Bluesound PULSE Soundbar + PULSE SUB

PULSE Soundbar
Device Type: (more than a) Soundbar
Input: Gigabit Ethernet RJ45, 802.11 b/g/n WiFi, USB 1 x Type-A (Fat32 Formatted) port for connection to USB memory sticks and supported peripherals, 1 x Type-B (mini) for product servicing, Optical, RCA Line In, aptX Bluetooth wireless built-in
Output: Subwoofer out (RCA), Subwoofer out (wireless for BluOS subs only)
Dimensions: 1073mm x 141mm x 70mm (42.25” x 5.5” x 2.75”)
Weight: 15 lbs / 6.8 kg
Price: $999.00

PULSE SUB
Device Type: Subwoofer
Input: Low/Line Level, LFE, 2.4GHz proprietary link
Output: Low/Line Leve
Controls: Volume Control, Variable Frequency, Variable Phase 0º - 180º, Standby Control Switch, Pairing Mode Switch
Dimensions: 447mm x 285mm x 122mm (17.6” x 11.25” x 4.8”)
Weight: 15.25 lbs
Price: $599.00

Availability: Authorized Dealers and Online
Website: www.bluesound.com

Just Don't Call Me Late To Dinner
To call the Bluesound PULSE Soundbar a soundbar is like calling the iPhone a phone. What the Bluesound PULSE Soundbar really is, is an all-in-one music and movie sound system (well, you can add a sub and multiroom stuff with other Bluesound devices). Why review a soundbar? Didn't I just say it doesn't make sense to call it a soundbar?

How about some Specs for starters?

Supported File Formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, ALAC, OPUS
Hi-Res formats: FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, Dolby Digital
Native Sampling Rates: 32 - 192 kHz
Bit Depths: 16 - 24
Frequency Response: +/_ 1dB 70Hz - 20kHz, 3dB down @ 55Hz,
With Sub: +/_ 1dB 30Hz - 20kHz, 3dB down @ 25Hz
Distortion: THD+N - 0.030% Power Output: 120 watts of DirectDigital power
Speakers: Tweeter : 2 x 3/4” (19mm) Soft Dome, Mid-Range : 2 x 2” (50mm) Treated Paper Cone, Rubber Surround, Woofer : 2 x 4” (102mm) Rubber Surround
Supported Operating Systems: Plays music from network shares on the following desktop operating systems: Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, Vista 7-10 Apple Macintosh 7-10
Free Internet Radio: TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Calm Radio, Radio Paradise
Supported Cloud Services: WiMP, Slacker Radio, Qobuz, HighResAudio, JUKE, Deezer, Murfie, HDTracks, Spotify, TIDAL, Napster, Microsoft Groove (with OneDrive), Classics Online, KKBox
The ARM Cortex - A9, 1 GHz-equipped Pulse 'bar also supports full MQA decoding, which means that you'll get the full native resolution of the original MQA-encoded file. Since Tidal HiFi now includes MQA titles, a few thousand at present, and the Pulse supports Tidal, you can stream high-res. Neat-O.

There are a host of user-defined and separate "Listening Modes" for TV, Music, and Movies accessed from the very user-friendly free Bluesound app (for iOS and Android devices. I used my iPhone). Modes include Wide Mode (off, wide, wider), Enhanced Dialog (off, low, high), Late Night (on/off), Deep Bass (on/off or disabled when using a sub), Lip Sync Delay (0 ms - 150 ms), Treble (-6 dB - 6 dB), Bass (-6 dB - 6dB), Subwoofer (on/off), Subwoofer Delay (0 ms - 20 ms), Subwoofer Volume (-6 dB - 6 dB), and Boost.

The SUB also houses its own hard (as in real, i.e. not software) controls up top (Crossover, Phase, on/off/auto, volume) hidden under a squishy rubber cover. The Pulse Soundbar's inputs sit in a cavity in the center/back and the connectors face down. While some may fret over this, I find that plugging things in once, however difficult, does not represent a hardship. [from Bluesound: "The Pulse Soundbar is symmetrical and can be oriented with the connectors facing either up or down. The Sounbar’s electronics sense position and set the left/right channels correctly in both positions." oops, Ed.]

Both Pulse (Pulses?) are hefty and well-built, the Bluesound way. They are also rather stealth in appearance. The 'bar's only adornment is a centered LED that changes color depending on what it's doing (detailed in the manual). The 'bar comes with little feet for standing it on something but if I owned one, I'd wall mount it with the included wall mount bracket. I would not, however, wall mount the SUB with its included bracket, preferring my sub on the floor. Seeing as it connects to the Pulse wirelessly, it can sit damn near anywhere.

detail: the SUB with the snap-on grill unsnapped

Of course if you have other Bluesound devices scattered about your home (and they to each other via WiFi), you can control them all from within the Bluesound app which includes the ability to group any and all of them so they play the same music, or not. Neat-O.

For this review, the Pulse lives in our house proper and sat on an old rust-red desk directly under our kinda big Vizio TV. The shootout compared the oh-so-new with oh-so-vintage with a dash of new; our house system includes a pair of Altec Valencias (c.1967) powered by a Leben CS300XS integrated (tube-based) integrated amplifier, using the ELAC Discovery (see review) as source (mainly Tidal). Kinda like John Henry of folklore.

How Does a Soundbar Sound
Regular readers know that I like the sound of Bluesound products and the Pulse Soundbar and SUB carry on this tradition. While not offering the last word in ultimate resolution, who really wants that anyway, the Pulse gives you big, meaty, and fun. For music, we listened to lots during the Pulse visit, this means hours and hours of fatigue-free fun and you can tweak the sound of Pulse to suit you. I will now spend the next 5 paragraphs painfully detailing all of the changes in sound I heard by twiddling with the tone controls and SUB settings.

Kidding! Since you can do this yourself, why bother except to say that you can in fact tweak the sound of the Pulse(s) to your liking, dialing in more/less bass, treble, etc. For movies, we did find the Enhanced Dialog set to Low to come in handy because it made movie dialog easier to follow. I also like to pump up the bass in movie-mode so when the aliens blow up the White House it shakes our house, too.

Ryuichi Sakamoto's lovely async is just one new title in Tidal Masters (MQA) and it sounded just lovely in our house. While you don't get the same kind of visceral stereo separation as you get from the Altecs standing roughly 7' apart, the Pulse does a good job trompe l'ear stereo, sounding bigger than its dimensions in every dimension. As a matter of fact, I'd nearly call the Pulse's sound big without qualification other than to say the 1934 Western Electrics I heard in Munich present a good argument against that point. There's big and then there's big.

Beyonce's Lemonade, another new(ish) record available in streaming Tidal/MQA quality was badass and yes, I pumped up the volume of the SUB to booty-shaking levels. That's probably more information than you wanted but, hey, it's true. "Don't Hurt Yourself" scared the dogs out of the room. Show Me the Body's Corpus I had them running for the hills.

Ellie

But seriously, sitting on our couch when no one else was home listening to Corpus I at unfriendly levels was pure enjoyment and Ellie actually leapt up onto my lap and licked my face as if to say, "Is everything OK?".

Golijov's "Azul" from the album of the same name, another new release that's available in Tidal/MQA was impressive; after I re-tweaked the settings from Corpus I's darkness, things were all light and airy and, well, spacious with lots of drama. I did miss the Altec's fatter midrange, think bigger, and there's really no way around a physically larger speaker's physically larger sound, but all things considered, having a one-bar solution hanging on your wall with a SUB somewhere outta sight is a really nice alternative to physically larger when talking about living in a house.

I don't watch much TV, can we still call it TV?, but I do watch movies, lots of movies, and we all know that TV's sound like shit. They sound like the sound is emanating from a tiny reverberant black hole sound-killing device about the size of an acorn housed in a damped-to-death lead-lined box somewhere in the bowls of the TV. So yea, the Bluesound Pulse(s) crushed that shit. In so doing, it made watching movies more fun. A lot more fun. I dare say more than $999 + $599 worth-O-fun. Boom!

I did not compare the Pulse(s) to any other soundbars because I have no interest in soundbars.

Which Way To the Bar?
The way I see it, the Bluesound Pulse soundbar has a few uphill battles to win. Most audiophiles will cringe at the word and most non-audiophiles won't really get it; not without actually experiencing what the Pulse(s) can and do do.

What I'm here to tell you is that labels, like audiophile, non-audiophile, and soundbar, get in the way of fun. If you want to get better sound for your music, movies, and TV in one box (bar) + SUB for earth- and booty- shaking ability, you should check out the Bluesound Pulse + SUB. If you're listening through your TV's acorn, you'll be smiling all the way to the White House.


Also in-use during the Pulse(s) review: Altec Valencia, Leben CS300XS, ELAC Discovery

Associated Equipment