Built to survive some rough and tumble, the Ultimate Ears Epicboom is aimed at people who want music wherever they go.
Portable Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes and sizes, to suit every situation and every budget. As you’d imagine, that means some of them are cheap and nasty while others are heavy hitters. Before you take the plunge on a portable speaker, you need to give some serious thought as to when and where you’ll use it.
Keep in mind, that bigger is not always better. A portable speaker is not just about filling the space with sound, it also comes down to your taste in music and your appreciation for sound quality.
Enter the Ultimate Ears Epicboom. At $499.95, it’s certainly at the premium end of the market for a big yet still portable Bluetooth speaker. So does it deserve an invitation to your next outdoor event?
The Ultimate Ears Epicboom is a decent size, standing at 23cm tall, and no lightweight at almost 2kg. That said, it’s not as heavy as it looks and the looped strap on the back makes it easy to carry.
It isn’t as ostentatious as some portable speakers, but it still has style. On the front, you’ve got Ultimate Ears’ signature giant volume controls, which are actually very useful and not just a fashion statement. As an added bonus, pressing both simultaneously displays the remaining battery level.
Across the top is a power button, play/pause/skip, Bluetooth pairing and Outdoor Boost which takes the sound up a notch when you’re outside in a big space.
On the back, you’ll find a USB-C charge port at the rear (in the box you’ll via a USB-C to USB-C charge cable, but no AC adapter). The port features a rubber cap – pointing to the fact that it’s IP67-rated waterproof. Better yet, it actually floats. It can survive submerged in water for 30 minutes, along with drops of up to 1 metre on hard surfaces.
It’s worth noting that there’s no auxiliary input for connecting a music player via cable, nor is there Wi-Fi support – both of which could allow for higher-fidelity music streaming than you might expect at this price range. You’re completely reliant on Bluetooth streaming from a smartphone or tablet.
While the speaker presumably has a built-in microphone to support Adaptive EQ, you can’t use it for hands-free calls or to talk to your smart assistant of choice.
Ultimate Ears Epicboom specifications
Two 45 mm active mid-high frequency transducers and one 120 mm woofer
Maximum sound level
94 dBC (normal) and 95dBC (outdoor)
Lithium-ion rechargeable – up to 17 hours of playtime
As a Bluetooth speaker, the Ultimate Ears Epicboom is pretty simple to use directly from within iOS or Android, but you’ll need to download the UE Boom mobile app to access some of its advanced features.
The app lets you adjust the graphic equaliser to taste, such as boosting the low-end, although some music apps like Spotify also let you do this without needing to adjust the speaker’s settings. Perhaps of more interest is the Adaptive EQ setting which lets the speaker automatically adjust to suit the acoustics of the environment.
PartyUp mode lets you link the Epicboom with other UE Boom speakers to fill an even larger area with sound.
One handy feature is the ability to program a long-press on the play/pause/skip button to automatically launch your favourite playlist without the need to reach for your phone. It only works with Amazon Music, Apple Music (iOS only) and Spotify (Android only), which is a disappointing spread but the app assures that more options are on the way.
One disappointment is that Bluetooth support doesn’t extend to high-end codes like AAC, aptx and aptx HD, meaning you can’t take advantage of them to improve sound quality even if your streaming service supports them.
Fire up the Ultimate Ears Epicboom and it makes a good first impression, but the closer you listen the more underwhelming it sounds considering its size and price.
Starting outdoors, I expected it to be a bit louder and have a bit more low-end punch. The sound is balanced but lacks depth: kick drums lack kick and fat bass lines aren’t as sweet and phat as you might hope for, even when you adjust the EQ settings.
Bringing the speaker indoors naturally improves the bass and overall sound quality, as it isn’t struggling to fill such a large space.
This is surprising considering that the speaker’s Adaptive EQ should be able to detect that the speaker is out in the open and adjust the sound accordingly. Adaptive EQ barely seemed to make any difference when moving the speaker in and out of different-sized rooms and cramped spaces, which is typically a good way to force Adaptive EQ to respond.
As a result of all this, the music lacks a bit of the nuance and depth that you would expect in a speaker in this price range. The inclusion of support for high-end codecs like AAC might have helped, having heard the difference they make on other speakers of a similar size like the Sonos Move.
Who is the Ultimate Ears Epicboom for?
If you need a portable speaker that’s rugged then the Ultimate Ears Epicboom is certainly attractive. It’s light enough to be portable, sturdy enough to survive some misadventure and loud enough to provide a group of people with background tunes.
Yet if your primary concern is sound quality then you might be disappointed considering the price tag, especially when using it outside. If it was at least $100 cheaper it would be easier to overlook its shortcomings.
As it is, the Ultimate Ears Epicboom is better suited to a patio or deck, rather than trying to rock a big backyard or the park. Even then, it perhaps lacks the punch for a dance party and the nuance for a listening party.
If you’re not too fussy about sound quality and are just looking for background music, the Ultimate Ears Epicboom might do the job. But if you have an ear for detail and your budget will stretch, you should definitely weigh it up against the more expensive and far more capable Sonos Move 2.
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Ultimate Ears Epicboom
While the Ultimate Ears Epicboom is portable and rugged, the sound quality doesn't quite live up to the price tag.