UE MEGABLAST: The perfect summer speaker? (Review)

The weather is starting to heat up and that means more time spent outdoors. If you’re anything like me, a party isn’t a party with the proper tunes accompanying the people, food, and drinks. I’m constantly looking for the best speaker to take along with me to keep the party going. In the past, we’ve taken a look at other speakers like the ECOXGEAR Eco Slate, Leeron Sport Bluetooth Speaker, and the Braven BRV-XXL in search of the perfect speaker. While those are all great speakers and tick plenty of boxes, I think I’ve found my new favorite speaker, the Ultimate Ears (UE) MEGABLAST.

Design

UE’s lineup of speakers, including the Blast, Boom, and MEGABOOM have been around for a few years. UE decided to stick with an aesthetic that works instead of changing things up. That being said, if you’ve seen one UE speaker, you’re likely to recognize the others at this point. The rounded shape with a raised platform for the volume keys is familiar to us and looks pretty good.

The MEGABLAST comes in several color combinations, including Graphite, Blue Steel, Merlot, and Blizzard. Our review unit, the Blizzard variety, looks fantastic with its stunning white plastic and darker grill. The grill looks (and feels) like a black and white mesh that gives the speaker a little bit of visual flair without being too flashy. But, if you want flashy, you may want to check out the Blue Steel or Merlot colors because they’re definitely head turners.

When I say that the top, base, and volume bar you may get it in your head that this is somehow a cheap design, but you’d be mistaken. The speaker is strong and sturdy and the hefty plastic is built to last for years. Its soft to the touch and wipes off easily when it gets dirty.

The bottom of the speaker has a detachable area that holds a carabiner hook. That’s a really nice feature, so why would you want to remove it? Well, UE also sells a dock that you can pick up and keep your speaker charging even while it’s playing. To use the dock, you remove a section of the base and replace it with a new one that comes with the charger. This allows it to continue charging while still pumping out the tunes. Sure, the MEGABLAST claims a 16-hour battery life, but why use the battery if you don’t have to?

The charging base is a great option, but it’s also another $40. And it doesn’t add a ton of functionality. Sure, you can sit your speaker in the dock and charge it up, but you still have access to the microUSB charging port to charge it up. In our review of the UE Blast, Josh calls the charging dock and luxury and I couldn’t agree more. If you have the extra $40, it’s a cool accessory but it’s certainly not required.

Function

I was surprised to learn that the UE MEGABLAST had a ton of tricks up its sleeve. We expect to connect our speaker to our phones through Bluetooth or NFC and play music from there, but you can do more with the MEGABLAST. The speaker also has WiFi connectivity that allows it to play music from other sources.

Not only that, but UE included a smart assistant in the MEGABLAST. And not just any generic assistant, but Amazon’s Alexa and all of the awesome functionality that comes along with her. The addition of Alexa takes this from a “dumb” Bluetooth speaker to one of the best sounding smart speakers on the market.

Even though you wouldn’t look at the MEGABLAST and put it in the same category as an Amazon Echo, it can do all of the same things. It can control your smart home appliances, remind you how to spell onomatopoeia, or check the weather for tomorrow. So, all of the other speakers out there can play music too, which means the MEGABLAST can as well, right?

UE Blast Wireless Speaker

Sure, but there’s a drawback. The MEGABLAST is limited to playing music through Amazon services. Those include services like iHeartRadio, SiriusXM Radio, Pandora, TuneIn, and Amazon Music Unlimited. You actually get a three month Amazon Music Unlimited subscription when you purchase the BLAST or MEGABLAST, but after that, you’re on your own. A recent update brought support for Spotify too but there are hoops to jump through to enable it and it just doesn’t feel… intuitive. If reviewing electronics has taught me anything its that if you make people jump through a bunch of hoops, they’re just going to forget it and not buy your product in the first place.

As a lover of all things Google Assistant and Google Play Music (Spotify too!), I do feel a bit limited here. Amazon Music Unlimited is a fine service, but it’s definitely not something I’m going to pay for after the free trial. I’m left feeling that there’s a big missed opportunity here to let users choose which music service they want to play their music through. Sure, I get that this is a partnership between UE and Amazon, but we don’t like walled gardens and this definitely feels like one.

Now, don’t get us wrong, you can play anything you want through this speaker when you connect your phone to it through Bluetooth and that’s all well and good. But, we’d have loved to see a nice competitor to the high-end Google Home Max here and we’re just not getting that because of the integration of Alexa instead of Google Assistant.

So, how do you enable all of this? You first need to go grab the Ultimate Ears app from the Google Play store. The app will actually guide you through the setup and pairing process once you get the speaker. It asks you to sign into your Amazon account for Alexa access and gives a pretty decent tutorial on what you can do with the speaker. Even if I don’t love Alexa, I do love that you can yell at the speaker to turn down the volume, switch tracks, or play a different playlist. Nothing sucks more than getting out of the pool to mess with a speaker on a hot day.

Sound

Okay, let’s start with a big bold statement here: The UE MEGABLAST is one of the best sounding speakers we’ve ever reviewed. We’ve reviewed huge speakers that shake windows and little speakers that you carrying around on the outside of your backpack. But nothing has wowed me personally like the MEGABLAST. It isn’t the loudest speaker (although it is damn loud), but the audio quality it’s able to put out is simply fantastic.

If you love bass, you’re going to love the MEGABLAST. I suppose with a name like MEGABLAST, it has to thump with the best of them, and it certainly does. I was very impressed at the bass response when listening to some of my favorite EDM songs like Antihero by Noisestrom, I Remember by Tristam, and Here With You Now by Grabbitz.

Mids and highs are overshadowed a bit by the lows, but I still enjoyed them just the same. I was surprised and pleased with how powerful pop vocals sounded through the speaker, especially when it was in an outdoor setting. Clear audio and excellent volume combine to make a great speaker for your next outdoor event.

Conclusion

If you have $249 in your pocket and you’re looking for a fantastic speaker, it’s easy to recommend the MEGABLAST. Again, this is one of, if not the, best sounding speakers I’ve ever heard. While you can find other speakers that put out great sound or louder speakers, I believe the MEGABLAST is a great combination of quality and max volume.

The smart features are really the killer. Sure, they’re limited in what you can do, but I feel like that’s the case with pretty much every smart speaker on the market at the moment. If you’re comfortable using Alexa’s voice interface and supported service, this is a no-brainer. Even if you’re not, it’s nice to be able to turn down the volume, stop playback, or skip to the next track with just your voice. Sure, we’d love the option of Google Assistant here, but you can’t always get what you want.

For my money, the UE MEGABLAST is one of the most compelling options on the market right now and among the best of the premium Bluetooth speaker segment. It gets our recommendation.

UE MEGABLAST purchase links: Ultimate Ears | Amazon | Best Buy | Target