A couple years back, we tested the JBL Pulse. At the time, it was competing with a spate of cylindrical portable Bluetooth speakers like the UE Boom and the Beats Pill. To us, it stacked up really well — the audio quality was a bit uneven, but one of the best we’d encountered in its size range. But it was the LED light show that really set the Pulse apart. After all, while good audio is still a must, portable speakers are as much accessories as they are speakers, and that means they have to look good and have some personality. The Pulse did.
In September of last year, JBL announced the Pulse 2. The updated speaker promised improved bass response, dramatically longer battery life, and more LED lights inside.
Here’s one thing we can say for sure — the Pulse 2 looks much better than the original. That’s not to say the original Pulse was ugly, but we really like what the finer speaker grill has done for the speaker’s appearance. Another terrific change is one that affects both audio and aesthetics — instead of having a single passive bass radiator at one end and controls at the other like on the original, the Pulse 2 achieves symmetry by putting bass radiators at both ends of the cylinder, moving the controls to a strip on the back of the speaker.
All this combined with the increase in the number of LED lights gives the Pulse 2 a more refined appearance overall. It’s also worth noting here that the Pulse 2 is splashproof, but not waterproof — it can’t be submerged in water like some of the JBL’s more rugged portable Bluetooth speakers. So while it may be portable, but this is more of an indoor speaker — I’m guessing the team was thinking more about booze than rain when making this splashproof.
The Pulse 2 is available in black or silver, but I think the black is a better choice to maximize contrast between the body and the LED lights. I didn’t get a chance to try the silver model out, but I feel like the light show would be less impressive, especially when using lighter colors.
Those additional LED lights — an increase from 64 to 100 — make a big difference. The light show appears more fluid and makes the light show on the original Pulse seem blocky by comparison. The lights can be controlled by a button on the speaker itself or through the JBL Connect app, but if you had the original Pulse, you might be a little surprised to find that some features have disappeared. Most surprisingly, the equalizer mode is gone, so you can’t get the lights to groove to the music anymore. You also can’t change the color of the light at will (well, you kinda can, but we’ll get to that) or adjust the brightness. We don’t know why those features have been removed, but so it goes.
Instead, the Pulse 2 is more of a set it and forget it device. There are now eight lighting effects that you can either move through using the controls on the speaker or select on the app. These effects include fire, rain, firefly, stars, canvas, traffic, hourglass, and fireworks. Traffic is more blocky, while fireworks feature random bursts of color. Firefly is kind of cool when you use it with the main new light feature JBL has added to the Pulse 2, JBL Prism.
While you can’t just select green on the app to change the color of the Pulse 2, you can use the JBL Prism lens. This is a little camera on the back of the speaker that can detect color, changing the color of the LED lights accordingly. If you want to turn the speaker green, point the camera at something green and push the Prism button on the front of the speaker. This feature was meant to help the speaker blend into the background, but I think it’s best used with the firefly effect. In firefly, you can stack multiple colors in succession by pointing and scanning your chosen colors in succession. You can get some pretty cool color combinations this way that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
In practice, it’s necessary to get the Prism lens right up against the color being scanned to get it to work. It generally did work, although I had some trouble getting the Pulse 2 to pick up darker colors. It’s a neat trick, but it would still be nice to have the option to change the color manually on the app.
The lights also show volume levels while you’re adjusting it on the speaker itself, which is a handy little feature when you want to make sure the Pulse 2 won’t start blasting at full volume when you connect it to an audio source and hit play.
Like most cylindrical portable Bluetooth speakers, the JBL Pulse 2 radiates sound in 360 degrees, although the sound is definitely louder and clearer if you’re directly across from the front of the speaker. The range of this speaker has been improved, going from 100 Hz to 85 Hz on the low end. That and the second passive bass radiator make the Pulse 2 a much better performer on the low end, although, like with most speakers in this class, it’ll still be a little lacking. I didn’t throw a rager during testing, but I would guess that much of the low end would be lost amid the din of a happening party. That might also be because JBL’s sound signature tends to be more balanced. Mids and highs are clear, and there’s much less distortion and tinniness at high volumes than there was on the original. To be clear, the tuning is excellent — there’s rarely any harshness, and it makes for a comfortable listening experience. It can also get pretty loud, but not as loud as something like a UE Boom.
The JBL Pulse 2 is primarily a Bluetooth speaker, but if you have a 3.5 mm audio cable, you can use it with a wired connection as well (the speaker doesn’t come with one). Up to three devices can be paired with the Pulse 2 at once, and if you pair it with a smartphone, you can also use it as a speakerphone. The Pulse 2 can link to other Pulse 2 speakers to amplify the sound, although it doesn’t sound like you’ll be able to use this feature (JBL Connect) to get stereo sound out of two paired speakers. We weren’t able to test the JBL Connect feature, however.
JBL estimates that you’ll get about 10 hours of battery life from the Pulse 2, using both the speaker and the light show. Mileage will vary depending on what volume you play music at and how much you use the lights, but with mixed use I found the 10 hour estimate to be fair.
Read on for the verdict…