The softball-sized UE Wonderboom produces clear, robust sound with surprisingly full bass.
No outdoor summer scene is complete without a portable Bluetooth speaker, the quintessential good-weather gadget. Their popularity is due largely to the fact that they’re affordable, and, like most technology these days, mobile-friendly. But with over 25,000 results for “portable Bluetooth speaker” on Amazon alone, the number of speaker options to choose from can be overwhelming for someone who’s looking for something that’s cheap and good.
The thing is, most of those speakers on Amazon are bad (I know, because I’ve tried dozens of them). But the Wonderboom, Ultimate Ears’ new $100 entry-level speaker unveiled in March, doesn’t suck. It’s actually pretty great. I’ve been reviewing the speaker for a month and a half, alongside its closest competitor, the JBL Flip 4, which is also $100.
The two models have everything you’d want from party-friendly, portable speakers. Both are waterproof and rugged, come in a variety of colors, and have day-long battery lives. But in my testing, the Wonderboom was better than the Flip 4 where it really counts: playing music.
BuzzFeed News; Ultimate Ears
The Wonderboom was made for head bangers.
The Wonderboom is is designed to make up for the lack of bass in its predecessor, last year’s UE Roll. The speaker handled songs like Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem” impressively well, with full-sounding bass and crisp high frequencies.
In a blind music test, BuzzFeed video producer Allyson Laquian decisively chose the Wonderboom as the better speaker as soon as LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” came on. The Wonderboom accentuated the song’s *thump* very clearly, while the Flip 4 sounded stilted in comparison.
My boyfriend Will also prefered the Wonderboom, but for a different reason. The treble on the JBL Flip 4 is so high, he said, that it’s “like having a snake in your ear.”
I agree. The JBL Flip 4 tends to overaccentuate treble at its highest volumes (close to 90 decibels, its maximum output). And while I found that the Wonderboom is better at producing bass than the JBL speaker, it too starts to break down at high volume levels (close to 86 decibels, its volume max).
The Wonderboom sounds better than the JBL Flip 4 not only because of the quality of its speakers, but also how those speakers are placed in the actual device.
The JBL speaker is shaped like a cylinder, and has two “bass radiators” on its ends that vibrate to the beat. It’s designed to play music while upright or on its side but, during my testing, sounded distorted while upright (because it mutes the bass). Additionally, there’s a “front” and “back” to the speaker. You can tell when you’re behind the speaker, because the music gets quiet.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News
The Wonderboom, which is shaped like a small but portly grapefruit, only has one orientation: upright. It also doesn’t have a “front” and “back,” thanks to what Ultimate Ears calls “360-degree sound,” created by two active and two passive drivers positioned around the speaker. Music comes out in all directions on the Wonderboom. So whether you’re in front of, behind, or to the side of the Wonderboom, it’ll sound the same, no matter where you are.
Nicole Nguyen / BuzzFeed News
The Wonderboom will save itself in bodies of water.
Pictured here is my beloved UE Roll, which is, sadly, now at the bottom of Lake Berryessa in California. The UE Roll is waterproof and comes with a floating life preserver, designed specifically for the speaker, but because I naively thought the stretchy bungee cord that comes with the speaker was strong enough to hang onto the side of the boat, I didn’t bring the preserver along. The Roll did not survive a choppy ride back to the marina.
BuzzFeed News / Nicole Nguyen