Review: JBL launches new Pulse 5, a unique Bluetooth speaker that shines above the rest

Buy now $250

JBL just announced the new Pulse 5 speaker, a refreshed version of the brand’s flashiest way to listen to music. Much like its predecessors, this portable offering pairs battery-powered playback with integrated LED lights for a unique design that sets the JBL Pulse 5 apart from other speakers on the market.

Hands-on with JBL’s new Pulse 5 speaker

Just announced over the weekend, JBL’s new Pulse 5 speaker arrives as the fifth iteration of the form factor. Delivering some quality of life updates to the design as well as refinements to the internal speaker array, it stands out as one of the more unique speakers on the market. And even though we are talking about a speaker, I’m going to skip past talking about sound quality to dive right into that oh-so satisfying design.

It feels a little sacrilegious to not talk about how a speaker sounds first and foremost, but I promise we’ll get there. JBL makes plenty of offerings that put audio fidelity at the forefront, but the new Pulse 5 looks to offer an even more eye-catching experience, thanks to its novel design.

All housed within a plastic shell, JBL’s Pulse 5 looks more like a digital candle than it does a speaker. Nearly the entire part of the casing is covered in this LED wrapping that gives the device its name, and ultimately arrives with such an enchanted overall look. It really feels like JBL managed to trap some kind of arcane magic within the contents of the speaker, with the plastic shell providing a neat lens effect that takes things to a more exciting level.

Alongside being able to just set custom colors from the companion you, the real fun comes from the JBL Pulse 5 speaker’s ability to show off animated effects. From candle-like flickering to pulsing to the beat and even showcasing the speaker volume using those very same LEDs, there are some really creative applications of the interactive lighting show. It’s a really novel feature that I feel like you have to see for yourself, but once you do, it’s certainly love at first sight. The only real downside to that design is that the speaker is a fingerprint and dust magnet. And even more surprisingly, JBL does manage to deliver IP67 water-resistance to seal the deal.

On the top of the build is an integrated handle that’s comprised of a soft and slightly stretchy fabric, while on the bottom you’ll find some rubbery feet which hold the speaker off the table. Around back are the primary ways you’ll interact with the speaker, with an array of buttons that lined along the casing.

There’s, unfortunately, no playback controls, so you’ll have to rely on your actual device to start or pause playback, as well as skip tracks or adjust volume. As for what you will find, JBL delivers an essential power button as well as controls for Bluetooth, lighting modes, and the PartyBoost function, which lets you link together multiple of the brand’s speakers. An LED battery indicator and a USB-C charging port wrap up the package.

Hidden underneath the interactive LED exterior, JBL also packs in a fairly solid audio array. The pair of drivers work together to deliver more room-filing, monochannel audio that arrives with a frequency range of 58Hz to 20KHz. The Pulse 5 supports Bluetooth 5.3 with the SBC codec, though you’ll unfortunately find higher fidelity standards like AAC or AptX missing from the feature set.

Battery life, on the other hand, arrives with 12 hours per charge, according to JBL, but from my testing, that’s going to really vary based on how you’re using the speaker. Volume level is always a big decider of this, and fortunately, the LED effects from the Pulse 5 don’t seem to be much of a decider in how long you can rock out. That’s all thanks to the internal 7,500mAh battery, which JBL notes will take roughly four hours to top off after fully depleted.

Now available pre-order, JBL won’t be officially launching the Pulse 5 speaker until later on in the week. You can lock in your order ahead of its February 9 ship date over at Amazon. It’ll retail for $249.95, the same price as previous generations of JBL’s vibrant portable speaker.

9to5Toys’ Take

At the end of the day, the JBL Pulse 5 is as exciting and unique of a portable speaker as you’ll find on the market. But whether or not it’s worth the cash at $250 is really up to what you’re looking for in a package. If you’re hoping to bring home a speaker that’ll serenade you with the most crisp, room-filling audio, this really isn’t it.

Don’t get me wrong, the Pulse 5 sounds just fine! But that isn’t the real reason to drop this kind of cash. The integrated LEDs really are the star of the show and the main reason why I am walking away with such a glowing review. There’s nothing quite as novel as this on the market, and for that uniqueness alone, it’s worth praising JBL’s latest.

I’ve been reviewing a lot of speakers as of late, and this one really does stand above the rest. It’s as big of a party-starter as you’ll find, especially if you’re the type of person to listen to music on-the-go and want a speaker that can bring more than just the tunes. It’s not going to be for everyone, especially with that $250 price tag. But for those want a speaker that packs more than just booming audio, the JBL Pulse 5 is a well-rounded place to look.

Buy the JBL Pulse 5 speaker now

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