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JBL Pulse 2 review: A great-sounding Bluetooth speaker that really lights up a room

As far as other extras go, there's a built-in speakerphone -- it works pretty well -- but the Pulse 2 doesn't have the USB charging feature of JBL's Charge line of speakers, nor does it offer that model's better battery life. It's rated at 10 hours for sound only (that's pretty good) and about 5 hours with the light show on.

Close-up of the prism sensor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

JBL's upcoming Charge 3 speaker is larger than the Charge 2+ we reviewed in 2015 and does offer more bass. This Pulse 2 is comparable to the Charge 2+ in terms of performance, and is among the best sounding compact Bluetooth speakers, with decent bass for its size and good detail.

If you're looking for differences between this model and the original Pulse, the first thing you'll notice is that JBL has upped the number of LEDs and increased the resolution of the light show, so to speak -- the wire mesh covering the speaker is much finer on this model.

As for sound, my gripe with the earlier Pulse was that it distorted at high volumes. This one offers a little better bass, holds together better at high volumes and sounds better overall. However, the digital signal processor (DSP) does clip the frequencies as the speaker gets overloaded with music from more complicated tracks. It essentially ratchets back certain frequencies, restraining the speaker's volume.

With all these small speakers, you can only push them so hard before they distort. But the trick is to find a balance between making a speaker sound loud for its size and not having it distort too much. With the Charge2+, Flip 3 and now this Pulse 2, JBL has found a pretty good balance.

If you do want to augment the sound, there is a way to do it: You can wirelessly pair two Pulse 2s together (the speakers' sound and light shows are synced but you can't make a stereo right and left pair). By pairing the speakers you don't get more bass and better detail, but you do get more sound that covers a wider area, particularly if you place the speakers several feet apart.

Light up your life

Yes, you'll pay more for the light show, but at around $170 online, the Pulse 2 is well worth the extra dough and is a good value at that price.

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