I’ve tested so many portable wireless speakers over the past decade or so, I’ve lost count (it has to be well into triple digits by now), but when it comes to rugged build, colourful design and great sound for the price, one brand consistently stands out: Ultimate Ears. The company just released a new generation of its ultraportable (and ultra-affordable) model, and I’ve had the opportunity to put the new WONDERBOOM 2 through its paces for the past few weeks. Actually, this time around, I evaluated a pair of WONDERBOOM 2s. More on the reason why shortly …
Like the WONDERBOOM, but even better
The WONDERBOOM has been the entry-level model in the Ultimate Ears lineup, and despite the compact size and affordable price tag, it was a very good speaker. When I did a comparison test of nine small, water-resistant speakers for Forbes in 2017, the WONDERBOOM took top honours as the best overall speaker. And it was going up against some competition that was considerably more expensive.
The WONDERBOOM 2 is clearly a direct descendant of that original. The form factor remains virtually identical, but visually there are a few differences that give it away. The new version is slightly larger, and the mesh fabric covering gets an attractive new two-tone weave—don’t worry, there are still multiple colours to choose from. The volume buttons are a little bolder, and the braided cord hang loop has been replaced by a woven cloth version. There are also two new buttons, one on the top and one on the bottom.
One thing that didn’t change is the Micro USB charge port. The WONDERBOOM 2 stuck with it instead of moving to USB-C. That’s too bad because the cramped little charge port really would have benefited from the ease of use. Maybe next time ….
Of course, the changes in the WONDERBOOM 2 go far beyond appearances. It’s packed full of functionality upgrades that make it a better speaker than ever. Ultimate Ears put together this handy chart that spikes out the key differences, and I’ll delve into each in more detail.
WONDERBOOM 2 key specs:
Waterproof, dustproof & it floats!
The original version of this speaker was waterproof, but the WONDERBOOM 2 moves up to an IP67 rating, which means it is effectively both waterproof and dustproof. That makes this speaker a great choice to use by the pool or on the beach. Naturally, I tested the waterproof claim (it should be good for up to 30 minutes submerged in 1 metre of water), and it passed with flying colours. It even floats! The WONDERBOOM 2 is not made to play music while in the water, but a splash, rain shower or soaker won’t harm it.
There’s no official rating on this, but Ultimate Ears also says the speaker is drop-proof and tested from five feet.
Booming audio, with stereo support
The “BOOM” part of the MEGABOOM 2’s name comes from a quality that all Ultimate Ears speakers share. The company uses a cylindrical design on its speakers and makes extremely effective use of drivers and passive radiators. That means two things. You can expect all of these speakers—including the WONDERBOOM 2—to deliver 360-degree audio. There is no “front” or “back” with these speakers, and that helps them to produce audio that has a lot more depth than a traditional design with front-firing drivers.
Ultimate Ears portable speakers also stand out for their low-end performance. If you love high energy music with lots of bass, you’ll appreciate that. The WONDERBOOM 2 may not be able to keep up with its larger siblings, but it does surprisingly well for an ultra-compact speaker. The new Outdoor Mode button helps when used in open spaces, giving an extra boost.
Where the WONDERBOOM 2 really improves over the original is its support for true wireless stereo. You could “double up” the original, but that was two speakers, each playing the same thing. With the WONDERBOOM 2, pressing the multifunction button on two of the speakers quickly (and drop-dead easily) wirelessly pairs them for true stereo sound. It’s surprising just how effective this is and what difference it makes to the listening experience. One of the biggest downside of a portable wireless speaker is that you lose stereo audio. With the affordable price of the WONDERBOOM 2, there’s a strong case to be made for passing over a more expensive, more capable Bluetooth speaker in favour of a pair of WONDERBOOM 2s.
On-speaker music controls: WONDERBOOM 2
The UE logo on the original speaker (which actually hit a button) has been replaced with an official, multifunction button. In this aspect, the WONDERBOOM 2 has many of the music control capabilities you take for granted on your earbuds. The big +/- buttons on the “front” of the speaker control volume. And that multifunction button is used for optional stereo pairing process. But it can also control music playback on your smartphone. One press will pause or start the music, two presses skip to the next track. Sound familiar? It’s actually pretty handy functionality to have on a speaker.
The ultimate ultra-portable wireless speaker?
There’s a strong case to be made that the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2 is the ultimate ultraportable wireless speaker. It’s small enough to carry anywhere, or even clip on a backpack or a bike. It’s virtually indestructible. It has a 13-hour battery life. It delivers energetic sound with surprising bass and volume for something this size, and supports pairing with a second speaker for stereo sound. And it’s affordable.
To see all the latest in portable wireless speakers, including the Ultimate Ears lineup, be sure to check out the portable audio section at Best Buy.