Ultimate Ears has become more of a household name since its inception by then-Logitech (now just Logi), since releasing a variety of Bluetooth speakers to the market. The first UE Boom, released back in 2013, was one of the best small-scale portable speakers we'd ever heard, all things considered, so when the follow-up UE Boom 2 was announced for 2015 we were rather excited.
But on first inspection the sequel is seemingly identical to the cylindrical-shaped original; put the two side-by-side and only eagle-eyed obsessives would likely spot any differences. But in fact there an abundance of changes: Ultimate Ears has redesigned the UE Boom 2 from the ground up, delivering bigger sound from the same external design footprint, there's full-on waterproofing (even with the connectors' flaps left opened), and some more colour options to boot.
Given how smitten we were with the first model, is the UE Boom 2 our new favourite portable Bluetooth speaker? We've been listening in the office, in hotel rooms while travelling, and when out and about on the go. Is it a case of love at second sight?
UE Boom 2 review: Design that booms
Like we say, the UE Boom 2 doesn't look particularly different to the original, bar the new mesh-patterned material covering, which is now made of an improved material.
But that's not to say there's no innovation: the original model was one of the first Bluetooth speakers to hit the 360-degree sound output concept of the head, something the UE Boom 2 tackles with equal aplomb - no surprise, really, given its footprint is the same. That cylindrical shape lends well to pushing audio out in all directions, which is perfect for picnics, parties and casual placement wherever you happen to be.
And let's face it, the Boom 2 looks brilliant; it's subtle yet edgy thanks to modern visuals - take the giant plus/minus symbols that act as volume buttons - and the variety of punchy colour options. Our review model is the more sombre charcoal, but there are red, blue and other bright colours with complementary accents available too.
What's perhaps best about the UE Boom 2's design, though, is just how simple it is. There's an on button to the top, sat next to a Bluetooth sync button; those plus/minus volume buttons to the side on a rubberised panel section; while a metal loop for hanging sits to the bottom, with Micro-USB charger and 3.5mm headphones jack hidden behind their own dust- and waterproof flaps.
That's one of the bigger points to take away from the UE Boom 2: it's now fully waterproof, including those lower ports, so even if the USB/3.5mm ports are exposed it doesn't matter. The flaps are merely there to keep out gunk and grime, should you be chucking the Boom 2 around a field, at a festival, or wherever. We've dunked the Boom 2 in the bath, had it fall from desk and an open bag without needing to worry thanks to its tough construction, which is reassuring.
UE Boom 2 review: Portable perfection
We've been travelling a lot lately and the UE Boom 2 has become our perfect travel companion. At 180mm tall, with a 67mm diameter and 548g weight it can be popped into a bag without being a major drag. It'll even fit into a bicycle bottle holder.
Despite it rolling into winter and outside opportunities not representing themselves all too often, as we experienced with the first UE Boom, the sequal is an ideal outdoor companion. Come rain or shine, it's suitable for festivals or beyond. Or, as we've found in our case, as a portable speaker to beef-up audio above and beyond the tinny output of our laptop.
When it comes to sound quality the UE Boom 2 is really loud, but not to the point of distortion. The volume controls work independently from the connected Bluetooth device's output, so you may need to balance output between the two. Perhaps the jump between each volume level could be more subtle, but otherwise we've no complaints in terms of output level. It's louder and sharper than the original model, not that you'd really notice.
The other thing to consider is your expectation of bass output. At this size and scale bass isn't massive, certainly not to sub-bass levels, but the UE Boom 2 pushes out enough pep for rock tracks, pop and a mix of genres to give ample richness.
Still, it's not all about bass, with the Boom 2 delivering enough crispness from mids and highs too. Other speakers at this size perform no better - so if it's bass you really want then look to the larger UE Megaboom (or elsewhere), which in some ways does cast a shadow on the standard Boom models.
UE Boom 2 review: App ace
When it comes to Bluetooth pairing, it's very simple: turn Bluetooth on using your chosen device, press-and-hold the UE Boom 2's sync button, and you're done. You can even rename the Boom something witty (whatever you like within 15 characters - so keep it snappy). If you have NFC (near field communication) then that's also supported for touch-based connectivity.
All this is accompanied by confirmatory bongo rhythms - one when the Boom is switched on, another to confirm Bluetooth is active, and another when switching the device off. We really like the clear meaning of these patterns, as pre-recorded voice - such as a robotic "connected" - tends to sound cheesy. Saying that, when connecting at Tokyo airport we could have done with the loud bongos to be a little more discreet.
If you have more than one Ultimate Ears speaker then they can be paired in stereo via the app. And it needn't be two UE Boom 2s; you might also own a UE Roll or UE Megaboom, which can be paired in any combination for proper stereo output via Bluetooth. It's a nice solution, but obviously buying two products significantly pushes the cost up - and in this market Ultimate Ears isn't exactly budget anyway.
In the future the app will allow more Ultimate Ears products to be daisy-chained together for even bigger output, something we saw at Logi's headquarters with 10 Boom speakers running in tandem.
You don't have to use the app to deliver music to the Boom 2, but there's a lot of sense in downloading it for its preset equaliser controls (still no full manual control here). It's also useful to use the app to see how much battery life is remaining (we've been getting around 12-hours of life, with use in different locations and clever standby time that doesn't seem to cost the speaker too dearly), or eye-over the built-in virtual manual.
The UE Boom 2 takes one of our favourite portable Bluetooth speakers, the original UE Boom, and makes it even better for round two. Full-on waterproofing and sharper sound match with a great looking cylindrical design - but it's more remake than sequel. Perhaps that's a good thing, given how bad those can be sometimes.
However, since the first Boom was launched we've seen droves of competitors launching capable speakers at competitive prices, often with 360-degree sound output too. That's one of the few things that works against the UE Boom 2: it's not a galactic leap over the original model (which now costs a lot less), while the rest of the market is in the process of reinventing to play catch-up.
But if you're looking for portable, premium sound wherever you are, then the UE Boom 2 hits the nail on the head. Have reasonable expectations for bass delivery and it's one seriously hot Bluetooth speaker. Sure, it's not cheap and you could save a little by buying the original, but as the world moves forward so too has Ultimate Ears. So, yes, it's definitely love at second sight - and we'll definitely be taking our UE Boom 2 all over the place for plenty of time to come.