Okay so with four portable speakers in hand I then had to figure out the best way to even test them all. Obviously, some areas like overall sound quality can be subjective (to a point) and that wasn’t going to be an issue, we have tested countless headphones/headsets, speakers, and even a few portable speakers. In addition to that, each one really has a whole list of features that make them unique. So I started off by testing them all in our main use case, by the pool and around our backyard. This is what started it all right? So why not play in the pool and tell myself that I’m doing work.
But before I did that I did want to get some photos of the speakers all together so we could really compare things like the difference in sizes. These pictures really put it all into perspective. So the Megablast is by far the tallest speaker, but the Stryde XL is right there with it in being large as it is the widest and still fairly tall. The Wonderboom is basically the size of a softball so you can hold it in hand but its thickness makes it hard to put in your pocket or to pack. The iRoarGo ends up being the easiest of the four to put in a pocket, at least a men's pocket. It is also the most compact overall because it doesn’t have any circular or roundness to it so if you are traveling it is going to take up the least amount of space in your backpack or suitcase. The iRoarGo also ends up being the plainest looking speaker out of the four, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Ultimate Ears offers really cool color options, especially in the Wonderboom and the red accents on the Stryde XL look great as do the other option with green.
Before getting all of the speakers out by the pool I should be responsible and confirm their waterproofing ratings as well. Each has them listed on their website and they are all rated in the same Ip ratings for easy comparison. Basically, they are all waterproof to some extent, they better be at least because portable speakers are going to get used outside and in areas that might get wet or dirty. So the Megablast and Stryde XL both have IP67 ratings, this means they can both go into the water up to 1 meter deep and they have the top level dust ratings. This is great for when you are outside in just about any situation. Then the Wonderboom has an IPX7 rating, so it can go in the water to 1 meter as well but there isn’t a dust rating. This was a little confusing to me, because by default if you can put it under water safely you would think there would be some dust protection. I don’t know if they just didn’t bother rating it at that, or there is an aspect that I am missing. The charging connection cover is a little less robust than the Megablast and the Stryde XL. Then the iRoarGo is IPX6 so it can handle water splashed on to it, but can’t be submerged or sprayed with high pressure. Basically, don’t dunk it but a normal rain should still be fine.
This kind of brings me to one of the cool features of the Wonderboom. Not only is it IPX6 rated but it also floats. Now if I’m being completely honest the pictures on the Ultimate Ears website kind of gave me the impression that you could just drop it in the water and listen to your music. Well, that was basically why I was so excited about it and why I picked it over the smaller Blast model. Well sure you can do this and it does still play music, but it doesn’t do it very well. Beyond that, if it ends up more than 8 inches under water it will also lose Bluetooth connection anyhow. So it wasn’t what I expected, but it did get me thinking about why you would want this. For starters, notice that all of the speakers aren’t rated past 1 meter, that is just past 3 feet and a lot of pools, ponds, rivers, lakes, and other areas you might use the Wonderboom can all be deeper than that. Especially if you are on a boat or fishing out on a long dock. So the big plus here is the Wonderboom isn’t going to go too deep if you drop it in the water and be damaged or lost altogether. So it is great for those situations.
The next area I wanted to take a look at was the batteries built into each of the speakers. If you can’t use these for a full day of use at work, out on the beach, or when camping or hiking you are going to need to recharge them and most of the time that isn’t going to happen until you get back to power. If you had the power you wouldn’t need a portable speaker in the first place, right? So I put together the battery life ratings that each has on their website. I did not confirm any of these and most likely they didn’t test the same. But they do give us a starting point. No huge surprises with the over life ratings. The smaller speakers have smaller capacity levels. But even the Wonderboom at the lowest is still at 10 hours, that is a full day in most situations. Now two of the speakers had connections for you to hook up your mobile devices and charge them using the built-in battery. So with those, we get an actual look at the battery capacity. You can see that the iRoarGo has the highest rating here, even though it is smaller and has a lower battery life overall.
Also related to this, but I wanted to touch again on how easy or hard some of these speakers are to charge. In my house, if something is plugged in all of the time I don’t care what kind of charger it uses. Well, I might not be as happy if it is a wall wart that I can't fit in a power strip, but otherwise, it doesn’t matter. But with all of these being portable, I was disappointed to find that two of them (the iRoarGo and the Stryde XL) both use proprietary cables where the two from Ultimate ears both used Micro-USB. I will have a micro-USB cable on me when on the go, I’m not going to bring the power cable for the others. Speaking of, they both had warts as well. Also important to mention was the additional charger that Ultimate Ears sent for the Megablast. It isn’t included when you buy the speaker, but you can pick up a charging base that lets you keep it charged all of the time. Considering how everything I own is dead this was really nice for me.
I then finally got into audio testing. Well, actually I tested them all outside across weeks of testing, getting a feel for how well they worked in different situations. Then I did some in-office testing. In the office, I was able to put some earplugs in and get a better listen to each of the speakers when you have them cranked all the way up. I wouldn’t recommend listening at these levels but I wanted to look at two things. How well do the speakers handle being played so loud, is there any noticeable distortion or issues. I also wanted to use our decibel meter and get noise level readings. That is because some people like their music loud and louder isn’t always better but if you need to fill a large area you might need to crank it up.
So all tests below were done with the meter 1 foot away while listening to Kid Rock American Bad Ass. Not my first choice to test with, but I wanted something loud and that was on my google music account that I could play over and over again. With most, the highest level was from the front but I did move it around to see if there was a louder spot, especially on the round speakers. So the Megablast was the loudest, but by one decibel. The iRoarGo was small but powerful here. Then the Stryde XL and Wonderboom were noticeably down lower. This wasn’t a big shock with the Wonderboom, it is a much smaller speaker but I expected the Stryde XL to be up closer with the other larger speakers but it wasn’t.
So my notes at the time mentioned that the Wonderboom had a surprising amount of bass at max volume, but because of this things did get a little muffled. I was doing the test on my workbench with an oak wood top and I noted that the Wonderboom did vibrate and put out more bass from the table itself, picking it up or hanging it from the hanger on top cut down its output. As for the 360 output, it did have good levels most of the way around, but at the back, it did have less.
The Megablast being the loudest had less distortion than the Wonderboom, but that isn’t to say it didn’t have any. This one had a noticeable sweet spot at the front if you want stereo, but noise output went out at a good spread filling the room. Like the Wonderboom it did also put out less at the rear, but both were more than the directional speakers.
The iRoarGo was right behind the Megablast in overall volume but I didn’t hear any clear distortion at full volume. This is made even more impressive given how loud it was. This was also the most likely to be a neutral sound field where the others sounded a little EQ boosted with their bass and highs. I imagine this helped it to not have distortion. For directionality, there was an 8 decibel drop in volume at the sides and 12 at the back. So you do get some sound out of the passive radiators but nothing big out of the back when sitting up. Laying it flat as suggested by Creative did give more bass, still not as much as the Ultimate Ears speakers, but it did give a nice sound. This orientation was also much better for directionality as well with no drop at the back this way.
Lastly, there was the Braven Stryde XL. I really expected it to perform better but it just hated being cranked up all the way. It wasn’t in the same loudness range as the Megablast and the iRoarGo but it was still the most distorted out of the four speakers tested. It was directional like the iRoarGo but a little less with 8 dB drop at the sides and 10 at the back. Laying it flat also helped with that and added more bass as well.
So full volume testing isn’t really where I spent most of my time. In fact, I only did it to each speaker just the once. Most of my testing was done at half or below. But for comparison, I did revisit each speaker at exactly half volume with the same song as the full volume tests. I know ¾ of the speakers had issues with the loud song. But how did they sound at a loud but more reasonable volume?
Well, the Wonderboom didn’t have any distortion but it also didn’t have the bass that it had before. The highs and mids were solid. Being a smaller speaker it didn’t fill the room as much, or maybe I was going a little deaf after the high volume testing even with protection. But it was much better than the speakers on my cell phone. The Megablast, on the other hand, had all the bass it needed, crisp clear highs, and sounded awesome. At half volume, it is still loud inside and just right to fill up our backyard when outside.
Now the iRoarGo, well if it didn’t distort at full volume it wasn't going to do it at half volume right? It still has a neutral mix but at this volume, there is a little more bass noticeable. In this situation facing up really made a big difference in the bass and just overall. While I would want to put it facing towards me, facing up is the better choice for sure.
Lastly, we have the Braven Stryde XL. Remember the full volume testing didn’t go as well. But this is where it thrives. I think Braven has a bit of a tune on this speaker because at half volume it is booming. The Wonderboom may have to trade names here. The bass that caused all of the high volume distortions sounds really good here for any of you bass heads and overall it sounds warm.