Ultimate Ears Blast review

Portable Bluetooth speaker first. Smart speaker second.

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Our Verdict

The Ultimate Ears Blast is really two products in one - it's primarily a portable Bluetooth speaker but with the added functionality of smart speaker like the Amazon Echo. The inclusion of Alexa makes the Blast useful in the home when paired with the optional Power Up dock - and, when it comes time to leave the house and head to the beach, you have an excellent-sounding Bluetooth speaker.

For

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Good battery life
  • For home and on the go

Against

  • Amazon’s walled garden
  • Alexa useless without Wi-Fi
  • Poor voice recognition

Ultimate Ears has a long history of making excellent portable Bluetooth speakers - the UE Boom 2 has been one of our favorite Bluetooth speakers over the  last few years and remains at the top of our best Bluetooth speakers list. 

But here in 2018, three years out from its original release date, the Boom 2 feels a little dated with no smart speaker functionality. UE knows this and that brings us to the UE Blast, which is basically the UE Boom 2 with Amazon Alexa on board. 

After spending several weeks with the UE Blast, we came away impressed with how good the Blast was to use on the go -  it sounds good, it's ultra-portable and remains waterproof despite some newfound smarts. 

However, the Blast leaves a lot to be desired in the home. 

Alexa is good but still very limited to Amazon’s services. Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Spotify users are left in the cold as the UE Blast only supports Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Pandora, and Tune-In. 

In the end, the UE Blast is an excellent wireless speaker to take to the beach or pool party. But at home, the Blast will leave you wanting more, especially since competing products offer more functionality and assuredly better voice recognition.

  • Update: 2018 has been a big year for smart speakers, but few have been as bold as Ultimate Ears has by putting them into a portable Bluetooth speaker. If you plan on keeping the speaker inside, you might want to consider the Sonos One - a smart speaker that sounds great and comes with Alexa built-in - but, if you plan on taking your smart speaker with you wherever you go, the UE Blast is still one of the better options for the price.

Design

The design of the UE Blast is a major refinement over the UE Boom 2. The two speakers look nearly identical with the UE Blast sporting a more cylindrical shape with sharp lines. UE kept the cloth exterior that’s now iconic among its line of portable waterproof speakers. If you're keen to match your portable speaker to your camping gear, the Blast comes in white, black, merlot and blue. 

On top of the speaker you have a power and pairing button with a nice white indicator light while on the front of speaker you'll find big volume buttons. Disappointingly, though, there are no playback buttons so you’ll have to either use Alexa to control playback or your phone if you’re streaming music via Bluetooth. 

On the bottom of the speaker you’ll find a screwdown loop that holds down the cover which hides the microUSB charging port. It’s disappointing that Ultimate Ears didn’t include USB-C as most phones and laptops these days use the port. It’s a little cumbersome to unscrew the loop every time you have to charge the speaker. 

Thankfully, you’ll never have to do this if you buy the optional Power Up dock for $40 (£35, about AU$65) as you can simply place the speaker on the dock to charge. While we enjoyed having the Power Up dock around the house, we really felt UE should  include the dock with the UE Blast, or at least make it more affordable as it’s necessary in order to use the Blast as a smartspeaker in the home. 

Features and performance

Let’s talk about the headline feature of the UE Blast first: Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is onboard and you’ll either love or hate it. 

If you live in Amazon’s world and subscribe to Amazon Music, Alexa is great. But if you use Apple Music, Google Play Music, or Spotify, you’re limited to streaming your music over Bluetooth instead of using voice. There’s support for Pandora, iHeartRadio, and a few other services but it’s disappointing that there’s no voice support for all the major music streaming services. Amazon says it plans to support other streaming services in the future but there’s currently no timeline.

Voice sensitivity is good if you’re in a quiet environment with music playing softly but once you turn up the tunes or are outside, the UE Blast does a poor job picking up voice commands. We found ourselves shouting at the speaker constantly for it to pick up our commands. It was a stark difference using our Google Home Mini and especially the Apple HomePod, which is great at picking up our commands, even when music is playing at full blast.

While we were also disappointed by the UE Blast’s smartspeaker features, it remains one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. The speaker sounds great across a variety of genres with a nice, slightly warm tonal balance and it produces a good amount of bass for the speaker of its size. It also gets quite loud but sound quality suffers as it gets louder, sounding brittle and harsh. If you must play music loudly and want more bass, you should check out the bigger MEGABLAST.

On the go, Alexa becomes entirely useless and the UE Blast will be a simple Bluetooth speaker you control via your phone. This makes the UE Blast a confusing and compromised product. It’s mediocre in the home, loses its smartspeaker features on the go, and is quite expensive compared to the competition. 

At the end of the day, you should only consider the UE Blast if you’re looking for an excellent sounding portable and waterproof speaker with some nice voice assistant features in the home. But the Blast doesn’t work well in the home without he optional dock and poor voice recognition.

Verdict

The UE Blast is a slightly confusing product as its tries to be both a smart and portable speaker. As a portable speaker that you don’t have to worry about taking to the beach, the Blast is excellent like the older Boom 2. However, don’t expect the UE Blast to be great in the home with its poor voice recognition and lack of the included dock. 

When smartspeaker competitors like the Sonos One retail for about the same price, it’s hard to justify using the UE Blast in the home as the Sonos One works with the company’s mutli-room technology and platform that supports just about every streaming music service under the sun. Plus, you’ll get the option of using Google Assistant in a future update. 

At $229 (£200, about AU$369) the UE Blast is too expensive for what it is. The alternative is to pick up a Sonos One or Google Home and to buy the original UE Boom 2, which is less than half the price of the Blast for using on the go.