JBL has been a leader in the Bluetooth speaker world for years due to its dedication to sound quality and the sheer number of speakers it offers.
A quick look at JBL’s site and you’ll quickly discover that the company has 10 different Bluetooth speakers for you to choose from. The selection may seem a bit overwhelming but, on the bright side, it also means somewhere hidden in that line-up there’s a speaker that will fit your specific needs.
If you want an ultra-portable speaker, get the tiny JBL Clip 2. If you want bass without breaking the bank or your back, get the JBL Charge 3.
But what if you want a Bluetooth speaker that gets loud, sounds great, and offers a light show that'll keep young ones (and yourself) entertained? JBL has you covered with the $200 (£200, about AU$252) JBL Pulse 3.
UPDATE: The JLB Charge 3 has had an update in the form of the JBL Charge 4, which is new for 2019. It's the same premise: this is a speaker that serves up a light show as well as quality audio in response to the music being made – glowing and flashing to the beat of the tunes. But there are a few key differences: the design has improved and it now has a wraparound base.
The Pulse has been around since 2014 but it’s this third generation where the speaker really shines. JBL has made the speaker sound better, last longer and offer new features like chaining and stereo mode.
Sure, the flashing lights are still the gimmick that hooks people in, but the speaker is so good that the dip in battery life isn’t much of a compromise for having the ultimate pool-side speaker.
The JBL Pulse 3 features the company’s signature cloth covering, which is a subtle hint that this speaker is in fact IPX7 certified waterproof, meaning it can be submerged in water up to 1 meter in depth. The body of the speaker is dominated by a smooth plastic that acts as an excellent light diffuser for the built-in LEDs. The Pulse 3 is a similar to the JBL Charge 3 when propped up but is larger overall and can only be listened to standing upright.
You’ll also notice the big bass radiators on the top and bottom of the speaker, which aren’t guarded by any mesh. You don’t want to touch them as that could damage the radiators but they’re fun to look at as they vibrate with the music. Speaking of music, the JBL Pulse 3 plays in 360-degrees so you get the same listening experience wherever you are, which is great for using outdoors.
All of the Pulse 3’s controls are located around the back. You have buttons for power, volume, Bluetooth pairing, play/pause/voice assistant, JBL Connect+ and a dedicated button to cycle through the light modes. A long press of the light button will disable the light show, but where’s the fun in that?
Given the gimmicky nature of the speaker, we weren’t expecting much in the audio quality department. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how balanced the JBL Pulse 3 sounded. While its lights may lead you to believe it’ll be a bass heavy mess like the , don’t be fooled. This speaker sounds great.
Where the JBL Charge 3 emphasized the bass a little too much and cropped the highs, the JBL Pulse 3 manages to keep things remarkably balanced. The highs are still slightly rolled off but instruments like violins are still well represented. Bass is full-bodied and offers decent slam but bleed into the mids a little.
Having 360-degree audio is excellent for environments where you’ll be moving around like at a party, beach or next to the pool. This ensures everyone gets the same listening experience. You can also pair other JBL Connect+ capable speakers to play in unison for more volume or in stereo, which is nice feature to have. The bad news is that, because it requires Connect+ to pair, you won’t be able to pair with your older JBL Connect speakers that lack that feature.
Battery life is a mediocre 12 hours with the lights turned on, which is quite short compared to other speakers. For example, the gets 15 hours and even JBL’s own Charge 3 offers 24 hours of battery life.
Now sure, you can extend the battery life quite a bit by disabling the light show but it's fair to assume that folks will use it with the light show turned on most of the time. That said, if you’re going to be blasting tunes all night, you may want to bring a charger with you.
The JBL Pulse 3 was a pleasant surprise. While its light show may lead you to believe that it’s all about that bass, the Pulse 3 actually offers a very well balanced tonal balance: Highs have good extension but are a little rolled off. Bass offers good slam and texture, but bleeds into the mids. If you’re not an audiophile none of this matters and can rest well knowing that this speaker sounds darn good and gets incredibly loud.
Compared to the Sony SRS-XB40, another speaker that offers a light show with its music, the JBL is the better buy. The Sony is just too bass-heavy to work for all genres of music and, more troubling, is only splashproof, not waterproof. The Sony speaker is also much larger and requires a proprietary charger.
If you want a great-sounding Bluetooth speaker that’s waterproof and a conversation piece, the JBL Pulse 3 is the speaker to get.
UPDATE: If you're on the hunt for a colorful speaker that brings great audio and a light show in one, it might be worth waiting for the JBL Pulse 4. Check out our hands-on review for more.
- Don't miss our round-up of the best Bluetooth speakers 2019