Bluesound Pulse Flex review: Flexible in name, flexible in nature

The Good The Bluesound Pulse Flex offers a wealth of features and high-quality sound in a compact package. The shortcut buttons enable you to play music if you've misplaced your phone. The optional battery adds much needed, and still relatively unique, mobility.

The Bad It's more expensive than some competitors, the speaker isn't able to go very loud and sound quality is worse than the competitive Sonos product. The optional battery runs out whether playing music or not. No support for Pandora.

The Bottom Line The Bluesound Pulse Flex is a slice of streaming hi-fi in an affordable package with an optional battery, but Sonos is better at a cheaper price.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 10
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

If you're into hi-fi, you probably already know the names NAD and PSB (AV electronics and speakers, respectively), but you may not have heard of Bluesound. An offshoot of those two respected marques, it specializes in streaming audio products.

At $300 (£299, AU$699) the Bluesound Pulse Flex is least expensive speaker in its lineup, and it offers a lot for the money. The two-way speaker is relatively compact at 4 inches wide by 7.2 inches tall and 5 inches deep. It can either work on its own or be combined with another to create a stereo pair. Connectivity trumps most budget wireless speakers, with Bluetooth, a 3.5mm analog/optical input, Wi-Fi and Ethernet, USB and a headphone output.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Five shortcut buttons, as well as a set of playback and volume controls, sit atop the speaker. While the Flex lacks a power button you can hold down the Play button for 5 seconds to set it in Vacation Mode.

Like the Denon HEOS 1, the Pulse Flex can also be fitted with an optional portable battery, the $80 BP100. In my tests with the battery, the speaker was able to play CD-quality files at medium volume for the claimed 6 hours. I did find that if you have the unit unplugged, and not in Vacation mode, the player will power down at the same rate even if it isn't playing anything,

The Bluesound app features a color scheme known in the industry as "none more black", and it is relatively easy to use. Streaming services include Spotify Connect, iHeartRadio, Tidal and Qobuz (UK). The one standout that isn't supported is Pandora for whatever reason, though of course you can still stream over Bluetooth. Users can also listen to music in qualities up to 24-bit/192kHz, and the player also has native Roon Ready and MQA support.

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