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Ultimate Ears is a mental company, and that’s a compliment. It’s a company that breaks the mold, and doesn’t quite care what its neighbours are doing either. With the UE Roll, the company has shoved everything that makes a portable Bluetooth speaker great into a package no larger than Kobe Bryant’s left hand.
As the name suggests, it’s made by Ultimate Ears, a subsidiary of German peripheral maker Logitech, that focuses on premium audio products. The “Roll” part is a bit more peculiar. It’s more flying saucer in shape than any roll I’ve ever seen. It also seems to have stolen the clothes off a Hacky-Sack’s back, donning this strange fabric mesh that resists scratches, most stains and repels water. It’s definitely different.
The underside is clad in a resilient rubber coating that you can barely resist touching. There’s also a strange flap that hides the UE Roll’s microUSB charging port and the line-in port if you fancy playing music in a more traditional manner. This design decision was probably made at 4pm on a Friday afternoon because it’s frankly idiotic, clunky and ill-conceived. But UE didn’t want to employ the traditional ports-on-the-side layout here.
And speaking of tradition, are you one for soap-on-a-rope? The UE Roll sports the same device, which literally lets you hang it in the shower with you. Granted, changing music on a non-waterproof smartphone from within the shower is a bit of an issue, but I didn’t have any problems with singing along to the Glitter soundtrack once I set it to play and do its thing.
In terms of audio quality then, the UE Roll is easily the best sounding wireless speaker for its size. Across the genre board, from classical to jazz, bluegrass to hip-hop, the UE Roll develops throaty base and pitchy highs. To nitpick: the mid-range could be a lot thicker, but a piece like Hans Zimmer’s Time excels. It’s admirable, especially considering that the UE Roll is smaller than a turtle’s toilet seat.
It’s loud too. Cranking up the volume to its threshold produces minimal cracks and clips, and can easily fill a boardroom and beyond. Of course, the better quality music you happen to play, the better the audio quality will be, so we’d suggest trying non-compressed music. On this note, jacking the UE Roll up to a CD player is magical too, albeit redundant in more ways than one.
And in terms of battery life, the UE Roll should last an afternoon before the sun sets on a medium volume setting. The harder and louder you push it, the more rapidly the battery will empty. It’s not an issue you’ll run into often though.
Ultimate Ears has also kept up with the times regarding apps. The UE Roll app allows users to control settings on the speaker though a smartphone, be it the same smartphone playing the music or not. And speaking of which, more than one smartphone at a time can pair up to the speaker in a “block party mode” allowing users to play songs from their respective libraries. I couldn’t quite test this feature, but the app itself is stellar.
It’s simple, it’s easily to learn and as navigable as a line at the DMV (but much more enjoyable). Additionally, if you have the cash to splash, multiple UE Rolls can join forces to blast music in true stereo. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t test this either as we were only given one UE Roll to review. At least the alarm worked, albeit a little too well as shutting up the speaker involved hitting the dismiss command within the app itself.
So, where does it fall short?
For one, if you fancy dropping R2500 on a magical bean bag, then this shouldn’t be a problem for you, but for the average consumer who pays bills and doesn’t own an oil refinery: it’s expensive. For R2500, you could get an entire home entertainment system, standalone speakers, and even multiple cheaper wireless speakers, like the Braven 705 or the Philips BT2500 — both arguably edge the UE Roll on utility and ease-of-use, respectively.
But there’s a school of thought that suggests paying top dollar for something guarantees that it’s the best in its field, and in this case, I can’t see a flaw in that logic.
Verdict: The UE Roll may look like an alien’s last minute secret Santa gift, but it doesn’t sound half bad either. It’s not light, nor light on the pocket for that matter, but it’s water resistant, incredibly slick in terms of audio quality and can be controlled using multiple smartphones. It’s certainly the best Bluetooth speaker I’ve used in a long while.