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UE BOOM 3
August 30, 2018
Original: $149 USD
April 2022: $129 USD
184 x 73 mm
Waterproof Bluetooth speakers are all the rage nowadays, but one of the first companies to get it right was UE with its Boom series. While the original Boom and even the Boom 2 were good, we weren’t as impressed as everyone else was given the price. With the newest UE BOOM 3, though, there’s hope again: it’s actually competitively priced at around $150 USD (and often even less). We spent a week with the UE BOOM 3 to see if it’s any better than previous versions.
Editor’s note: this UE BOOM 3 review was updated on August 25, 2022, to update formatting and discuss alternatives.
Beachgoers or people in rainy climates will appreciate the BOOM 3’s IP67 rating. If you live in a part of the world where it rains all the time, waterproofing all your things isn’t a luxury: it’s a necessity. This speaker may also appeal to people who like the JBL Charge 5 but want something more portable. While the Charge 5 is a great speaker for the price and it comes with some cool features, it’s also pretty large. And while the built-in stand and bulging shape make it great for the deck or the yard, it isn’t as easy to bring around as the UE BOOM 3.
How is the UE BOOM 3 built?
The build quality of the speaker is solid and it got an entirely new makeover design-wise as well. The UE BOOM 3 is immediately recognizable as a UE product, but there are a few things that are different now when compared to previous versions. Gone is the soft plastic bumper down the middle of the speaker that had the plus and minus buttons. Instead, it’s been replaced with a slimmer plastic strip down the speaker’s spine.
This might sound weird to say about a cylindrical speaker, but it’s also less rounded off. The edges end sharply and the entire speaker is shaped much more like a large soda can than the previous version. That design choice was intentional, as the UE BOOM 3 easily fits anywhere that a water bottle would—whether that’s in your bag, your car’s cup holder, or even the water bottle bracket on your bike.
The UE BOOM 3 is also wrapped in an IP67 waterproof fabric that’s tough and grippy. I have no problems keeping a good hold on it even when it’s wet, and knowing that a rainstorm won’t be the end of it adds some peace of mind when taking it outside. Even better, the UE BOOM 3 floats just like the WONDERBOOM, which is a small feature that packs a ton of value. It’s not just the outside that was made to be tough either: UE claims that the speaker is drop-proof, too. While we didn’t do any drop tests off a building, it did survive a roll off my bed without a problem, which is probably a more common scenario anyway.
How do you control the UE BOOM 3?
The UE BOOM 3 still sports the signature plus and minus buttons for adjusting volume and three buttons up top for controlling playback and powering the speaker on/off. I have no problem with these buttons because, unlike the Sonos Move, the buttons on the UE BOOM 3 are distinct shapes. Even in the dark, it’s easy to feel around and find the one that you want.
Should you download the BOOM & MEGABOOM by Ultimate Ears app?
The BOOM & MEGABOOM by Ultimate Ears app (iOS/Android) has a basic EQ so you can tweak the speaker’s sound to your liking, but it also lets you save up to four EQ presets. That way, you can have one for when you’re listening to your podcasts in the shower (that can’t just be me right?) and another for when you’re at the beach with friends.
Besides that, the app is also where you go to connect to other UE speakers. You can connect up to 150 other UE speakers, and it’s backward-compatible, meaning the older UE BOOM 2 can take advantage of this. We couldn’t test this as we only had one speaker to play with, but it’s good to have the option if you and a few friends all have UE speakers. You can also use the app to turn the speaker into a musical alarm clock if you’re tired of listening to your phone every morning.
Then there’s a button that lets you switch between playlists without needing to reach for your phone. Of course, you’ll have to set this up in the app, but you’ll be able to skip between playlists by long-pressing the multifunction button in the middle for three seconds. Then controlling your music is just like anything, with a single tap pausing/playing and a double-tap skipping to the next song. Curiously, the ability to triple tap to return to a previous song is missing, which is kind of a bummer because otherwise the UE BOOM 3 would have everything.
How’s the connection strength of the UE BOOM 3?
Fortunately, the UE BOOM 3 doesn’t seem to have any issues with dropped connections or hiccups over SBC (your only Bluetooth codec option). As long as you stay within 15 meters (~50ft) there’s nothing to worry about. It even gets the job done at around 30 meters (100ft) with no walls in the way. It doesn’t seem like many companies are having too many issues with Bluetooth connectivity in recent years, at least when it comes to staying connected.
How is the battery life on the UE BOOM 3?
UE claims a battery life of 15 hours, but in our testing, we got 8 hours, 18 minutes. While it’s fine for an average day, it isn’t going to blow you away like some other, less expensive speakers that can play music for more than 16 hours straight. But again, UE made a slight change that I think is really cool: you can charge the UE BOOM 3 wirelessly with the proprietary Power Up dock. The caveat? It’s sold separately.
Another nifty feature is the ability to power up the UE BOOM 3 without touching it via a power button in the UE BOOM app. What is a little disappointing is that both the speaker and the dock use microUSB instead of USB-C. It seems like UE has a bunch of great, futuristic ideas for this speaker but it’s being held back from truly being future-proof by clinging to an old port. It isn’t a huge deal, but it means that if you get the UE BOOM 3, there’s a good chance it might be the only device in your life that charges via microUSB.
The dock has three pins that charge the speaker via a small metal divot at the bottom. I wish it came with the speaker, but it isn’t absurdly expensive at $40 USD. Remember that if you take this speaker out with you for a long beach day, you’ll have to throw it back on the charger when you get home.
How does the UE BOOM 3 sound?
The UE BOOM 2 isn’t our favorite sounding speaker, which hasn’t changed here. It still puts more emphasis on being loud than sounding good, but if you’re going to be outdoors at the beach or in the park, that might be what you need. For all of our listening, we didn’t alter the EQ in the app and left it as-is out of the box.
Lows, mids, and highs
The first thing you notice when listening to music is that this speaker definitely puts the “boom” in UE BOOM 3 (I couldn’t resist). In all seriousness, the low end is emphasized, but the drivers aren’t big enough to do bass notes any justice. Instead, the bass in the song Daffodils by Mark Ronson sounds less powerful, almost like midrange frequencies, which means that it competes with vocals far and often overpowers them.
Similarly, the high end doesn’t sound like there’s much holding it back, which results in distortion at high volumes. This is easy to hear in the song Horchata by Vampire Weekend; the bells and cymbals sound too loud compared to everything else. It’s worth mentioning that most of my issues seemed to be at volumes greater than 80%. At regular volumes, there aren’t too many issues. If you get the UE BOOM 3, chances are you will press that volume up button a lot.
No, the UE BOOM 3, unfortunately, does not have a microphone either. If you tend to answer calls via your speaker this is something to keep in mind. While I doubt it’s a common occurrence for most people I’ve definitely answered calls while in the shower or while floating in a pool before, so I understand when someone says that it’s a must-have feature.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a frequency response chart to show you exactly where the audio output shines and where its deficiencies lie. We’re still ironing out our standardized speaker tests with the appropriate support equipment to update our testing and data collection. It will take a bit to get everything fleshed out, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and performance plots. These will be made obvious by a new chart aesthetic.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Should you get the UE BOOM 3?
The UE BOOM 3 isn’t the best-sounding speaker by far, for that you’d probably have to go with something a bit pricier, but UE has made a lot of incremental improvements. The ability to link up to older UE speakers, the addition of wireless charging via the dock, and a redesigned body are all welcome changes. It seems the company took the time to think about how people are actually going to use this speaker. That attention to detail combined with the lower price point makes the UE BOOM 3 an easy recommendation, even if it does charge via microUSB.
If you don’t have another Bluetooth speaker or you’re looking for a quick and practical gift, then absolutely. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with shopping around a bit.
What should you get instead of the UE BOOM 3?
The JBL Flip 6 is an excellent alternative to the UE BOOM 3. It has an IP67 rating, has a sleek and portable design, and has sound quality perfect for hosting indoor or outdoor parties. Though the Flip 6 doesn’t feature a microphone, it has other perks like the ability to pair with another Flip 6 for stereo sound. This little speaker lasts over 9 hours on a single charge and charges via USB-C.
Another great alternative to the UE BOOM 3 is the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II, if you’re willing to spend a bit more. It’s portable, though it is a little chunkier than the BOOM 3, and it has an IP55 rating. What really sets this speaker apart from other Bluetooth options is that it bridges the gap between smart speakers and dumb speakers, offering smart assistant compatibility.
Frequently asked questions about the UE BOOM 3
Pairing to the UE BOOM 3 is very simple. Just follow these steps to pair to your phone or computer:
- Quickly press the power button located on the top of your speaker to turn the speaker on.
- Then press and hold the smaller Bluetooth pairing button in order to enter pairing mode.
- Next, go into the Bluetooth settings of your source device.
- In the available devices section, select “UE BOOM 3” from the list.
Unfortunately, the UE BOOM 3 can not connect to Alexa anymore. UE speakers have been able to connect to Amazons’ assistant in the past but on its FAQ page the company stated that in an effort to make the experience better they discontinued the feature on Android. If you’re after speakers with Alexa make sure to check out our full list of Alexa-compatible speakers as you’ll likely find something there.