- Luxurious design
- Smooth hi-res music streaming with MQA support
- Big soundstage
- Attacking tone and powerful bass
- Lacks the insight and precision of rival soundbars
- Have to add libraries manually
- No HDMI ports or physical remote
- Review Price: £999.00
- 6 x 20W amplifier
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX
- MQA, FLAC, WAV, AIFF hi-res streaming
- BluOS multiroom system
- Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz, Napster and internet radio
- Six speaker drivers and two passive radiators
- Movie, Music and TV sound modes
What is the Bluesound Pulse Soundbar?
Part of Bluesound’s multiroom speaker family, the Pulse Soundbar is designed to be the centrepiece of your system. Not only does it amplify audio from flat-panel TVs, but it can also stream hi-res music in glorious 192kHz/24-bit quality.
Even more impressively, it’s the first soundbar to support MQA, the audio codec that packs hi-res music into smaller file sizes for streaming and downloading.
Related: Best Soundbars
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar – Design and Connections
With its £1k price tag, the Pulse Soundbar isn’t cheap – but thankfully, that’s fully reflected in its superlative build quality. The heavy extruded aluminium cabinet boasts an almost industrial level of robustness, with walls thin enough to maximise internal volume without compromising on rigidity.
The design is classy but discreet, with a low-key black finish and complete lack of buttons. There’s no LED panel to catch your eye either, just a ring of light that glows in different colours to denote the selected input.
With a width of 1073mm the Pulse Soundbar is big enough for TVs over 42in – but be warned: its 141mm height is likely to block your TV remote sensor and possibly part of the screen too. Helpfully, Bluesound sells a £299 TS 100 tabletop stand that holds the TV in place above the bar. Alternatively, you can mount the soundbar on the wall using the supplied bracket.
Given the Pulse’s generous dimensions, its shallow 70mm depth comes as a pleasant surprise and might be useful if TV stand surface area is limited. It’s propped up on two kickstands that plug into holes on the back.
The upward-facing sockets in the rear recess are easy to access, but if you need them facing the other way when wall mounting, no problem – just turn the bar upside down.
Connections include optical and analogue RCA inputs, Ethernet and two USB ports – one to play music from USB sticks and another Type B port for firmware updates. The lack of HDMI is disappointing at this price.
There’s no external subwoofer but you can connect one of your choice to the sub output. Bluesound is introducing a wireless model later this year, as well as a dongle that lets other subwoofers connect wirelessly.
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar – Features
The Pulse Soundbar boasts Bluetooth 4.0 with aptX and Wi-Fi, the latter allowing you to stream music from NAS drives and PCs. You can stream hi-res MQA, FLAC, WAV and AIFF, plus all the lower-quality file types you’d expect.
For a smoother streaming experience you can pair it with Bluesound’s £1099 Vault 2, a 2TB hard drive that rips CDs in high-resolution FLAC (or lossy MP3) and allows them to be streamed by other Bluesound speakers in a multiroom system.
Pulling the Pulse’s streaming strings is the Linux-based BluOS operating system, powered by a 1GHz Cortex processor. There’s a dedicated BluOS smartphone app that lets you stream tracks from a variety of music services, including Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, Qobuz, Napster and internet radio.
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Bluesound takes a hi-fi approach to its speaker design, with a three-way configuration of custom drivers, each one powered by its own amplifier and housed in an optimised chamber.
The array includes a pair of 2-inch mid-range drivers, two 19mm soft dome tweeters and two 4-inch woofers, ably supported by dual 4-inch passive radiators. They’re driven by 6 x 20W of power from the DirectDigital amp.
Also on the feature list are Movie, Music and TV sound modes, plus Dolby Digital mixdown to 2.1.
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar – Operation
The Pulse Soundbar doesn’t come with a physical remote, which is inconvenient when you just want to quickly adjust the volume or switch inputs.
That aside, the soundbar is a joy to use. The terrific BluOS phone app uses a series of clear and thoughtfully arranged menus to control the bar’s extensive functionality. The fonts and icons have a funky, modern feel – without being over-the-top – and everything works smoothly.
A handy sidebar menu offers quick access to inputs, playlists and music services, plus multiroom organisation is pleasingly straightforward. When searching through your library it makes good use of cover art, while the Now Playing screen puts everything you need in easy reach without feeling cluttered.
However, BluOS could be more intuitive when it comes to finding NAS drives and PCs. It doesn’t use DLNA/uPnP, which means you have to manually add music servers to the library using an option in the setup menu. If you have a particularly large music collection this can take a while to complete, and you have to rescan to add any new files.
Bluesound Pulse Soundbar – Performance
The Pulse Soundbar is the consummate entertainer, delivering movie soundtracks with aplomb and filling a large living room with its big, powerful soundstage.
I played Rush on Blu-ray and the Bluesound kicks out an extraordinary amount of bass, even without an external subwoofer. There’s might and depth behind the roaring Formula One engines, and when cars crash the collision hits hard.
It’s a lively, fast-paced performance, with impressive drama and scale during the spectacular race scenes. The experience is closer to that of a larger separates system, such is the power and scale on offer.
Effects are conveyed with ample attack, making engines rasp and glass shatter but without an unpleasant edge – it’s exciting but constantly listenable.
This zesty mid-range reproduction and bass depth makes dialogue intelligible and authoritative. Chris Hemsworth’s voice has amazing presence, benefiting from seamless fusion across the three-way driver arrangement.
Also impressive is the Bluesound’s expansive dispersion, which conveys a sense of width and space. The unit’s generous physical width helps in that regard, but the drivers push effects beyond the edges of the screen. It can’t compete with Yamaha’s digital sound projectors in terms of envelopment or surround placement, but the Pulse’s sound never feels boxed in.
If I’m being critical, there could be a bit more precision and subtlety in the high frequencies. There’s plenty of crisp detail and a decent level of clarity overall, but it doesn’t dig out those tiny textures as effectively as high-end rivals such as the DALI Kubik One and Cabasse Stream Bar.
But that doesn’t stop the Pulse Soundbar from doing a great job with TV shows and music. With the former, dialogue in Channel 4’s Homeland is consistently clear and the sporadic action scenes have a sense of scale that you’d never get through TV speakers.
With music the Bluesound’s formidable hi-res credentials result in a dazzling performance with MQA and FLAC tracks. Its presentation of Gaucho by Steely Dan (96kHz/24-bit MQA) is exquisite, with smooth, full-bodied saxophone lines and vocals that drip with detail.
Meanwhile, it deftly navigates the layered piano, percussion and vocals in David Benoit’s “Barcelona Nights”, giving every element room to breathe and rendering instruments with a natural tonality. The bassline is a little soft and imprecise, but this lack of low-end agility does little to spoil your overall enjoyment.
Lower quality fare such as MP3 or Spotify streams doesn’t sparkle in the same way, but the Bluesound’s high-end circuitry still gives them a pleasing spit and polish.
Should I buy the Bluesound Pulse?
It’s beautifully designed, streams like a dream and takes hi-res music in its stride, but there’s something about the Pulse Soundbar’s movie performance that doesn’t quite hit the spot like its high-end rivals.
It lacks the subtlety and precision offered by the DALI Kubik One and Cabasse Stream Bar, glossing over fine textures and details that separate a good performance from a great one. The lack of HDMI ports and dedicated remote don’t help its cause at this price, either.
Were it not for that, the Pulse Soundbar would be an unmitigated triumph. It delivers a huge soundstage with bags of bass and an articulate, attacking mid-range. What’s more, interaction with other Bluesound components is seamless and support for MQA is a huge step forward for hi-res music streaming. It will no doubt earn the Pulse Soundbar many fans despite my misgivings over its movie performance.
Its performance is flawed in places and HDMIs would have been nice, but otherwise the Pulse Soundbar’s powerful sound, superb hi-res streaming and swanky design are an appealing combination
Score in detail
Sound Quality 8
|Number of Speakers||6|
|Dolby Pro Logic II||No|
|DTS Master Audio HD||No|
|S/PDIF Optical In||1|
|Stereo Line In||2|
|Power (Watt)||6 x 20W|