Growing up, some of my fondest listening experiences came from a silver Phillips boombox. I have vivid memories of popping in Moby’s Play—and what I honestly recall to be six D-sized batteries—and wandering around with the bald-headed maestro in tow.
These days, it’s easy to take your favorite tunes with you anywhere. But decades after squeezing a CD player into a portable speaker system, the greatest minds in mobile audio have taken aim at a harder problem: the mobile dance party. How do you deliver loud volumes in a truly portable package? For two years, the team at Ultimate Ears—the Logitech-owned audio company that has made some of the best portable speakers and custom in-ear monitors—mulled over the 21st-century dance machine. The Hyperboom is their answer.
After two weeks dragging the thing with me around Oregon, I feel as excited about it as I did with my trusty old Phillips. The sturdy black rectangle is not only a portable speaker that’s loud and durable enough to withstand a weekend at Burning Man, it also sounds good enough to replace your bookshelf speakers back home. It’s the modern boombox I’ve been waiting for.
Bells and Whistles
Even before you’ve heard the thing, you’re bound to be impressed by the Hyperboom’s specs. 24 hours of battery life, an ear-splitting 100 decibels of volume (loud enough that you feel Kendrick Lamar’s bass lines in your pinky toes), and an IPX4 water-resistant rating.
You can play Jimi Hendrix on a mountain in a rainstorm for 24 hours with this thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be caught dead dragging the 16-pound rectangle with me on a weekend-long backpacking trip. But toting it along on a recent ski trip, outside to the porch for a post-work beer, or down to the beach for a campfire is a no brainer, especially thanks to the built-in silicone handle.
Compared to other portable party speakers, which typically aren’t much more than terrible PA (Public Address system) speakers with flashing lights and massive batteries bolted inside, the Hyperboom is a featherweight.
It’s also easy to use with multiple mobile DJs: You can play music from one phone while pairing the speaker to another, then quickly switch back and forth between them with the press of a button. No more mid-party silence while someone drunkenly flails inside a Bluetooth menu.
There’s great app-based functionality too. The speaker constantly listens to the outside environment and adjusts equalization settings to make sure music sounds the same whether you’re in an ice fishing shack or a five-star hotel room, and you can pair multiple together should you need to wake everyone within a mile.
To achieve such volume and battery life in a compact form factor, the team had to solve some expected problems, and also a lot of unexpected ones.
It custom-designed a pair of 4-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters that are among the most efficient ever put in a Bluetooth speaker, to provide tremendous volume while maintaining excellent battery life. The team did such good work they created another problem entirely: The speaker was blasting the fabric off in front of the speakers mid-track. They had to redevelop the glue.
To make sure listeners were hearing true stereo sound wherever they placed the speaker, the Hyperboom is designed to look at you from a front edge, rather than with the flat side of the rectangle aimed at you. It might seem wonky compared to other premium speakers like the Sonos Play: 5, but this makes a lot more sense from an audio engineering perspective. By placing them at a wide angle aimed away from each other, the diamond shape of the Hyperboom projects throughout the space, ensuring a more engulfing soundstage. It also makes music less boomy in corners, because the speakers aren’t aimed directly at the wall.
An insane amount of attention went toward long-term durability. Unlike smaller Ultimate Ears models, the Hyperboom didn’t have to go through the company’s literal tumbling machine (which spins unsuspecting speakers inside a wooden box of horrors for hours on end). Instead, it was designed to be dropped from counter-ish height and survive. Objective achieved: I accidentally knocked the thing out of my truck on the way into an Airbnb. It has a couple scratches on the corners but works fine.
You’ll never blow out the speakers, either. To make sure the Hyperboom could withstand long-term use at high volumes, the company uses what engineers refer gleefully to as “The Blender,” an audio track of the most taxing electronic sounds they could find, looped for days on end.
Even the fabric that coats the speaker is long-term tested. Ultimate Ears owns a plot of land in Arizona with swatches in various colors that have been laying out in the desert for years to make sure they don’t fade much over time.
All of this is virtually unheard of in the Bluetooth speaker world, where most (even reputable) companies do little more than pick off-the-shelf components, find a factory in China, and start selling on Amazon.
The amount of time and effort that went into the Hyperboom is most apparent when you press play. It’s not just the best sounding Bluetooth speaker under $400—it might be the best sounding speaker under $400.
Ultimate Ears’ built-in room equalization does a fantastic job of creating a blank canvas, allowing the speakers to deliver delicate musical details in their own distinct spaces. It has a bit of a boost in the low end on the bassiest tracks, but it’s shocking how little that extra rumble bleeds into the music above it.
The chirpy synthesizers on Caribou’s new album suddenly come alive atop the four on the floor basslines, with the doubled vocals sitting perfectly in the middle of the mix. If I close my eyes, I’m nearly convinced I’m listening to a $1,000 bookshelf speaker system.
But I find myself most amazed at how good the Hyperboom sounds at full volume. Most speakers—even larger ones—become a mess of blurry bass and distorted guitars when you blast Blackwater Holylight’s excellent debut album through them at 100 decibels. Not the Hyperboom, which shows off the gentle edges of the vocal harmonies amid the cacophonous rest.
It’s tough to manufacture nostalgia. The rounded Phillips boombox that played such a prominent role in my musical identity wasn’t made with me in mind. But the best products allow us to escape, giving us experiences we’ve otherwise never had before. The Hyperboom is like that. In five years or 10 years, I can see how it will feel like an all-time classic.
Take it from me: It’s tough to forget the Cheshire Cat smile you’ll get the first time you blast Bowie in the woods at 100 decibels.