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JBL Pulse 4 review

JBL's light up Bluetooth speaker has a new look but ditches two key features

(Image: © Lewis Leong)

Our Verdict

The JBL Pulse 4 offers an even more eye-catching look than before with the same excellent sound. The downside, however, is that the Pulse 4 ditches the microphone and 3.5mm aux jack of the previous generation. If you don’t care about making calls with your speaker and don’t have any legacy devices that require an aux jack, the JBL Pulse 4 is still a good party speaker.

For

  • Powerful and balanced sound
  • Unique design and lightshow
  • Ability to link multiple speakers

Against

  • Mediocre 12-hour battery life
  • No mic or 3.5mm aux. port
  • Surprisingly heavy

TechRadar Verdict

The JBL Pulse 4 offers an even more eye-catching look than before with the same excellent sound. The downside, however, is that the Pulse 4 ditches the microphone and 3.5mm aux jack of the previous generation. If you don’t care about making calls with your speaker and don’t have any legacy devices that require an aux jack, the JBL Pulse 4 is still a good party speaker.

Pros

  • + Powerful and balanced sound
  • + Unique design and lightshow
  • + Ability to link multiple speakers

Cons

  • - Mediocre 12-hour battery life
  • - No mic or 3.5mm aux. port
  • - Surprisingly heavy

The portable party speaker is a unique subgenre of wireless speakers thanks to their unique styling, light shows, and pounding bass. While not to everyone’s taste, party speakers are undoubtedly fun and a conversation piece. 

JBL has a long history of making great party speakers and the company’s latest version is the JBL Pulse 4 that follows the excellent Pulse 3, which we loved for its balanced sound quality, ability to take calls, and 360-degree sound. 

The Pulse 4 retains the same balanced sound and 360-degree sound but ditches the microphone. What you gain with the new speaker is a stunning new design that’s like holding a jar of light in your hands. 

For $250 (£200, about AU$378), the JBL Pulse 4 isn’t cheap but it offers unique looks, an excellent app, and balanced sound quality.

Design

The design of the JBL Pulse 4 is the biggest change from the previous generation so let’s talk about that first. 

Last year’s Pulse 3 featured a pill-like shape where the speaker’s tweeters hid behind a cloth ring around the base of the speaker. This year, the Pulse 4 ditches that cloth ring and extends the lightshow across the entire body of the speaker. This gives the speaker a visual depth that last year’s model lacked. 

On the top and bottom of the Pulse 4 you’ll find large woofers that bring a good amount of bass. While some party speakers over emphasize bass to increase energy, the JBL Pulse 4 takes a more balanced approached. We’ll cover sound quality more in the Performance section. 

(Image credit: Lewis Leong)

The speaker’s controls are located on the top ring and the buttons are big and easy to use. There are physical controls for controlling volume, playback, lighting, pairing, and syncing with multiple wireless JBL speakers. 

Around the back is a USB-C charging port that’s exposed. While it’s nice not to have to uncover the port and fiddle with a rubber flap, it also forces you to wait until the port is completely dry before charging. The Pulse 3’s flap allowed the speaker’s charging port to stay dry even after being submerged. 

(Image credit: Lewis Leong)

Performance

Sound quality of the JBL Pulse 4 is excellent: The speaker provides a balanced profile that doesn’t overemphasize bass like many other party speakers. There’s plenty of bass to fill a small room but those who want more energy for playing loudly outdoors may want to look for a larger speaker. 

For its size, the Pulse 4 provides a nice amount of bass. The speaker also gets extremely loud. Bass response drops off at higher volumes as the small woofer simply can’t keep up with the volume. That being said, we found that the speaker sounds best below 60% volume and shouldn't be pushed much higher.

Battery life is rated for 12 hours of playtime with the lightshow enabled – which is the same rating as last year’s Pulse 3. It’s slightly disappointing that JBL didn’t increase the speaker’s already mediocre battery life. 

The good news, however, is that users have the option to disable the light show to squeeze more playtime out of the speakers. If you're looking for the exact specs, the JBL Pulse 4 has a large 7,260 mAh battery onboard which takes nearly four hours to fully charge from dead – so don't forget to charge it before the guests arrive.   

The JBL Pulse 4 (on left) next to the JBL Pulse 3 (on right).

The JBL Pulse 4 (on left) next to the JBL Pulse 3 (on right). (Image credit: Lewis Leong)

Verdict

On paper, the JBL Pulse 4 is a minor update to the previous generation Pulse 3 – the biggest change is the speaker’s physical appearance, which provides more surface area for the light show to take place. However, undoubtedly unique look means you have to ditch the handy microphone and 3.5mm aux jack of the Pulse 3. There’s a minor price increase for the Pulse 4 but if you value having an aux jack and microphone, the cheaper Pulse 3 may be the better buy. 

For $50 more, you can get the more powerful and feature packed Sony SRS-XB501G, which packs Google Assistant, bigger sound, and 16 hours of battery life. However, the Sony is much bigger making it less portable. The LG PK7 costs the same as the Pulse 4 but is much larger as well, making it less portable. 

Ultimately, if you need a party speaker that has balanced sound, unique looks, and can be thrown in a bag, the JBL Pulse 4 is a good choice. If you want to save a few dollars, get last year’s JBL Pulse 3 instead.  

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.