Monday, January 27, 2014

JBL Pulse: Fancy lighting effects don’t make up for average sound quality


Bluetooth speakers make the perfect companion for that weekend getaway and of late, we’ve seen a flurry of new models sporting NFC compatibility. We’ve already reviewed a bunch of them, right from the Creative Airwave HD to the Jabra Solemate mini. Today, we have a new contender from JBL called Pulse. This Bluetooth speaker system promises to be feast for the senses – both aurally and visually. With a multitude of lighting effects and patterns, does the Pulse sound as good as it looks? Let’s find out.
Design and features
The JBL Pulse is designed like a capsule or an elongated grenade if you will. Both ends are encased in a protective rubber housing, that’s resilient enough to withstand the elements. The speaker can be placed upright or on its side. There are a bunch of physical buttons on the top for ‘Power’ and ‘Volume’ while the rest of the buttons are capacitive. One side of the ring lets you control the intensity of the lights while the other lets you change the colour. You can also randomize the colours if you want with one of the buttons.
The Pulse is easy to carry around and build to last

The bottom portion houses the NFC chip. This lets you quickly pair your NFC-enabled device with the speaker. The horizontal rubber footrest also houses the microUSB port, auxiliary-in and an indicator for the battery level. This comes in handy to check the battery when charging the Pulse as well. The Pulse houses two 40mm full-range drivers and there’s even a provision for a bass port for a punchier low end. None of these things are actually visible through the metal mesh though, surrounding the speaker.

The audio drivers in the Pulse have a frequency range of 105Hz to 20,000Hz and a signal-to-noise ratio of 80dB. There’s a built amplifier as well to boost the audio being transmitted over the air. There’s also built-in battery which promises 5-hours of music playback, with the lights on. The one feature that’s missing is a built-in microphone, which is commonly found on other Bluetooth speakers. The package contains a charging cable and power adapter. There’s no stereo cable or carrying pouch bundled along. Another feature that’s missing is the ability to connect to multiple sources at the same time, something we really liked in the Airwave HD.
The lights and other functions can be controlled from here
The lights and other functions can be controlled from here

Pairing the speaker with your phone is a hassle-free experience. The audio performance differs greatly from phone to phone however. The Pulse sounded terrible when paired with a XOLO Q900 but sounded better when paired with something like the HTC One. Of course, the audio quality is at its best when you use the wired auxiliary connection. The dual drivers manage to produce good highs and mids but the lower frequency range is severely lacking. There’s no audible slam in the bass, which takes the whole fun out of listening to trance or hip hop. The audio also tends to get shrill and muddy at very high volumes. The built-in amp does a fairly good job of boosting the volume which does give you room-filling sound, but overall audio quality is average at best.
Some additional connectors are placed on the side
Some additional connectors are placed on the side

The highlight of this speaker however is the light show and you can have some good fun with this. You can choose between different patterns and colours or just randomize them. The intensity of the light can also be adjusted and you can switch it off altogether if needed. With the lights on, we managed to get close to the rated 5-hours of battery life. You could optionally switch it off and essentially double the battery life. Unfortunately, the light doesn’t really emanate too much from the speaker so if you were thinking about turning your room into a dance floor with the Pulse, you’re in for a disappointment. After a while, the light show stops being entertaining, as is the case with most novelty features on products.

At a price tag of Rs 14,990, the JBL Pulse feels quite expensive for what is essentially a pretty average sounding Bluetooth speaker with some lights. Features like a built-in microphone and the ability to pair multiple devices are also missing. It seems like the light show is merely a distraction from the otherwise average audio quality. A good (and much cheaper) alternative to the Pulse which has all its features is the Jabra Solemate mini. It’s highly portable and delivers very good audio quality for its size.

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