STEREO GUIDE Verdict
+ unique light play effects
+ 360-degree sound for identical playback from all directions
+ dry kick bass on electronic beats, especially with boost via equalizer
- small sound stage, undifferentiated, slightly discolored voice reproduction
- especially with rock music, the bass lags behind competitors of the same size
Sound: neutrality / transparency7.5
Sound: Bass / Dynamics6.9
Practice / Connectivity9.5
In terms of dimensions and technical specifications, the Pulse 5 and the JBL Charge 5, which we already had in review, seem to be very similar. If you ignore the slightly higher weight of the JBL Pulse 5 and its Plexiglas case with a semi-transparent inner cylinder. This is also the unique selling point: an all-round light show with various colors and patterns that goes far beyond the flashing of the light organ competitors with their individually appearing LEDs. The effect looks much more plastic and organic than the Pulse1 and Pulse 2.
Accordingly, you pay a hefty surcharge for this feature. In return, the Pulse 5 also looks good in the home. It can only stand upright, and rather assumes the function of a multimedia lava lamp in the youth room of the 21st century. Or a particularly light-friendly party speaker for on the go that is also pleasantly waterproof and protected against dirt (IP67). With a total weight of 1.5 kg and a small carrying strap, the Pulse 5 is also sufficiently mobile.
Classic sound technology with two paths
Despite the ‘focus’ on the lighting technology, JBL installs a sophisticated sound technology, which, however, differs in configuration, arrangement and dimensioning from the Charge 5. A fully active 2-way arrangement with a 1.6 cm tweeter and a 6.4 cm low-midrange driver is found in the Pulse 5 in an unusual location: the two drivers sit facing upwards under a plastic grille decorated with JBL logos. Two Class D amplifiers fire the two drivers with 30 and 10 watts, respectively.
Experience shows that the fully active separation brings an extra clarity when the woofer is already running at its limit. To prevent this from happening so quickly, another passive membrane in the base area supports the lower bass range. JBL allows itself the luxury of giving the bass radiator an LED light ring. To allow light and sound to escape sideways, the Bluetooth speaker stands on three legs made of rubberized plastic.
Pay attention to the lineup
It is therefore recommended to place the Pulse 5 on a stable and vibration-proof surface. Sand is therefore just as inadvisable as uneven ground or a camping chair. The active chassis of the Pulse 5 tend to radiate upwards. Placement on high shelves is therefore also not recommended.
The playback is done via Bluetooth 5.3 – and that is also the only playback option. According to the manufacturer, the battery lasts up to 12 hours, and recharging is done via USB-C. Those who value maximum playback time should deactivate the Pulse 5’s illumination via the app or by pressing the light button on the case’s back for a longer time.
Operation, light organ and app
The PartyBoost feature allows you to pair multiple JBL Pulse 5s, but true stereo operation can also be accomplished with a pair of these Bluetooth speakers. The JBL Portable App for iOS or Android, which is available free of charge, not only enables interconnection, but also controls the light gel and light pattern functions of the Pulse 5. The app also hides the 3-band equalizer that is customary for JBL.
The control panel on the device can only handle selected functions that are needed in the field. Nevertheless, it is different from most of the competitors. JBL does without buttons to control playback or change the volume. Apparently, the developers think that these functions can be controlled more easily via the smartphone or tablet. You can also permanently track the charge state there, because the LED indicator bar on the back of the box only lights up when it is turned on and off or when the 7,500 mAh battery’s power reserves are very low.
The control panel on the unit handles most of the functions needed in the field. This can be used to switch between six preset light programs or to switch the lighting off completely by holding down the button. To modify the light effects with the promising names – “Nature”, “Weather”, “Spiritual”, “Cocktail” and “Canvas” of course “Party” – to your own taste to an undreamt-of extent, you then have to fire up the app.
Meditate in a different way
The Pulse 5’s idiosyncratic concept even includes nature sounds stored in the JBL Portable app that can be adjusted in volume. For example, you can select campfire under the light mode “Nature” and set the typical crackling in the sound menu “Ambient Sounds” and really switch off from everyday life with the somewhat different Bluetooth speaker without any music.
This is how the portable light specialist sounds
To be quite honest, the obscure design with the transparent, all-around illuminated plastic case makes you wonder why you can listen to music with the Pulse 5 at all. However, the light show impressions do take a toll. Thus, conventional Bluetooth speakers of similar size sound fuller and more differentiated in the bass. The discolorations in the voice range are also a bit higher than usual in this class. The JBL even sounds more colorated and less nuanced here than the much more compact Marshall Emberton 2, not to say a bit more artificial.
However, the Pulse also does some things really well. Thus, although it creates a relatively small image without the feeling of spatial depth, it really sounds completely identical from every direction. And electronic beats like hip hop kick dry as dust and with emphasis, although the bass is not very lush overall. For rock music with natural drums, the JBL Pulse 5 seems rather thin and undifferentiated. But woe betide if you serve him really fat electro beats, then he turns into a party animal that still puts on a good show at higher volumes.
If you then use the PartyBoost function to connect several of these snazzy Bluetooth speakers together, you can definitely provide sound for a small party. However, the equalizer cannot be used in PartyBoost mode, which is a pity insofar as the bass control can increase the somewhat slack low-frequency performance without showing signs of being overloaded.
Alternatives to the JBL Pulse 5
The Pulse 5’s all-around light graphics cannot be matched by any competitor in its class. Those who value versatile lighting with all the tricks should buy the JBL Pulse 5 without a second thought. Those who are satisfied with less light culture and glamour for a more affordable budget should look at the Sony SRS-XB33 or consider the Tronsmart Halo 100. In terms of sound, the singing lava lamp can be topped for considerably less money. But if the eye is listening, the JBL Pulse is pricelessly cool.
JBL Pulse 5 specifications
- Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: 250 Euro
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 10.7 x 21.6 x 13.2 cm
- Weight: 1,5 kg
- Battery life up to 12 hours
- Features: waterproof/dustproof to IP67, all-around light show, JBL Party Boost.
- More at: jbl.com