Amazon Alexa voice control. Rugged build. Generally solid audio output.
Struggles with deep bass.
- Bottom Line
The Ultimate Ears UE Blast puts Amazon's Alexa voice assistant in a portable, rugged, waterproof Bluetooth speaker.
We've long been fans of the Ultimate Ears Boom family of Bluetooth speakers thanks to their rugged yet stylish designs and solid sound quality. The Blast spinoff line adds even more with Wi-Fi connectivity and Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. The Blast and Megablast are effectively Alexa-enabled versions of the Boom and Megaboom, with the same colorful waterproof, cylindrical design and fairly powerful audio. At $179.99, the smaller Blast is a much more wallet-friendly than the Megablast, and can still put out some solid, well-balanced sound.
Round and Rugged
The Blast is visually indistinguishable from the Boom, with a cylindrical design dominated by a wraparound fabric cover and flat rubber end caps connected by a wide rubber strip running down the length of the speaker. It measures 7.4 by 2.7 inches (HW) and weighs 1.4 pounds. The rubber strip holds the large, signature plus and minus volume buttons, with the remaining controls sitting on the top cap. They include a large, recessed power button distinguished by a line across it that lights up when the speaker is on, and a smaller Bluetooth button with a dot that flashes when pairing and lights up when connected.
The bottom cap of the Blast holds a circular rubber door that covers a recessed micro USB port for charging, along with a metal D-ring for hanging the speaker from a hook. The D-ring can be removed and replaced with a similar one equipped with a charging port for use with the optional $39.99 Power Up base. If you don't want to use the base, you'll have to charge the Blast on its side, which can be awkward if you want to listen to music while it's plugged in. According to Ultimate Ears, the Blast can last for up to 12 hours of playback.
The Blast is IP67 dustproof and waterproof, which means it can handle being submerged in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. You won't have to worry if the speaker accidentally flies into the pool, or if it gets covered in sand.
Alexa on the Go
Like the Megablast, the Blast is a voice assistant speaker equipped with Amazon Alexa. Setting up Alexa on the Blast is easy: Download the Blast/Megablast app for Android or iOS, pair the speaker over Bluetooth, and follow a few simple steps in the app to connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network and log into your Amazon account. Once that's done, you can use voice commands with the Blast. Alexa requires an internet connection to work, whether it's your home Wi-Fi network or your phone's hotspot mode.
As a third-party Alexa speaker, the Blast can do most of the same things the Echo and Echo Dot can do, with a few limitations. The information-based voice commands are all present, so you can ask for weather reports, sports scores, unit conversions, trivia, and other basic facts and news. You can control your smart home devices through Alexa if they're part of the extensive list of supported gadgets. You can use any of Alexa's third-party skills, so you can order a pizza or play Skyrim with your voice. And, of course, you can tell Alexa to play music through Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, as well as iHeartRadio, Spotify, and TuneIn.
The few limitations of Alexa on the Blast are minor. You can't change the wake-up word from Alexa to an alternative, and you can't use Amazon's Drop In voice messaging system. Otherwise, Alexa is fully functional.
Sounds Good, but Not Much Blast
Ultimate Ears speakers tend to offer very good sound in general, but considering their bombastic names like Blast and Boom, they aren't as capable as you'd expect at handling deep bass. Like the UE Boom 2, the Megaboom 3, and the Megablast, the Blast doesn't offer a particularly deep sense of low-end when playing our bass test track, The Knife's "Silent Shout." And, also like the other models, it flirts with distortion when the bass drum kicks in. This is a punishing track for lower frequencies, but it's still a bit disappointing to hear hints of crackling and popping creep in.
Massive Attack's "Teardrop" sounds much better, however, even with its heartbeat-like drumbeat. The drums get enough presence to be apparent on the track without distorting, and the low piano chords sound full and round to give a sense of depth to the mix. The higher frequencies are well-represented here, with the rain-like vinyl texture and vocals coming through crisp and clear. It's enough power to fill a small room, but it doesn't quite put out as much sound as the Megablast, which can easily cover a patio.
The drums and sound of shuffling through a storm in the opening of The Heavy's "Short Change Hero" also come through clearly, with enough low and low-mid frequency presence to give a sense of depth. When the bassline kicks in, it drives the track without getting in the way of the vocals, which stay in the center of the mix. There still isn't any rumble, but it's an all-around solid sound from just above sub-bass frequencies and up.
Functional and Wallet-Friendly
The Ultimate Ears Blast is a capable Alexa speaker that benefits from portability and ruggedness lacking from most first-party voice assistant speakers. It isn't as powerful as the larger Megablast, but it sounds a lot better than the Amazon Tap, and its $180 price makes it very appealing to anyone looking for an Echo they can take outside. The Echo is still excellent for the home, offering strong performance and a lower price at the cost of portability. If you want more power in a voice assistant speaker, the Megablast is still one of the louder portable options, while the Google Home Max and the JBL Link 300 both offer non-portable Google Assistant flexibility with downright booming sound.
About the Author
Senior Analyst, Consumer Electronics
Will Greenwald has been covering consumer technology for a decade, and has served on the editorial staffs of CNET.com, Sound & Vision, and Maximum PC. His work and analysis has been seen in GamePro, Tested.com, Geek.com, and several other publications. He currently covers consumer electronics in the PC Labs as the in-house home entertainment expert… See Full Bio
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