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Ultimate Ears Megablast UK Review: Possibly the ultimate portable speaker

Written by  Jan 08, 2018

The UE Blast and Megablast are from a new family of Ultimate Ears speakers: it's all about loudness and portability. These are speakers that are designed to be used absolutely anywhere.

The Amazon Echo has turned the speaker market inside out, by adding voice control in the shape of Alexa, creating a new category of device.

When Amazon announced that Alexa Voice Services were going to be available to third-party manufacturers, there was not much noise about it. The implementation, however, is rather loud. As is the UE Megablast.

Ultimate Ears Megablast Review

A clver and robust design

Alexa voice control is a key focal point of the Megablast. Amazon's smart assistant lives within, which is rather unusual for a connected speaker. While the biggest rival Alexa-powered speaker we've seen, the Sonos One, ionly uses a wired connection.

Out of the choice of Bluetooth speakers out there, Ultimate Ears always manages to do well. It's that combination of waterproofed convenience, a design that's tough so it's well suited to an active life, while also delivering great 360-degree sound, with plenty of volume and bass.

The Megablast is big, bold, and very Boom-like, but it sticks to that cylindrical design with rubberised ends and a rubber strip down the side. With big volume controls sitting on the side – that's the big "+" and "-" – and if you've seen a UE Megablast Boom speaker before, you'll know what it's all about. There are also two top buttons, the power central illuminated power which flashes when Alexa is being consulted and a smaller button you can press to turn on Bluetooth pairing. You can also mute the Megablast with a press of this smaller button and the volume down at the same time.

It comes in an array of dazzling colours: Graphite (black), Blizzard (white), Blue Steel (blue, of course), Merlot (red), Mojito (green) and Lemonade (yellow).

The Megablast is IP67 rated, meaning water- and dust-proofing, so it's a perfect option to use by the pool, without worrying about it ending up in the water or soaked in beer. 

That protection comes partly thanks to the Micro-USB port on the bottom being covered with a rubber stopper that's held in place by a screw-in plug with a d-ring which is all part of the very clever design.

ue blast 5
Ultimate Ears Megablast Review

What can Alexa do on the UE Megablast?

The Megablast uses Alexa Voice Service in the same way as the Amazon Echo

Alexa is a cloud-connected service, so the Megablast adds Wi-Fi to its connectivity to connect to a home network, giving Alexa access to all the skills it needs.

The setup of the speaker starts with the UE app, but then shifts over to the Alexa app to complete the process, letting you sign in to your your Amazon account. This UE Megablast app gives you some details, like the status of the speaker, and lets you control the Wi-Fi network to which it is connected.

It's through the Alexa app that you'll assign skills to the Megablast, as well as manage the information and services that Alexa can access. This covers a huge range of things from smart home control – like turning on your Hue lights – as well as being able to buy things from Amazon, track your Fitbit weight or set timers and alarms. If you're already an Alexa user, then the Megablast just picks up your existing Alexa profile and adopts all those attributes.

Compared to the Amazon Echo, the Megablast doesn't support Alexa calling or the Echo's multi-room grouping. Otherwise, the Alexa experience is very similar.

When you talk to Alexa on the Megablast, the music stops completely, whereas on the Echo devices, the music level dips, so it continues in the background. We feel that subtle difference makes for a slightly better interactive music experience on the Echo compared to the UE Megablast. 

We also get the feeling that the microphones aren't as good on the Megablast as they are on the Echo. Although you can turn the Echo volume up enough so you have to shout at it to get a response, we get the sense that you hit that point sooner on the UE Megablast speaker.

Spotify-Cover Collins
Ultimate Ears Megablast Review

Does the Megablast support Spotify?

The most popular use for the UE Megablast is of course to play music. The UE Megablast will work seamlessly with Amazon Music, as the Echo does, and it's through Amazon Music that you really get the best experience, because you have access to the widest selection of tracks. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber then you get access to Prime Music, which also gives you some music. This will also include auto-rip music from albums you might have purchased from Amazon before.

You'll also be able to use other services, like TuneIn, providing all the radio stations you can think of, just by saying "Alexa, play BBC Radio 1". There will be support coming for Deezer, but there's still some work to be done with Spotify, which is a shortcoming of the Megablast at the moment. But it won't be like this for long according to Ultimate Ears.

The UE Megablast doesn't support Spotify at launch, not in the same way that the Amazon Echo does. This is because of the work that needs to be done between Spotify and third-party Alexa manufacturers to enable that functionality: it's not a standard part of the Alexa Voice Service suite. 

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Sound quality

The biggest criticism of the Amazon Echo has always been the sound quality. While the original Echo and the Echo Plus are ok, if you're a music fan they are not quite up to the job that is where the likes of the UE Blast and Megablast come in.

When it comes to volume, Ultimate Ears says the Megablast is some 40 per cent louder than the Megaboom, which means it's seriously loud - 98dB of boom.

But it does come at a price, namely that when the volume is turned up higher than about seven, the microphone can no longer pick out your voice. But what you are getting at that volume level is fidelity that the Echo doesn't have. The Echo drops in performance with increased distortion as the volume rises to higher levels, but the UE Megablast remains distortion-free at even higher levels.

The Boom speakers from Ultimate Ears have always been known for delivering a meaty bass punch – and you get that from the Megablast too.

There's depth and accuracy to this bass when you're listening at sociable levels, which is one of the joys of these speakers: they don't have to be too loud to be singing at optimum levels. Compared to the Amazon Echo, the sound quality is better in every way.

Ultimate Ears Megablast3
Ultimate Ears Megablast Review

The UE Magablast Power Up base

The UE Megablast delivers 16 hours of listening from a single charge.

That gives you portability that those others don't, so your Alexa experience isn't limited to the one room. Ultimate Ears says that the Wi-Fi is good for about 330 feet and the Bluetooth for 150 feet, so you can literally take it anywhere around the home or garden.

Of course, when on Wi-Fi you'll enjoy that full Alexa experience, but if you arrive at the beach with no Wi-Fi, it's Bluetooth you're likely to use. If you're desperate for Alexa when you're mobile then you can connect this speaker to a Wi-Fi hotspot on your phone. We've tested this and it worked perfectly.

In the time we've spent testing the UE Megablast, we've found it dropping off Wi-Fi more frequently than the Amazon Echo does, with normal use. 

Regular use will probably be outdoors, that's where the Power Up base becomes really important. This is a charging plate that both the Blast and Megablast can sit on. It costs £35 and it's a real shame that you don't get one in the box, because it's this that means you can give your Megablast a home and then treat it like a normal connected smart speaker – just like the Echo.

The only thing you have to do is change the bottom screw to a different type to allow the charging of the battery wirelessly, then it can just sit on the top of the Power Up all the time – and in reality, bending the rubber seal back to connect a Micro-USB cable to the Megablast is a bit of a faff, so this is £35 well spent, not just in terms of helping the Megablast realising its domestic potential, but in making your life easier too.

If you don't have the Power Up base, the the Megablast will go into standby when it's not being used, like any normal Bluetooth speaker would. The same applies if you set a timer or an alarm – perhaps to remind you to take a cake out of the oven or so you get to that job interview on time. If your speaker is in standby, then no alarms.

You can sort of see what we're getting at here: if you're used to a home-based wired device like the Amazon Echo, and the full Alexa experience that goes with it, then you'll need to buy the Power Up base for the best experience that the UE Megablast can offer. And this position sort of undermines the experience, because it calls into doubt the practical union of these worlds: Alexa is predominantly a home experience and UE's speakers are best suited to a rougher life.

sonos one b
Ultimate Ears Megablast Review

How does it compare to the Sonos One?

We're not going to deny that we love the Sonos One. The thing that it has in commen with the Megablast is that they both better the Amazon Echo devices in terms of sound quality, especially as things get louder (and we'd say that overall the sound quality is comparable). The Megablast is a bigger speaker overall and much more expensive, but you could say that there's greater parity between the Sonos One and the smaller UE Blast (each costs £199).

Sonos is more contemporary in design, fitting in with existing Sonos speakers as well as being compatible with Sonos' wider system, so it can be grouped with other speakers for the normal Sonos experience. It also brings a huge amount of flexibility for music sources and even Alexa might struggle to give you all those options. Sonos is also fully compatible with Spotify, with support for voice control, which the Megablast doesn't yet offer.

But Sonos is strictly a home-based system and always needs to be plugged in, which is where the Megablast will appeal to a different type of user. While both will offer a similar Alexa experience, the UE gives you protection, portability and, ultimately, a great speaker you can take with you anywhere. Sonos One Full review.

Price when reviewed:
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The UE Megablast is one our favourite speakers and given it's up to the minute connectivity options and and those Alexa voice-control skills, it is definitely worth buying.

It is is also a rugged and waterproof speaker it's built to withstand the knocks and be used on the move, but without Wi-Fi when you are out and about you'll lose that Alexa connection and its capabilities. Also, without the Power Up base that always-on connection in the home falls short.

If you want a Bluetooth speaker that's solid in its delivery and offers a little more connectivity than UE's existing range, then go for the UE Megablast. But if you're actually after the fully connected speaker experience to control your smart home then the Amazon Echo Plus is probably the best option.

But waterproof, worry proof listening, and plenty of banging sound by the pool, then the Megablast could be the ultimate portable speaker. And it sounds way better than any Amazon Echo.

Also see: UE Wonderboom UK Review: Portable, powerful and waterproof

1 comment

  • Connor
    Comment Link Connor Monday, 08 January 2018 22:05

    It really does produce and all round brilliant sound, highly recommended

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