|Supported audio formats
||MP3, AAC, WMA, WMA-L, OGG, ALAC, OPUS
|Supported high-res formats
||FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MPEG-4 SLS
|Native sampling rates
||Up to 192 kHz
||Smart DSP amplifier
|Rated power output
||80 W total system power, dual amp
||1x 133 mm woofer, 2x 19 mm tweeters
||60 Hz – 20 kHz +-1.5 dB, -10 dB @ 40 Hz
PRICE R12 490
SUPPLIED BY Cinema Imports (Pty) Ltd t/a AV Imports 082 571-6568
I guess it’s First World Problems in a Third World country, but it’s pretty frustrating to be given a product to review that is primarily streaming-based, only to be sitting hour after hour with no power with which to enjoy it. As in my case recently, over 30 hours’ worth of zilch spark in the entire area…
Be that as it may, with much cursing in the dark, I finally got to grips with the PULSE M, and what a wonderful time it has been.
Firstly, I was caught off-guard by the unit’s size. I’d looked it up online but hadn’t bothered looking at the measurements. When you read all the specs for this speaker, particularly the reference to the omnidirectional woofer, the tweeters and the DSP-enabled 80 watt amplifier, you’re expecting a beast. Well, I was at least.
So when I was handed the PULSE M’s box, to be honest I was underwhelmed. It completely shattered my expectations of this brute I was going to struggle to find a sturdy enough table to place it on. Of course, the fact that this versatile speaker can be used in conjunction with another to act as surrounds in a Bluesound AV setup (amongst several other uses), should have been a giveaway. But, alas, no-one’s ever referred to me as the sharpest pencil in the box.
Talking of boxes, unboxing products for review is almost on par with listening to them at times, and here was no different: From the moment you open the top of the packaging and look inside, you know you’ve spent your money well. The cable accessories are wrapped nicely in Bluesound-marked sleeves, while the PULSE M itself comes with a soft, fabric cover protector.
This, of course is an early warning that whatever’s inside is going to have at least part of it vulnerable to fingerprints! Thankfully, it’s mostly just the top control panel that is going to show those grubby finger marks. This lights up the moment it senses you close by. My daughter thought it was magic!
Picking the speaker up is another indication that this is no ordinary wireless speaker. It’s got good weight to it, which is important considering the not inconsiderable power output – last thing you need is a speaker vibrating across the surface it’s sitting on. Once unwrapped you’re confronted with something that’s going to get attention from anyone who sees it. Understated, almost unobtrusive, but boy does it draw the eye…
On the unit itself, you’ll find the power input, a dual band Wi-Fi and gigabit Ethernet jack, a USB-A port, 3.5 mm headphone jack, and a combination 3.5 mm analogue/digital optical input. The PULSE M is also capable of accepting dual Bluetooth connections for audio input and output, and anything connected to these inputs can be shared across any other Bluesound products to create a sort of musical wonderland throughout your house.
But let’s get to grips with some of the most pertinent features of the PULSE M before I get into the listening notes. I’m not going to go too deep into the extensive features/specifications list, because as nice as these things are to read, they are rarely an indication of what you’re actually going to hear. In my many years at AVSA, there were a good few times where impressive specs equaled a mediocre listening experience, to be honest.
Bluesound speakers have a comprehensive list of lossy and lossless audio format support, including FLAC, WAV, AIFF and and the still somewhat controversial MQA on the high-res side, and MP3, AAC and WMA on the ‘standard’ side. Added to the mix is support for lossless hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz via music sources such Tidal with its Master recordings. The PULSE M is also capable rendering the full frequency response of 20 Hz to 40 kHz.
Now because I’m still stuck in the past century when it comes to electronic devices, another aspect to the PULSE M that unnerved me somewhat was the lack of a remote control. However, my 3-year old was quick to point out to me that this is the reason why we have Apps, such as the BluOS Controller App.
My word. This App appears to come with everything except the kitchen sink and a Swiss army knife. Settings, settings everywhere, sometimes to the point of being somewhat intimidating when all you have running is a single speaker! Gain control, EQ settings, favourite playlists, music services local and international, Internet radio stations and more. Incidentally, the only glitch I experienced was with trying to access Spotify via the App, which is a known issue at this point in time. An easy workaround is to open Spotify on your own device, and choose the PULSE M through the output/speaker options on Spotify.
Also available via the app is an IR learning feature where any available remote control can be programmed with up to 32 commands. Problem of the ‘missing remote control’, solved or simply buy the dedicated PULSE remote control.
But now onto the really important stuff – how does the PULSE M sound?
Again, I have to make mention of the fact that its relatively diminutive dimensions gave me some doubt over performance. I’ve used and owned a few portable speakers over the years, and as much as their sonic performance has been good for their size, there’s never been any doubt that it’s been at the expense of certain frequencies, and I’ve had to make peace with that.
But the PULSE M… Well, those frequencies all seem to be there. As mentioned on other reviews, I have a few go-to tracks that I use when reviewing DACs and headphones, because they throw so much into the mix from deep bass to acoustic and electric guitar – it’s a good test to hear if any particular instrument comes across as somewhat subdued or overly bright. Pink Floyd’s High Hopes is one such track.
I have this version on both ‘standard’ Spotify as well as the MQA version on Tidal, and to be honest the PULSE M did such an awesome job with the Spotify version that I have to admit that any differences I detected on the MQA track might well have been biased because I was expecting to hear such. Connecting and listening through headphones would quite possibly have exposed MQA’s broader tonal offerings, but to me, using headphones on such a remarkable speaker sort of ruins its purpose.
You can of course join two PULSE Ms together to create a stereo setup, and I’d have loved to have an opportunity to hear what it sounded like, simply because a single speaker sounded so impressive.
As mentioned before, you can tweak the PULSE M via the App, but I’m rarely fond of adding interference to what is a pretty perfect sonic offering. There’s no listening fatigue whatsoever when listening to it over extended periods, which in itself speaks volumes to the quality of its audio performance (the base does get quite warm at just moderate sound levels, but I doubt this is an issue). I’ve listened to other products and brands where initially the sound seems great, but after a while I feel the need to turn the volume down. Here, I was more than happy to let the PULSE play on and on.
I think it’s important at this point, speaking about speaker volumes, and the quality thereof, is that Bluesound is a sister company to PSB and NAD, and since NAD has always been a stickler for honesty on the power ratings of its products, that the same is likely here.
I did feel that the sound tended to get a little bright when pushing it to its limits, and that it lost a little bit of control quality-wise, but firstly you wouldn’t want to run the unit that loud for lengthy periods, and secondly my review unit still had a good few hours of run-in time needed, so the sound would still have mellowed, I think.
At +R12 000 the Bluesound PULSE M is by no means a cheap purchase. But when you add together its incredibly extensive features list, quality build, extensive versatility, integration with up to 63 products into a Bluesound multi-player ecosystem and more than impressive audio quality, it’s pretty clear that this speaker is deeply deserving of the description of “Dynamite in a small package.”