A little more than a year ago I told you about Shower Power from Ampere, which is a hydropowered Bluetooth shower speaker. We bought Shower Power through Kickstarter in October 2020 and as often happens with crowd-funded efforts, it took forever to get the device, where forever is a year and a half. I guess we should count ourselves lucky that we got it at all.
Shower Power is a device that you put between the shower head and the pipe to which the shower head normally connects. You then connect their Bluetooth speaker to the side. The device has an impeller that generates energy from the power of the water coming through to charge the Bluetooth speaker.
When we bought Shower Power, we bought an extra Droplet, which is what they call their Bluetooth speaker. At first we thought the whole system was pretty cool, but over time we became disenchanted. The device leaked, so we had to turn it to an illogical angle that made it harder to hear the speaker, and the device caused our shower head to be lower than we wanted.
Since Bluetooth on a speaker is pretty much a nightmare to be used by two different phones, I always used the second Droplet just by setting it inside the shower. The other thing is that Bluetooth speakers last a long time on battery so having the speaker stay charged from hydro-electric power wasn’t a huge advantage.
Steve got rid of the Shower Power itself, and we used our Droplets as independent devices, charging them from the mains. But the audio quality on the Droplets isn’t quite what we’d hoped for either. In my original review, I wrote, “Deep voices (in spoken podcasts) are a bit muddled for our tastes, but I didn’t expect super high fidelity.”
Most tech podcasts are created by men (or at least the ones I’ve chosen to listen to are predominantly male voices), and it was often hard to understand what they’re saying with the Droplet unless I cranked the volume way up.
My birthday rolled around this year as it seems to do every year so far, and my mother and father-in-law sent me an Amazon Gift card. I love these gift cards because I save them for something I do not need but really just want. I wanted a new waterproof Bluetooth speaker appropriate for the shower.
I found a terrific site called RTINGS.com where they review home entertainment, home products like vacuums and blenders, computer peripherals, and electronics such as headphones, speakers, and cameras. The categories for their review are not as broad as the Wirecutter, but they go deep — and deep in all the good ways.
They have a page dedicated to The 6 Best Shower Speakers – Spring 2023. They categorize the winners as best, best mid-range, best lower mid-range, budget, cheap, and smart. They provide a summary table of 58 of the 113 speakers they tested.
The reason I trusted their recommendations is that they test and score by a lot of different qualities. Specifically they rate speakers for for music, videos and movies, outdoor sound, and most importantly podcasts. You can sort this summary table by how well devices did by these categories.
I’m definitely not going to dig into the details of the six speakers they recommended, but I do want to talk about the one I chose and what I learned from the RTINGS review. I want with the Best Lower Mid-Range because it was close to my budget at $80 (on Amazon, (normally $100)).
The Best Lower Mid-Range Speaker is the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3. I not only liked the price point, but it also comes in HYPER PINK, which has great value to me as a Steve repellent. But the main thing that caught my eye was it got a 7.9 out of 10 on Podcasts, which makes it tied for 3rd place of the 58 speakers they reviewed. The only two rated higher for Podcasts were the $400 Sonos Move, and the previous generation of the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2. They were rated 8.1 and 8.0 so 7.9 is great for the $80 price of WONDERBOOM 3.
The WONDERBOOM 3 is rated IP67, which according to the spec means completely protected from dust, and protection from immersion in water up to 1m for 30 minutes. It floats in water so it would be fun for a pool, and it is supposed to have over 22 hours of playtime. I wish it had USB-C charging but sadly, behind a water-sealed access door it’s still sporting the most annoying connector ever designed, micro-USB.
The full review page on RTINGS has even more information and scoring and gets super nerdy. You can see the raw frequency response curve for the device and the frequency response accuracy. I don’t even know what that second one is, but the WONDERBOOM 3 gets a slope of 0.76, standard error of 2.71 dB, low-frequency extension of 88.5 Hz, and high-frequency extension of 16.0 kHz, so that must be good, right?. You can see the soundstage and dynamics too if you know what those are. Technically you can see them even if you don’t know what those are.
RTINGS also have detailed sections explaining the scores for Style, Portability, build quality, and controls. I would agree with their assessment on the WONDERBOOM 3 as 9.3 on portability – it looks like a shorter version of a big-girl HomePod and has a nice little fabric hook to hang it on a shower caddy. They gave the WONDERBOOM 3 a 9.0 on build quality which is also great.
I’d even agree with their 6.6 rating on the controls on the WONDERBOOM 3. There are three buttons on the top and I have not yet been able to reliably be able to figure out what each one does. I know the big center button is a play/pause, and double-pushing it will skip forward which is nice for skipping commercials. But the other two are a bit mysterious. One is a small bump with a hole for a light to shine through, and the other is an indented button with a slot for a light to shine through. I think the slotted indent is to turn it on and off, and I think the bump is to pair it, but I’ve gotten it into pairing mode accidentally using the indent button too.
On the side of the WONDERBOOM 3, there are two GIANT plus/minus buttons which even I can figure out are to turn the volume up and down. They’re harder to push than I would like but at least I can figure them out!
On the bottom of the WONDERBOOM 3, there’s a button with an evergreen tree on it. You use this button to turn on an outdoor mode. They say it’s specifically tuned for the great outdoors. I tested this mode (outdoors of course) and at higher volumes, my podcasts got louder and more clear. At lower volumes, I couldn’t actually tell the difference. But I am looking forward to annoying my neighbors with outdoor mode.
WONDERBOOM 3 makes a lot of different noises to let you know what it’s doing. It makes one set of tones when it comes on, a different set for pairing, and a third when it shuts itself off if you forget about it for a while.
I was going to mention that the WONDERBOOM 3 doesn’t have a battery charge indicator, but in a desperate move I read the tiny paper-fold “manual” and it said to hold down the plus/minus buttons at the same time. I did that, and it made this sound:
Ok, that’s nice. But what does that mean? Is that full? Is that empty?
In an even __more_ desperate move, I did some of the Googles and found an Ultimate Ears web page with some FAQs, one of which expanded to explain the three sound.
The sound we heard meant that the battery was half full. If the battery is fully charged, it sounds like this:
And if it’s running low, it makes a sound I think we’re all used to hearing:
Probably the most extraordinary feature of the WONDERBOOM 3 is one that was promised in the RTINGS testing, but I didn’t believe it. This speaker will pair to two devices at the same time. I’m not kidding, it actually works. I paired it to my iPhone first, then my iPad, and I was able to play on one, stop, then play on the other, all without going into Bluetooth settings to connect.
This was miraculous. I remember when we had our Acuras and switching devices was so hard and time-consuming that we instituted a rule that the owner of the car got to use Bluetooth but the other person had to use a wired connection in that car. It was the only way to achieve peace.
Steve paired his iPhone with my new speaker and that pretty much ruined everything, proving that the miracle does not extend to more than two devices. As soon as I disconnected the iPad, then we were able to toggle back and forth between the two phones with ease. He thought that’s how I was going to keep things so he could use my new speaker too. He was wrong. I sent him a link to buy a boring black WONDERBOOM 3 for himself and he said, “Oh good because that pink is awful!” Mission accomplished.
After all this yapping I realized I haven’t talked about the sound itself. I can say that podcasts are much easier to understand now with WONDERBOOM 3. My main test is the Accidental Tech Podcast where really often I could not understand John Siracusa when using the Shower Power Droplet. We have trouble hearing John when we play ATP in the car on road trips too. With WONDERBOOM 3, his voice came through really clearly. Oddly it was a little harder to hear Casey Liss, who has the highest-pitched voice in the cast but with a little more volume I could hear them both.
The Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 3 meets all of my needs, including repelling Steve with hyper pink, and especially delivering my podcasts for easy and clear listening. Being able to pair to two devices at once is a dream I did not know would be realized in my lifetime.
You can learn about WONDERBOOM 3 on the Ultimate Ears Website but you’ll pay more if you buy direct. Check out the detailed reviews of shower speakers on RTINGS.com and all of the other categories they review and test.