Last fall, the folks over at Ultimate Ears launched a new generation of its most portable speaker before refreshing it with some new colorways at the beginning of the year. Ahead of spring, we’re taking a hands-on look at a top contender for the year’s best portable Bluetooth speaker. The new WONDERBOOM 3 arrives with all of the usual Ultimate Ears fixing, but also some firsts for the brand like a recycled build.
Hands-on with Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3
Back in 2019, we deemed the WONDERBOOM 2 “summer’s best Bluetooth speaker.” Holding that title for more than just that single year, we continued to praise and recommend the compact offering until its predecessor was revealed last fall. Now we’re back to see how that new iteration stacks up and if lightning can strike yet another time.
From looks alone, the WONDERBOOM 3 hardly looks any different from Ultimate Ears’ preceding speaker. Sure, there are some fresh new colorways, but there’s still that classic design. It fits right in the palm of your hand, sporting a fabric-wrapped exterior. Available now in one of four colors, the company sent over the new Performance Blue style for me to check out.
Much like the other designs in the lineup, this model sports a two-tone color palette that pairs one base color with some accenting. In this case, there’s a vibrant blue fabric and plastic build which is joined by some pink to contrast. It is such a fun look that easily stands out from many of the other offerings on the market. I’ve been checking out quite a few Bluetooth speakers as of late, and even with some wild competition from the likes of Gravastar, Ultimate Ears still manages to distance itself from the crowd just with a much cleaner design.
Breaking up the colorful design are two large buttons on the front of the orb-like exterior, one for turning the volume up and one for turning the volume down. That Plus and Minus iconography gives the WONDERBOOM 3 its iconic look that has been carried over from last time around.
Something that has changed though is how Ultimate Ears is actually making each speaker. This time around the company is taking a more sustainable approach to producing its releases by using 31% post-consumer recycled plastic in the design. It’s a decision that you honestly won’t be able to really tell from the build. There’s still a premium feel to both the fabric and plastic materials that dominate the design, but it does so without having to be as wasteful as the WONDERBOOM 2 that came before it.
Rounding out the design is an IP67 waterproof rating, which also complements some of my other favorite parts of the speaker. On top of keeping out water, it can also float when submerged and has a neat little elastic band for strapping onto shower curtain rings, carabiners, and more. So not only will you be able to rock out while swimming, but you can also bring the speaker just about anywhere you can strap it.
This of course is a speaker, so sound quality is also important. The 360-degree sound system is largely the same as before, which is to say it offers a booming experience that packs a punch despite its small design. I’ve had no complaints for just how well-rounded of a soundstage this delivers, with some solid mids, clear vocals, and a surprising amount of bass. This isn’t going to be anything close to a Hi-Fi experience, but it checks all of the boxes in the sound department for something this compact and portable.
By far, the worst part of the new Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3 is how you charge it. Not changing anything from its predecessor, you’ll find a dastardly Micro USB port hidden behind the waterproof flap on the back. I noted that it was a real shame back when the speaker launched, and now a few months later, it’s an even bigger issue. USB-C would have gone such a long way towards making this a future-proof release, but alas we’re stuck with a port from last decade.
It’s really a good thing that the battery life is so reliable because I can’t imagine having to charge this every single day. Ultimate Ears notes that you can expect around 14 hours of usage on a single charge, and I’ve found that claim to live up to the real-world experience.
Ultimate Ears has long had a reputation amongst 9to5Toys staff and readers alike of making some of the best speakers on the market. Since our last hands-on look, a lot has changed with the landscape, though. We’ve seen brands like Marshall begin to saturate its lineups with speakers of every size and variety to go toe-to-toe with devices like the WONDERBOOM. More recent brands like Gravastar offer even more eye-catching designs, too.
But none of them still deliver quite as simple and flawless of a listening experience. That’s not to say that the WONDERBOOM 3 lacks all the bells and whistles, but Ultimate Ears has been doing this for the better part of a decade at this point. The results of that quest to build the best portable Bluetooth speaker for your cash really do speak for themselves.
I can’t say that the brand’s latest is the best looking speaker on the market, nor is it the very best sounding. But it’s also more affordable, more rugged, and more importantly, made in a more sustainable way. Those are all traits that make the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3 live up to the reputation the company has had since I started back with 9to5Toys six years ago. So whether you need a new speaker to serenade you in the shower or want one that can handle dunks in the pool or accompanying you on any number of outdoor adventures, this is worth the cash.
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