When I first heard about the Pulse 3, I knew it would be a hit. Lights and music go hand-in-hand like salt and pepper. It’s not the first instance of a JBL Bluetooth speaker that has coloured LED lights in it but previous versions of the Pulses were more music focused. In the Pulse 3, the lights take centrestage attention and the speakers, just as badass as previous Pulses, add to the vibe. It’s like they took a reference from the disco and turned it into a compact speaker.
But what’s most impressive about the Pulse 3 is that it’s fully waterproof. It’s IPX7 rated, which means it can be immersed in water up to 30 minutes and a depth of one metre. You just have to ensure the rubberised enclosure for its wired connections are kept closed. We tested it out by taking it to the pool, and it’s in fact designed to float so you don’t really have to worry about it too much. It still works perfectly fine in the water, playing music as normal. In water, however, the music is unsurprisingly muffled and off-kilter slightly but that’s more due to the speed of sound in water than anything else.
What’s stellar about the Pulse 3 in water (and out of it) is the light show. There are nine settings, one of which is fully customisable. And the colours that it’s displaying can be selected if you use the app to control it and pick a colour using the camera. Colour accuracy depends on the camera lighting conditions – a test of 10 colours in various light settings yielded seven accurate ones. Three were off by a little, still catching the right colour but the wrong tone.
The Pulse 3 is like a lava lamp and speaker combined, for those of us old enough to remember what lava lamps are. Except you don’t have to worry about breaking this lamp and cleaning up the mess. LED lights power the entire device and it’s robust. I dropped mine at home a couple of times, once on a cement flooring, and it didn’t do any lasting damage (a small scuff that’s barely visible at the corner is all). The entire case is in plastic which gives it a slickish look and very modern feel. But it’s not exactly light. At over 1.5 kg, it’s a hefty bugger to lug around. It’s also got all-around speakers so you get a good sound anywhere you are, and the sound is robust. I’ve had neighbours complain about the volume a couple of times when I was testing it at full volume. In fact, it’ll fill a 25-square metre room at just 20% and at 100% it managed to reach even the ends of our office.
For its size, it packs a decent punch. Tones are clear and trebles and mids are solid. We tested a variety of songs on it, from Adele’s “Someone Like You” to Frank Ocean’s “Chanel”. There was little distortion and it more than proved it was able to keep up with some bigger hi-def speaker systems priced similarly or more.
But where it did falter slightly was in the bass. I figured JBL may have designed the speaker to cater to more rock and pop music rather than really heavy basses. If you’re hitting some EDM it shouldn’t be an issue, but the deep bass notes were less intense than we expected from a playing of Simian Mobile Disco’s “Audacity of Huge”. When we hit Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight and Inception soundtracks, the subtlety of the drums and the horns were lost in the vibrance of the mids. Wiz Khalifa tunes, however, were not a problem for it.
Though the speaker does claim 12 hours of power and it comes close, the most we ever managed to squeeze out of it was 11 with the lights off, and with them on, we hit 9.5 hours. To be fair we were messing around with it quite a bit. And at $339, it’s not exactly a super cheap buy. (Just for comparison, the Sonos One costs S$329 and comes with Alexa.) But it’s a light and a speaker as well, so in terms of adding to the ambience we have to say it tops all its competitors.
JBL’s app does a good job of controlling the Pulse 3 and sends software updates regularly to keep the speaker current. One thing I did wish it would add is a constantly on mic to integrate Amazon, Siri and Google better. Currently it allows you to choose one of the latter two to work when you hit the ‘Play’ button on the Pulse 3, which is nice. But imagine if you could just use your voice to control the speaker when it’s in the pool. Now that would be a sweet bonus.
Like most Bluetooth speakers, sound distortion occurs when the connected device is too far (think kitchen and living room distance) and if there are multiple devices connected to it. That’s more of a Bluetooth issue than a JBL problem, however. But if you’re on the lookout for a good speaker to add mood and music, then the Pulse 3 is the one for you.