Bluetooth speakers can look cool, but they usually don’t look very engaging. Even if a speaker’s chassis is aluminum, or colorful, or angular, it’s still just a motionless object that puts out sound. JBL plays with that concept with the Pulse, a combination Bluetooth speaker and LED lava lamp that puts on a light show to go with your music. It looks mesmerizing and sounds very good, even if its $199.95 (direct) price tag is a little bit steep when held against the superior-sounding (but not very colorful) Bose SoundLink Mini.
Design and Light Show
The Pulse is a black cylinder measuring 3 inches wide and 7.2 inches long. With its metal, often glowing grille, it looks like a high-tech bug zapper. It weighs a scant 1.1 pounds, just a hair lighter than the UE Boom. The top of the cylinder holds Power, Light, Bluetooth, and Volume Up/Down buttons, along with two curved rows of Color and Intensity buttons for manually controlling the Pulse’s lighting. A small, flat rubber line runs down the length of the speaker, offering a surface to set the cylinder on its side without rolling, and providing a space for the micro USB charging port and 3.5mm audio input. The speaker lacks the handy D-ring on top the similarly priced, similar-sounding UE Boom has, which is a shame because hanging the Pulse and using it as a sound lantern/party light would be just as much fun as setting it on a table.
When you turn the Pulse on, you get treated to a light show. An array of colored LEDs behind the grille light up and glow in different colors, and you can choose its color and brightness by pressing the buttons on the top of the speaker. You can also cycle through five different light presets by pressing the Light button, switching between colorful lighting modes like a visual equalizer of the music that’s playing or a gently shifting rainbow. The effect is something of a high-tech lava lamp, with colorful, bright patterns that shift at your whim. (While it’s bright, it’s still accent lighting; don’t expect to use this as a lamp.) It’s very pretty, and surprisingly flexible with its different lighting effects.
If you have an iOS device, you can customize the lighting even more with the free JBL Music app. The app lets you load additional lighting modes, shuffling out your favorite new effects to replace the five you can cycle through on the speaker, or just activate them directly through the app. You can also adjust the speed and intensity of the different effects, providing greater control than the speaker’s buttons.
The Pulse gets surprisingly loud for its large-beer-can-shape, though it suffers in the low end. It brought out impressive midrange and low-mid detail, such as in the thumpy guitar of The Offspring’s “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid,” and the mix of intentionally grainy-sounding horns and drums and electronic processing effects in Caravan Palace’s “Dramophone.” However, it faltered on our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” cutting off the deep bass synth notes far higher than they usually reach and reproducing the kick drum with a distinct poppiness that leaned toward distortion.
For volume, the Pulse is very impressive, but for clarity it doesn’t quite reach the levels of the Bose SoundLink Mini. It’s comparable to the UE Boom, another cylinder-shaped, large beer can-sized speaker with the aforementioned D-ring for hanging but lacking the nifty light show. Its bass reach is just as modest, and neither offer the warmth or detail in the low end of the SoundLink Mini.
Still, the JBL Pulse is the ultimate small-sized party speaker thanks to its unique light show. It’s mesmerizing enough to make us accept its $200 price tag despite falling short of class-leading sound quality. It does sounds good, though, and the sound balances well with the flashing, customizable lights to make the Pulse a compelling choice for a portable speaker. The Bose SoundLink Mini is still the superior product, but the Pulse works well enough and looks interesting enough to justify a place at your next gathering.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc