JBL Pulse 5 Review: Fun to Look at and Listen to
Like e-readers, Bluetooth speakers are the apotheosis of a product form. It’s a disposable product that turns on and off and does exactly what you want it to – nothing more, nothing less. A portable Bluetooth speaker works anytime, with any phone, anywhere. No need to find an outlet or have the right cord. It works with Android and iOS. You don’t even need WiFi.
Smart speaker makers have gone to great lengths to capture our imaginations. And it kind of worked; My kids occasionally ask Siri questions, but mostly they ignore the existence of the HomePod Mini.
You can’t ignore the JBL Pulse 5. The styling of this thing makes that impossible. When I got it, I put it in the middle of the kitchen table, turned it on and watched the kids circle around it with oohs and aahs.
It’s a beautiful 8.5 inch tall tube with an LED display shining through a smooth clear skin. It’s basically a lava lamp playing music. You’ve never seen pure joy until you saw 10 second graders run through your house, turn off all the house lights, and run wild around this thing while you listen to Katy Perry. The price is outrageous, especially when compared to other similarly sized speakers, but the Pulse 5 might be worth the cost for the fun extras it packs alone.
Never break the chain
The Pulse 5 is the latest entry in the JBL range of portable, lighted Bluetooth speakers. It’s slightly larger than 2019’s Pulse 4, among a few other differences. It has a thick, comfortable strap and a slightly better build quality — a dust and waterproof IP67 rating, compared to the Pulse 4’s IPX7, which is only rated against water immersion . (That’s a good thing as I just inspected and found my crayons smashed in the upper membrane.)
The Pulse 5 also features Bluetooth 5.3, meaning it can connect to multiple phones. It can also be connected to other JBL Bluetooth speakers via JBL’s PartyBoost. The feature is incredibly easy to use. Just press the Bluetooth connect button on both JBL speakers you want to pair and the two will sync instantly. You can pair two JBL speakers together for stereo sound, or add more speakers so they all play the same thing. JBL claims you can daisy chain 100+ speakers wirelessly, but I haven’t been able to test that claim.
Here’s the first feature where the price starts to justify itself. Only certain JBL speakers support PartyBoost – unfortunately my beloved Clip 4 doesn’t. However, I found a dusty 2019 Flip 5 in my gear closet and it worked! If you’re a longtime JBL fan, you might as well be able to instantly create stereo sound by pairing this new speaker with your old one.
Most of the speaker’s surface is clear plastic with a lighted tube inside. The speaker membranes are located at the top and bottom. The Pulse 5 also has high feet that are comfortably squishy, making it a positive pleasure to set down on hard surfaces. (Hey, I’ll take what I can get.) The speaker moves metric tons air, and it can get very noisy. House filling loud.
The upper registers of the audio spectrum aren’t as clear or punchy as other speakers of this size – or even the year-old Flip 5 – but it’s hard to hold that against a “party” speaker. Nicola Benedetti’s Vivaldi recordings sound strangely stifled, even when I crank up the treble on the app. But you know, I don’t just listen to concerts on this thing at home alone. Robert Palmer just sounds good.
What really won me over are the lights. Backlit speakers can be a cheesy gimmick – I’ve tried versions where a minimal, colored, pulsing ring of light added virtually no value to the speaker. But the Pulse 5 is beautiful. You can customize the lighting experience in the JBL Portable app by turning on or off the main panel lighting as well as the lights emerging from below.
https://www.wired.com/review/jbl-pulse-5/ JBL Pulse 5 Review: Fun to Look at and Listen to