UE Boom 2 gets Block Party mode so you can blast friends’ tunes

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The UE Boom 2's new Block Party feature makes it easier than ever to share music with friends.
The UE Boom 2's new Block Party feature makes it easier than ever to share music with friends.
Photo: Ultimate Ears

SAN FRANCISCO — A slick new feature coming to Ultimate Ears’ Bluetooth speakers will let you stream your friends’ music from the palm of your hand.

Called Block Party, it lets up to three friends connect to the same UE speaker. Then the self-appointed DJ can pick and choose from each person’s tunes, pulled from streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify. The DJ can skip songs and jump from playlist to playlist, and it’s all shockingly smooth and simple.

Rory Dooley, Ultimate Ears’ senior vice president, said the company has had the idea in mind for a while but waited until the software could be perfected for today’s launch.

“If it’s not going to be fluid and fast, there was no point,” Dooley said during a visit to Cult of Mac’s office.

It’s time for a Block Party

The Block Party app shows up to three people's playlists on a single screen, along with volume controls.
The Block Party app shows up to three people’s playlists on a single screen, along with volume controls.
Photo: Ultimate Ears

Designed to make it easier for music lovers to share their favorite tracks with friends, Block Party is a social antidote to musical overload. Streaming services blessed us by putting millions of songs at our fingertips, but sometimes it’s damn difficult to discover and share new songs.

Block Party takes some of the sting out of that situation by effectively bridging the gap between streaming services and various devices. If you’re hooked on Apple Music but your friends use Spotify or Pandora, no worries — you can bounce seamlessly between them all. It works with iOS and Android devices as well as Macs (although you can only DJ a Block Party from a mobile device).

There’s no need to download an extra (and possibly inscrutable) app or anything like that. A couple of your friends simply connect to your UE speaker via Bluetooth and their current playlists appear in the Block Party section of your UE app (accessed by swiping left from the home screen). Switching between the various streams, adjusting volume, and fast-forwarding to the next song on a playlist are all just a tap away.

Dooley says it’s just the latest spin on sharing music, the way young people have done ever since the dawn of the single. But, unlike the old days, you don’t have to be loaded to have a rich musical hoard at your disposal.

“Now we live in this much more democratic era where … everybody gets a chance to participate,” he said.

Ultimate Ears’ Apple-like strategy

Block Party is the latest software upgrade for Ultimate Ears’ speakers, and indicative of the company’s oft-stated desire to “make music social.”

“It’s not just a tagline,” Dooley said. “It’s something we really believe in.”

Another thing UE believes in is not selling the least-expensive Bluetooth speakers on the block.

“Our products are not cheap,” Dooley said. “We definitely know that.”

So instead of joining the race to the bottom when it comes to pricing — the UE Boom 2 lists for $199 — the company instead follows Apple’s lead, concentrating on high-end engineering and design, and believing customers will flock to a better experience.

Ultimate Ears’ speakers sound great, look distinctive and are virtually bulletproof. The company’s commitment to delivering more value over time through software updates like Block Party is just icing on the magical cake.

UE Megaboom gets gesture controls

The Block Party update, which is coming to Ultimate Ears’ speaker-specific iOS and Android apps, also brings gesture-based Tap Controls to the UE Megaboom. Now Megaboom owners will be able to tap the tops of their plus-size speakers to pause tracks and double-tap to skip songs.

The Block Party feature rolls out today via an over-the-air update to Ultimate Ears’ apps. It will work with the recently launched UE Boom 2, its larger sibling the UE Megaboom and the UFO-shaped UE Roll, but not the original UE Boom, which Dooley said is short on memory (“We haven’t given up on it,” he said).