Canadian-brand Bluesound has been something of a staple of the hi-fi industry for the past decade and has a reputation for combining good quality audio - in part thanks to technology pioneered by its sister brands NAD Electronics and PSB Speakers - with the modern convenience of streaming and digital music.
Despite this heritage, the design of Bluesound devices have always been more industrial than fashion forward. With their rectangular form, you’d be forgiven for being uninspired. Until now that is.
The Pulse M all-in-one speaker, that launched late last year, is the first from the brand to feature a more contemporary design. The slightly elliptical device fuses its polycarbonate casing on the lower half, with acoustic cloth on the top half. A proximity sensor, which ensures the touch controls light up when your hand hovers nearby, is a subtle touch and adds a deft and quality feel to the speaker. However, the glass top, that sits neatly on top of the cloth-encased top half, does attract smudges and fingerprint marks, so you may find yourself constantly wiping it down.
The Pulse M features Bluesound’s patented Omni-Hybrid design, which combines an up-firing 13cm woofer with a downward-facing audio reflector to diffuse the sound from the woofer through 360 degrees. In short, this lethal combination ensures that you get the same effect no matter whether you sit. Be it in front, to the side or behind the speaker.
The woofer is complemented by two tweeters, each aimed 45 degrees out from the centre of the speaker. According to Bluesound, these off-axis tweeters create a wide soundstage for room-filling sound.
The Pulse M can be used as a stand-alone speaker, but its mains-powered nature means that it isn’t particularly portable. However, it does have both Bluetooth and internet connectivity (Wi-Fi or Ethernet). It can also be slotted into existing home cinema and multi-room set-ups, either with other Bluesound products through the BluOS app, or for iOS users through Airplay 2 – providing you have compatible products in your set-up.
The Pulse M provides a rich, warm sound. The bass tones are full and well-defined, without sacrificing any detail. In addition to this, vocals were clear, while the top-end sounds bright. The Pulse M is built for high-res audio through its support of Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) files which is offered through a range of sources, including streaming service Tidal.
A clear difference was noticeable when playing standard digital audio and high-quality files. Brandy and Monica’s ‘The Boy is Mine’ streamed in MP3 sounded palatable, but when streamed in MQA, the overall experience was brighter, with the harp clearly still distinguishable over the powerful bass – something that was almost completely lost when listening in standard quality.
The soundscape was loud enough to fill a double-bedroom and, true to its word, the Omni-Hybrid design meant there was very little difference when sat in front of the speaker; to the side of the speaker; or even behind it. That said, it doesn’t provide a full Dolby-Atmos-experience where instruments appear to come from a specific direction, which gives you the feeling of listening to the track performed live but you’re hard pushed to get away from the sound.
The Pulse M is controlled by the BluOS app - which both myself and other members of my household found uncluttered and easy to use - or using the touch controls on the speaker’s glass top that lets you play/pause, skip and adjust the volume. In just a few taps you can play music from a range of sources, including smartphone and tablets, as well as directly from Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and other streaming services – although Apple Music is conspicuously absent from this list.
For those that like granular control over their audio quality, there are options to tweak the treble and bass in the app, as well as set volume limits, sleep timers and alarms. There’s no in-built voice-control in the speaker itself, instead you’ll need to rely on an existing smart speaker in your home if you want to use vocal commands.
Bluesound has successfully achieved the right combination of looks and sound in the Pulse M. It’s retained the audio quality the brand is known for while taking the device to an even more desirable level with a contemporary look that you’d be proud to have in any room in your home. Simple to use, the Pulse M is value for money if you value audio quality over smarts.
Flo Rida Low
The warm, powerful bass of this late-00s hip-hop track is clear and defined without becoming uncontrolled or overshadowing the electronic tones.
Michael Bublé You’re nobody till somebody loves you
The Pulse M showcases the track’s gentle tinkle of the piano and Bublé’s effortless vocals at the start of the track and retains the detail as the song reaches its big band finale, while still allowing the horns on the track to shine.
Kylie Minogue All the lovers
This reimagined version from Kylie’s Abbey Road Sessions album sounds
clear and bright, with the Pulse M ensuring the strings and sultry vocals were front and centre.
The Pulse M is a great buy if you want an excellent sounding speaker that looks stylish and you prefer using an app or device controls over your voice. At its new, reduced £399 price, it is still at the more premium end of the market but those that plump for high-res audio over standard streaming quality, will understand the price tag reflects the good audio quality rather than gimmicky smarts.