Does a $350 wireless speaker need to do more than just… play music? That’s unquestionably the device’s main reason for being, but we’re in the closing weeks of 2023, and at this premium price, consumers have come to expect features like voice assistants, multi-room audio synchronization, and a wide net of bonuses like AirPlay, Spotify Connect integration, and more. The new Ultimate Ears Epicboom speaker doesn’t offer any of that, despite costing $349.99. What it provides instead is a ruggedized (and waterproof) build, powerful 360-degree sound, and up to 17 hours of battery life. And hey, the thing’s got a USB-C port, which somehow marks a first for any UE speaker to this point. I said it was 2023, right? Just checking.
UE’s Epicboom is very similar in size and shape to a Sonos Move 2, though it’s noticeably lighter at 4.36 pounds versus Sonos’ 6.6 pounds. Both speakers contain dual tweeters and a single woofer, though Ultimate Ears focuses on wider sound dispersion to create its signature 360-degree audio effect that customers have come to expect from the Boom, Megaboom, and supersized Hyperboom. The speaker is coated in the same fabric mesh as other UE products, with a sturdy rubber base that affords some drop protection. There’s a carrying strap on the back that’s held in place with a magnet so it doesn’t flop around.
On the Epicboom’s front side are UE’s telltale giant volume buttons, with other controls for power, Bluetooth pairing, and play / pause located on the top. There’s also an “outdoor mode” button that cranks the speaker’s loudness if you’re using it while camping, tailgating, or in other wide-open spaces. When you hold down the play button, it activates UE’s “magic button” feature, which can play a preset playlist from your chosen music service. Around back is a USB-C port covered by a protective flap that’s tight enough to prevent any water from getting through if you toss the Epicboom in a pool; it does float, after all. The USB-C port is strictly for charging and doesn’t support line-in audio, nor does this $350 speaker include any kind of Wi-Fi connectivity for higher-fidelity music streaming. It supports quick tap-to-pair via NFC for you Android phone owners at least.
When testing a speaker, I always inevitably land on a song that sounds like it was perfectly mixed for that hardware’s tuning and drivers. And there were a handful of cases where I preferred the Epicboom’s output compared to the more expensive Sonos Move 2, but they were few and far between. On the whole, Sonos’ speaker sounds more detailed, distinct, and better balanced than the Epicboom, which veered into boomy and ill-defined territory when listening to certain tracks on 1989 (Taylor’s Version). Some of the vocals on that reworked album feel a bit phoned in (like on “Style”), but the mix is definitely superior to the original — and the Epicboom fails to showcase that like an over-$300 speaker should. If you’re a basshead to the level that you want to rattle your apartment, the Epicboom will likely disappoint when pushed to its maximum volume, where there’s noticeable compression and some bass crackling.
Ultimate Ears says that the speaker features adaptive EQ, meaning it adjusts the sound profile based on your environment. I didn’t really notice any pronounced differences when moving the Epicboom between rooms large and small, though it did fare surprisingly well as a bathroom speaker. It had no trouble cutting through shower noise and came through with surprising clarity despite the echoey acoustics. But $350 for a bathroom speaker is likely to be a stretch for a lot of people. You can adjust the EQ to your own liking with UE’s mobile app, which can also be used to stereo-pair two Epicbooms or link it with an army of other UE speakers in party mode.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the UE Epicboom, save for its price. Within the company’s lineup, it slots into a sensible position between the cylindrical Megaboom and huge Epicboom party speaker. But there’s simply not much to this thing, and the omissions are expensive. Here’s what it doesn’t give you:
- AirPlay 2
- Amazon Alexa
- Deeper multi-room audio support
- Google Assistant
- Line-in (via 3.5mm or USB-C)
- Speakerphone functionality
- Spotify Connect
If I went out and paid $350 for an Epicboom, I’d quickly feel shortchanged by such a condensed feature list. It doesn’t have to pack in all of those things, but it could certainly benefit from some of them. As is, the price just doesn’t make sense for what you’re getting. Perhaps if the audio quality blew my mind, I could look at it differently. But while this speaker regularly sounds good, it’s not next-level good. It handily outperforms the Boom 3 and Megaboom, sure, and if for some reason, you’re bizarrely loyal to UE products, maybe that — and the long overdue USB-C port — will be enough. But the Bluetooth speaker market keeps evolving, and other manufacturers will give you decidedly more for your money. The Epicboom delivers on the classic UE strengths like a “lifeproof” exterior. It’s dependable and sounds pretty nice. But until a substantial price cut comes along, the value of this product is anything but epic.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge