Sometimes, sound isn’t enough. That’s the philosophy of the JBL Pulse 4 portable speaker, which throws you a pulsing light show in response to the music being made – glowing and flashing to the beat of the tunes.
Part music visualizer, part party speaker, it’s a fun and lively addition to what’s often a straightforward and similar-looking audio market.
The Pulse 4 replaces the JBL Pulse 3 that we reviewed back in 2017, expanding the size of the light display for more of a full-body feel, at a retail price of £225 (around $280 / AU$410). Here’s what we thought from trying the Pulse 4 on the IFA 2019 show floor, after its announcement.
The JBL Pulse 4’s main change from the previous model is the external design. Rather than having a wraparound base covering the bottom quarter of the speaker, the Pulse 4 goes all-out on a full-body display, mirroring the push for fewer bezels and casings getting in the way of our precious smartphone and TV displays.
There’s a slightly sci-fi look to the way the casing clasps the transparent plastic body of the speaker, like a bottle of acid prised out of a crate. The lights help too, with the pulsing purples, yellows, blues and reds allowing for plenty of variety and popping color along with the music, switching between slow flashes and sudden shifts in tone.
Along the top rim you’ll find buttons for power and Bluetooth, with a square JBL logo along the bottom rim.
Despite a focus on its looks, the JBL Pulse 4 also aptly handles its sound – which, as a speaker, should be the case.
You get 360-degree audio, making it ideal for group gatherings or poolside parties – especially given the IPX7 water resistance making it very splash-proof. The 6.5mm driver is joined by a passive radiator to help get that resonance on the lower frequencies, without a dedicated woofer as such.
But, this means you do get – from our initial tests, at least – a great all-round sound, with the wavy bass rounding out clear highs and strong mids, without any part of the frequency range seeming overpowering.
With a 12 hour battery life, there’s little technical improvement on the Pulse 3, but you’ll still get a full day’s (or night’s) use out of it. However, with the ability to connect to other JBL speakers – or other Pulse 4 speakers, simply by shaking one in the other’s vicinity – the Pulse 4 does everything the Pulse 3 did and more.
At a first glance, the JBL Pulse 4 is a vivid iteration of a fun portable speaker range, with enough of a visual difference to make it worth consideration – even if little of the internals has changed.
The 360-audio and vibrant light show still impress, and JBL has certainly made a Bluetooth speaker to make parties and the like feel a bit more special.
- IFA 2019 is Europe's biggest tech show. The TechRadar team is in Berlin to bring you all the breaking news and hands-on first impressions of new TVs, laptops, smartphones and other tech as they're announced.