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Exclusive First Look: Logitech's Wireless UE Speakers Challenge Sonos

Logitech's UE Megaboom and Boom will be able to connect 10 or more speakers this summer, and this review is a sneak peak of that experience.

Katie Boehret

When my husband, Kevin, and I moved in together a few years ago, most of his things didn’t make the cut in our new place. I nixed his collection of mismatched plates and plastic cups. An ugly plywood shelf did me a favor and broke in half during the move. And two months after he convinced me to keep his recliner, its left arm fell off.

Kevin’s Sony DAV-HDX275 survived, as you can see from the photo below:

It’s an old sound system that hooks up to the TV and pipes sound out to a collection of speakers. We hid the speaker wires in discreet tubing painted “Spanish Olive” to match our living-room walls. After a lot of set-up work, we have decent surround sound when we watch TV, pop in old DVDs (rarely) or listen to CDs (okay, never).

This week, I used a system that laughs at old setups like our Sony.

I tested the Logitech-owned UE (short for Ultimate Ears) $299 Megaboom and $199 Boom wireless speakers, which came out this past January and in May of 2013, respectively. Any two of these Bluetooth speakers can link to one another, creating a basic left-right surround-sound experience.

But I also got exclusive early access to test an experience that won’t be available publicly until this summer: Connecting more than 10 — possibly 20 — of these UE wireless speakers to one another. I received six speakers to try for this test; they easily connected to each other, and I had my music playing in just under three minutes. If you’re familiar with Sonos, a speaker system that creates its own wireless network, Logitech’s UE does something similar by connecting multiple speakers together.

Katie Boehret

One key difference, however, is that the UE mobile app is incredibly basic, focused mostly on playing whatever is currently on your device through the speakers. The Sonos app, on the other hand, lets you get music from various sources, like computers, digital radio stations and on-demand streaming music services, and it organizes those sources into a list of favorites. There are other differences, as well.

First, let’s talk about the Boom and Megaboom as standalone speakers.

Logitech is better known for dull, black plastic mice and keyboards than for stylish music products. When Bracken Darrell became Logitech’s CEO two years ago, he initiated some dramatic changes at the company, which included the hiring of Alastair Curtis, Nokia’s former design head. By using its hipper UE brand for these speakers, the company breaks away from boring, utilitarian design.

Each one of these cylindrical speakers comes in a clever package that’s meant to look like a battery casing, with the speaker itself as the battery. (This product analogy is appropriate, since battery life for the Boom and Megaboom are estimated at a whopping 15 and 20 hours, respectively.)

The Boom weighs just 19 ounces and is water- and stain-resistant, ideal for tossing into a bag on the way to the beach. It’s about the size of a tall Arizona Iced Tea can. The Megaboom is bigger and heavier at 31 ounces, but still feels compact enough to move around. Given our frigid weather on the East Coast, the beach wasn’t an option for me, but I easily moved both of these speakers to different rooms in my house.

I love the vast selection of exterior designs on the UE Booms and Megabooms, which are available in 24 different colors and patterns in the U.S. Most designs are loud and eye-catching — a far cry from the demure Sonos speakers that blend in with furniture.

Katie Boehret

From unboxing to blasting music via an iOS app and pairing two speakers, the setup took me less than five minutes. (These also work with Android.) There are two simple buttons for Power and Bluetooth on the top end of each speaker, and pressing Power makes a playful drum sound. Double-tapping the Bluetooth button pairs one speaker with the other if you’re using the app, which the app calls “Doubling Up.”

I’m not an audiophile, but the sound from both models was impressive. NPR talk radio, acoustic Eric Clapton, Shakira, Vance Joy, and my son’s “Wheels on the Bus” Pandora station all sounded clear and strong. And bass notes have a deep tone that got me and my toddler to start swaying our hips.

As standalone speakers, the Boom and Megaboom’s closest competitors are Jawbone’s $130 Mini Jambox and $300 Big Jambox (reviewed here). They’re similarly colorful and portable, and they can be paired with one another. But you can only pair two at once, not 10 or more, like the Logitech UE models will do this summer. The Mini Jambox and Big Jambox also lag behind in battery life, only getting 10 and 15 hours each — five hours less per device than the UE Boom and Megaboom.

When it came to wirelessly connecting a bunch of the UE speakers, I didn’t go through the exact set-up that will be required this summer, because Logitech is still developing the app interface for this. So my experience of pairing six UE Booms at once was done with speakers the company had preset to work together. A spokesperson for Logitech said it plans to make the set-up experience fast and simple, like the two-speaker pairing process.

With six speakers and a small house, I tried the Megabooms and Booms nearly everywhere on the first floor, including on either side of my sofa, on a shelf, on an entryway table and on top of a cabinet. I also tried them in my master bedroom upstairs.

Their cylindrical shape is designed to stand up straight, with rubber on both ends, but it also sounds fine when lying down, which I tried on top of a cabinet and on my entryway table.

Stereo sound with two of the UE Megaboom or Boom speakers sounded rich, filling each room, and the app lets you quickly swap which speaker is left and which is right.

As mentioned above, the Boom and Megaboom can be controlled with a free app on iOS or Android devices. Or they can work without the app by simply connecting to a speaker in a device’s Bluetooth settings. The speakers play whatever is playing on your phone.

But that leads me to one of my gripes. First, you can’t play different music on each speaker — which Sonos allows.

Unlike Sonos, which doesn’t use Bluetooth but instead creates its own mesh network in your home, the UE speakers magnify all of the sounds coming from your device (multiplied by six, 10 or more, depending on your setup). That means when you get an incoming text message or phone call, your phone’s notification sound will play on your speakers, interrupting party music. Or if you take a screenshot on your phone, the camera sound clicks in the middle of listening to, say, NPR’s “Morning Edition.”

You can solve this by turning your phone to mute, but sometimes you just forget to do this.

Another thing that bugged me about these speakers was that the sound downstairs in my house got choppy when I moved upstairs with my phone, which doesn’t happen with Sonos. The speakers should work up to 50 feet away for the Boom or 100 feet away for the Megaboom. But I live in a relatively small row house; people in bigger homes won’t want to walk too far with a connected phone in their pocket.

However, while the Sonos Play:1 speakers need to be plugged in to power on, the Logitech speakers don’t need to be constantly connected to power outlets. So, after 15 minutes of not being used, these speakers automatically turn off. They also work as speakerphones for incoming calls if you tap the Bluetooth button on the speaker or phone.

Logitech’s UE brand is giving the company a boost, and the sound from the UE Boom and Megaboom speakers will give you a boost. If the multi-speaker setup works successfully when it’s widely available this summer, it will become a viable option for people who want simple stereo setups in their homes — and could also pose a challenge to Sonos.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.