Ultimate Ears, maker of fine portable Bluetooth speakers and custom-fit headphones, has hopped on the digital assistant bandwagon with its new Blast and Megablast Bluetooth speakers. Now with built-in Wi-Fi and Amazon Alexa, the Blast and Megablast have the full suite of Alexa services, including voice control for the likes of Spotify and Amazon music, as well as for smart home tech like Philips Hue bulbs and Logitech Harmony remotes.
The Blast costs £200/$229 and the Megablast £270/$299. Both are up for preorder today, with launch due in "late October."
While the price is steep compared to the new Amazon Echo, which costs £90/$99, the Blast and Megablast promise far superior sound quality and the convenience of a portable form factor. Both speakers feature rechargeable batteries—lasting around 12 hours and 16 hours respectively—IP67 water resistance, and custom drivers with 360° coverage. There are three built-in microphones, which is less than the seven of the echo, but Ultimate Ears claims that its beam-forming software is able to achieve the same level of accuracy, even over the whopping 93dBC sound pressure level (SPL) of the Megaboom.
Inside the Megablast—which is a tad larger than an original Amazon Echo—are two passive radiators, two active drivers, and two tweeters. Based on a short listening demo, it sounds startlingly good.
"When we design acoustic systems, we try to achieve a frequency response curve that is as flat as possible," says Ultimate Ears' Chris LaBrutto. "Some brands just want things to be loud, so they artificially pull back on bass and use the energy that they save from pulling back on bass to drive the SPL [sound pressure level] higher. If you look at spec sheet, you would see a higher max SPL. But then, it sounds shrill. In other cases, some brands will pull back on the volume level to try and deliver more bass, so it'll be more boomy. But a consumer would describe it as sounding muddy."
Alongside the Blast and Megablast—which come in white, black, red, green, and yellow—Ultimate Ears is launching a small charging dock priced at £35/$40, for those who'd rather keep the speakers in one place. It's also offering a free three-month subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited to anyone that picks up a speaker.
Competition in smart speakers is heating up. Sonos recently released the Sonos One, a new version of its Play:1 speaker with built-in Amazon Alexa that retails for £200/$200. A slew of manufacturers also took the wraps off speakers with built-in Google Assistant at this year's IFA trade show in Berlin. Onkyo, Panasonic, Sony, Anker and JBL all have speakers on the way, all of which hover around the same £200/$200 price. Given its excellent Bluetooth speakers, Ultimate Ears has sound quality and durability on its side, but it may need to open up to other digital assistants in the future.
"The reason we chose Alexa to start with is because we saw consumers gravitating towards that platform," says LaBrutto. "It's the platform right now that has the largest install bass, the most momentum, the biggest ecosystem of supported products. In the long run we will follow our target customers wherever they go. As they begin to adopt other platforms we'll find a way to support them. Same as with our Bluetooth speakers, we support iOS and Android, we want to support all the big platforms that customers use. It's going to be the same with our line of connected speakers."
This post originated on Ars Technica UKLet's