Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i Review

There’s plenty to like about the Pulse Flex 2i, but it's up against some tough competition

Verdict

The Pulse Flex 2i is a fantastic-looking wireless speaker that delivers a huge sound

Pros

  • Compact design, huge sound
  • Bluesound wireless multiroom integration
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Apple AirPlay 2-compatible

Cons

  • No Bluetooth aptX HD
  • Rival wireless smart systems offer better value

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £299
  • Optional battery pack
  • Compact high resolution wireless music system
  • Integrates with Bluesound BluOS multiroom systems

What is a Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i?

The Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i is a wireless Bluetooth music system with multiroom functionality. Ultra-compact, it’s the smallest speaker in the Bluesound range, which also includes the Pulse Soundbar 2i and Node 2i High-Res Audio music streamer.

The 2i designation signifies the latest iteration of the Bluesound platform, which introduces Apple AirPlay 2 support and dual-band Wi-Fi. There have been some hardware improvements over the original model, too.

The Pulse Flex 2i is part of a comprehensive range refresh for Bluesound. The model sits below the larger Pulse Mini 2i (£499), so providing a jumping on point of sorts. However, with a £299 price point you’ll have to leap high.

Bluesound was the original high-performance multiroom speaker platform, but now finds itself up against stiff competition. So does it still impress?

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i − Build and design

This speaker may be compact but it’s also deceptively weighty. At just over 1.23kg, it should stay parked no matter how rowdy your house party. Available in either black or white finishes, its industrial design borders on gorgeous.

The cabinet is a single mould, with a divine tactile finish. The metallic mesh grille sports perforations of various sizes, implying it’s been tuned for maximum clarity. Behind the grille lurks a 25mm tweeter and 102mm woofer.

Up top are brightly lit playback controls, plus music presets that can be assigned to services and inputs.

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

Connections to the rear comprise Ethernet LAN, provided as an alternative to Wi-Fi, micro-USB, a USB media reader, and 3.5mm aux input that supports both analogue and optical digital sources (an adapter is supplied in the box).

A cursory inspection also reveals a curious rubber bung. This actually hides the connecting port for an optional £69 battery pack. Once connected, you can cart the Pulse Flex 2i around the house, maybe to provide accompaniment to dining alfresco, or tinkering in the garage.

The hardware runs BluOS, a proprietary music management system to control streaming services and functionality.

Related: Best multiroom speakers

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i − Set-up and features

Bluesound has fine-tuned its set-up procedure to the point that it’s comparable to Sonos or Amazon.

To get up and running merely requires you to power up and download the BluOS app. The two then communicate, share Wi-Fi details, and Bob’s your uncle.

The entire process takes only a few minutes. If your player needs a firmware update, this is handled automatically, as part of the setup.

Wireless connectivity is comprehensive. Dual-band Wi-Fi ensures a reliable connection in congested spaces (just hop over to the 5GHz band) and there’s support for AirPlay 2, which will no doubt excite Apple enthusiasts.

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

With AirPlay 2, you can stream music and podcasts, even audio from YouTube or Netflix, to multiple connected AirPlay speakers. Siri can play an album in one room, and something different to another. It can also interface with Apple HomePod.

The system is also compatible with Amazon Alexa voice control. However, it’s a little clunky since voice commands need to go through BluVoice, a separate voice-control interface. So, Alexa has to ask BluVoice to play content or action a command.

The speaker has Bluetooth aptX 4.1, but not aptX HD, which is only found further up the Bluesound range.

The system supports streams up to 24-bit/192kHz, to multiple speakers with no lag. The BluOS app also offers all key music services, as well as internet radio stations and podcasts. File compatibility is extensive, and covers FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, and ALAC.

Related: What is AirPlay 2?

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i − Performance

The Pulse Flex 2i has a huge sonic footprint, out of all proportion to its physical size. It never sounds underpowered or insubstantial; there’s no shortage of welly. I don’t think I’ve experienced a speaker this small that sounds quite so big.

Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i

Beating inside is Bluesound’s own 25W Direct Digital amplifier. This 2i iteration features an upgraded bass driver, which really helps the speaker pump.

That compact design brings caveats. But, while you don’t get any stereo imaging, it manages to balance high, crisp detail, with a mid-range that’s as smooth as truffle oil. The mix is taut and toe-tapping. Revisiting Falling in Reverse’s “Fashionably Late” left me beaming. Outstanding vocal clarity (even when the album goes full-scream) and tight percussion characterises its snappy delivery.

That super-smooth mid-range also makes this a fabulous speaker for podcasts and audio books.

Related: Best Bluetooth speakers

Why buy the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i?

If you’re an existing Bluesound devotee, then this dinky, high performer might well be something of a must-have. It outperforms its cabinet and sounds ballsy, with superb hig- frequency response and belting DSP-enhanced bass. The ability to bolt on a battery pack for portable use is another plus.

However, this speaker is only borderline smart. While the Alexa skill opens up a level of Amazon integration, you’d be better off with an Amazon Echo Plus, or the Harman Kardon Citation 100, running Google Assistant, if that’s your main reason to buy. Both rivals are considerably cheaper. If size, not smarts, are important, then also consider the Sonos Play: 1.

Nevertheless, the Pulse Flex 2i is easy to accommodate, has a superb level of finish and sounds defiantly premium. Feature-wise it’s compelling too, even if it lacks the higher resolution Bluetooth audio performance of its bigger stablemates.

But that £299 price point is a big ask, particularly when so many comparable upper-class wireless speakers – be they from Denon Heos, Sonos or one of the many Smart Assistant models – sell for considerably less.

Verdict

The Pulse Flex 2i is a fantastic-looking wireless speaker that delivers a huge sound – but with rivals offering better value, its price might prove a sticking point.

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