JBL Pulse portable Bluetooth speaker review:

The mobile speaker with a built-in light show

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MSRP: $199.99

JBL Pulse

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CNET Editors' Rating

1 user review

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.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Sound 7.0
  • Value 8.0

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.

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).

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