Crisp audio with solid bass at high volumes. Telescoping handle and wheels. Built-in bottle-opener and radio. Waterproof, floating design.
Massive. Audio lacks deep sub-bass response.
- Bottom Line
The EcoXGear EcoBoulder+ is a unique portable Bluetooth speaker with built-in cup holders, a bottle opener, wheels, and the ability to float or double as a guitar amp.
Is it possible to have too many features? We've reviewed plenty of Bluetooth speakers from EcoXGear that are portable and outdoor friendly, but most tend to be small enough to stow in a backpack or purse. The $249.99 EcoXGear EcoBoulder+ is a different kind of beast—and we do mean beast. This thing is portable, yes, but also massive. The speaker has a built-in retractable handle like you see on roller suitcases, as well as wheels—which makes sense, since it's the size of a suitcase.
The EcoBoulder+ delivers 100 watts of sonic fury and some unique, borderline-ridiculous extra features like a built-in bottle opener, an input for guitars and microphones, and cup holders. From a feature standpoint, it's a little disappointing that the speaker is mono—there wasn't room for a second tweeter with all that real estate? From an audio standpoint, the EcoBoulder+ delivers average performance—you might expect a speaker this size to have more solid bass depth. Still, anyone sold on the kitchen sink design will be pretty happy.
The EcoBoulder+ will never be accused of lacking features. The 19.8-by-15.5-by-11.3-inch speaker (HWD), as mentioned, has a telescoping luggage-style handle and wheels, so its 27-pound weight shouldn't be too much of a problem. It also has two very sturdily built handles for carrying it around, almost like a cooler (the Coolest Cooler comes to mind). As mentioned, it has two built-in cup holders on its top panel. And, to really go the extra mile, the right side panel features not only a velcro-on carrying pouch (for housing cables or whatever else will fit inside its relatively generous proportions), but also a bottle opener. I've reviewed many speakers, but I believe this is the first that can open a beer.
Since there are cup holders and bottle openers, it's a good thing the EcoBoulder+ is rated IP67. That means it's not only protected from dust ingress, but also fully waterproof (and can float). There's an included waterproof bag for your smartphone, which conveniently fits inside the velcro-attached pouch (the pouch itself, however, is not waterproof).
Up top, near the cup holders, the EcoBoulder+ has a crowded control panel. In addition to the traditional power, volume (which works independently of your mobile device's master volume), play/pause, Bluetooth pairing, sound source, and track navigation buttons, there are five memory storage buttons (P1 to P5, for AM/FM radio stations). There's also an EQ button (you can adjust between multiple presets like Jazz, Pop, and Normal, or you can adjust the bass and treble individually), a dedicated button for your phone's voice control, a backlit on/off button, an EcoConnect button for pairing multiple EcoXGear speakers, and a mic volume control for adjusting levels while using an external mic or guitar, which can connect to the side panel. The jack is 0.25-inch, so technically this is also a PA system or guitar amp. Near all of these controls, a display tells you what listening mode you're in, as well as EQ settings, battery life status, and other relevant info.
As mentioned, the EcoBoulder+ features a built-in AM/FM radio. However, its antenna is internal, so if reception is poor, to quote the manual, you must "move the entire product." You can also stream audio wirelessly via Bluetooth. The side panel houses connections for the aforementioned mic (not included), a 3.5mm aux input, and a USB charging port for powering your devices using the speaker's battery. Below this panel, there's a connection for the included power cable. Both of these panels have snap-shut covers that are vital to keep closed when not in use—the speaker is not waterproof when they're open.
The front panel is all speaker grille—behind its tough exterior, there's a 3-inch tweeter and an 8-inch full-range driver, while the back panel houses another grille covering, which protects the 8-inch passive radiator. So yes, despite its massive size and price, the EcoBoulder+ is bafflingly a mono speaker. For true stereo, you need to pair a second unit. Few speakers we test have actual built-in fuses, but the EcoBoulder+ has a slow-blow fuse built in, so you're less likely to damage the drivers with insanely loud volume levels.
EcoXGear estimates battery life to be roughly 50 hours on a full charge, or 10 hours at maximum volume—so your results will vary based on your volume levels and mix of wired and wireless playback. It takes a whopping eight hours to fully charge, but also has 100 hours of standby time.
First, a disclaimer. This speaker can get insanely loud, and since its volume is independent of your phone's, you could also really pump your phone's volume all the way up—that's why there's a fuse. I'd encourage you to slowly adjust volume levels, and always start out low. Regardless, the EcoBoulder+ is among the top three loudest Bluetooth speakers we've tested. And at moderate volumes, it delivers solid audio quality. While we tested in Normal EQ mode, it is certainly possible to increase or decrease both bass and treble, though we found these adjustments unnecessary, and also to be on the more subtle side.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the EcoBoulder+ delivers a solid low frequency response, even in Normal mode. With the bass boosted, it gets a little stronger, but not insanely so. Generally speaking, this is a nicely balanced sound—not terribly accurate, really, but there's plenty of high frequency presence to match the bass boosting.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the general sound signature. The drums on this track can often sound overly thunderous on bass-forward systems, but here, they sound fairly natural. We hear far more bass depth from Callahan's baritone vocals, which tells us that most of the boosting on this system is done in the lows and low-mids and not so much in the sub-bass department. The clarity of the higher frequencies is a definite strength—from the definition of the vocals to the attack of the guitar strums.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop gets plenty of high-mid presence, accentuating its sharp attack and allowing it to slice through the layers of the mix. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are more implied than delivered—despite its bulky size, the EcoBoulder+ doesn't deliver subwoofer-like thunder. It's much more of a mids-and highs-focused speaker. The drum loop gets a little added bass heft, but nothing like we hear on many competing large speakers. The vocals on this track are delivered with solid clarity, and perhaps a little added sibilance.
For orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, the lower register instrumentation gets a slight push forward in the mix, mainly because much of its presence exists in the lows and low-mids, but generally speaking, this is a bright sound signature. The higher register brass, strings, and vocals are delivered with a crisp brightness that few listeners will find accurate, but most will find clear and balanced.
One annoyance: We often heard high-frequency hiss, like tape hiss, when the volume levels on our paired iPhone 6s and the speaker were both at moderate-to-high levels. It's interference, and notably audible, especially when music is paused. It's not a deal breaker, but we expect more from a $250 speaker.
If the EcoBoulder+ were only a speaker, it would get a slightly lower score for its sonic quality. Simply put, we've heard better for this price, like the JLab Block Party and the JBL Charge 3. The outdoor-friendly, but much smaller, EcoXGear EcoSlate is a also a solid, if less powerful, option. Meanwhile, the Soundcast Melody remains one of the better-sounding outdoor speakers we've tested in the massive-but-portable department.
But the EcoBoulder+ is also a bottle opener. And a radio. And a cup holder. And it's fully waterproof and floats. So it's more like an outdoor party assistant or camping mate than simply a speaker. If $250 sounds like a fair price for all those extra features, you're bound to have a good time.
By Tim Gideon Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear. More »
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