Bluesound Pulse Mini/pulse
FOR Refined sound; good drive; clear mids; punchy bass AGAINST Bass could be better defined on the larger Pulse
Bluesound Pulse Mini £420
Last year, those wanting to own a bare minimum Bluesound multi-room system had to fork out for two Pulses, totalling £1200 – that’s a good few years of birthday and Christmas presents. So what if we told you it could now be achieved for as little as £540?
Bluesound not only revamped its ecosystem earlier this year, spawning Gen 2 versions of its Node, Powernode and Vault, but added to it with two wireless speakers: the portable Pulse Flex (£270) and the Pulse Mini – you guessed it, a smaller version of the Pulse.
All the trimmings
Like its big brother, the Pulse Mini is a bi-amplified 2.1 speaker. A 50W amplifier drives a 10cm woofer (the Pulse’s is 13cm) in a dual-port enclosure, while there are two 5cm full-range drivers in their own acoustic chambers, each with a dedicated amplifier channel.
The Pulse can be served Bluetooth via a plug-in dongle, but the Pulse Mini has it built in. There is also an IR sensor and input so it can be controlled by a TV remote control for those inclined to use the Pulse Mini in a video-based set-up.
The fresh-faced Pulse keeps the distinctive shape of its sibling, but true to its name is a dress-size down, trimmed back at every dimension. The less-ismore line of attack presents us with a smart, neat box – not unlike its arch-rival, the Sonos Play:5 – with just a simple touch control panel and recessed gap for a handle up top as points of notice.
Inside, a 32-bit DAC handles everything from MP3S and WMAS to FLACS and WAVS up to 24-bit/192khz – not such a unique selling point with the likes of LG and Samsung sharing the hi-res spotlight, but important in the Sonos-versus-bluesound battle.
The most popular streaming services are here, including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz, which (apart from Spotify) show up within Bluesound’s BLUOS app. The Pulse Mini matches its big brother for physical connections, with single USB and optical/analogue combo inputs, a headphone output and micro-usb for service. An ethernet socket provides the most stable way to get online, although wi-fi can also open the door to your digital network library.
With the Pulse Mini, Bluesound claims to have “shrunk down the footprint, without compromising the performance” and just a few songs into our playlist we are not inclined to disagree.
Rich and full bodied, weighty yet agile, it’s the Pulse’s doppelgänger when it comes to sonic character. And although it may not be capable of the same level of room-filling, powerful sound, we’d actually take it home over its big brother.
There’s a touch more refinement, and tonally it’s better balanced, even if still slightly leaning towards bass. We’d avoid putting it in a corner, although you can adjust balance through the app’s EQ.
Agile and punchy
The low-end reach may be no match for the powerful Pulse, but it’s far from lacking. Play Local Natives’ Heavy Feet and drumming is agile and punchy, the top-timed Pulse Mini first to sniff out its idiosyncratic rhythmic pattern.
The midrange is clear and articulate, getting across the rustic whine and soaring nature of their vocal signature, and the treble is clear and open.
It’s an expressive, explicit listen from top to bottom. The piano-playing driving Buena Vista Social Club’s Pueblo Nuevo straddles enthusiasm and precision, with a sense of warmth and texture oozing through the keys.
Bluesound set out to shoehorn the Pulse’s impressive sound quality into a smaller, more affordable package, and it has worked. A welcome addition to the Bluesound household, the Pulse Mini is perfect for one room or several.
Bluesound Pulse £600
Forget Ray Winstone and his sock of snooker balls, the Pulse is the daddy of multi-room. Nearly half a metre wide and weighing in at over 6kg, it’s a brute.
Big, and yet graceful
That isn’t to say it’s ungainly. Its rounded edges and smooth triangular back – shrinking its footprint smartly for easier placement in the corner of a room – help give the Pulse a refined sense of grace.
Most of the time you will probably be managing the Pulse using the app, which has freed Bluesound to be minimalistic with the control pad too – its touchsensitive rectangle is in keeping with the overall elegance.
Inside that polished shell, an award-winning, twin NAD Electronics direct-digital amplifiers feed a claimed 80W total power into a 2.1 speaker configuration, comprising a pair of 7cm drivers and a hefty 13cm woofer in a dual-acoustic chamber.
But Bluesound’s commitment is not to muscle but to great-sounding hi-res audio. It isn’t snobbish about it – its products are more than happy to work with MP3S, as well as pretty much any other type of file you throw at it – but you’ll really want to let rip with something that pushes the Pulse’s 24-bit/192khz capabilities.
You have more or less free rein in terms of wireless sound. Via the control app, you can access most popular streaming services, any NAS device on the same network and any files you have stored on your phone or tablet.
Detailed, expressive sound
We begin with Kris Drever’s Mark The Hard Earth and are soon impressed with the solidity of the Pulse’s midrange. This isn’t the most spacious soundstage we’ve heard from a speaker of this size, but anything lacking here is made up for by a detailed and expressive core.
From the opening track, Drever’s voice is emotional and engaging, the Pulse unwaveringly capturing the intimacy of the song’s opening. Then, as the texture builds with vocal harmony, fiddle and accordion, the luscious warmth does not harden, even with the volume right up.
As we reach pieces of more intricate guitar work, such as Sweet Honey In The Rock, we are similarly impressed by the Pulse’s sense of timing, which keeps this sprightly work dancing to its conclusion. Yes, we’ve experienced more agile footwork by some of the Pulse’s competitors, but rarely is it bettered for expression.
We give the woofer a proper workout with Deantoni Parks’s Technoself album. And from the first beat of Black Axioms, it gives us a shake, scooping out frequencies many wireless speakers wouldn’t know were there.
But the bass is just a little soft. Music such as this, based upon angular rhythms and samples, does need especially taut bass to keep up, but a lack of detail and differentiation in the Pulse’s low end detracts from whatever you’re playing. The weight is impressive and it won’t ruin your listening experience, but that level of definition is the difference between the Pulse and the class-leaders.
It’s the daddy
Needless to say we are huge fans of the Bluesound multi-room family, and the Pulse has played no small part in securing its Product of the Year crown.
You’ll struggle to find a wireless speaker at this price with a more solid, smooth and expressive midrange, nor with quite so much bass. Oh yes, it’s quite the daddy.
We didn’t flatter Bluesound with Product of the Year titles at each of the last two What Hi-fi? Awards for nothing – so you’d expect it to trump its rivals.
Set-up is a web-based operation, with each speaker being added individually to your network, rather than any instant Sonos-like pairing, but you only have to do it once before each speaker shows up automatically within the app.
Options for grouping are simple to change and there’s no need to hardwire your speakers, either – though you may prefer that extra stability for the Bluesound’s hi-res capabilities (it’s capable of playing up to 24-bit/192khz).
The Pulse is a brute,
but with a sense of
grace. Only a soft
low end stops
it receiving five stars
The Pulse Mini has
a reduced footprint,
but there has been