Bluesound PULSE

Device Type: Portable Network Player
Input: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, USB Type A (for USB storage), Toslink, Bluetooth (with optional dongle)
Dimensions: 10.5" x 7.5" x 7.75"
Weight: 13.5 lbs
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $699.00

A Portable Network Player
Networked music on the go? From room to room and deck to driveway? The Bluesound Pulse is a portable player albeit one that is not battery powered that lets you connect to your network attached storage and the Internet for streaming either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi and play back up to 24/192 files. Throw in Bluetooth connectivity through an optional dongle and you have the world of music coming and going through one device.

The Pulse incorporates an 80W (total power) bi-amplified Direct-Digital Amplifier as found in NAD's Masters Series products, a 35-bit/844kHz DAC, 2x 2.75" full range drivers, and 1x 5.75" long throw woofer designed by PSB for a claimed frequency response of 45Hz - 20kHz. Like the other Bluesound products, the Pulse supports MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and AIFF file formats as well as gapless playback. You use the Bluesound app for iOS or Android devices to control playback and there are also rudimentary controls on the unit's top including Next and Back which relate to the current playlist in the app, as well as up/down volume controls. Available streaming services (depending on where you live) include Deezer, JUKE, Qobuz, Rdio, Slacker, TuneIn, and WiMP.

The Pulse carries on the basic design elements of the other Bluesound devices, coming in your choice of high gloss white or black each embellished with brushed steel accents. There's a recess up top that doubles as a handy handle making the Pulse easy to take on the go although keep in mind it needs to be plugged in for power. I'd suggest checking out my other Bluesound reviews including the Vault (see review), Powernode/Duo (see review), and Node (see review) to get a full picture of what the different Bluesound devices have to offer.

I'd also recommend reading those reviews to get a fuller picture of the Bluesound app which I'll touch on briefly here. When using multiple Bluesound devices, the app easily lets you Group them so they play the same music or you can operate them independently. I used the Pulse and Node together so you can see that they each show up in the app in the screenshot above. You can view your music collection by Album, Artist, Song, and New (as in newly added) as well as search which begins to return results as you type. Playback is based on Playlists which you can create on the fly or save. You can also add an album or track to a playlist by simply tapping on it and you can reorder the current playlist, edit selections, or play the entire thing in Shuffle mode.

Since I had the Node already set up and my NAS-based music library loaded into the Bluesound app, all I needed to do to get the Pulse working was plug it in and connect it to my Wi-Fi network. I figured Wi-Fi was the way to go with the Pulse but you can also connect via Ethernet as well as feed it files through its USB input (FAT 32 formatted). Using my iPad, I browsed to Wi-Fi in the Settings menu and selected the Pulse. I then opened the Bluesound app, selected the Pulse, Configure Player > Configure Wi-Fi and all I had to do was enter my Wi-Fi password. Once you hit Enter, you'll see the speaker icon on the Pulse's top which has been lit up green begin to blink. Once it connects to your network it turns blue and you're ready to roll.

Pulse Pounding
I have limited experience with portable players. We have an old iHome device, don't blame me, that sounds about as good as the speaker in my iPhone underwater only louder, and I've had the Logitech UE Smart Radio (see review) here for review which sounded pleasant if small, and I've heard a number of players including the B&W A7, Pioneer A3, and even a Jambox or two at friend's homes. While the B&W and Pioneer seemed to hint at better sound, to say that I've been non-plussed is putting it mildly. Although the Jambox, price considered, was not offensive.

So you could also say that my expectations for the Bluesound Pulse were not very high which is always a good thing in hi-fi as well as in many of life's endeavors. The first thing I played through the Pulse was the gorgeous sounding 24/88.2 A Calm in the Fire of Dances from Deep Rumba (available from HDtracks) and the opening number "Cubana"'s solo sax had me sit up and pay attention. And this was well off axis. The sound coming from the little Pulse sounded very much like a saxophone, a tenor saxophone, and not like a kazoo! I continued on with the entirety of A Calm in the Fire of Dances and remained impressed with the Pulse's ability to deliver a goodly amount of its delightful sounds and voices.

Bass response, which Bluesound claims extends down to 45Hz, surpasses many of the desktop speakers I've had here for review. So you get some decent thump from the Pulse along with a fair amount of acoustic bass' color and texture. I would not describe the Pulse's bass as boomy but it is on the fatter side. Of course what the Pulse does not do is the kind of stereo separation you get from separate speakers so I get to skip talking about the "soundstage" which is a welcome reprieve (although you can set up two Pulse's in left/right configuration). I imagine the Pulse living in places like kitchens, studies, workshops, decks, and yes even in driveways when washing your car, as opposed to being set up in a listening room environment where stereo sound is nice to have in all of its spacial effects glory.

I played high resolution files up to 24/192 without a hitch as long I was in healthy range of my Wi-Fi network which meant approximately 25 feet from the router more or less. Your mileage will most certainly vary. I also streamed Internet radio using TuneIn and with the optional dongle streamed some songs from my iPhone via Bluetooth. I find Bluetooth to be a very useful feature in a device like the Pulse since I can easily see it being used in party scenarios where other people may want to play their music too. A few simple taps on their smartphone and they're streaming through your Pulse in no time. Nice.

I also set up the Pulse in my main listening room which is 12 x 14 x 9' and it had no trouble filling this space with music. I was also surprised at how good the Pulse sounded off axis, even well off axis, making listening while moving around the room devoid of much sonic penalty. I would also classify the Pulse's sound as falling on the darker and richer side, which is something I've said about each of the Bluesound devices. This voicing strikes me as being listener friendly encouraging extended listening sessions.

An Impressive Pulse
If you're keeping a Bluesound scorecard, you'll have noticed that they're batting darn near 1000 when it comes to listening fun. I find the voicing of the Bluesound devices to be musically engaging and the Pulse is no exception. If you'd like to add a network and Bluetooth-capable portable player to your home hi-fi arsenal, the Pulse delivers very capable sound along with a great app in a nice compact package.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Bluesound Pulse review: Bluesound Node

jazz and cocktails's picture

with the overall bluesound ecosystem- seems very well thought out. i recall a while back, maybe in a review from CES, you had mentioned seeing a system that included a BLS Vault, NAD D7050, and PSB Imagine Ts. this would have made a great system for someone to display for the Montreal SSI show's sub $5k display.