Finding a wireless Bluetooth speaker to suit your needs isn’t really hard to do these days. Whether you’re looking for big sound, trendy design, or even weather resistance, there’s no shortage of options from which to choose. But what if you wanted a speaker that you could take cliff jumping, mountain biking, or paddle boarding? What if you also wanted to use that same speaker for nights at home around a campfire, or perhaps to listen to music while in the shower? Well, then you’d be looking at the latest addition to Ultimate Ears’ (UE) line of wireless Bluetooth speakers—the UE ROLL. It’s compact and completely water and dirt-proof, and I recently had a chance to take it for a spin.
The UE ROLL is the third in UE’s line of Bluetooth speakers, which also includes the UE BOOM and the UE MEGABOOM. Just like its big brothers, the UE ROLL is designed for 360-degree sound distribution, but that’s really where the similarities between the three end. Unlike the cylindrical design of the BOOM and the MEGABOOM, the ROLL looks like a saucer shaped UFO that would be right at home in your dog’s basket of toys. Hardly bigger than a bagel, the ROLL is about 1.5” tall at its thickest, and 5” in diameter.
As far as controls are concerned, to say they are unassuming is an understatement. Stitched on the top are large plus and minus signs, which I mistook for some sort of logo when I first opened the box. There are also two small buttons on the bottom–one concave button for power and one convex button for Bluetooth pairing. Outside of that there is a flap that opens to reveal a 3.5mm input for wired listening and a microUSB port for charging.
Now, here’s where things get cool. The top is covered with a mesh, plasma-coated acoustic skin that is waterproof and dirt-proof. That’s water “proof” folks, not just water resistant! The UE Roll also comes with an integrated marine-grade bungee cord that allows it to be strapped or hung on to virtually any object imaginable, so you can take it with you wherever you go.
As I mentioned, it wasn’t clear to me that the plus and minus signs stitched on the top of the UE ROLL were controls, and because the sample I was sent didn’t come with instructions, I had to visit trusty ol’ YouTube to see how to set it up and pair with Bluetooth. It was only there that I realized “Oh! Those are volume controls!” The fact that that wasn’t immediate apparent to me is concerning.
Anyway, I found a video review of the UE ROLL and followed the exceptionally easy instructions to turn it on (press button) and pair with my smartphone. Once turned on the UE ROLL speaks to you with a bongo-like “bom-bom-bom” and plays a similar sound when paired with Bluetooth. It also has a cool feature where when you simultaneously press the plus and minus signs, it will tell you the percentage of battery it has left.
Once I was paired with my smartphone, I was ready to give the UE ROLL a whirl. Given that the UE website explicitly tells you to “… drop it, dunk it, toss it and take your music where it shouldn’t go” I felt the need to do just that.
Test #1 – Cleaning the Apartment
My first test was very tame—I listened to music while cleaning my apartment, and I was thoroughly impressed with the sound quality that was pumping out of such a small speaker. It was a ridiculously hot day so I had all my windows and patio doors open, and I live on a busy street, so there was a lot of background noise to contend with, and I was worried the UE ROLL wouldn’t go loud enough to drown all that noise out. Turns out I had no reason to worry. This speaker can get loud. Really loud! I was totally blown away by the sound it pumped out. The best part? I could keep it out of my way by hooking it onto the handles of my kitchen cabinet doors.
Test #2 – Streaming Music Outside
My second test was equally tame. Every year in Vancouver there is a competition where three countries battle it out with firework displays that are synchronized to music. I just so happen to be able to see the fireworks from my balcony, so had my parents over to watch. When I brought the UE ROLL outside and started to stream the radio station that was playing the fireworks music through it, my dad was baffled. He was even more baffled when I cranked the music up so loud my neighbours thanked me.
The only negative with this test is that the UE ROLL is said to have up to a 65-foot wireless range, but when I took my phone inside, the sound cut out after about 15 feet. However, I attribute that to living in a concrete building with concrete walls.
Test #3 – In the Shower
Who doesn’t want to listen to music while they are in the shower?! I certainly do. So I strapped the UE ROLL’s bungee cord over my shower rod, hit play on my phone and had a little dance party while I got ready for the day. It was early morning, so I kept the volume low, but it was loud enough to fill the whole room with upbeat tunes to start my day off on the right note. And because it is waterproof, I had no reason to be concerned about it getting wet.
Test #4 – Hiking
By this time of my review process, I realized that my life is not nearly as exciting as it should be. So after three very tame tests, I took the UE ROLL on a hike through the mountains. I strapped it onto my backpack with its bungee cord, picked a great playlist and set out trudging through the woods. It was so much nicer than wearing headphones! My friends and I could all chat while still listening to music while we hiked our way to an epic view. We also got lost on the trail at one point, and the UE ROLL stood up to being smacked around by branches and bushes very well. At the end of the hike, it was pretty dirty, but because of it’s coating, I just rinsed it off when I got home and it was good as new.
Test #5 – Pool Party
For my last test I took the UE ROLL down to my pool on a Saturday afternoon when it was packed with people. I swear a hush came over the crowd as I toted the speaker right into the water with me. I set it on a little floatation device and let the music play, and I am now pretty confident that everyone in my building wants one. The music kept pumping while people jumped and splashed around, and when there were too many people in the pool to use the little floatie, I just bungeed the UE ROLL to pool steps and the party kept going.
When the UE ROLL is submerged, sound quality isn’t that great, but that’s no surprise, and it’s not supposed to be submerged for long lengths of time anyway. I also found that I needed to “drain” the UE ROLL after it goes under water so your music isn’t muffled for very long afterwards.
There is an app to complement the UE ROLL, but I didn’t find my value in it. With the app you can power the speaker on and off, set an alarm, and play with some basic equalizer settings. You can also use the app to pair with a secondary UE ROLL to amp up sound even more should you want to.
In a nutshell? I’m a big fan of the UE ROLL. Not only is it an awesome Bluetooth speaker that pumps out great sound at shockingly high volumes considering its size, but it is completely waterproof, making it an ideal accompaniment to life’s adventures. You can use it to listen to jazz during a fancy dinner party at home one night, and then tote it with you on a muddy mountain bike ride the next day. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!