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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
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.
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.
Unlike the Flip, the Pulse charges via a standard Micro-USB connection instead of using a AC adapter, which is easy to misplace (the Charge recharges via standard USB as well).
Battery life is rated at 10 hours for audio only and 5 hours if you fire up the light show. There's no speakerphone capability, but you do get NFC, the tap-to-pair option for devices that support it, and JBL has a free iOS app, JBL Music. The app isn't required to use the product, but it gives you a little more control of playback and allows you to create the aforementioned custom light themes (alas, there's currently no Android app, so Android users can't create custom themes yet, but that really isn't a big deal because the preprogrammed light shows are fine).
In this price range you'll find the
I tended to keep the volume around the midway point and was pretty pleased. Even at more modest levels it does a decent job of filling a small room with sound. If you want to fill a larger room, you'll just have to play around with placement and ratchet up the volume to a point where it doesn't push the speaker too hard and make your music sound harsh. It's a delicate balance, especially if you're a critical listener (that said, if you are a critical listener, a lot of these compact Bluetooth speakers just aren't going to cut it for you).
Soundwise, the Pulse matches up pretty well against competing speakers in its price class. Though it doesn't go as deep as the UE Boom, it sounds somewhat more natural, and while it's slightly behind the Bose SoundLink Mini (the SoundLink holds together better at higher volumes), it's not a huge difference.
The X factor is the light show. It may be a gimmick, but it's a good one, and certainly adds another dimension to the listening experience. Not everyone will like it, but combined with the speaker's decent sound, it makes the Pulse a worthy contender in a crowded market.