Gadgets Off The Grid - UE Boom Portable Bluetooth Speaker


The UE Boom and my Galaxy S3 overlooking Como Lake from Woods cabin was a treat for the eyes and ears.

UE Boom Portable Bluetooth Speaker ($199)
I expected the portable speaker component of the system I put together for this trip to be the weakest link. Boy was I wrong!

The fit, finish, and build quality of the Boom is simply stellar. It looks terrific, but more importantly it appears to be built like a tank. I'm glad I took a few pix of it early on in the trip because it's quite dirty and smells like campfire smoke now. The Boom website claims the Boom is water resistant, we did get a little rain but not enough to effect it. Edit: Just took it to the sink and wiped it down with a wet cloth and it cleaned up nicely.

Control and charging of the Boom couldn't be simpler. Push the power button on, and a cool little drum sound tells you it's on. Push and hold the Bluetooth pairing button, and another cool sound tells you it's searching for a mate. Connect to it from your BT device, and it makes another happy chirp. If it's been previously paired with a device and you turn it on, it finds and pairs automatically at power up. Turn it off, and a happy drum roll announces the shut down. But best of all, hold down both the volume up and down button simultaniously and a lovely lady announces, "Sixty percent charged", or whatever the current charge state is.

Charging the Boom did take a little while with the Kickr solar panel. But with a 15 hour (!) battery life I suspect there's a pretty big battery in there. Charging is accomplished through a USB Micro-B connector on the bottom of the unit, where you will also find a 3.5mm stereo Aux audio input jack. A small rubber flap comes with the Boom which clips to the D-ring on the bottom and inserts into the USB and 3.5mm jack to provide more water resistance. The D-ring can also be used to hang the Boom from a tree limb with a piece of string. Volume can be controlled either from your BT player device or with the large "+" and "-" buttons.

Vacation Photo Interlude

Every once in a while, Paul and I would simply have coffee and a breakfast beer and break camp a little early for a big hot lunch in town somewhere. Here we are at the Bootlegger Casino Bar and Grill in Lincoln, Montana for a hearty brunch—lobster and swiss omelett for me, chicken fried steak and sausage gravy for him. Yummy!

The sound quality is surprisingly good for a device of this type. Midrange balance is very good, and nicely neutral. Low to mid treble response is slightly hot, but I found that when listen at a distance outside the treble response was very pleasing and wouldn't want to change it. Sub- and low-bass on a unit of this size is virtually impossible, so I expected pretty poor bass response...but it did much better than I expected. Volume was also surprisingly loud. I could run it up to levels that would cause it to distort, but with only two 1.5" drivers and two 2" passive radiators the player was satisfactory outdoors well beyond my expectations. I rarely ran it up to anywhere near full volume during the week of listening.

The Boom is a stereo device. When standing, the left and right speakers face outwards to either side; the passive bass radiators are low near the table top to provide some bass reenforcement. Bass response does fall off slightly when hung from the D-ring. The only criticism I have of the Boom is that the Aux input is on the bottom, and with a wired source plugged in you can't stand it up in its best sounding position.


Heather and Wally (and Cassy, their fetch crazy dog) are very close friends of Paul and I, and are Burning Man regulars well versed in making a bunch of noise outdoors. Their verdict on the UE Boom was clear: Want!.

It's possible that the coolest thing of all about the Boom is the ability to get a second speaker and rig them up as a stereo pair. UE has an app for both iOS and Andriod devices that allows for configuring two Booms in either a stereo pair or with each device delivering both left and right channels. The app also contains pages to monitor and configure the speaker, provide use instructions, and EQ the Booms. I wished the EQ was more configurable than the three settings (Out Loud-for outdoors and most uses, Intimate-for indoors, and Vocal-for voice intelligibility), but again, to be perfectly frank, it sounded so good that I never felt the need to tweak with it.

The EnerPlex by Ascent Solar Kickr portable solar panel and Jumpr storage battery and device charge worked flawlessly. The panel seemed extremely durable and very well suited to the rigors of an outdoor adventure. The 4400mAh Jumpr had enough capacity to perform charging duties on the divices used. I'd like to have the larger 7800mAh unit...but I certainly didn't need it. I highly recommend them for all your camping and emergency needs.

The Astell&Kern AK120 is terrific sounding and very well built indeed, but beyond the simply playing of hi-rez files it turns into "That Guy" frustrating me at every turn. I'm certain Astell&Kern will address issues over time (firmware updates for DSD playback have recently been released, for example), but until Bluetooth and on-line support issues are sorted out it feels like beta-ware to me. Not recommended, unless you'll be satisfied with simply playing albums—which it does do quite well.

The UE Boom is simply a stellar little unit; everything I had hoped for in a portable Bluetooth speaker and much, much more. It's as durable as a brick, it looks cool, it's easy to use, and it sounds great. I'll be adding a second one to my collection of moto-gear and giving it a workout at a pasture party this Labor Day with a bunch of adventure motorcycle freaks. Pretty sure there'll be drunken Bluetooth wars with people fighting to connect their phones to the Booms.

Final Vacation Photo

Woods Cabin on Como Lake is simply one of the most beautiful places to just hangout that I can imagine. It's extremely popular though, so Paul and I will be up late at night sometime next February madly pushing the "Reserve" button at 12:00:01 hoping to snag it again for next year's ride.

johnjen's picture

Woods cabin that is.

Like I've been there, or something…

Great write up


audiozerro's picture

Haha, I do love this sort of test! The UE Boom is really one of the good Bluetooth speakers out there according to most expert, perhaps even one of the top ones. I personally like mine a lot, and will take it with me next time I go camping to play music around the fire.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

We've seen numerous places together...from desert Oregon to the hiegths of the Sierras. 

Now dust the fesh of that bike and meet me in a pasture on Labor Day, YFF!


paul's picture

The software on the AK 120 (100) is godawful. The "playlist" function is useless (and a LOT of work!!).

I use the app, Discovr Music to put a playlist together and make a Smart Playlist in iTunes. I then make a folder on the AK120 and drag and drop the results. Playlist!

Love the form factor on the AK120 and AK100!

audiozerro's picture

Haha, I do love this sort of test! :) The UE Boom is really one of the good Bluetooth speakers out there according to most expert.. perhaps even one of the top ones. I personally like mine a lot, and will take it with me next time I go camping to play music around the fire!

doublea71's picture


Saw your trip route and noticed you opted out of Missoula. I used to live there and I want to mention a record store, Ear Candy Music, that is co-owned by an old friend, John Fleming. I believe it is on Higgins Ave and it seems to be going strong in its 16th year - maybe check it out the next time you make it into The Garden City. Montana truly is the last best place and I hope to return again some day. I love how you incorporate your love of the open road into your gear reviews and sort of take us along for the ride a bit. The pictures of Montana's scenery take my breath away because it is a place that still resonates with me and will until my dying day. Thanks for the good read.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I think I've been there before, I'll check it out next time I'm in Miss Oola.

And yes, Montana is an incredibly beautiful place. There aren't many places left in this country where you can ride hundreds of miles on dirt roads through the mountains without seeing another soul. Wish I had more room for all the pix I took. 

Limp's picture

You can afford thirty-odd Sansa Clips for the price of an AK120, and they even do playlists properly.

And MC 500 Ft Jesus? That's awesome!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

MC900 Foot Jesus stuff is not only great music, but it also seems to be VERY well recorded.  I use a couple of tracks as listening references.

Next time I think I'm just gonna load up my need for hi-rez on a BT speaker anyway.

veggieboy2001's picture

I picked up a cheap solar charger (that didn't work) for a vacation in Croatia last year. I knew this could be a great solution, even if the one I had was very poorly done. I'm glad that worked so well for you...even if the A&K didn't. Nothing more frustrating that having high hopes, and watching (hearing?) them be dashed to bits.


ultrabike's picture

Very kool gadgets there! (Solar panel combo).

"There's simply no excuse for loading that player with all the hardware to do a great job of playing hi-rez files and then not completing the task with a solid embedded software platform."

Amen! Some few products I've seen (and bought) have the HW specs but horrible FW implementation and support. At least the price point of some of those products was low so lack of support would be sort of expected... Not at the $1300 price point.

Very nice to hear the Boom does a good job.

Have not been to Montana yet, but it looks fantastic! Great pictures! That Bottlelegger Casino Bar and Grill in Lincoln breakfast picture is pure win!   

Stephen Mejias's picture

What an awesome trip. Thanks for taking us along for the ride, Tyll!

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Glad you enjoyed it!

Lemme know if you ever feel like taking a vacation up in Montana and I'll show you around. 

Dan S's picture

I just got one of these myself, and I'm very pleased.

I couldn't find any reviews from my usual go-to audiophiles like you, Steve Guttenberg, or anybody at Head-Fi, so I decided to wing it for once. I listened to all the models that I could, and the only key one that I didn't get a chance to audition was the FoxL v2 Platinum.

The UE Boom ended up winning out because it's water resistant, louder than similarly sized competition, and it sounds as good or better than any of its competitors. It obviously doesn't compare to an amp and loudspeakers setup, or a nice pair of headphones, but it sounds a lot better and goes a lot louder than I expected.

The only real negatives are intrinsic to the Bluetooth speaker category in general. All the sound comes from one place, you don't get a wide field of sound. The lower treble is a little sharp if you're close to it and play it loud, although less sharp than competitors. The bass is a little weak, but not as weak as I expected.

Overall, a great buy! I'd love to hear what you think about running two of them together -- that's an interesting feature, for sure.

Tyll Hertsens's picture

I'll post up a follow-up for the second Boom in stereo...

...and EnerPlex is sending me a bigger storage battery and Surfr (a case with solar panel built in) for my S3, so I'll mention them as well.

natal's picture

My wife and I drove through Montana last summer.   It definitely is Big Sky country.  Absolutely, beautiful.  

TheAudioGuild's picture

...looks like it could be a scene out of Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. cool


Bennyboy's picture

That AK thing is a massive ripoff. The company behind it must be laughing their heads off all the way to the bank at the gullibility of those forking out such eye watering amounts for it. 

You don't say if your Samsung S3 is the international 19300 version with the better DAC in it,  but I use one as my only music player. Rooted, with Siyah Kernel and Stweaks added,  it is simply beautiful sounding. Wouldn't want anything else. 

You are right - there's no future for standalone music players anymore, beyond the daylight robbery of these mad esoteric audiophile nonsense machines. 






rataplan's picture

Terrible customer service! Went through the same thing with how to apply the firmware update. They still haven't updated they're firmware page with instructions :/

Astell&Kern better improve their software. Hopefully the extra bucks they're making off the AK120 can pay for this.

Read my head-fi review to hear all of my gripes:

rich tanaka's picture

The AK120 is a very good high resolution player. It sells like hotcakes in Asia. Good and happy for AK.

But the customers service is a contradition. A good phsyical product along side customers service which don't live up to expectations.

First, sending request for assistance will received no acknowledgements. ie " Your request is received by us. We will get back to you asap." 

Next, one waits for almost a week for any reply.

Tyll said it correctly, ie their web page is more like a product sale brochre. There is no contact emails, no telephone numbers etc. So one has to go to iRiver to get their contacts addresses. 

My constructive suggestion is their management should look into the customers service area.

p.s. Language commuication problems ? The Koreans are the most literate people in the world and almost all younger generations ( after 1970 ) are required to study Englsih in schools. So the miscommunication problems are not an issue here. If this is China, we can undertsand.

rich tanaka's picture

Would there be a review on the product itself ?

jeckyll's picture

As a fellow KLR rider, I've got to recommend Eagle Mike's stand. No need to lay the bike on it's side if you get a flat. Cheap, packs small and functional. Maybe check it out before your next trip :)

Now to the audit comment: I was about to message you to ask what you're riding with these days as I'm thinking of replacing my Shure 215. But wow, those JH13's are spendy!

I'm heading out on Saturday for a week through WA/OR/ID and I think the Shure's will need to be my go-to riding IEM for another season or two.

Looks like you had a great ride, I'll search on "that adventure site" to see if you wrote up a ride report :)


Sean's picture

Usually I do my best to charge my phone before getting on the road, so I rarely need to charge it during my travels. I use Duracell Alkaline Batteries for anything else I need and they are a lot safer than Lipo batteries.