Pairing two Bluetooth speakers for a stereo pair is tablestakes these days, so Ultimate Ears is cranking music to the next level with PartyUp, for more than 50 speakers in a single group. The new feature, being released today as a firmware update for some of the Logitech-owned company’s most popular models, relies on some Bluetooth trickery and a revamped app to make managing large crowds of BOOM speakers straightforward.
I’ve been testing out a pre-release version of both the app and the new PartyUp firmware on a handful of UE BOOM 2 and MEGABOOM speakers, and it’s surprisingly straightforward. If past experience with Bluetooth pairing has given you headaches, PartyUp’s simple discovery and grouping may come as quite a surprise.
For Ultimate Ears, it’s a way to encourage owners with two or more speakers to get both out, as well as helping friends and family each with their own BOOM to share them at picnics or other activities.
For PartyUp to work, you’ll need either a UE BOOM, UE BOOM 2, or a UE MEGABOOM speaker, and it needs to be running the latest firmware. It doesn’t have to be paired with your phone, however, since Ultimate Ears just looks for any compatible BOOM within Bluetooth LE range, approximately 100 feet indoors depending on what walls are in-between.
That could present an issue if you live in an apartment next door to someone with a BOOM, since the only way to prevent your speaker from being co-opted into a PartyUp group is to turn off the “Public” visibility in the settings. Of course, if you do that your friends won’t be able to see the BOOM themselves.
Incidentally, if you’re noticing an omission or two from that supported speaker list, namely the UE ROLL and ROLL 2, you’re not mistaken. Ultimate Ears tells me that the hardware its round speakers use is simply incapable of supporting PartyUp, which is disappointing.
Ultimate Ears’ app has been updated with a new, easier UI, and PartyUp gets a tab of its own a left swipe from the volume controls. All of the speakers it can find are shown as little thumbnails at the bottom – they’re color-coded to match their physical appearance, and you can see their (user-customizable) name if you tap them – and you drag them up to the host speaker to add them to the group.
With two speakers you’re basically recreating DoubleUp and can choose to have each unit play the same audio or split them as a stereo pair. Drag more in, however, and after a few seconds connection processing they all play the same thing, synchronized.
Once PartyUp is running, you can control global volume of all the connected speakers with the volume buttons on the host BOOM or through the app. Pressing the buttons on any of the other units adjusts the volume on that one speaker alone. Similarly, you use the tap controls on the host speaker to pause the music and skip tracks, but not from any of the other connected speakers.
Officially, UE is saying PartyUp will work with “over 50” speakers, but the company tells me it’s done tests with 145 separate units without any issues. Really, the limit is more about how many BOOM speakers you can afford.
Unlike Sonos, PartyUp relies on a hub-and-spoke system of connectivity. Your phone – and the UE app – connects to the host speaker, and then each subsequent speaker connects directly to that host. It means that, if the host speaker goes out of range or turns off, the party is over; UE’s app does warn you if you go to turn the BOOM off while it’s hosting a PartyUp group.
Optionally, you can have a PartyUp group re-establish automatically when you power the host back on, though I had mixed results getting that to work in my own testing.
Unfortunately while UE’s previous Block Party feature, which allows three people to connect to the same speaker and build a collaborative playlist, is still supported in the new app, you can’t use it at the same time as PartyUp. Only one person can pair with the host speaker.
NOW READ: UE BOOM 2 Review
Nonetheless it’s an impressive update, both for its performance and the ease by which PartyUp is used. No hitting buttons on umpteen speakers or trying to turn on discovery mode: just drag and drop, and BOOM units start – or end – streaming automatically.
The new PartyUp-compatible Ultimate Ears app is available for iOS and Android today, as is the new firmware you’ll need for your BOOM, BOOM 2, and MEGABOOM speakers. Meanwhile, UE has a number of “party packs” which will offer a discount for those buying multiple speakers; you’ll be able to mix-and-match which models and colors you buy.