JBL Pulse portable Bluetooth speaker review: The mobile speaker with a built-in light show

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.0
  • Design: 9.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Sound quality: 7.0
  • Value: 8.0

Average User Rating

3 stars 1 user review
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The JBL Pulse is a compact wireless Bluetooth speaker that delivers good sound for its size and distinguishes itself with an integrated light show with preprogrammed and customizable themes. The built-in rechargeable battery offers 10 hours of battery for sound only and 5 hours with the light show in effect.

The Bad Can distort at higher volumes with rock tracks and bass-heavy material; no carrying case included.

The Bottom Line It may not sound quite good as some $200 competitors, but the JBL Pulse's integrated light show adds a flashy new dimension to the listening experience that makes it a worthy contender in a crowded market.

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The portable Bluetooth speaker market is very crowded these days, with a lot of products that don't sound all that different from one another. It's nice then to come across a product like JBL's Pulse, which attempts to shake things up by throwing a multi-LED light show into the mix.

At least in shape, the Pulse has a similar design to JBL's highly rated Flip and Charge Bluetooth speakers, but it's covered with a metal mesh grille that, when combined with the lights underneath, makes you think it's capable of killing mosquitoes (now there would be a great dual-purpose Bluetooth speaker if there ever was one).

It plays a little louder than the $150 Charge (it's a 2 x 6-watt speaker versus 2 x 5W for the Charge) and sounds a little better, with slightly better bass response (the Pulse extends down to 100Hz, versus 150Hz on Charge). However, it doesn't offer as much battery life as the Charge, which incorporates a USB port for charging mobile devices.

The Flip is a $99 speaker, while the Pulse is $199.95. You're not going to get double the sound quality, but you are getting a much flashier speaker -- literally. Of course, not everyone is going to love the visual element, but I found the light show fairly mesmerizing, even without smoking anything.

In living color: the Pulse's light show in action (click image to enlarge). Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as that lighting goes, there are a few different preprogrammed modes to choose from and you can go with a custom light theme and control the brightness -- or just turn off the LEDs altogether and listen to the Pulse as to a standard wireless Bluetooth speaker. What's also kind of cool is that when you raise and lower the volume you'll see it reflected on the speaker.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Color Black
  • Nominal (RMS) Output Power 12 Watt
  • Speaker Type Portable Bluetooth speaker
  • Wireless Technology Bluetooth
  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology Wired
    Wireless