SAN FRANCISCO — Not content to conquer the Bluetooth speaker market with tubes and bigger tubes, Ultimate Ears made its latest portable audio device look like a lily pad. They made it waterproof, too. The only problem was, the UE Roll sank like a stone.
“As life would have it, it doesn’t float,” said Rory Dooley, Ultimate Ears’ senior vice president, during a visit to the Cult of Mac headquarters.
The solution? Create a tiny life preserver for the UE Roll, and give it away to anybody who orders the hottest speaker of the summer directly from UE’s website (while supplies last).
The inflatable Floatie, which bears a somewhat unfortunate resemblance to a miniature hemorrhoid doughnut, is a really cute workaround for a speaker that’s meant to tag along when you go to the pool, the beach or the gym. You can imagine the Roll floating peacefully beside you as you bob on an inner tube in a lake, pumping out your favorite jams from an iPhone stashed safely on the shore.
“Honestly, this was a late-breaking idea,” Dooley said. “It wasn’t in our grand plan.”
This last-minute freebie is a cool accessory that practically screams “SUMMER OF 2015!” As services like Spotify and the upcoming Apple Music turn the long-anticipated “celestial jukebox” into reality, we’re growing more and more accustomed to taking every song ever written along with us, anywhere we want to go. UE’s speakers, which deliver crisp audio in nearly indestructible packages, are up to the task: They’re built to toss in a suitcase or strap onto a backpack so you’re never without your favorite tunes.
It’s part of UE’s plan to create “speakers for people, not speakers for rooms,” according to Dooley.
“We wanted to create something you could take anywhere and everywhere,” he said.
At just 12 ounces, the Roll is extremely portable. And UE’s software, which can be updated over the air, lets you link up to 10 of their speakers together, including the new Roll and its bigger sonic siblings the Megaboom and the Boom (up to two years old).
Unlike its tube-shaped predecessors, the UE Roll is a weirdly shaped speaker — a little flying saucer of sound that measures about 5.25 inches wide by 1.5 inches deep. On the back, a permanently attached bungee cord awaits to do your bidding: You can strap the speaker to anything, although it sounds best when it’s sitting flat rather than hung on a wall.
Set the UE Roll on a table, and it’s remarkable how satisfying it sounds. It delivers 360-degree sound via a tiny 2.1 setup (two tweeters and a driver), with plenty of that delicious spatial separation that tickles the hairs on the back of your neck.
Listening to a Cocteau Twins track, it stunned with plenty of shimmer; when pressed into service for a Motörhead song, it delivered an appropriate grind. The bass response is predictably less punchy and wonderful than with the much-larger $300 Megaboom, but the Roll costs just $99 (and you can’t move that kind of air with such a small package). Pair the two and you’ve got the best of both worlds.
The UE Roll comes in a variety of colors with fanciful names: Sugar Plum (purple), Volcano (gray), Atmosphere (royal blue), Piñata (pink with light blue design), Reef (blue with green) and Sriracha (orange with red) — told you it was hot. The flip side of each speaker is a different color, with that bungee providing a contrasting color.
The speaker is IPX7 rated, which means you can take in in the shower or splash it at the pool, and UE says the Roll offers 65-foot wireless range and nine-hour battery life (seems about right to us, although our tests were less than rigorous, it being almost summertime and all).
The only bummer? It uses a micro USB port to charge rather than a reversible Lightning cable that makes plugging things in easier (especially after slamming a couple Coronas by the pool).
Why no Lightning, which is clearly easier to deal with?
“You have to pay a tax to Apple, which is really expensive,” Dooley said. “Plus, it’s not necessarily a good thing for our Android customers.”
A final note on the Roll’s packaging. While the Megaboom’s tubular box took design cues from fancy Scotch bottles, the Roll comes folded in a package modeled after butcher’s paper. The meaty little speaker gets wrapped up like a flattened filet mignon. UE hired origami specialists to craft the packaging, which folds out into a poster — with each Roll color having a unique drawing on the inside.
“It’s either ready to recycle or ready to hang on your wall,” Dooley said.