Sunday, 17 December 2017
Reviews

UE Megablast review


UE is infamous for its range of Bluetooth speakers, from the UE Boom to the Roll 2 to the Wonderboom, not only because of impressive audio quality but also because UE looks after its customers. You see, UE speaker owners will continue to receive new features via software updates for quite some time after release.

But even though they are adored, UE’s speaker range needs something new. And with 2017 being the year of virtual assistants, it seems only fitting to build one of the best virtual assistants into one of the best Bluetooth speakers. The UE Blast and Megablast offer the same high-end audio experience as their predecessors along with Amazon Alexa support, offering a world of possibilities for those that use them.

The question is, is the UE Megablast worth the expensive price tag? Or should you invest in an Amazon Echo Dot and a cheaper Bluetooth speaker? We’ve spent some time with the UE Megablast, and here’s our review.  

UK pricing and availability

Before we get too far into the review, let’s quickly discuss the pricing and availability of UE’s latest speaker, the Megablast. Admittedly it’s not cheap at £269.99, making it more expensive than Amazon’s own Alexa-enabled Echo speaker, but we believe that the functionality, design and sound quality of the UE Megablast make it worth that much money.

If you’re interested in picking up the UE Megablast, it’s available in a variety of colour options from UE, Amazon, John Lewis and more for £269.99.

Design and build

Despite the unique look when compared to other high-end Bluetooth speakers, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the UE Megablast with its predecessor, the Megaboom. After all, the two speakers generally sport the same cylindrical design and weaved mesh speaker grille, but there are subtle differences between the two that make all the difference.

First up, the UE Megablast is the largest speaker in the Ultimate Ears range, measuring in at 237 x 88 x 88mm. It’s slightly larger than the Megaboom but with so many new and improved features, it’s a sacrifice we’re happy to live with. It’s only the largest by a few millimetres anyway!

The Megablast, like the Megaboom, wasn’t designed to be as portable as the waterbottle-shaped UE Boom, but it’s far from a desktop-only solution. Despite the large build, it’s still easy and light enough to fit in rucksacks or suitcases for those impromptu day trips to the beach.

Yes, we said beach because like others in the UE Range, the Megablast is made from a soft-to-touch but durable material that should protect it not only from bumps and scratches but dust and other small particles too. Besides providing dust resistance, it also adds a really nice feel to the speaker and makes it easier to grip when carrying it too.

Worried about getting it wet? You shouldn’t be, as the Megablast offers IP67 water resistance alongside dust resistance, meaning it should survive a dunk in 1m of water for up to 30 minutes.

However, it’s the water- and dust resistance that brings us to our least-favourite design choice when it comes to the UE Megablast. Like most Bluetooth speakers, the UE Megablast relies on a microUSB port for charging, and thanks to the waterproofing, it’s hidden beneath a waterproof seal. That’s fine, that makes perfect sense.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is the positioning of the charging port, and it’s an issue we’ve had with many UE speakers over the years. It’s on the bottom of the speaker, meaning it can’t be stood upright and charged at the same time.

The company must’ve taken the design cue from Apple’s Magic Mouse 2, with an equally frustratingly-placed charging port!

Admittedly, you can flip the speaker on its head when charging to stand it upright, but it blocks the view of the LED power button – something you need to be able to see when interacting with Alexa, as it lights up to indicate that it’s listening/performing an action. The problem can also be remedied by the optional UE Power Up wireless charging pad for the Megablast, but we’ll go into a little more detail about that below.

Before we delve into the features of the Megablast, let’s first talk about colour options – because there are quite a few. Like other UE speakers, the Megablast comes in a range of stunning colour options. The colour combinations are a little more toned down than those available on earlier UE speakers, but we love the new shades of colour available.

You’ve got standard options like Blue Steel (Blue), Graphite (Grey) and Blizzard (White) alongside more unique colours like Lemonade (Yellow), Mojito (Lime Green) and Merlot (Purple). With so many colour options available, we’re confident that you’ll be able to find one that matches your style and taste.

Features and spec

So, what makes the UE Megablast one of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market? The fact that it isn’t just a Bluetooth speaker. For one, it has built-in dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support alongside Bluetooth connectivity. Why? Because it’s one of a handful of third-party speakers to offer support for Alexa, Amazon’s connected smart assistant.

The UE Megablast offers full Alexa support, meaning that the virtual assistant can do everything that it can in Amazon’s official Echo speaker range (apart from the Echo Show because, well, duh). That means that Alexa can stream music from TuneIn, Amazon Music and more, along with the ability to answer questions, control your smart home accessories and give you the latest news, all by asking.

It doesn’t need an Echo or Dot to pair with, nor does it need to be connected to a smartphone to answer queries. After setup, it should automatically connect to your home Wi-Fi whenever it’s switched on. Simple. It provides a new way to use Bluetooth speakers; rather than connecting your iPhone or Android, loading up your playlist and pressing play, you can simply say “Alexa, play music I might like” and it’ll play music based on your listening history.

It’s quick, it’s simple and it’s much more natural, all made possible by the always-on Alexa detection and built-in far field voice tech. Admittedly it has a little trouble detecting the activation word at high volume, but we’ve found the Alexa activation and query handling to be on a par with official Echo products.

And unlike with other Alexa-enabled Bluetooth speakers that require you to push a button before giving your command, the UE Megablast is always listening for hands-free activation and commands. It’s everything you’d want in a portable Alexa-enabled speaker.

If you’re worried about the far field microphone technology killing the battery life of the UE Megablast, you’d be wrong. Even with Alexa ready to go at a second’s notice, the Megablast can last up to 16 hours on a single charge. It’s impressive, and even more impressive when you consider the fact that the speaker also has to power four active drivers and two passive radiators for the impressive, room-filling sound quality it provides.

But what if you want Alexa to be always on, much like the standard Amazon Echo (which requires a constant power supply)? Thankfully, there’s a way to enable it on the UE Megablast, but you’ll have to part with even more cash to do so.

The solution comes in the form of the Power Up, an optional £34.99 accessory for the UE Megablast that provides wireless charging functionality. Simply pop your Megablast onto the wireless charging base, swap the D-Ring for the special inducting D-Ring provided with the Power Up and place it down to provide charge.

As well as providing quick and easy access to your speaker whenever you need it, you can also leave the speaker on for longer periods without having to worry about battery life. You may need to turn it back on after periods of disuse, but it doesn’t go into standby straight away.

Audio quality

Below the tightly-packed speaker mesh of the UE Megablast you’ll find two 25mm tweeters, two 55mm active drivers alongside two 85 x 50mm passive radiators, offering a maximum output of an incredible 93db according to UE. While we can’t test the maximum volume of the speaker, we can confirm that the array of speakers featured provide incredible sound quality.

The vocals are crisp, the bass is warm and powerful without drowning out the mid-range and the 360-degree design of the speaker really does provide room-filling audio. It’s essentially as at home playing Big Shaq as it is playing Adventure Club or Adele, excelling in both vocal and instrument reproduction.

The speaker is incredibly loud – it’s not called the Megablast for nothing – and for the most part, the audio quality is unaffected. No matter how loud it goes, the audio doesn’t become harsh or distorted, although the bass starts to lose some of its presence at around 80% volume.

It’s when you creep nearer to 90-95% volume that the audio starts to become harsh, but we don’t think that many people will experience it at such a high volume. In our opinion, the room-filling audio means that you’ll rarely need to turn it up beyond 50-60 percent volume.



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