I love music. I usually have it playing most of the time from when I get up in the morning until the time I go to bed. Except when I ride. I hate riding with headphones. I’ve tried but whether it’s the sound of the woods or gravel under my tires, cutting off the outside world just doesn’t work for me. Of course, this leaves me with with no tunes, which is especially tough on those long boring fall/spring gravel rides (you know the ones). Recently FatdashBikedotCom HQ received an Ultimate Ears Roll wireless Bluetooth speaker for testing so I figured, hey, why not? Maybe this will finally be the answer to taking music along on the ride. Was it? Keep reading to find out . . .
The Ultimate Ears Roll (UE Roll) is a saucer shaped portable wireless Bluetooth speaker. Overall, the UE Roll has a very sturdy feel and is very well constructed. The unit is 5 1/2″ wide and 1 1/2″ thick. The top of the UE Roll is covered in a sturdy mesh cloth (available in a couple different colors/patterns) and has easy to use volume buttons that are integrated into the cover. Pressing them both at the same time gives you a charge remaining update (in a very pleasant voice). The bottom of the unit is rubberized and has power and Bluetooth paring buttons, a bungee cord for mounting, and a rubber access port covering the mini USB charging port and a 3.5mm AUX jack. Sounds is provided via one 2” driver and two ¾” tweeters.
Overall, the Roll delivers pretty good sound. The audio is surprisingly clear for a small unit and it was more than adequate in the bass department, again, especially given is small size. It’s obviously not going to give you the audio quality or bass response of bigger units but those units aren’t going to be nearly as portable as the Roll. Due to the Roll’s small size, some distortion of sound was encountered at higher volumes and it had problems with some more complex styles of music. However, under most listening conditions, the Roll has pretty nice sound for a small portable speaker. I also found that bass response was better when the Roll was laying on a solid surface (i.e., a table) than mounted on the bike (again, not surprising given its small size and the problems that outdoor acoustics can cause ). Upon first inspection, I wasn’t expecting the Roll to get super loud but I was pleasantly surprised by max volume. I was able to hear the Roll over any trail conditions I encountered, even on louder surfaces such as gravel or crunchy snow. If you really want to blast some tunes, two UE Rolls can be paired simultaneously (although not in stereo).
The bungee cord really opens up the mounting options. I ran it in several different configurations (on bike and on person) with varying levels of success. I will add that a squarish stem or top tube really helped keep it secure when things got bumpy. Round mounting surfaces like bars and traditional toptubes tended to allow a bit of movement. I found that the bungee wrapped around the bar/stem interface worked best for me. The bungee cord kept the unit very secure over various terrain and the Roll never dislodged during a ride (even one involving a high speed abrupt stop and a tree). Out on the trail, those large volume buttons really came in handy with gloved hands and they give you a nice big target so you’re not taking your eyes off the trail for too long while you search to adjust the volume. While adjusting the volume on the Roll is easy enough, play/pause/track advance requires you to access your music player of choice as the Roll is lacking these functions. I found the Bluetooth range to vary with conditions but outdoors it was typically 60-70 feet, which is nice when using the speaker off of the bike. Obviously, range on the bike isn’t an issue. The same goes for battery life. Indoors the battery life was around 8-9 hours. However, outdoors in cold conditions (<30* F), I only managed to get around 5-6 hours.
UE claims that the Roll’s cover is stain resistant and in my time with the speaker, I found this claim to be true. We’ve had a very wet early winter here in the Midwest and the Roll has seen its fair share of mucky wet conditions and all its taken is a few passes of a damp cloth to keep it looking like new. Speaking of wet mucky conditions, the Roll is completely waterproof (IPX7 – immersion up to 1 meter for 30 minutes). The ports are all waterpoof as well and the rubber flap just provides added protection.
Upon first pairing of the Roll with my phone, it automatically prompted me to download the UE Roll app. The app allows full control of the unit (volume, EQ, pairing multiple units, alarm, multiple user modes) as well as monitoring battery charge. After initially setting the EQ, I’ve really found no need to use the app but its nice to have some options if need be.
Overall, I really liked the Ultimate Ears Roll. It was great to be able to ride with music but still be able to hear my surroundings. The bungee cord really opens up the mounting options and keeps the unit secure wherever you put it. My only real complaint is the lack of a play/pause/advance buttons. This is especially annoying when cycling as my phone is tucked away in a jersey/jacket pocket. Another possible nitpick is that the Roll doesn’t have speakerphone capabilities if that’s something that’s important to you.
While I really enjoyed riding with music, I will say its not always appropriate. Not every one wants to hear Minor Threat as they cruise down some singletrack enjoying the peace and tranquility of nature so be courteous out there.