The Best Bluetooth Speaker Now Works With Alexa and It’s Amazing

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All images: Adam Clark Estes

When you’re a gadget blogger, your pals usually have a traditional, back-pocket query across the vacation season: What ought to I get So-and-So as a present? My most-used reply was once the Boom, a Bluetooth speaker made by Ultimate Ears. This yr is completely different. This yr it’s the Blast, an Alexa-powered speaker made by angels from heaven.

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What is it?

A Bluetooth speaker with Alexa capabilities

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Indestructible and smooth with prime quality sound

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Can’t do every thing an Echo can

Alright superb, the UE Blast and its mbadive sibling, the Megablast, aren’t actually made by angels, nevertheless it does reply a foolish gadget prayer I’ve had for just a few years. The very wonderful UE Boom could be additional wonderful in the event you might management it along with your voice. I’ve been utilizing numerous variations of this speaker since its inception in 2013, largely as a result of it sounds nice, works effectively, and appears indestructible. The speaker’s design additionally has the interesting potential to mix in with its environment, making it appear to be the music’s coming from nowhere. And on the indestructible entrance, you possibly can drop it on concrete or throw it in a pool, and it’ll maintain blasting your jams. Nevertheless, I all the time thought it could be cool if it might keep plugged in, labored on wi-fi, and settle for voice instructions.

That’s precisely what the UE Blast does. The new speaker is a barely re-designed UE Boom with two new options: Alexa voice instructions (free) and the Power Up charging dock (bought individually for $40). Together, these two issues principally flip the Blast into a conveyable, sturdy Echo with wonderful sound high quality. Despite my earlier exuberance, nonetheless, the system isn’t good.

Let’s get my mbadive gripe out of the best way first. The UE Blast is expensive at $230. The Megablast, a superior system with far more highly effective sound, is basically expensive at $300. The entry-level Boom speaker is the $100 Wonderboom, which I personal and love. The UE Boom 2, which I additionally personal and love, goes for $150. Do the brand new options justify the additional $80 in value—plus the $40 charging dock. That utterly is dependent upon the way you need to use the Blast.

With the Power Up charging dock, you actually can use the Blast like an always-on Amazon Echo—with out it, the system will rapidly go into energy save mode and switch off. You can ask Alexa in regards to the climate or your day or the information, and Alexa will reply again via the Blast. You also can make use of sensible dwelling expertise like lighting or thermostat controls. I laughed out loud after I used the Blast to activate my TV. The Alexa-enabled Blast is cool in nearly all the ways in which the Amazon Echo is cool.

“Almost” is the important thing phrase there. The Blast can solely play music from sure companies—most prominently, Amazon Music. That means you possibly can’t ask the Blast to play songs from Spotify, Pandora, or Apple Music. So this sucks. You can nonetheless use any service over a Bluetooth connection. You additionally get a three-month trial to Amazon Music if you purchase the Blast, and in the event you’re a Prime Member, you have already got entry to Amazon Music. But nonetheless, this sucks! I pay for Spotify, as a result of I prefer it, and I like creating my playlists, as a result of I like my little soundtracks for all times. So after I inform the Blast, “Play my Hotel playlist on Spotify,” and Alexa tells me Spotify doesn’t work, I’m confused.

In this particular scenario, I blame Amazon. According to the Ultimate Ears badist web site, “Spotify can be played on Amazon’s Echo devices, but is not supported on most devices from other manufacturers.” To me, that feels like Amazon solely desires to let third events use Alexa, if these corporations steer individuals again to Amazon’s streaming companies. So you both have to deal with crappy sound high quality on Echo audio system or barely restricted performance on nice audio system just like the Blast. Meanwhile, UE doesn’t say if or when the Blast will have the ability to stream music from the highest three streaming companies via Alexa.

Another element price highlighting is the truth that the Blast audio system don’t beckon Alexa as rapidly as an Echo speaker does. I examined the Megablast towards the brand new Echo Plus, and the Amazon gadget simply responded to instructions twice as quick because the UE gadget. When I say “twice as fast,” by the best way, I imply two seconds as a substitute of 4. Either means, you’ll discover a little bit of a lag with the Blast audio system.

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The waterproofing is so good that canines don’t even discover there’s a speaker within the water. And don’t fear, the canine is okay after consuming speaker water. (Gif: Andrew Liszewski)

There’s additionally one different limitation that appears much less vital. With the Blast, you must be linked to wi-fi in an effort to use the Alexa performance. This element type of shit on my dream of a conveyable voice-controlled Blast, however I’m not even certain that dream made sense. I wouldn’t need to carry my Blast to the park after which management my sensible dwelling gadgets from there. With the proliferation of hotspots, nonetheless, possibly I might. But actually, I’d think about most individuals could be excited in regards to the Blast as an Echo substitute with a lot better sound high quality and the flexibility to work as a conveyable, sturdy Bluetooth speaker.

Speaking of sound high quality, the common Blast works with the identical audio because the Boom 2 and delivers the identical nice 360-degree sound. The constancy is terrific in a normal-sized room however will battle to fill giant, outside areas with the identical high quality sound that you just get in an enclosed area. The high quality suffers at excessive quantity, in different phrases. Meanwhile, the Megablast is a bading beast. Whereas the Megaboom pumped music out of two drivers and two pbadive radiators, the Megablast additionally has two tweeters to spherical out the sound.

The new on the Megablast makes a distinction, too. Acoustic tracks like “Husks and Shells” by Volcano Choir sounds delightfully life like, as if Justin Vernon and his buds have been sitting proper subsequent to you taking part in acoustic guitar. “The Megablast also preserves the delicate texture of Diane Krall’s voice on “The Look of Love.” The low finish on bbad-heavy tracks like “A Milli” don’t fairly blow your hat off, however Lil Wayne’s vocals sound nice. You can play this shit loud, too—too loud for an residence constructing however nearly proper for a yard social gathering.

The new Power Up charging station comes with a particular “D” ring that gives charging capabilities

What’s lacking from this thrilling new speaker lineup is the flexibility to community the audio system. Whereas earlier Boom audio system could be linked to one another to create multi-room sounds methods, the Blast audio system aren’t there but. In a briefing, UE reps advised me that they hoped to roll out an replace within the coming months that might successfully flip a collection of Blast audio system into the equal of a Sonos sound system. It looks like they’re nonetheless figuring out some bugs on the software program aspect, however I feel the Blast turns into far more interesting when you would have a number of of the voice-controlled, wi-fi audio system linked all through your home. In the meantime, you should purchase a Sonos One with Alexa performance for simply $200, however Sonos gadgets aren’t moveable or sturdy or versatile just like the UE Blast audio system.

This brings us again to that first query: What ought to I get So-and-So as a present? Well, on this case, that is dependent upon how a lot you want So-and-So. If you possibly can afford it, and you want your pal a ton, the Blast is a good addition to anybody’s life. If you like your pal, contemplate the Megablast. If not, contemplate the Wonderboom. It’s not fairly wonderful, however it’s enjoyable as hell.

A brand new line of colours and slicker design makes the Blast audio system look wonderful in your house.

README

  • Stellar, 360-degree sound high quality
  • Durable waterproof housing makes the Blast nearly indestructible
  • Useful Alexa capabilities however not as helpful as an Amazon Echo
  • Pricey at $230 for the Blast and $300 for the Megablast
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