Blue­sound Pulse Mini/pulse

FOR Re­fined sound; good drive; clear mids; punchy bass AGAINST Bass could be bet­ter de­fined on the larger Pulse

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Multi-room Speakers -

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.

Multi-room ver­dict

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).

In terms of user ex­pe­ri­ence, this se­cond gen­er­a­tion of Blue­sound multi-room runs as smoothly as the first: straight­for­ward set-up, fuss-free group­ing and no dropouts. It’s what you’d ex­pect from an Award-win­ner.

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

no com­pro­mis­ing

the per­for­mance

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