Bluesound Pulse Flex
FOR Big soundstage; punchy bass; hi-res music support AGAINST Nothing of note
The Bluesound Pulse Flex arrives in our testing rooms with high hopes and a fair amount of expectation on its shoulders. The smallest and most affordable addition to the Bluesound multi-room line up, it has the reputation of a whole family of five-star products to uphold. No pressure then.
It’s now the only Bluesound speaker to be in its first generation, a later addition to the line-up and a welcome one too. Previously you were looking at a minimum of £420 to start your Bluesound collection, now it’s a good deal cheaper at £270.
Another feather in its cap
That’s still a sizeable investment in a small wireless speaker, but the Flex’s performance makes sure it’s worth every penny. At just 18cm tall, it’s a good choice for smaller spaces like kitchens or bedrooms, sitting at a similar height to the likes of the Sonos Play:1 or Ruark’s R1 DAB radio. It’s available in a choice of black or white, with a matt, soft-touch finish and an angled back panel to match the rest of the family’s styling. The Flex can become portable too, thanks to an optional battery pack that fits on to its back panel.
Physical connections include an analogue/optical in (there’s a Toslink optical/3.5mm adapter included in the box), USBA port and a headphone out, plus an ethernet port for network hardwiring and a mini-usb port for servicing. Of course wi-fi is on board as well, as is aptx Bluetooth – a feather in the Flex’s cap compared with its competitor Sonos, which has so far kept the tech out of its products.
On the top panel of the unit are a handful of playback controls, an LED notification light integrated into the play/pause button and five presets, which you can set to music services, inputs or internet radio stations via the BLUOS app.
Services available include Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Napster and Qobuz, but if you’re an Apple Music user, or any other app not yet covered by Bluesound, you can always use Bluetooth to fire your music direct to the speaker instead.
The BLUOS app has been much improved and is now far easier to use, with a cleaner, more stylish design. Menus and navigation are more intuitive, adding music services and network shares is a smoother process, and grouping speakers together for a multi-room set-up is quick and simple – it will even walk you through a new speaker set-up in the app.
All this enhances the Flex’s performance, which is served up by a 9cm mid/bass driver and 2.5cm tweeter, bi-amplified for a total power output of 20W.
We start with a Cd-quality Tidal stream of Adele’s When We Were Young, and the Flex shows off a wonderfully open and transparent character, picking out the nuances of Adele’s powerful vocal and lifting them to the surface.
There’s great space and scale here too – more than we’d expect from a speaker this size – and dynamically the Flex is able to communicate even the subtlest of shifts in a way the Play:1 doesn’t manage as well. It’s better balanced than the smallest Sonos, and could even pip the Pulse Mini in the Bluesound range too.
While the Play:1 pushes voices to the front, the Flex is more even-handed. This means you hear the accompanying piano notes articulated just as well as the vocals, while the bassline is deep and full-bodied without ever being overpowering.
Get up and go
There’s perhaps a slight roll off of the treble here compared to the Play:1, but it works in the Flex’s favour to keep it an easy listen, even with harsher recordings. It’s subtle enough to do it without affecting the Flex’s get-up-and-go, meaning it never scrimps on drive or attack, even with livelier tracks.
Of course, like the rest of the Bluesound family, the Flex is capable of playing hi-res files too, and a switch up to a 24-bit/192khz version of Nas’ Halftime via USB shows the Flex is capable of sounding even better still.
Bass sounds tighter and punchier, there’s a greater handle on timing and rhythm, and the midrange offers up more insight and expression to both vocals and instruments.
It might be the smallest and cheapest speaker in the Bluesound range, but the Pulse Flex is fast becoming our favourite of the line-up too. It’s hugely talented, offering up a big, open sound that’s full of detail and enthusiasm, and we love its flexibility too.
It’s not the cheapest speaker of its kind at this price, but it justifies it at every turn. Whether you’re just starting your Bluesound multi-room system or simply thinking of adding to it, the Pulse Flex can’t fail to impress.
“It’s still a sizeable investment in a small wireless speaker, but the Flex’s talented and enthusiastic performance makes sure it’s worth every penny”
At just 18cm tall, the Bluesound Pulse Flex is suited to kitchens or bedrooms
Attach a battery pack to the Flex's angled back panel and it can become portable
VERDICT A small speaker with plenty of talent, the Bluesound Pulse Flex serves up detail and enthusiasm in spades