Thanks to its fun waterproof design and strong audio, the UE Roll has been one of our favorite Bluetooth speakers in the $100 range. Now its successor is here. The Roll 2 doesn't change much, but its improved volume and wireless range add some nice new touches to what is already one of the best low-cost speakers on the market.
The Roll 2 maintains the 5.3 x 1.6-inch, disc-shaped design of the original model. At that size, it's easy to bring it everywhere. UE added several new colors, in case you were bored with the Roll's bright color palette: The 2 is now available in Habanero, Tropical Anime, Volcano, Atmosphere and Sugarplum.
The speaker has few controls on the device itself. You can raise or lower the volume with the large + and - buttons on the top, but there's no way to skip tracks. On the back, you'll find buttons for power and Bluetooth pairing. The micro USB port for charging and a 3.5-millimeter auxiliary input are under a waterproof flap.
The Roll 2's integrated bungee cord serves as a great way to hang the speaker anywhere you are: from a tree limb, a bicycle handle or even the corner of a monitor.
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With its IPX 7 waterproof rating, you needn't worry about the elements getting in the way of your audio. The rating means this device can withstand being underwater for up to 30 minutes. I tested it for 5 minutes in a sink full of water without any problems. The BRV-1, which is now available for $100 or less, offers the same level of protection, but the sound isn't as vibrant.
The Roll 2 delivers good overall sound, with clear treble and full midrange tones, as well as better bass than many $100 speakers. It's one of the best-sounding speakers in this price range.
Rihanna's vocals on Kanye West's "Famous" sounded rich, and Justin Timberlake's voice was clear on his song "Can't Stop the Feeling." However, JBL's $100 Flip 3 delivered much better bass on both tracks.
The jangly guitars on the Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" were bright without sounding harsh, and the distorted guitars on Wilco's "Random Name Generator" had good detail. The Roll 2 sounded thin on acoustic songs such as Miles Davis' version of "Summertime" and Fleetwood Mac's "Never Going Back Again."
One of the advertised improvements of the Roll 2 is a boost in volume, but the difference from the original model is negligible. I measured a 2- to 3-decibel increase with the Roll 2. Either way, it gets louder than most small speakers — a bonus when it's next to a noisy pool.
Wireless and Software
The Roll 2's other improvement is in wireless range: It has increased from 65 feet to 100 feet. I found that the Roll 2 maintained a strong signal at the extended distance. But the lack of on-device controls makes the 100-foot wireless range less useful; it's great that you can keep your phone or tablet well out of harm's way, but not when you have to run back every time you want to skip to the next track.
One of the Roll's best features is its free app, available for iOS and Android. You can adjust the EQ, set up an alarm and pair two Rolls together for stereo sound.
While it delivers few improvements over the Roll, the Roll 2 is one of the best $100 Bluetooth speakers because of its sound quality and ruggedness. It's as rugged as the BRV-1, but sounds a little better — and Braven doesn't offer an app. The Roll 2 can't match the bass of the Flip 3, but the Flip 3 is only water-resistant, not waterproof.
This summer we'll likely see upgrades to several $100 speakers, but until then, the Roll remains the speaker to beat. If you already own a Roll, there's no compelling reason to upgrade, but if you're in the market for a new Bluetooth speaker, the Roll 2 should be on your list.