Feel the Pulse

Bluesound’s sec­ond gen­er­a­tion wire­less speaker is brawny and beau­ti­ful. But does it have what it takes to chal­lenge Sonos?

SoundMag - - Contents -

Bluesound was the orig­i­nal High-Res Au­dio cham­pion. The com­pany pi­o­neered 24-bit stream­ing with a pas­sion that now seems pre­scient, and has now up­graded its launch line-up.

A cur­sory glance at the new Pulse 2, its flag­ship speaker, might sug­gest few dif­fer­ences from the orig­i­nal, but there are in fact a num­ber of key im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing an up­graded 1GHz ARM Cor­tex-9 mul­ti­core pro­ces­sor and bet­ter Wi-Fi sta­bil­ity.

Build qual­ity is out­stand­ing. The Pulse 2 tips the scale at 6.12kg, which is a sig­nif­i­cant weight for what is os­ten­si­bly a table­top wire­less speaker with a carry han­dle. Avail­able in ei­ther black or white, it boasts a soft, tac­tile fin­ish that feels de­cid­edly pre­mium.

To be hon­est, this isn’t what you might call a dainty speaker. An all-en­com­pass­ing me­tal­lic grille hides a large 139mm woofer, flanked by mid-range driv­ers. Be­hind this there is a pro­pri­etary Direc­tDig­i­tal am­pli­fier, with a power out­put rated at 80W, al­lied to a 35-bit 844kHz DAC.

Con­nec­tions in­clude an op­ti­cal/ana­logue mini­jack in­put, USB port, Eth­er­net LAN and ded­i­cated head­phone out­put. Wi-Fi is a given, while Blue­tooth comes with high bi­trate aptX sup­port. A dis­tinc­tive touch sen­si­tive vol­ume and track con­trol is po­si­tioned above the han­dle.

For our re­view, we part­nered the Pulse 2 with the Vault 2, Bluesound’s sec­ond gen­er­a­tion hard drive CDrip­ping NAS. Not only can this turn CDs into WAV, FLAC or 320kbps MP3 files, it can also be used to down­load High-Res Au­dio from com­mer­cial sites, like HD Tracks, to its 2TB drive. Any CDs ripped into the Vault 2 are playable from the BluOS app’s Mu­sic Library.

The Vault 2, as it tran­spires, is a thor­oughly splen­did bit of kit, but it’s also vi­tal to the Bluesound ecosys­tem. This is be­cause there’s no DNLA or UPnP sup­port. If you just want to use your own NAS you’ll need to setup net­work shares, which frankly is way too un­friendly in this day and age. At least the Vault 2 con­nects to the Pulse 2, via the app, with­out fuss.

In ad­di­tion to stream­ing from the Bluesound NAS, you can use the BluOS app to ac­cess mu­sic ser­vices, in­clud­ing Tidal, Spo­tify, TuneIn, Deezer, iHeart ra­dio, Slacker ra­dio and Qobuz. It’s worth not­ing that in ad­di­tion to iOS and Android, you can also di­rect pro­ceed­ings from a Kin­dle Fire tablet or PC desk­top. Bluesound’s mul­ti­room func­tion­al­ity is on par with what you might ex­pect from both the mar­ket leader and its ilk. The Pulse 2 can be used solo or grouped with other Bluesound speak­ers on a net­work.

The Pulse 2 may only be 420mm wide, but it of­fers a sound­stage that’s spa­cious. This is just the kind of speaker you want to hand when en­ter­tain­ing pool­side.

Au­dio per­for­mance is ex­cel­lent. The Pulse 2 is a bold and bol­shy lis­ten. It doesn’t so much play mu­sic for you, it plays mu­sic at you! In­deed, I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t ac­tu­ally sound much like a wire­less speaker at all, its pre­sen­ta­tion is more akin to an allin-one mini sys­tem.

The Pulse 2 is able to com­bine toe-tap­ping mu­si­cal­ity with big-sys­tem weigh. It’s crisp and ar­tic­u­late, but plays loud and rau­cous too. If you want Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, it’s more than up to the job. That said, manag­ing the vol­ume via the app proves a bit of a hand­ful. The speaker seems to jump ei­ther loud or low. The on-body con­trols of­fer more con­sis­tent con­trol.

That lovely big woofer moves air and drops sur­pris­ingly deep. We mea­sured the Pulse 2 down to 50Hz, and thor­oughly ap­proved its slam. King Tubby’s reg­gae rouser Dub Fever drops au­then­ti­cally low, while Head High’s retro rave fave It’s a Love Thing, bangs like a barn door in a hur­ri­cane.

But con­versely, the Pulse 2 also boasts a well-de­fined mid-range able to han­dle com­plex vo­cals. Luca Turilli’s Rhap­sody, spe­cial­ists in sym­phonic me­tal for those not in the know, can re­ally chal­lenge a small en­clo­sure, but the Pulse 2 prof­fers a fit­tingly ex­pan­sive sound­stage when play­ing a CD rip of Cin­e­matic and Live.

Given how tightly placed those driv­ers are, its abil­ity to im­age is rev­e­la­tory. Lis­ten to Dave Hentschel’s synth from El­ton John’s Fu­neral for a Friend (Good­bye Yel­low Brick Road), be­fore Davey John­ston’s gui­tar riff in­tros Love lies Bleed­ing, and you’ll ap­pre­ci­ate its air and dy­namism. The pre­sen­ta­tion is clean and well de­fined; the band never ap­pears to be stand­ing in each other’s shadow.

File sup­port is com­pre­hen­sive. In ad­di­tion to up­com­ing MQA sup­port (a BluOS v2.2 firmware up­date is im­mi­nent), it will also play 24-bit FLACs, WAV and AIFF up to 192kHz, as well as MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG and ALAC. Per­haps sur­pris­ingly, there’s no sup­port for DSD files, al­though, again, a firmware up­date is promised.

Over­all, this is a for­mi­da­ble all-in-one that never sounds less than ex­cit­ing. There are caveats though. Setup and us­abil­ity is nowhere near as smooth as that of­fered by SONOS, Denon’s HEOS or Yamaha Mu­sicCast. The lack of UPnP and DLNA sup­port makes man­age­ment a bit of a chore. Our ad­vice is part­ner it with a Vault 2 if you don’t want un­due angst.

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