Wireless multiroom sound systems are beginning to inveigle their way into the pretentious world of proper hi-fi. They’ve long offered multiroom convenience, the original tenet of market leader Sonos, but it seems High-Res Audio is providing a catalyst for better audio – and Bluesound is keen to be seen as a leading 24-bit advocate.
The Pulse 2 is the flagship of Bluesound’s Bluetooth speaker line-up. This second-generation active speaker features a number of significant revisions over its predecessor, which essentially means we’re dealing with a whole new kettle of fish.
At 6.12kg, the Pulse 2 is a seriously hefty unit for what is ostensibly a portable player. It’s designed to sit on a tabletop or bookshelf. Make sure they’re sturdy. The top tempts with touch sensitive volume and track controls, fashioned above a carry handle. Available in black or white matt finishes, it offers a soft, tactile finish that positively leers luxury.
Behind the metallic grille is a driver array that demands to be taken seriously. A large 139mm woofer is flanked by mid-range drivers either side.
Connectivity is best in class. The rear of the unit includes an optical/analogue minijack input, plus Ethernet, a dedicated headphone output and USB. Inside, there’s an upgraded Wi-Fi chipset and powerful 1GHz ARM Cortex-9 multi-core processor.
Joining the Pulse 2 on our network for this audition is the Bluesound Vault 2, a hard drive CD ripper with its own analogue and digital outputs. Essentially, it’s a media player sibling to the Bluesound active speakers. The Vault 2 rips CDs to WAV, FLAC or 320kbps MP3, and can download High-Res Audio files from commercial sites to its 2TB drive.
CDs ripped into the Vault are playable from the app’s Music Library.
It provided the main network source of content for this audition, and was used in conjunction with streaming services pushed from the BluOS app; these include Tidal, Spotify, TuneIn, Deezer and Qobuz.
Bluesound clearly imagines most uses will stick with this particular combination of sources. There’s no DNLA or UPnP support, which means you’ll need to setup network shares to access any other music library you might have. As a user experience this is arcane at best. Pretty much every other premium wireless speaker system (Sonos, Heos, All Connected) offers less friction.
Like any multiroom speaker, the Pulse 2 can be used in isolation or grouped with connected speakers on your network. The key point of difference between this and its rivals are its audiophile aspirations. Bluesound was the first of its ilk to champion High-Res Audio (although most of its competitors will now do the same).
Basic system set-up is straightforward. In addition to apps for iOS and Android, you can also direct proceedings from a Kindle Fire or PC desktop.
Beneath the hood is a proprietary DirectDigital amplifier, with a power output rated at 80W, allied to a 35-bit 844kHz DAC. Bluetooth comes with aptX, for optimum streaming clarity.
File support is wide. Bluesound is currently the only multiroom vendor able to support new High-Res Audio codec on the block, MQA – although your title choices will be limited at best. It also plays 24-bit/192kHz FLAC, WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG and ALAC – but not DSD…at least not yet. A firmware update for DSD is apparently on the cards.
Spoiler alert: the Pulse 2 is a sensational sounding all-in-one. It boasts the kind of full-range presence that a standalone bookshelf speaker/amp combo would be envious of.
Spatial imaging is excellent. Dave Hentschel’s maudlin synth from Elton John’s Funeral for a Friend (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), is given the space it needs to emote, before Davey Johnston’s guitar riff propels the track into Love lies Bleeding. The Pulse 2 is light and energetic, snapping along with the beat.
Volume control via the app is chunky, getting the volume you want often seems hit and miss. It’s generally better to use the on-body controls, which have more points of increment.
Cranked up loud, the soundstage is unapologetically in your face. The relentless beat of Muse’s Uprising (The Resistance) is so insistent you can’t help but feel the speaker is marching toward you.
There’s volume aplenty when needed. Multiroom? Heck, we could hear this speaker all around the house. Those precision drivers keep everything distortion free and smooth.
Bass response is excellent. The Pulse 2 reaches down to 50Hz, which adds authentic depth to King Tubby’s reggae classic Dub Fever. Similarly Cypress Hill’s Latin Lingo, loses none of its deep, bassy swagger. All of which goes to show just how versatile a speaker this Bluesound box really is.
Superb high frequency detail and tight, punchy bass, make the Pulse 2 a hugely entertaining speaker to listen to, whatever your musical bent. It offers extensive compatibility with High-Res Audio file types, goes loud and plays smooth.
If you’re serious about High-Res Audio, DSD support should be a given. Usability is also clunky.
The lack of DLNA and UPnP support makes accessing NAS drives a chore. Any user experience that warns: ‘Mounting Share Failed. Manually Add Network Share’ is never going to fly in the real world.
The Pulse 2 represents the high-end for wireless multroom audio systems. An exciting upgrade on Bluesound’s original flagship, it has muscle and musicality. High-Res audio file support is outstanding. There are usability niggles though. The lack of UPnP and DLNA support is a complication that most users won’t appreciate, and the app, although much improved from launch, still lacks the simple elegance we’ve seen from rivals like Sonos.
We reckon the Pulse 2 ups the ante when it comes to wireless speaker performance. With a bold presentation and wide file compatibility, it’s an impressive flagship for Bluesound’s nascent ecosystem. Stray from the BluOS streaming path though and the user experience becomes a tad clunky. Still, that doesn’t diminish our enthusiasm. The Pulse 2 has left us in a good mood. This is a fabulous wireless sound system.