spot on our list of bests. The new Wonderboom, to its credit, borrows some of the best features of the $US200 ($262) Boom 2 but will sell for half the price. It's also about half the size and cute as hell.
Now about those features. The Wonderboom, like the rest of the UE Boom family, is waterproof (up to a depth of 5 metres of water for 30 minutes) and shockproof (when dropped from 1.5m or less).
Unlike the rest of the UE speakers, the Wonderboom isn't just waterproof. It floats. Throw it in a pool, and the thing will bob up and down in the water while blasting out your favourite jams. (This party trick isn't flawless -- since Bluetooth signals can't travel through water, the connection might get a little bit choppy when it's in the pool.) The speaker will also keep playing music if you drop it on the ground or kick it like a soccer ball. (This party trick is especially fun if you're trying to extort money from your clumsy friends.)
The Wonderboom does differ from its more expensive siblings in a couple of ways. On the positive end of things, it's slightly easier to use since it features a new button on top, right under the UE logo. Press this button once, and you can play or pause your music. Press twice, and you can skip tracks. Press and hold, and the Wonderboom will pair up with another Wonderboom nearby to create a multi-speaker system. The UE Boom 2 and Megaboom also sport a Party Up feature, but you have to do it through an app, which is admittedly annoying -- although you can add multiple speakers at once.
On a less-than-positive note, the Wonderboom doesn't sound as good as the UE Boom 2 or the Megaboom. I expected as much. The smaller design means that the speaker packs smaller drivers, and although it does boast 360-degree sound, the Wonderboom simply sounds cheaper than other, more expensive Bluetooth speakers I've tested. Again, you'd expect that because it's actually much cheaper than a lot of other portable speakers.
None of this is to say that the Wonderboom sounds bad. It's impressively loud and crisp when the right song is playing. "Islands in the Stream" by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, for instance, sounds like a dream on the Wonderboom. "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A. sounds a bit tinny, while "Revolution" by Diplo sounds downright shrill at times. In general, the tuning of the speaker is comparable to the $99, discus-shaped UE Roll, although the Wonderboom's sound feels bigger.
One other thing: the UE Wonderboom's design allows it to sit straight up and plug into the wall. This makes me think that it could be a poor man's Sonos if you set the speakers up in a couple different rooms in your house. When party time comes around, you can leave them plugged in to their respective sockets and connect the speakers for a unified soundtrack. That said, the Wonderboom boasts a ten-hour battery life, so you'd have to throw a pretty serious party to require the plug in situation.
If you already own a UE Boom, don't bother downgrading. If you're hoping to join the fun-filled world of portable speakers, though, I can't think of a better entry-level gadget than the Wonderboom. For $129, it's great value. That means you could buy two Wonderbooms for only a little more than the price of just one UE Boom 2.
While I've been telling my friends for years that the UE Boom is the best gadget I own, now I'd recommend the $129 Wonderboom for beginner Bluetooth speaker owners. It's adorable. It's affordable. And gosh darnit, the Wonderboom floats!