Using the BluOS operating system, it opens the door to thousands of Internet radio stations, pulls in music from local media servers, and streams via Bluetooth from the device of your choice. And it’s of only a few systems supporting MQA right now. With three high-tech DirectDigital amplifiers, it makes no sacrifices in audio quality.
Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System
- Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System
- Speakers, amp, and streaming player in one box
- Simple, elegant styling blend into any décor
- Comes in white or black
- BluOS operating system works with all Bluesound speakers and players and select NAD components
- Supports MQA hi-res streams
- Streams from the Internet, local media servers, or mobile devices
- Smartphone, tablet, and desktop control with BluOS apps (iOS, Android, Mac OS X, PC)
Recently, I reviewed the NAD M32 Direct Digital Amplifier. Along with that sample came a Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System. I had originally thought to combine the two products into a single review but quickly discovered the Pulse 2 had more than sufficient chops to merit its own article. Bluesound and NAD are both under the Lenbrook umbrella. This means the two brands can easily create products that bridge the gap between audiophile sound and convenience. The M32 with its BluOS module installed easily excelled in both areas. The Pulse 2 is something for more modest budgets but makes no compromises in sound quality, while selling for an approachable $699.
Convenience in audio is something users have always longed for and manufacturers continually strive for. The record and tape era is not that long in the past and I remember when compact disc first hit the scene in the 80s. We marveled at the convenience and quality of that shiny disc and never imagined it could get any better. Thanks to Steve Jobs and his iPod, we now have music that exists without physical media. No longer do we have to shuffle discs, or any other small object for that matter. Now we simply pick up our smartphone, scroll through a list of songs and press play. The music flows into headphones, or into speakers discretely installed in our homes.
The Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System brings iPod-like convenience to the home. Set it on a shelf, connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and in minutes, you’ll have music playing. Now this in and of itself is nothing new. My goal today then is to see how the Pulse 2 stands apart from its competitors. Let’s take a look.
Streaming Music System with Stereo Speakers
3 x 80w DirectDigital
2 x 2.75”, 1 x 5.25”
Supported File Formats:
MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, ALAC, OPUS
FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF
Native Sampling Rates:
45Hz – 20kHz
USB, RJ-45, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n), aptX Bluetooth, 3.5mm/optical combo, 3.5mm headphone output
Free Internet Radio:
TuneIn Radio, iHeartRadio, Calm Radio, Radio Paradise
Supported Cloud Services:
WiMP, Slacker Radio, Qobuz, HighResAudio, JUKE, Deezer, Murfie, HDTracks, Spotify, TIDAL, Napster, Microsoft Groove (with OneDrive), Classics Online, KKBox
7.8” x 16.5” x 7.6”
Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System Price:
Bluesound, BluOS, Pulse 2, Streaming Player, Wireless Speaker, MQA, DirectDigital, Wireless Speaker Reviews 2017
The majority of products in this category are simply called “wireless speakers”, but that does the Pulse 2 a disservice. Bluesound has more accurately dubbed its entry an All-In-One Streaming Music System. That final term is the key. The word system suggests more than one component has been combined into a single box. And that’s exactly what the Pulse 2 is. It’s a DirectDigital three-channel integrated amplifier along with two mid-range speaker drivers, a sub-woofer, and a streaming player. So everything you need to play music is included. All one needs to add is the Internet.
I spoke in detail about DirectDigital amp technology in my review of the NAD Masters Series M32 amplifier. The basic premise is that all incoming signal information remains in the digital domain until the speaker outputs. Volume and tone control are accomplished in software rather than with sound-altering analog potentiometers. This approach virtually eliminates distortion and creates an honest, neutral presentation with an extremely wide sound-stage and lots of detail. It’s the perfect canvas for streamed music that can vary in quality from excellent to poor. That cleanliness actually helps extract every last ounce from even the most compressed streams. While you might think it would accentuate the negative, in practice, it does quite the opposite.
The stereo speaker system employs two 2.75” drivers which cover the mid and high ranges while a single 5.25” cone handles the lower frequencies. Bluesound doesn’t publish the crossover spec but it rates the Pulse 2 down to 45Hz. While the deepest tones are beyond its abilities, it pumps out good bass in both classical and rock recordings. It won’t rattle the furniture but most listeners will be surprised at its small physical size when they hear the wide dynamic and frequency range.
The player is the same BluOS part I experienced in the M32 amplifier. With the free BluOS app, I could listen to Internet radio and other streaming services, have Wi-Fi access to locally-stored music, and connect via Bluetooth to my iPhone and iPad. Basically, if your music is stored on a computer somewhere, the Pulse 2 can play it. Cloud services comprise a long list. Some are free and other require subscription fees. Spotify, for instance, will play free on your phone but requires an upcharge to play on external devices like the Pulse 2.
You can also stream from a media server if you add Bluesound’s Vault 2 to your network. It has a 2TB hard disk and a CD drive built in. You can rip your collection and make it accessible to multiple BluOS devices like speakers and amplifiers.
The Pulse 2 sports simple styling with a gentle curve across its face, rounded corners, and a three facets across the back. The cabinet is finished with a rubber-like surface that absorbs light and resists fingerprints. The front grill is metal and hides the drivers well without coloring the sound noticeably. I couldn’t remove it for comparison but fine details and higher frequencies played with no apparent coloration.
Up top is a touch-sensitive keypad though I don’t expect it to see much use. You can control everything from your phone or tablet and even the status light is repeated on the front so it doesn’t need to be visible. Once the Pulse 2 is set up, you can hide it on a high shelf if you like. The light indicates network status. Various combinations of red, green, and blue plus flashing or solid operation tell you what’s going on. Once the light glows solid blue, you’re ready to listen to music.
There is no remote in the box but the system does have an IR receiver on its front. You can use it along with the BluOS app to program a universal handset or control system. I never needed this feature during my review. I was able to access all necessary functions from my iPhone.
Around back are a few physical connection options. You can hook up an Ethernet cable to the Pulse 2’s RJ-45 jack if you’d rather not use Wi-Fi. There is also a 3.5mm input that functions as either TOSLink or analog stereo. You can also plug in a pair of headphones for private listening. A standard USB port accepts thumbdrives and will play the most common music file formats. As shipped, the Pulse 2 includes a TOSLink adapter, Ethernet cable, and power cords for North American and European power outlets.
Setup should take no more than a few minutes. The only required physical connection is power. Simply plug the Pulse 2 into a wall outlet and it will immediately enter hotspot mode. Download the BluOS app onto your phone or tablet, then open the device’s network settings. The system should appear in the list of Wi-Fi devices. Select it, then return to the BluOS app. Follow the instructions to complete setup. In my case, I had to open the Bluesound website from my phone’s browser to install a firmware update. After a few minutes, the status light glowed solid blue and I was ready to rock.
If you’re wondering about tone controls and the like, the app has a screen for that. You can adjust traditional bass and treble sliders, set a volume limit, and chose the gain method. I left everything at the default settings for my review and never felt the need to change anything.
The easiest way to get started with the Pulse 2 is to sign up for a few Internet radio services. Radio Paradise is included in the BluOS app and doesn’t require a login to access. iHeartRadio is also free once you sign up through your web browser. You can access thousands of feeds and most of your local stations are likely to be in there. I found all the big ones here in Orlando along with genre-specific channels like classical and alt-rock.
Quality will vary widely and depends on the service you choose. Obviously, Tidal and other premium feeds offer less compression and will ultimately sound better. But you’ll pay for the privilege. I expect a typical buyer of the Pulse 2 will be looking for value. At $699, the system is reasonably-priced and you can get great sound delivered conveniently from Internet radio and free streaming services.
The quality and fidelity of streamed audio content varies greatly depending on the source and of course, the original material. You can take a poor recording and rip it in the highest bitrate with no compression and it will still sound bad. That fact has been proved to me during this experience when listening to classical performances. Many of the Internet-radio channels are categorized by music era, like 12-tone or Romantic. There is rarely an opportunity to choose a particular orchestra or performer. Most of what I found was recorded by European regional orchestras during live concerts. Often times, the microphones sounded as if they were at the back of the hall. And the orchestras… Let’s just say you won’t mistake them for the New York Philharmonic.
I got a great sense of the Pulse 2’s abilities when streaming smaller groups such as string quartets or guitar trios. It made comparisons to the NAD M32 amplifier I recently reviewed much easier. Remember that they share the same DirectDigital amp technology. And I had not listened to any other components in between so comparisons were easy to make. In short, the Pulse 2 is like an M32-light. Though far apart in price, the two systems share a level of clarity that I’ve not heard from many other products. It’s no wonder given their super-low distortion numbers. And that value (0.005% THD+N) is at the unit’s full-rated power, 80 watts-per-channel in the Pulse 2’s case. This meant I could play most content fairly loud without penalty. In fact, the only downside to maxing the volume was that I could hear the flaws in the material more easily. The Pulse 2 never wavered in its presentation.
When I say M32-light then, I mean that it sounds very similar, just smaller in scope. Obviously the speakers are much smaller and closer together than my towering Axiom LFR1100s. But the Pulse 2 will have little trouble filling most rooms with music. Dynamics are quite broad given the physical size of the cabinet and bass was very present down to all but the lowest frequencies. I had no reason to doubt the 45Hz response rating from Bluesound.
One thing products like this must get right is wide dispersion. Users are likely to place the Pulse 2 to satisfy aesthetic rather than sonic preferences. So it has to sound good off-axis in both the horizontal and vertical planes. I replicated this by simply setting the speaker up on one side of my listening room and walking around a bit. There was some lobing in vocal material, more so with female singers than female. This stands to reason since higher frequencies are more directional. But once I had settled into a new position, my ears adapted to the sound. It was always pleasing and engaging regardless of the frequency distribution. Only when I passed behind the front baffle did I feel the sound was lacking, no surprise there. And I observed little difference when the speaker was near a wall or away from it.
I had a ball surfing the thousands of streaming channels available through BluOS. Without paying a cent, I enjoyed every popular genre and even found some high-quality classical chamber music that made for an enjoyable afternoon. I guess the single adjective that sums up the experience best is “engaging”. When the presentation is this clean, even less-than-stellar recordings sound pretty good. And when you find the high-quality material, it’s hard to stop listening.
Late in my time with the Pulse 2, I was reminded by Bluesound that the speaker, like all BluOS-capable products, supports MQA streams. MQA (Master Quality Authentication) is the latest hi-res container for streamed audio. It is capable of CD-quality but requires less bandwidth making it suitable for transmission over the Internet. The end result is much better sound-staging and a return of all the subtle cues lost to traditional compression methods.
To experience this, I went to TIDAL and cued up a few classical recordings and a classic rock album from The Doors. The first track was an old recording of cello virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich performing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the London Philharmonic. The experience left no doubt that this was a vintage pressing with a fairly narrow soundstage and muddy strings. The soloist came through loud and clear but MQA revealed that this just wasn’t a very well-produced record.
Alexandre Tharoud’s performance of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 is much more modern, release just six months ago in fact. Honestly, I could tell no difference in quality between the streamed version and the CD. Transparency was at the forefront here with superb ambiance, detail, and instrument separation. Only an SACD could improve upon it I believe.
I finished up with a remaster of The Doors 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. It had a huge presence, as if I were right in the studio with the musicians. It was the kind of in-your-lap presentation I enjoy most. The keyboard solos seemed a bit harsh but that is a product of the original material.
MQA certainly seems like the ticket for hi-res streamed audio. It comes at a premium price ($19.99 per month for TIDAL streams) but the only way you’ll hear better quality is from downloads or discs.
THE BLUESOUND’S PULSE 2 ALL-IN-ONE STREAMING MUSIC SYSTEM Offers Great Value In Whole-house Audio. With Directdigital Technology, It Also Brings Audiophile Cred To The Table.
- DirectDigital technology delivers super-clean and distortion free sound
- Decent bass for its size
- Good off-axis performance with minimal lobing
- BluOS offers a huge array of content choices
- MQA support
- Simple, elegant styling
- Solid build quality
- More intuitive BluOS app
At $699, the Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System is hard to fault in any way. By borrowing DirectDigital amplifier technology from its Lenbrook stablemate NAD, it offers a level of clarity and resolution not commonly found in products of this type. Most of its competition focuses on convenience and puts sonics at a lower priority level. Bluesound doesn’t accept this approach. And with their innovative and unique design, they’ve managed to raise the audio-quality bar without charging a premium. You can easily fill your home with Bluesound products for no more than the cost of a Sonos system. Once everything’s configured on your tablet or smartphone, it’s easy to simply designate a player and start listening to music.
The vast and wonderful Internet has largely eliminated the need for physical media. No longer does portable music mean an ugly boom-box playing tapes and CDs. Now we have elegantly-styled boxes like the Pulse 2 that connect wirelessly and deliver sound quality we could only dream of just a few years ago.
If you’re looking for something simple, flexible, elegant, and convenient, the Bluesound Pulse 2 All-In-One Streaming Music System has few, if any peers. With its DirectDigital amplifier technology, it transforms what would otherwise be just another wireless speaker into a winning choice. It’s hard to imagine anyone being dissatisfied with it. You might find your next group of party guests distracted by the engaging sound coming from your new Pulse 2. Its version of background music is a little harder to ignore! As a lifestyle product, the Bluesound Pulse 2 earns my highest recommendation.