“A few small updates for this great pool and beach companion.”
- Excellent durability
- Light and portable
- Balanced, 360-degree sound
- Affordable price point
- Somewhat lacking in bass
- Not as slim as other competitors
- Some minor connectivity issues
Ultimate Ears (UE) names all of its Bluetooth speakers with an emphasis on power and bass: Boom, Megaboom, Hyperboom, and now the latest installment, the Wonderboom 3. The tricky thing is that the “boom” isn’t really all that impressive in the third-generation small-format speaker. Built in a cylindrical shape with dual 40-millimeter active drivers positioned to deliver 360-degree sound, the $100 Wonderboom 3 does a nice job of filling a space, ensuring that no one sitting around your campfire or on your beach towel will be out of directional earshot. However, the bass isn’t exactly as full and rich as the “Wonderboom” name would imply.
The third generation of the Wonderboom series brings marginally extended battery life (14 advertised hours over the second generation’s 13), plus an updated Bluetooth protocol for extended range. Ultimate Ears is also putting an emphasis on the environment by using green and recycled materials in this new build.
I was excited to see and hear the improvements on the Wonderboom 3 because the Wonderboom 2 is, for all intents and purposes, one of my favorite small-format Bluetooth speakers on the market. Ultimate Ears always does a nice job on build quality, durability, and right-down-the-middle audio response. UE kindly offered me a pair of Wonderboom 3 speakers in “Performance Blue” to test and so I ran them through their paces for a week of work, play, and hanging on the beach. Read on to see if the Wonderboom 3 is the right Bluetooth speaker for you.
Ultimate Ears takes a page out of JBL’s book, putting a strong emphasis on loud colors and sporty accents for its Bluetooth speaker range. The Wonderboom 3 brings four new colors: Hyper Pink, Active Black, the vexingly named Joyous Bright (which is really just gray), and the color I received: Performance Blue. But the main color is really only part of the story — Ultimate Ears always emblazons its portable speakers with loud, contrastingly colored plus/minus volume buttons and accents.
The Wonderboom 3 certainly has a distinctive look, with a shape consumers will find similar to smart speakers (particularly the Homepod Mini). This rounded, canister-style build is pretty cool to look at, and sits quite nicely on a table or a picnic blanket, but I can’t help but think it’s a tad inconvenient for thinner backpack pockets. Take the or the speakers, for instance: These enclosures can be laid flat, so they’ll fit nicely in the front pocket of a bag or even in your back pocket in a pinch. So, while the Wonderboom 3 is certainly portable, it’s not the most convenient carry.
I loved the sound quality of the Wonderboom 2 and the Wonderboom 3 has a virtually identical audio performance to my ears. So if you liked the second generation, you’ll like this one. If you haven’t experienced the Wonderboom 2, I can sum it up in a few words: Tuned for balanced music. The Wonderboom 3 brings just enough bass to drive a pop or Top 40 mix without blowing out the bottom registers and burying the detail in the mids and highs.
Sound quality is, in many ways, a subjective point. The JBL Clip line always pushes bass more than I’m expecting, and Bose’s comparable SoundLink Micro offers a polish that I like. While the Wonderboom 3 sounds full and balanced, it does seem to a lack a bit of low-end power compared to what I’m used to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; for those who listen to podcasts or more vocal-heavy music, the Wonderboom 3 will perform well, but if you want the loudest bass around, you want necessarily get it here.
One thing that Ultimate Ears does well with its Bluetooth speakers is to provide a one-touch button (a small tree icon on the bottom) that kicks the speaker into an “outdoor mode.” This setting boosts the bass a little and pushes the overhead to a slightly louder volume — 87 decibels, specifically, as opposed to the normal mode’s 86 dB.
Ultimate Ears also advertises a pairing mode that allows you to pair two Wonderboom 3 speakers together and play source audio as a stereo image (or doubled up playing the same audio) from one device. This goes a long way toward spreading the sound, widening the soundstage, and juicing the volume for bigger gatherings. True stereo mode provides a really traditional experience — as if you’ve got a pair of bookshelf speakers — and I really enjoyed working on a laptop with the Wonderbooms in this mode. But, if you’re just looking to double the sound and disperse speakers around a space, it’ll do that, too.
I did run into some Bluetooth problems when pairing my two Wonderboom 3 speakers together. The user guide prompts you to press both center buttons on two speakers, but doesn’t specify that you need to first hold one, and then press the other (though the user guide website is a bit more thorough). When I attempted this the first time, it unpaired both speakers entirely from my device and I had to re-pair them to get it to work. From there, it worked as expected, but considering there’s no app support for the Wonderboom series, I can’t help but think the average user will find some minor frustrations with this process.
One thing that’s quite impressive about the Wonderboom 3 is just how durable it is. Ultimate Ears clocks the water and dust resistance at IP67 — meaning the Wonderboom 3 is nearly waterproof and can handle dust and debris without any problems. This makes it the perfect companion for a beach day, a camping trip, or even a quick shower. Ultimate Ears also promises that listeners can submerge the speaker for 30 minutes. Oh, and it also floats, so if you drop it in the pool, you’ll still be rocking — just make sure you give it a thorough rinse under fresh water when you’re done with your adventures.
Ultimate Ears ups the ante even further by adding lab-tested drop resistance to the fold. According to the UE site, you can drop your speaker on hard surfaces from up to 5 feet and expect it to keep on chugging. While most speakers in this class feature rugged rubber bumpers and durable shell grilles, the Wonderboom 3 is one of the few that puts its drop-resistance promises where its mouth is. In practice, I brought one of my Wonderboom 3s to the beach for a full afternoon of sand and sun, and the other one on a long hike in the rain, and both look just as new as they did when I unboxed them.
While most of my above feedback is largely positive, one of the most disappointing factors about the Wonderboom 3 is just how little has been updated. While it’s perhaps a bit overzealous to hold a consumer electronics brand to a certain standard of improvements for a new generation, I can’t help but think more substantial updates could have made my write-up nearly superlative.
On paper, the improvements come in three key places. First, Ultimate Ears is manufacturing the Wonderboom 3 with 100% recycled polyester fabric and 31% consumer-recycled plastic from previous electronics. This is an important choice in an ever-growing world of e-waste, but doesn’t exactly improve the day-to-day experience.
The battery life has also increased, but only by literally 1 hour. In my tests, my Wonderbooms were even trending closer to 13 hours rather than 14 (in line with the Wonderboom 2), but your mileage will certainly vary. I’d honestly consider the battery life the same between the two.
There’s also an improved Bluetooth range — 40 meters compared to the Wonderboom 2’s 30-or-so meters. Again, this is an objectively positive improvement, but how many situations are listeners going to be in where 30 meters isn’t enough, but 40 is? All in all, if you can find the Wonderboom 2 for a cheaper, refurbished price, it might be a good way to get 90% of the way there for less money.
The Wonderboom series remains a reliable, small-format Bluetooth speaker, with its sights set on listeners on the go. The Wonderboom 3 makes some marginal improvements over its predecessor, but still retains its balanced, music-focused sound, top-tier durability, sporty design, and solid performance. If you’re in the market for even a couple of the priorities listed above, the Wonderboom 3 will fit the bill.
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