Bluetooth speakers don’t need to look cool at all, but credit to Ultimate Ears for making its products look fresh as hell anyway.
As was the case with the excellent Boom 3 Bluetooth speaker, UE’s WonderBoom 2 gets a lot of style points to go along with its 360-degree sound delivery. This $99 softball of sound doesn’t bring many nifty flourishes to the table as its a remarkably straightforward Bluetooth speaker, but great looks pair with outdoor-friendly sound to make a compelling case as your camping, beach, or travel companion going forward.
Not much going on up top.
Credit: Mashable composite; Shutterstock / Marina Dekhnik
At 104mm by 95.3mm, the WonderBoom 2 comes in at about the size and shape of a coffee mug. It’s roughly cylindrical, with a fabric-covered speaker grill wrapping around the body and two flat sides making up the top and bottom. Massive plus and minus buttons for volume control sit on the speaker grill itself, which is a staple of UE design. On top, you’ve got a Bluetooth pairing button, a power button, and a prominent circular button that handles all playback controls on its own. One press will pause or play, and a double-press will skip to the next track.
The model I tested was in the somewhat boring “Crushed Ice Grey” color, but there are five options, including a totally sick “Bermuda Blue” one. This is an area where the price drop from the $149 Boom 3 rears its head, as that speaker allowed full customization of not only colors, but even the text on the body. That’s not the case here, sadly, but the different color schemes are still stylish and welcome.
As always, I would’ve preferred real playback controls instead of condensing everything into one button. What’s here is easy enough to operate, and you can always just control your music from your phone, but one button can only do so much on its own. The Bluetooth button is also the only way to pair the WonderBoom 2 to a device. Unlike the Boom 3, there’s no compatible mobile app you can use for setup or customization. On one hand, that makes setup incredibly quick and simple. On the other hand, the settings are… the settings. There’s no adjusting an equalizer, changing out button commands, or linking various music services into one interface. If you care about that, get the Boom 3.
Speaking of buttons, there is actually one more, nestled on the bottom side. It’s easy to miss, but it’s possibly the most important one of all: Outdoor Boost. This basically ups the bass output on the WonderBoom 2 to amplify whatever you’re listening to in noisy outdoor environments. It’s the one unique feature UE packed into this bad boy, and it’s a neat one.
The only other physical features worth noting are a microUSB port for charging on the back and a small hanging loop next to the Bluetooth button on top. Needless to say, you can use it to hang the speaker in situations where that might make sense. I never really felt the need to do that because the WonderBoom 2 is so compact and portable already, but the good news is the hanging loop is small enough to stay out of the way.
Adding to the WonderBoom 2’s outdoor utilities is an IP67 waterproof rating, meaning it can be submerged for up to half an hour without malfunctioning. I didn’t have a swimming pool handy, but it should be able to float, too. Not sure why you’d do that instead of just placing it on solid ground next to the pool, but hey, you do you. UE also touts the WonderBoom 2’s durability, and I can verify it works. I dropped the speaker from around 5 feet in the air onto a hardwood surface and you’d never know it happened. Nice.
Feisty sound in a small body
Hit this to activate Outdoor Boost.
Credit: alex perry / mashable
Despite a $50 price difference between the WonderBoom 2 and Boom 3, sound quality isn’t one of the compromises you’ll make by going with the cheaper option. This tiny speaker has a huge, booming voice, with strong bass and crisp delivery for more subtle elements of a song. The seminal Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique stood out in my testing, with the second track “Shake Your Rump” as a shining example of how nice the audio output is here. The production on that album is as jarring as it is cool, with so many clashing samples that it would be illegal or at least prohibitively expensive to make that album today. It’s beautifully weird and the WonderBoom 2 presents it in all its glory.
Outdoor Boost only makes it better. By pumping up the bass, the WonderBoom 2’s outdoor-focused feature makes it an ideal speaker for any kind of noisy situation. In testing the speaker on my stoop, among the din of sirens in the distance, kids playing basketball across the street, and other city noises, Outdoor Boost held up its end of the bargain.
I’m usually hesitant to use Bluetooth speakers indoors during the summer because of my noisy window air conditioner, but Outdoor Boost negated that problem better than any other speaker I’ve tested. I really don’t have any complaints about the sound quality on this speaker.
The same goes for its battery life. UE rates it for 13 hours, which is a tad below the 15-hour rating on the Boom 3. In my testing, I didn’t encounter anything that’d make me dispute that. A single charge can easily get you somewhere between 10 and 13 hours, and since there isn’t a sleep mode or anything like that, you don’t have to worry about passive battery drain while you aren’t using it. Paying $50 extra will get you the truly excellent battery in the Boom 3, but rest assured that going cheaper won’t screw you over here.
I do have one tiny complaint regarding the battery, though: Checking battery life is imprecise and arcane. As I said earlier, you can’t virtually connect the WonderBoom 2 to a mobile app like you can with the Boom 3. A major downside of that is there’s no way to get a simple on-screen readout of battery life expressed as a percentage. If you hold the two volume buttons for a couple of seconds, one of three little jingles will play to let you know if the battery is good, middling, or almost out.
That’s just not precise enough. Is it at 90 percent or 70 percent? I have no idea. WonderBoom 2’s battery life is good enough that maybe the distinction isn’t important, but some way to get a useful look at the battery level would’ve been greatly appreciated.
Cheap speakers aplenty
Put simply, you’re unlikely to find a Bluetooth speaker that combines the sound quality, battery life, portability, and straight up style of the WonderBoom 2 for close to that $99 price point. That said, there are some quality alternatives:
JBL Flip 4 ($89) has a similar 360-degree speaker grill and is rated for 12 hours of battery
Tribit StormBox ($57) is rated for an absurd 20 hours of battery and also has a 360-degree speaker
Bose SoundLink Micro ($99) is only rated for 6 hours of battery, but is tiny and has Siri and Google Assistant support along with Bose’s usual sound quality
I prefer the WonderBoom 2’s general look and shape to all of those, and it’s hard to imagine any of them sounding better. Still, it’s good to have options.
Form and function
Credit: Mashable composite; Shutterstock/ Marina Dekhnik
UE’s WonderBoom 2 doesn’t set out to do much, but lack of ambition isn’t a bad thing in this case. This is a pure Bluetooth speaker through and through, one that matches graceful looks with portability and bigger-than-expected sound. All that for just $99 is pretty tough to beat.
Unfortunately, that low price point isn’t without its disadvantages. Despite UE having an effective mobile app, you can’t use it with this speaker. It’s simply not possible to change audio settings, customize button inputs, or get a useful battery life readout. Perhaps this is superficial, but the extreme visual customization present in the more expensive Boom 3 is also missing here, which is a bummer.
But if you don’t care about the relatively minor cuts that come with a cheaper price, WonderBoom 2 is extremely easy to recommend as an indoor and outdoor music player. Just remember to make liberal use of the Outdoor Boost button.