REVIEW: BLUESOUND PULSE SOUNDBAR
Bluesound has continued to set standards and go where no other wireless audio brand has gone. We take a closer look at the PULSE Soundbar.
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Bluesound has continued to set standards and go where no other wireless audio brand has gone.
Since Bluesound hit the ground running in 2014 with its novel first generation wireless music components, the brand has been on my audio radar.
It wasn’t until I reviewed the Node2 earlier this year (read the review here) however, that I got up close and personal to Bluesound’s offering to a growing horde of wireless streaming, music quality conscious devotees.
The Node2 was so satisfying and easy to use that I bought the review sample. From a blip on the audiophile radar, Bluesound irresistibly became a household reality.
Bluesound is nothing if not responsive to consumer demands. And what they were clamouring for was enhanced control software. Bluesound responded and recently confirmed support of the slinky third party control software, Roon, with integration promised before the end of January 2017.
Parent company Lenbrook (who also happens to own NAD Electronics and PSB Speakers) has taken full advantage of the brands in their portfolio. Integration of BluOS, their proprietary control software, has also been injected into NAD components. That was a no-brainer. And so was using the deep talents of chief PSB Paul Barton, to lend his design expertise to the subject of this review, the PULSE Soundbar.
This model is a stereo soundbar sans a dedicated centre channel and featuring two soft dome tweeters, two mid-range drivers, two bass drivers and two passive radiators (used to help bass response).
Bluesound also has a Pulse Subwoofer on the way, but unfortunately it wasn’t available by the time of this review. The Pulse Soundbar does however, have a subwoofer output for integration with a traditional sub.
The Pulse Soundbar also features Optical Input for connection to TVs and “Analog In” for an additional source that could be a turntable or CD Player. And with all Bluesound products it comes equipped with Bluetooth AptX technology.
The Bluesound Pulse retails locally for $1799 and is distributed in Australia by Convoy International.
Unboxing / Setup
The Pulse Soundbar came well packed in a purpose-built box, supplied with a stereo RCA cable, power cable, feet with two different ends for either straight facing (90º) or slightly upward angled cabinet positioning, as well as a wall bracket for mounting.
Setup for most buyers would be quite easy, but a wee more challenging in my installation. My TV is wall-mounted and not connected for use with a soundbar. So it required relocating a few HDMI cables, packing away my normal centre speaker and sourcing a slightly longer optical cable for connection to the TV. Extra yakka, but hardly the stuff required of a physics graduate.
Once everything was primed and ready to go and connections made, I fired up the Bluesound control app.
All my dedicated Ethernet connections were already in use at my TV area, so unlike my review of the Node2, I had to connect the Pulse Soundbar via Wi-Fi. Again, hardly hard graft.
I’m glad to say that pairing to my network was quick and simple. I just followed the on screen prompts.
Once paired, I could see the multitude of different settings on offer. Nice. I proceeded to setup the unit to work with my TV remote that again, was unbelievably simple.
I also connected it to my PSB SubSeries 300 subwoofer so I could see how well it performed on its own and how much improvement the subwoofer brought. Conveniently, the sub can be engaged on or off quickly and easily via the BluOS app.
I touched on the BluOS platform in my previous review of the Node2, but with time, there are updates and new features to explore and I’m happy to say that the BluOS controller is as good as it has ever been.
There are a number of really intuitive features that I like about it, particularly with multiple rooms.
Such as, leaving one area of the home to head to another. In this case you can basically touch a little arrow icon and send the music you’re listening to from one zone to the next without having to engage both. What’s the point of music playing to an empty room?
Having two Bluesound products on hand also allowed me to investigate how fluid grouping worked, and I found it to be flawless. You just tap the + icon next to the zone you would like to group with and within a few seconds they were integrated. Once grouped, you can set the level of each zone individually then adjust the master volume, easy!
Stability of the app is great too with no software glitches or crashes to report. As far as free app controls go, BluOS is up there with the best.
Alicia Keys’ latest album is called ‘’HERE’’ and a perfect example of Soul fused with Hip Hop.
“Pawn it All” showed some of the full range capability of the Pulse Soundbar, and while it didn’t have the bass response of a top class pair of bookshelf or tower speakers, it still had weight. But more importantly, the mid-range quality was excellent especially given this was (a.) A Soundbar and (b.) priced at just $1799.
I streamed a high res copy of Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms” to explore the capabilities of my Wi-Fi network, using the title track as a guide.
With the Pulse Soundbar set to “Music” and the Wide Mode set to “Wider”, I heard a surprisingly engaging performance.
All the instruments appeared to come from within their own place in the mix, bass response was reasonable and Knopfler’s guitar licks had a wonderful presence. I did engage the subwoofer during this track to see what difference there was as well.
With the sub engaged, there was obviously an improved low-end performance, but there was also a noticeable improvement within the upper-frequency detail and imaging where everything seemed to have a bit more space and air.
Switching back, the Pulse still did a commendable job on its own. I could see this being used standalone in many a home.
The collaboration between Peter Bradley Adams and Caitlin Canty was known as Down Like Silver.
The pair had only a couple of releases, including a self-titled EP. After a long search, I found a CD copy through Canty’s own website. Price? USD $10 for the CD, plus USD $15 shipping to Australia.
Worth every cent though for a physical copy.
“Wolves” is the first track and is a beautiful song. The Pulse Soundbar never failed to demonstrate just how ethereal it is. In particular, the excellent vocal harmonies between Adams and Canty.
As always, if investing in any form of multi-room audio, I would suggest using a better modem router than the one supplied by your ISP. Those units are simply there to get you going and little else. For true performance it’s worth investing in something of a higher grade.
During the audition, I was listening to one of Tidal’s own ‘High Fidelity’ curated playlists when a track came along that pushed the Pulse Soundbar into an unknown territory.
The track was ‘One Touch’ by Baauer.
As the music flowed into the room, even at low to moderate volume it was apparent how the internal cabinet pressure caused the passive radiators to project far further than expected.
This caused the radiators to actually contact the front grill. A couple of times, it even caused the grill that is held in place magnetically, to come off.
Contacting Bluesound’s Product Manager, Michael Thornton-Smith at Convoy, Bluesound’s techs were subsequently informed of the issue.
In less than two weeks they had addressed this glitch and released a worldwide firmware update to rectify the problem. And I can happily report it did in fact resolve the problem.
This is a prime example of a brand that aims to keep their customer base happy.
Worth mentioning also, is this issue manifested solely when the bar was being used alone, without a subwoofer.
Listening – TV/Film
Being the sucker that I am for goofy comic book shows, I played back Arrow and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.
The Pulse Soundbar did an admirable job of replacing my usual 3.1 setup.
Toggling the sub ‘’on’’ and “off”, the main benefit of adding the sub was the mix sounded a touch less congested and had obvious extended bass response. But even on its own, the Pulse Soundbar never once sounded incapable.
After a bit of tweaking and fiddling around with the various listening modes – and there are a number of variations possible – I ultimately ended up preferring the Movie listening preset to TV. This setting was less boomy and a touch better balanced.
With the Wide Mode and Dialog Enhancer settings toggled off also seemed to give the best dialogue reproduction.
With Wide Mode on, I found that while certainly providing a more spacious sound (this soundbar can throw out a VERY wide sound field), it seemed to result in a reduction in the clarity of speech. Engaging the dialog enhancer didn’t do much to help either unfortunately.
Having recently picked up a copy of X-Men: Apocalypse on Blu-ray, I watched it using the Pulse Soundbar.
On its own, it performed well and was an obvious improvement on the television speakers, but lacked the theatrical bass wallop you’d typically expect from a traditional home theatre.
With the integration of my subwoofer however, it got me seriously thinking about just how good value the Pulse Soundbar actually was.
The calculation was simple: by my reckoning, my front speakers retail for $6999, the centre for $2499 and my AV Receiver, $3699. The Pulse Soundbar replaces all three of those components at a price of $1799, and while it didn’t offer quite the same level of depth and clarity, it came awfully close, much closer than my spent dollars would care to admit.
Neither it has to be said, compares sonically to the Bluesound unit, particularly for music playback.
The Playbar is available on its own for $999 and like the Pulse Soundbar, for best performance I do feel as though the Playbar benefits greatly from the addition of the Sub.
Unlike the Pulse however, the Playbar will only integrate with the Sonos Sub.
The Heos unit comes included with a compact Sub for $1499 and even though it is sold as a complete package, the clarity of the Pulse Soundbar comes up trumps, offering a level of midrange detail that other soundbars I’ve heard simply cannot replicate.
Finally and most importantly, the BluOS app is a vastly better controller and certainly more stable.
The Pulse Soundbar from Bluesound offers outstanding musical performance from a compact, slim line box. Whether streaming from Tidal, or music from a network storage device it delivers sonically.
Its use as a replacement for home theatre duties is also viable, but as mentioned before, for kosher theatrical performance the addition of a subwoofer is critical.
Whether that means using an existing one, waiting on the upcoming dedicated Pulse Sub or buying an entirely different unit, the choice is yours.
As a ‘TV Booster’ it also does an excellent job, better than anything else I’ve heard.
Again, the key here is the midrange quality. Dialogue has excellent clarity, particularly with DSP settings toggled off.
As it stands, Bluesound is raising the bar of what can be expected of ‘lifestyle’ and multiroom audio products, delivering a Soundbar that looks like any other, but performs like something else entirely.
If you have decided 5.1 isn’t for you, or are simply looking for a one-box solution to improve your TV with the added perk of wireless music playback, you would be unwise to not at least, audition the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar.
Be prepared to be amazed.
For more information visit the Bluesound brand page.
Lover of Hi-Fi, Music and Recording Engineering. I particularly like the affordable and value-packed products; finding that diamond in the rough.