By Matthew J Poes on Sep 9, 2018 at 5:52 PM
  1. Matthew J Poes

    Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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    Bluesound Pulse 2 Streaming Wireless Speaker Hands-on Review

    Manufacturer & Model:
    Bluesound Pulse 2 Streaming Wireless Speaker
    MSRP:
    $699
    Link:
    http://www.bluesound.com/products/pulse-2/
    Highlights:
    Great sound, deep bass, intuitive app, best in class industrial design
    Summary:
    The Bluesound Pulse 2 is a large wifi speaker using the amazing and intuitive BlueOS app. It has the best industrial design of any of the wifi speakers on the market, really excellent sound quality, shockingly robust deep bass, and for Tidal lovers, a better Tidal experience than Tidal offers. Highly recommended.
    [​IMG]

    The Bluesound Pulse 2 is the largest among the Bluesound speaker line, a series of wireless streaming speakers from Lenbrook. I was sent the Bluesound PULSE 2 as part of a package review with NAD’s C 368
    (read review here). The NAD has BluOS built-in, which allows it to connect to a broader network of audio devices that are all part of the Bluesound family. Reviewing the Pulse 2 at the same time made it possible to see how this all works in practice. It turns out that while Bluesound’s BluOS is great, so is the PULSE 2. The industrial design of this product is among the best I’ve ever seen, it’s quite fetching, and to go with those good looks, this thing rocks like few other wireless speakers on the market.


    Bluesound PULSE 2 Unboxing and Features

    [​IMG]

    As mentioned in my review of the NAD C 368, the Pulse 2’s packaging is impressive. It reminded me of the process of unboxing a modern Apple device, which adds a sense of drama and excitement to the product. It may be a small thing, it may not impact performance, but it does give the perception that it is a high-end product.

    Once unpacked, I was struck by two things. First, the speaker is heavy and surprisingly solid. Second, it’s much better looking than I’d assumed. My sample was white with a silver metal grill, loaded with a lot of subtle details that combine to make for a very classy modern package: an all-white body, a silver machined grill, a polished Bluesound emblem, and a black shiny touch control panel. In my opinion, the Bluesound speakers are the best-looking Wi-Fi speakers on the market. The build quality is equally good, clearly better than other products I’ve used in this segment.

    [​IMG]


    As for the feature-set, it’s a surprisingly feature-packed speaker with capabilities and components that are more sophisticated than most might expect for a wireless table design. Designed by Paul Barton of PSB Speakers, it contains two 2 3/4” aluminum cone full range drivers with a 1” dust cap. When I called Barton to ask about the design, he told me the 1” dust cap acts a bit like a dome tweeter and contributes to its extended high-frequency response. He noted that the speaker measures flat past 20khz even though there are no dedicated tweeters. Between these full range drivers is a sizable 5.25” mid-bass driver that covers bass duty for the left and right speakers, augmented by a pair of ports on either side. The amplifier totals 80 watts, using 3 digital amplifiers which are derived from NAD’s DIRECTDIGITAL technology. In my discussion with Paul Barton, he said the amplifier is more like 100 watts RMS, using less conservative specs, with 25 watts going to each full range and 50 watts going to the mid-bass. Inside the speaker is a small low powered computer containing an ARM Cortex A9 processor, a wireless and wired LAN network card, a Bluetooth receiver with aptX support, and a 35 bit / 855 khz DAC derived from other NAD products. As you can see, this audio beast has the makings for true high-end sound; something you’d expect from an audiophile product, not a wireless speaker.

    Around back you find a combination analog and optical digital input using a 3.5mm connector, an RJ45 network connector, a USB port for thumb drives loaded with music, and an IEC power port. The latter of which shows that the power supply is built in. Who wants to have to hide a power supply with such a beautiful product? The controls use a LED-lit touch panel on the top of the speaker, or the BluOS application.

    The only missing feature on the Pulse 2 is automatic room correction. While bass output was full and well extended, I found it to be a bit boomy in some rooms. Many competing small smart speakers from companies like Apple and Sonos include room correction, and I think this would be a useful add-on to the Bluesound line. Ultimately, this is a minor omission and didn’t impact overall performance.

    [​IMG]


    BluOS? What is this?

    The core of Pulse 2 and associated NAD products is BluOS. Some may wonder why we need another operating system or music player because so many already freely exist. The truth is: few get it right and many companies are still looking to produce the best version of this sort of software. I touched upon this operating system in my NAD C 368 review but decided to give it more attention here. BluOS serves several purposes:
    1. It provides a digital interface to connect with and control all associated devices
    2. It ties varied digital sources together into one system, allowing users to listen to TIDAL, Spotify, TuneIn, HDTracks, your own music on thumb drives or hard drives, etc. without having to select or support the apps separately.
    3. It delivers multi-room capability, letting users move high-end sound into a whole house system all centrally controlled with access to the same music.
    Most of you are probably thinking this is all well and good, but are more curious how it ultimately performs. The quick answer is that BluOS works great and there’s no loss of fidelity with any of the sources used. You can access music across devices and stream them to either the C 368 or the PULSE 2 (or both). The BluOS controller software is available on Apple iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, Microsoft Windows, and Apple OS, ensuring you’re covered with whatever device you have.

    I found the music management capabilities of the software to be intuitive and full-featured. BluOS screens are as simple and snappy as the best of them. I can’t imagine anyone being unhappy with BluOS functionality or its interface – it really is a terrific piece of software. Most of my time was spent using TIDAL and specifically direct access to TIDAL Masters. With the BluOS app, there is a much more intuitive “Masters” button on the front screen as compared to the normal TIDAL app. BluOS is also MQA certified and completely decodes MQA tracks, including TIDAL Master.


    PULSE 2 Listening Sessions

    Since the PULSE 2 was designed to be somewhat portable, allowing users to bring music just about anywhere, it made sense to try it out in several different locations. I set it up in my dining room, kitchen, living room, bedroom, and (mostly) my office. I also set it up alongside the NAD C 368 for a direct comparison to a full-sized system. To summarize: It worked well everywhere I tried it.

    The sound for the PULSE 2 struck me as very full, punctuated by controlled and extended bass. It was shocking just how much bass this speaker could produce; it was truly visceral at times. Who would think that a single 5.25” woofer with a 50-watt amp could produce chest thumping bass? Chalk that up to Paul Barton’s excellent design chops, decades of experience, and the power of modern DSP. Once familiar with the big sound of this compact speaker, its neutral tonal balance and extended highs began to impress. It does produce bass with a bit of a heavy hand, but most people prefer that from smaller speakers, and it has bass and treble tone controls if you don’t like it.
    [​IMG] Overall, the Pulse 2 proved to be a great sounding speaker that tended to play large with refinement. In fact, it plays surprisingly loud and lended a very believable dynamic range for reference-grade music. That volume allowed it to fill a large room with full sound, making it a great option for backyard parties. The only thing it didn’t do well was produce a believable soundstage. Small speakers like this typically can’t produce a soundstage without the use of special DSP tricks as the closely spaced left and right speakers cannot produce the necessary spatial cues. The speaker has a flat neutral and smooth response, commendably low distortion, and bass that solidly extends below 45hz. Very impressive performance overall.

    Listening to “Despacito” showed natural sounding voices, an extended bass response, and how similar the presentation was to that of the NAD C 368 connected to a pair of speakers. It was fully enjoyable. Next, I cued up Sam Smith’s “Too Good at Goodbyes.” This beautiful gospelesque song came through majestically, with all the blue toned soul intact. Charlie Puth’s “How Long” has a nice bass line that was delivered full and dynamic. He has a wonderful falsetto voice and it sounded exceedingly natural on the PULSE 2. I have a hard time believing that anyone would fault this speaker’s musical prowess.

    Who doesn’t enjoy a song with a great rhythm and a hook? Jain’s “Makeba,” used in Levi commercials, is just such a song. Putting on this song and turning the volume up to its halfway point (A good 92dB’s), I privately proceeded to tribal dance around my office, praying in my head that nobody would suddenly bust in and see this embarrassing display of musical enthusiasm. The sound was dynamic, full, clean, and every bit as enjoyable as I’ve ever heard. Many people would be shocked to realize such sound was coming from a speaker that is just 17” long x 8” high, basically the size of a shoebox.

    As a final torture test, I decided to cue up a large orchestral piece: Mozart’s “Requiem: Introitus: Requiem” by the Choir of King’s College. This is a very dynamic and complex musical piece, and many believe this type of music shows the true musical capability of a system’s best. The tonal colors, ambiance, familiar sounds (such as choral voices), and acoustic nature of these recordings make it easier for us to compare against a known reality. The PULSE 2 reproduced this song with all its reality intact. In fact, the speaker sounded much larger than it had with pop music, with the orchestra extending far beyond the speaker itself and the choir filling a good portion of the bookshelf. It didn’t reproduce a realistically large presentation of the recording, but it also did not embarrass itself. Given the Bluesound Pulse 2’s intended purpose, I can happily live without a soundstage.


    CONCLUSION

    I was really impressed by the Bluesound PULSE 2. Its streaming capabilities, sound quality, impressive volume, compact size, and good looks combine to make a compelling speaker. Used on its own or as part of a larger BluOS based streaming system, I can see this speaker making any audiophile happy. It won’t replace a full-sized audiophile system, but that’s not its purpose! The Bluesound Pulse 2 is perfect for the music lover looking for great sound in every room. It offers an intuitive and feature-rich app, significant output, robust bass, and great placement flexibility.


    Specifications

    Supported Audio Formats: MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, ALAC, OPUS, FLAC, MQA, WAV, & AIFF
    Native Sampling Rate 32-192 kHz
    Bit Depths: 16-24
    Frequency Response: 45hz – 20khz
    DAC: 35-bit, 844khz
    Distortion: THD+N – 0.005%
    Speakers: 2 x 2.75”, 1 x 5.25”
    Power Output: 80W Tri-Amplified, DIRECTDIGITAL Amplifier
    Supported Operating Systems: Plays music from network shares on the following desktop operating systems: Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, Vista, 7, 8, Apple Macintosh
    Free Internet Radio: TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Calm Radio, Radio Paradise
    Supported Cloud Services: Amazon Music, WiMP, Slacker Radio, Qobuz, HighResAudio, JUKE, Deezer, Murfie, HDTracks, Spotify, TIDAL, Napster, KKBox
    Integration Partners: Control4, RTI, Crestron, URC, roon
    Album Art: JPG
    Network: Gigabit Ethernet RJ45, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi
    USB: 1x Type-A (Fat32 or NTSF formatted) port for connection to USB memory sticks and supported peripherals, 1x Type-B (mini) for product servicing
    Audio Input: Combo – Toslink/3.5mm
    Audio Output: Headphone output – 3.5mm stereo
    Power: Universal tri-pin AC Cord input (100-240ac)
    Wireless: aptX Bluetooth wireless built-in
    Mobile Interface: Free Android and iOS App Available Online at Google Play and Apple App Store
    Pushbuttons: Simple top-panel touch controls
    Control: IR Sensor built-in – Front panel
    Processor: ARM CORTEX A9, 1GHz
    Unit Weight: 16.5” x 7.8” x 7.55”
    Power Consumption: 14 Watts
     
    tripplej likes this.

Comments

Discussion in 'AV Equipment Reviews' started by Matthew J Poes, Sep 9, 2018.

    1. tripplej

      tripplej AV Enthusiast

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      Very nice. Thanks for the in depth review.
       
    2. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Wow you caught this within moments of me posting. Thanks!
       
      Todd Anderson likes this.
    3. Todd Anderson

      Todd Anderson News Editor / Reviewer/ Senior Admin
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      Matt - great write up. I know Bluesound is excited about it's speaker and how it integrates with BluOS products. Looks like they have a winner on their hands.

      I sure wish there was a single (or, at the max, two) wireless platforms that would allow products from large swaths of manufacturers to work together. Not the case tho.
       
    4. GFOviedo

      GFOviedo Senior Member

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      I’ve got a BlueSound PowerNode G1 in my garage that I used with Spotify. It’s pretty awesome. I wish their app would work like HEOS does. My HEOS enable AVR, can stream from Pandora, Amazon, Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, and others with our problems. I’m stuck using Spotify with BlueSound only. It does support Amazon Music, but I can’t access my playlist.
       
    5. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      you must be using an old version of the app. It works with many more music apps than what you have noted.
      http://www.bluesound.com/music/

      and I believe that apple music is coming soon.
       
    6. GFOviedo

      GFOviedo Senior Member

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      BlueSound has more streaming services non of which I use. My wife likes Pandora and Amazon music. BlueSound doesn’t support Pandora yet. It supports Amazon Music, but not all the features. For example, if you use the BlueSound app, you can access Amazon Music. If you go to the Amazon Music Playlist, all I get is a never ending options / genre of music not my playlist.

      I’ve contacted both BlueSound and Amazon about this and both point the finger at each other.

      This is supposed to be a high streaming device, which isn’t cheap. It is mesmerizing that you aren’t able to access your playlist from a “supported” streaming provider.

      In my opinion, if you can’t support all of the feautures of a streaming service provider why even have it? I understand it looks good from a marketing perpestive to have most of the streaming services on the box, but at least make sure to support all of its feautures before it is released.

      I don’t really mind it since I use Spotify as my main music streaming service, but it is annoying and discouraging trying to explain to my wife why I spent more money for something that is supposed to be better than Sonos when it doesn’t do or play what she wants. Pretty much the reason why I moved the BlueSound to the garage and got the Denon X4300 with HEOS so she can stream her playlist to it.

      In my personal opinion, it is cheaper and better to buy a receiver that supports HEOS to streaming your music since you can use their own apps that support all of their feautures. Most people won’t notice the sound difference like we do.

      By the way, the HEOS app has the same issues as the BlueSound app. However, you can stream from a music streaming provided such as Amazon directly to a AVR that support HEOS to play your playlist without any issues.

      My apologies for making this so long.
       
    7. GFOviedo

      GFOviedo Senior Member

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      I would like to make a correction. I was able to access my playlists from Amazon Music via BlueSound. I had to delete my BlueSound app, reinstall, re-login, and set up my Amazon Music account via BlueSound app. Thereafter, I went to the playlist section and mine and my wife’s playlist appeared.

      FYI I’m using an iPhone 8 Plus just in case anyone else has the same issue.
       
    8. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Thanks for sharing your experience. From what you describe it sounds like an amazon issue. If the problem you mention is true for both BlueOS and HEOS then it sounds like there is a problem on their end with the playlists.

      I’m not sure what the difference could be but when I tested this the apps I used were Tidal (which worked great) and Amazon Music. I played playlists from both and don’t recall problems. I don’t have the speaker anymore so I can’t test this any longer.

      One limitation with BlueOS compared to HEOS or other competitors is that the ecosystem is designed to be closed such that all streaming happens within the software. He benefit is a uniform experience. The negative is you can’t use airplay and Bluetooth has to be accessed from within the app. I’m not sure what you are using with HEOS but if you are playing directly from the amazon app it sounds like the connection is not within the HEOS app ecosystem but rather something like airplay or casting.

      I believe I read that airplay 2 is coming to BlueOS in a future update. If you use apple products maybe that would give greater utility to the Bluesound device for you again.

      For what it’s worth, Todd and I just discussed the idea of testing all of the WiFi streaming speaker systems out together and trying to do a little comparison. Not necessarily pit them against each other, but compare and contrast features, sound, and use.
       
    9. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Thanks for sharing the update. I had tested amazon music and not experienced the playlist issue so I was puzzled by this (but as noted, the lack of the product meant I could no longer test this).
       
    10. GFOviedo

      GFOviedo Senior Member

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      I think testing most or all available music streaming devices is a great idea. Since not all of them support all music streaming services and support all of its feautures.

      With the Denon X4300, my wife can airplay Amazon and Pandora. She likes that better than using the BlueSound or HEOS app.

      I’ve got a HEOS Link G1 for the patio, and I cant access the Amazon or Pandora playlist via HEOS app. Another reason why I use Spotify’s app to stream music to it, but again my wife doesn’t like Spotify. She like Pandora and Amazon. So, it has been difficult to make her happy with the music streaming devices I’ve got. I’ve been pondering about switching back to Sonos, but that would mean I need to sell my current devices and buy Sonos, which my wife would probably complaint about.
       
    11. James Larson

      James Larson New Member

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      I must say that the spherical candle holders in the top picture are very elegant. It is my greatest hope that they will find a place in future reviews. Also, very nice review, this product seems to be quite capable in its class. I think it is high time that Dr. Poes review a subwoofer.
       
    12. Matthew J Poes

      Matthew J Poes Staff Writer
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      Hah, James you’re too much. It’s not so easy coming up with new staging locations for my pictures. Maybe a refresh trip to Ikea is in order.

      The last sub you reviewed nearly killed me. Who knows what will happen once I’m responsible.
       

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