An outdoor portable speaker needs to withstand the elements. Water, dust and drops shouldn't faze it. But there's more to a good speaker than toughness. Sound quality matters a lot, too. The $300 Ultimate Ears Megaboom — which joins the UE Boom and Mini Boom in Ultimate Ears' portable Bluetooth speaker lineup — delivers excellent sound and useful features in a tough package. If you can afford it, the Megaboom won't disappoint.
The Megaboom features the same cylindrical design as its midsize sibling, the UE Boom, but it pushes the limits of the term "portable." At 8.9 inches long by 3.3 inches in diameter, it is both taller and wider than the 7.1 x 2.6-inch Boom and the 7.8 x 2.9 x 2.4-inch Fugoo Tough ($230). It weighs 30 ounces (nearly 2 pounds), which makes it noticeably heavier than the 22-ounce Tough. That can really make a difference when you're toting it around in your bag or backpack.
The extra space allowed Ultimate Ears to put larger drivers inside — you get two 2-inch drivers, along with two 2 x 4-inch passive radiators to improve bass. The drivers in the smaller Boom are 1.5 inches. The cylindrical design spreads sound in all directions, which is great for sharing music with people around a table.
Ultimate Ears wrapped the Megaboom in colorful fabrics, capped with matching rubber ends. The unit comes in black, red, blue and plum. I tested a red one. A rubber strip down one side includes large volume buttons. On one end, you'll find the power and Bluetooth buttons; on the other, beneath a removable rubber strip, Ultimate Ears placed the micro USB port for charging the battery and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack for a wired connection.
The Megaboom is IPX7 rated, meaning it can withstand being submerged in up to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes — comparable to the Fugoo Tough and the $150 EcoXGear Ecostone. I submerged the Megaboom in a sink full of water, and it continued to play while underwater and showed no ill effects from the bath.
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The Megaboom is also shockproof up to 1 meter high. I dropped it from about 7 feet onto gravel — the jacket got dirty, but the sound and features remained unaffected.
Setup and Use
I easily paired the Megaboom with iOS and Android devices. To put the unit into Bluetooth pairing mode, you hold down the small button next to the power button on the end of the speaker. The device will show up in your Bluetooth settings menu as UE MEGABOOM.
The Megaboom boasts an impressive 100-foot wireless range, which is much more than the standard 30 feet. It maintained a steady connection across my entire house, even when the music source and the speaker were on different floors.
You can pair two devices to a single Megaboom. Only one of these devices can use the speaker at a time, but it makes it easy to share the speaker with a friend.
To make the most of the features inside the speaker, download the free iOS or Android app. This app allows much more control than many of the other companion apps that come with Bluetooth speakers. Through the app, you can adjust the EQ, choosing from presets like "The Standard" and "Bass Jump," or you can create a custom setting with the adjustable five-band EQ. I haven't seen this feature in other Bluetooth speakers.
You can use the app to set an alarm that plays the last song you were listening to or a specific song in your library. Under Settings, you can disable the alert sounds that chime when you turn on the speaker. If you have two Megabooms, the app makes it possible to use both at the same time, either as left-right stereo or both mirroring the sound. Unfortunately, this feature works only with another Megaboom, not a Boom or Mini Boom.
Ultimate Ears also pushes firmware updates through the app, which holds the promise of more features and improvements down the road.
The Megaboom produces a big, balanced sound that sets it apart from other outdoor portables.
It certainly doesn't skimp on bass. The kick drum on Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk" thumped with a tactile force that many Bluetooth speakers, like the Tough and Ecostone, lack. Although the horns in the song weren't as bright and detailed as they were when we listened to the same song on the Fugoo Tough, they were well balanced against the bass. The big speaker also deftly handled the complex mix of Robert Plant's vocals, Jimmy Page's distorted guitar and John Bonham's big drums on Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot" — sounds that smaller speakers can mash together.
The Megaboom shines on acoustic music, too. Cannonball Adderley's sax on "Autumn Leaves" sounded warm, while the acoustic bass resonated in the background. Paul McCartney's strummed guitar on Rihanna's "FourFiveSeconds" came across full and realistic against her vocals.
The Megaboom gets plenty loud — an important feature when you're by the pool or shooting the rapids. Although the company says the speaker maxes out at 90 decibels, I measured almost 95 decibels. However, the sound did begin to distort around 90 decibels. Even at 85 decibels, the sound easily fills a large room.
Like most other Bluetooth speakers currently on the market, the Megaboom includes a speakerphone. Voices of the people I talked to came through loud and full, especially in comparison to the same voices on the iPhone's built-in speaker. Likewise, people on the other end of calls said my voice was clearer than usual.
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Ultimate Ears says you can get 20 hours of playback on a full charge, and my testing found that estimate to be conservative. After playing audio for more than 15 hours at moderate volume levels, the unit still showed that it was 70 percent charged. However, other outdoor units promise even longer playtime: The Braven BRV-HD gets 28 hours, while the Fugoo Tough is capable of 40.
With the Megaboom, Ultimate Ears took a good thing and made it bigger and better. Improving on the technology of the UE Boom and Mini Boom, the Megaboom delivers richer bass and balanced treble, and has a longer battery and better weather resistance than the other UE models. Although it's a bit expensive and large for a portable, it's worth the extra cost and effort to tote it around, especially if you value sound quality as much as durability.
Speakers: Two 2-inch drivers and two 2 x 4-inch passive radiators
Size: 8.9 x 3.3 inches
Weight: 30 ounces
Inputs: Bluetooth, 3.5mm auxiliary input
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