JBL Pulse 5 review

The bright, customisable, 360° LED lights that can sync to the beat of the music look fantastic. It’s unique and exciting, but that’s all there is here.

If you have a need/use for the Pulse 5 – maybe a white noise machine that doubles as a night light in a kid’s bedroom – the LEDs are impressive, and you’ll love them. But the audio quality is average, and at $400, it’s a bit overpriced.

You can get a portable speaker that can deliver far better audio, the most apparent being JBL’s Xtreme 3, for only $30 more.

Pros

  • Awesome LED lights
  • Sturdy design
  • Decent battery

Cons

  • Audio quality isn’t great
  • Prone to finger marks and smudges
  • Expensive

Price

The Pulse 5 costs $400. That’s expensive, especially as JBL’s Xtreme 3 costs only $30 more and delivers much better audio quality.

Design

The Pulse 5 is a cylindrical speaker that stands upright on three rubberised legs. It measures 10.7 x 21.6 x 13.2cm and weighs 1.5kg. It’s well-built, boasting an IP67 resistance rating – meaning it will survive being submerged in up to a metre of water for a maximum of 30 minutes – there’s a 2.5-inch, 30W woofer on the bottom of the speaker and a 0.6-inch, 10w tweeter on top. All pretty standard stuff.

The main attraction here is the LED lights inside. These look great. You can customise them, set them to a different tempo and alter the colours in the JBL Portable app. It reminded me of a lava lamp or a lantern, and its brightness was impressive. While the speaker was definitely at its best in a dark room, you can still easily see the light effects on a sunny day.

Annoyingly there aren’t any physical playback buttons on the speaker; there are only inputs for power, Bluetooth, a lighting button – to change between lighting modes – and a JBL PartyBoost button. Physical controls for pause, play, skip and go to the previous track were sorely missed.

The speaker’s frame is made of a glossy, plastic material that’s sturdy and strong; however, it’s a sucker for fingerprints. After handling the speaker, it looked smudged, which was a bit frustrating as it sometimes took away from the lights inside.

JBL Pulse 5 review

Audio

The audio capabilities here are okay. Boasting a 2.5-inch, 30W woofer on the bottom and a 0.6-inch,10w tweeter on top, the Pulse 5 doesn’t quite have the same range as the best portable speakers on the market. The $230 JBL Charge 5 sounds better.

The audio sounded tinny at higher volumes, and the bass didn’t bounce as well as I would’ve liked.

I tested the speaker with a range of genres like the rock song Party Hard by Andrew W.K, the hip-hop track Really Doe by Danny Brown and the more classical Slip Slidin Away by Paul Simon. The speaker was at its best at medium volume with less intense tracks like Slip Slidin’ Away. It struggled to produce a thumping rhythm in the more bass-heavy track Really Doe and Party Hard sounded muddied and fuzzy at higher volumes. 

Interestingly I liked the Pulse 5 most when listening to ambient sounds via the JBL Portable app.

JBL Pulse 5 review

JBL Portable App

The JBL Portable app is easy-to-use and straightforward. You can customise the lights from a selection of presets, each with additional lighting effects. There are five presets to choose from Nature, Party, Spiritual, Cocktail, Weather and Canvas, and you can switch between these within the app or using the dedicated button on the speaker.

Each preset has five effects; for example, the Weather preset has Sky, Cloud, Rain, Snow and Storm. Each preset feels very different, and there’s enough variety here to match the mood you’re looking for. You can also select an individual colour of your choosing. 

You can adjust the brightness of the lights and turn them on and off here. There’s a tempo slider that will adjust the lighting effects based on the tempo of the music being played, and there are also ambient noises included. Interestingly the ambient noise doesn’t change the lights to suit. If you’re listening to fire crackling, you’ll need to find a lighting effect that matches that sound. This wasn’t hard to do, but it felt like an unnecessary added step.

I was a little disappointed in the equaliser as there are only three customisation options here bass, mid and treble. This isn’t unique to the Pulse 5; it’s the same for all portable JBL speakers, and, I would’ve liked more options here to get the sound exactly how I want it.

The Pulse 5 is compatible with JBL’s PartyBoost function, allowing you to connect up to 100 JBL speakers that support PartyBoost simultaneously. I paired the Pulse 5 with the JBL Boombox 3, which worked very well. My office instantly had a surround sound feel with the speakers on opposite sides of the room.

JBL Pulse 5 review

Battery

JBL claims the Pulse 5 will last 12 hours off a single charge. We found this to be accurate when the LED brightness was set to medium. 

We found it reduced to around 9 hours at max brightness, but it’s still impressive considering the LED lights inside.

It has a 7,500mAh battery that takes 4 hours to charge fully via its USB-C port. This is quite long, but it wasn’t an issue. It’s standard in the market.

JBL Pulse 5 review

Verdict

The JBL Pulse 5 is a unique and visually impressive Bluetooth speaker that will appeal to anyone looking for a stunning light show. 

It’s well-built – with its IP67 resistance rating – it’s easy to use, it stands out, and it has a decent battery. However, it struggles with audio quality. 

The sound quality here isn’t up-to-par with the best portable Bluetooth speakers, and at $400, it’s quite expensive.

This niche device will only appeal to those with a specific reason to use it. If you’re looking for the best sound in a portable speaker, the Pulse 5 isn’t it. If you’re looking for a speaker that doubles as a fantastic light, you can’t beat the Pulse 5.

JBL’s Pulse 5 is a niche device that will appeal to the niche customer that is looking for a lava lamp-esque light that doubles as an okay portable speaker.

The bright, customisable, 360° LED lights that can sync to the beat of the music look fantastic. It’s unique and exciting, but that’s all there is here.

If you have a need/use for the Pulse 5 – maybe a white noise machine that doubles as a night light in a kid’s bedroom – the LEDs are impressive, and you’ll love them. But the audio quality is average, and at $400, it’s a bit overpriced.

You can get a portable speaker that can deliver far better audio, the most apparent being JBL’s Xtreme 3, for only $30 more.

Patch Bowen
Patch Bowen is an accomplished technology journalist with a solid academic foundation, holding a degree from Auckland University. His expertise spans across a range of tech topics, with a notable focus on product reviews, industry trends, and the impact of technology on society. With his work featured on major New Zealand websites like Stuff.co.nz, thebit.nz, and The Press, Patch has established himself as a credible voice in technology media. His articles are known for their detailed analysis and practical insights, particularly in making complex technological concepts understandable for a broad audience. At ReviewsFire, Patch is renowned for his thorough evaluations and clear, informative writing style. He has a knack for identifying and explaining the nuances of the latest gadgets and digital trends, earning him a reputation as a trusted source for tech advice and information.

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