Bluesound Pulse Soundbar Review
Is this the audiophile's choice?
What is the Bluesound Pulse?The Pulse is a two-channel soundbar from Canadian manufacturer Bluesound that has been designed to deliver high quality audio and deeper bass without resorting to a subwoofer. The Pulse supports Hi-Res Audio up to 24-bit/192kHz, which is a world's first, along with Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) high-resolution audio streams. In addition, thanks to BluOS, the Pulse also forms part of a multi-room music streaming system which can be controlled using the Bluesound app. The Pulse isn't cheap and has a current price of £999 as at the time of writing (October 2017) but it does offer the promise of a superior level of sound quality compared to other soundbars. So can the Bluesound Pulse soundbar justify its price tag, whilst appealing to audiophiles and film-lovers at the same time? Let's find out...
DesignThe Pulse sports an attractive design that was created by the award-winning industrial designer David Farrage of DF-ID. The result is a soundbar that combines clean lines and curved edges with a minimalist matte finish that comes in either black or a recently announced white. The build quality of the Pulse is superb, with an extruded aluminium construction that gives the soundbar rigidity and strength. It's a two-channel soundbar and each channel uses a 25mm soft dome tweeter, a 50mm mid-range driver with a treated paper cone, a 102mm woofer and a 102mm passive radiator. The Pulse has built-in digital amplification that delivers 20W to each of the six drivers, resulting in 120W in total. It's also fairly large and, depending on your TV, it could block the IR receiver or even the screen, so bear that in mind. It actually measures 1073 x 141 x 70mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 6.8kgs.The Pulse offers three different mounting options – shelf mount, wall mount or a freestanding tabletop display using their optional TS100 stand which retails for £299. In order to shelf mount Bluesound include two kickstand feet, which can be extended if necessary. Alternatively if you would rather wall mount the Pulse, then Bluesound include a dedicated wall bracket and template to make installation easier. Depending on the mounting option, the cables can either exit at the top or the bottom of the bar by simply turning the Pulse over by 180 degrees. A built-in sensor will detect the orientation and adjust the left right channel assignment accordingly. The connections are housed in a recessed area at the rear and the Pulse has a built-in power supply that uses a two-pin power cable.
The design is attractive, the build quality excellent and there's even a version in white
Control & ConnectionsThe Pulse doesn't come with a dedicated remote control, instead it uses the Bluesound BluOS controller app for both setup, operation and control. This app is freely available for iOS and Android and proved to be an effective way of setting up and controlling the soundbar. The app is part of the BluOS operating system, which means it is far more comprehensive than most remote apps and allows for an extensive amount of setup and tweaking. It also allows for a nice user interface that lets you access and select music from all your various connected devices.
In general we found the app to be intuitive to use and simple to navigate, making controlling the Pulse very simple. We appreciate that some people have their phone surgically attached to their hand and thus it is always available for control purposes but we would have liked a physical remote for the more basic controls such as changing volume and input selection. We found reaching for a phone or tablet (or PC or Mac for that matter) was a bit of a pain when you just wanted to turn the sound up a bit and given the price a remote control doesn't seem an unreasonable request.
However Bluesound do include an IR input that can be programmed for IR remote commands from your TV remote. So you can adjust the volume, automatically select the optical input, mute etc. simply by using the TV remote keys. The idea is to incorporate programmable IR logic for those everyday functions rather than add another remote control to keep your living room clutter down, which seems fair enough.
As already mentioned, the connections are housed in a recessed area at the rear of the Pulse and, whilst there are plenty of them, there is a notable omission. The Pulse doesn't have an HDMI input or even an HDMI output with ARC (Audio Return Channel), which is unusual for a soundbar at this price point. The absence of HDMI is a shame and it means that you'll need to connect your TV to the Pulse using either the optical digital input or the stereo analogue RCA inputs. In terms of other connections there is an Ethernet/LAN socket that supports Ethernet RJ45 and GigE, along with a USB type A port (Fat32 formatted) and an output for a separate active subwoofer. There is also a USB Type B mini port but this is purely for product servicing and firmware updates. In terms of the wireless connections, the Pulse has built-in WiFi (802.11 b/g/n) and Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX.
The BluOS app is excellent but the lack of HDMI is disappointing at this price point
Features & SpecsAs already mentioned, the Bluesound Pulse uses a 3-way speaker configuration with tri-amplification, combined with a power DSP for the crossover filters. Each driver is custom developed and uses an individually customised chamber for the best speaker operation and isolation. The deep bass extension of the soundbar is made possible by the larger chamber volume, passive radiators and DSP equalisation. Like all Bluesound products the acoustic design and speaker voicing is performed at Canada's National Research Council and the Pulse has claimed distortion levels of 0.03% (THD+N) and a frequency response of +/_ 1dB 70Hz - 20kHz.
The Pulse features BluOS, a Linux-based custom operating system powered by an advanced ARM Cortex – A9 processor and precision master clock running at 1GHz. It can be run on iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Windows PC and macOS and allows support for almost all audio codecs including MP3, AAC, WMA, WMA-L, OGG, FLAC, ALAC, WAV and AIFF and true hi-res audio including MQA with support up to 24-bit and 192kHz. Local music can be accessed via Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet anywhere on your network including NAS drives and computers, in addition to the thousands of songs that can be streamed from music services such as Qobuz and Tidal. The Pulse also supports Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) high-resolution audio streams, which is sure to please audiophiles.
It's worth pointing out that the Pulse doesn't use DNLA/UPnP because Bluesound didn't want to be limited by DNLA middleware. You can still share files from your PC, NAS drive, Mac etc. but you have to set up a network share, so it isn't simply plug and play. It is a little bit more of a hassle but, once it's set up, that's it and you won't have to do it again. One of the benefits of not implementing middleware or using an open-source or bought-in platform is flexibility. Almost all of the features that have been added via firmware updates to BluOS over the last few years have been requested by end-users on the Bluesound forum, where you can also find plenty of handy setup tips. Speaking of firmware updates, a Dolby decoder will be unlocked before the end of the year which will allow owners to wirelessly add rear speakers and create a surround system.
The included optical digital and stereo analogue inputs are for connecting to your TV, the USB port is for connecting memory drives and Bluetooth, using the high fidelity aptX codec, allows direct streaming from your smartphone, tablet or laptop. As mentioned previously, the Pulse also includes an IR sensor with a learning function (TV Connect) to allow your existing TV or universal remote to operate basic functions of the soundbar like volume and mute. Included in the box you'll find a two-pin power cord, a stereo RCA to RCA cable, an Ethernet cable, two kickstand feet, two kickstand extenders, a wall mount bracket and a wall mount bracket template.
The Pulse has been designed to deliver deep bass from a single unit, without the need to resort to a separate active subwoofer. However if you want the Pulse to focus on reproducing the critical mid and high frequencies in movie soundtracks and music, then you can use a separate active subwoofer to deliver deeper bass with greater clarity and dynamics. If you already own an active subwoofer then you can simply connect the Pulse to the sub using the output on the soundbar. However if you would rather connect the Pulse to the subwoofer wirelessly then Bluesound offer two solutions.
The first is to buy Bluesound's Pulse Sub – a compact and slimline active subwoofer that connects wirelessly to the soundbar. The Pulse Sub retails for £599 and measures 447 x 285 x 122mm (WxHxD), which means it is small enough to fit behind or under the coach or to even be mounted on the wall using an included mounting bracket. The second solution is Bluesound's clever little RT100, which allows you to connect any non-wireless active subwoofer to the soundbar wirelessly. The RT100 retails for just £99, uses point-to-point technology and is quick and easy to setup. You simply connect the RT100 to a subwoofer via analog, press the pairing button, and then complete the process using a smartphone or tablet. The RT100 measures 80 x 50 x 21mm (WxHxD) and weighs 0.085kg.
There's a good set of features including 24/192 and MQA support and multiroom thanks to BluOS
Setup & TestingThe Pulse is pleasingly simple to setup and once you've attached the feet and decided where to position it, all you need to do is connect your TV (using either the optical digital or analogue input) and plug the soundbar into the mains. Once the Pulse is plugged in the LED indicator on the front turns solid green, indicating that the soundbar is in Hotspot Mode and ready to be added to your network. In the settings menu of your smartphone or tablet, locate and select the Pulse's WiFi Hotspot and then open a browser on your device. You then simply enter a specific web address and press go; a control panel page for the Pulse soundbar will be displayed, allowing you to configure the WiFi. From the Configure Wireless dropdown list you select your home WiFi network, type in your password and select or create a Room Name. You then press Update and wait for the Pulse's LED indicator to turn solid blue, which means it has now joined your network. Once you've finished, make sure you reselect your own WiFi network in the settings menu of your smartphone or tablet. Alternatively, you can also connect the Pulse directly to your home network or router using the supplied Ethernet cable.
Once you've connected the Pulse to your home network, either using a wired or wireless connection, then you can download and install the BluOS Controller App. All you need to do then is make sure that your controller device is connected to your home network and follow the in-app prompts to finish setting up the soundbar. Once the soundbar has been set up, everything can be done from the app, from selecting a music source via the Navigation Drawer or fine tuning the performance. There are user selectable listening modes, including two dialogue enhancing modes, a wide music mode, and a wide cinema mode that extends the soundstage beyond the physical boundaries of the soundbar. There are also bass and treble controls that can help compensate for less than perfect recordings but these enhancements are designed to be subtle, thus not altering the accurate timbre of voices and instruments.
For testing we connected an LG 55B7 OLED TV to the Bluesound Pulse using an optical digital cable and we also streamed content to the soundbar via WiFi from our control device, which was an iPhone 7 and from our home network. We also connected our iPhone to the Pulse using Bluetooth, in order to compare the sound quality with the WiFi connection. In terms of content we used a mixture of compressed and lossless music, as well as high resolution audio and music streamed from Tidal including music streams encoded using Master Quality Authenticated (MQA).
Thanks to the very effective Bluesound app, set up and control was easy
Sound QualityWe started off with TV audio via the optical digital input and the Pulse immediately showed its class with excellent delivery of dialogue that remained clear and focused. The soundstage was suitably wide, which not only means that the Pulse can be used with large TVs but it's also able to fill the room with a sense of greater immersion. There is the option of adjusting this sense of width using the wide mode in the BluOS app and this proved every effective when it came to movies, delivering a sense of scale that suits today's blockbusters without sounding forced or artificial.
The Pulse also handled the complex nature of modern film sound design, retaining a sense of detail in the mid-range combined with clean higher frequencies. The effects and music were well balanced and handled with a degree of refinement, whilst dialogue was clearly defined within the overall soundstage. The bass performance of the Pulse was surprisingly good, and certainly sufficient for general TV watching but the addition of a subwoofer did help give more dynamic soundtracks greater impact.
Overall the Pulse had a definite sense of fun when it came to TV and movies, which is an important factor that can often be difficult to define but is also very noticeable when absent. The soundbar would deliver action scenes with frenetic aggression, whilst quieter scenes could retain a greater degree of subtlety. This sense of finesse was equally as important when it came to listening to music, and in this area Bluesound have been particularly successful. The Pulse retained a marvellous feeling of speed, allowing it to respond to music with a lightness and nimbleness that made quality recordings stand out. The Pulse's abilities with high resolution and MQA streaming certainly paid dividends, resulting in a crisp and clear delivery that retained both clarity and detail, whilst the bass performance lent itself to music better than the bombastic nature of modern film soundtracks.
We enjoyed a trip through David Bowie's back catalogue, from the acoustic nature of his earlier albums to the all-out sonic assault of Ziggy Stardust. The later synth-heavy soundscapes of the Berlin years were also handled extremely well, whilst the bass heavy beat of Cat People was delivered with a pleasing sense of depth. The complex arrangements of songs like Young Americans and Fascination were also delivered with pleasing precision by the Pulse and there's no doubt that anyone looking for a soundbar to double as a serious speaker for music won't be disappointed. Walter Becker's recent demise sent us in the direction of Steely Dan and there were some excellent examples of their work on Tidal which, with the benefit of MQA, sounded superb. The Bluesound Pulse is certainly a great performer when it comes to TV, movies and music, making it a solid all-rounder but it's with high resolution audio that it really shines, showing just what a soundbar is capable of these days when a manufacturer is prepared not to compromise.
The sound quality was impressive, making it ideal for those who want a more musical soundbar
- Excellent sound quality
- Hi-res audio and MQA support
- Effective control app
- Multiroom capabilities
- Fantastic build quality
- Nice looking design
- No HDMI inputs/outputs
- Bass could be deeper
- No dedicated remote control
- Quite expensive
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar Review
Should I buy one?The Bluesound Pulse is an impressive soundbar that achieves its goal of delivering a superior level of sound quality. The unit itself is quite large, which means it can use decent speakers that are able to deliver a wide and detailed soundstage but, depending on how you install the Pulse, it could also block your TV screen. The design is minimalist but effective and the build quality is excellent. This certainly helps to mitigate the £999 price tag but for that kind of money we really would expect HDMI support and a dedicated remote would be nice, although the IR input allows you to use your TV controller. The absence of the latter means you have to use the BluOS control app but thankfully it's intuitive to navigate and highly effective. The Pulse is easy to setup and offers both WiFi and Bluetooth wireless options, although the lack of DNLA support does mean that accessing your own music libraries is a slightly more complicated process. However on the plus side, BluOS has greater flexibility and Bluesound's support is excellent.
We tested the Pulse with TV audio and various music sources and overall it performed extremely well. We found that with TV programmes the soundbar was able to deliver clear dialogue with a balanced and pleasingly wide soundstage. This was especially useful with movies, where the Pulse was able to deliver the more complex sound designs with real style. The soundbar was capable of a surprising amount of bass, which means a subwoofer isn't a necessity, but if you want to let the Pulse concentrate on the mid-range and higher frequencies, the addition of an active subwoofer can certainly add greater low-end impact to movie soundtracks. When it came to music the Pulse was very impressive, with its ability to handle high-res audio and MQA making it a genuinely good quality speaker for music. The Bluesound Pulse is certainly a great choice for those looking for a more audiophile soundbar but it is missing some features that we would really expect at this price point.
What are my alternatives?The big issue with the Bluesound Pulse is that for a soundbar with no HDMI support or subwoofer, it is very expensive at £999. We appreciate that some people may not want a subwoofer and thus a single box solution is ideal, but for that kind of money HDMI connections should be a given. If you're looking for a single box solution that has great audio quality, HDMI connections, a physical remote control and multiroom capabilities, then the Samsung HW-MS750 is the obvious alternative. It holds up extremely well against the Pulse in terms of sound quality and it includes more features at a current price of £699. In fact if you have a budget of around £1,000 to spend then you can actually buy the MS750 in a package with Samsung's SWA-W700 wireless subwoofer for the same as the Pulse, which makes Samsung's latest soundbar an even more attractive alternative.
Ease of use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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