New and improved, this entry-level wireless sound system is both bold and beautiful, says Steve May
THE SMALLEST OFFERING in the
Bluesound family, the Pulse Flex 2i is an upmarket wireless sound system with multiroom functionality. But with more companies entering the space, can this subtle update on an existing product still command its premium £ price?
Well, for one thing that 2i label indicates the inclusion of Apple AirPlay 2 and dual-band Wi-Fi, courtesy of an upgraded Wi-Fi chipset The system is also now compatible with Amazon Alexa. although the need to go through a separate voice-control interface, BluVoice, spoils the interaction.
As with fellow Bluesound hardware, the build quality here is admirable. The join-free cabinet has a tactile finish, while the mesh grille hides a 1in tweeter
High-res audio compatible wireless multiroom speaker
Bluesound’s entry-level product
Sonos Play:l; Harman/Kardon Citation 100
and 4in woofer. It’s available in either black or white.
While designed to be driven by the BluOS app, there are controls on the speaker’s top. These include useful preset keys that can be assigned to services and inputs.
Physical connections are more comprehensive than you might imagine. In addition to Ethernet for wired networking and a USB media reader, there’s a 3.5mm input which supports both analogue and optical digital sources, using a supplied adapter.
BluOS includes a proprietary music management system for streaming services, internet radio and podcasts. File compatibility is exhaustive and covers FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG. and ALAC.
With Airplay 2, you can stream music and podcasts, as well as audio from YouTube or Netflix, to multiple connected AirPlay speakers. You can ask Siri to play Ed Sheeran in one room, and Slayer in another (not that I’d ever ask Siri to play Ed Sheeran). The ecosystem can support up to 64 players connected through the BluOS Controller app.
DRIVERS: 1 x 4in woofer; 1 x 1in tweeter ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 25W CONNECTIONS: Ethernet; USB; 3.5mm digital optical audio/analogue input; 3.5mm headphone output INTEGRATED SERVICES: (Via BluOS app) internet radio; Spotify; Tidal: Amazon Music; Deezer; Qobuz; Napster DIMENSIONS: 183(w) x 125(h) x 100(d)mm WEIGHT: 1.23kg
FEATURES: Dual-band Wi-Fi; aptX Bluetooth (4.1); multiroom support; Amazon Alexa integration with BluVoice; Apple AirPlay 2; FLAC. MQA, WAV. AIFF hi-res file playback
Setup is largely friction free. Power up the speaker, download the BluOS app, let the two banter, and you’re ready to stream (there will probably be a firmware update required, but this is handled automatically).
Hi-res audio comes as standard. The system supports streams up to 24-bit/192kHz, to multiple speakers with no apparent lag. Unfortunately Bluesound has decided this model needs only aptX Bluetooth 4.1, and not aptX HD. so no Qualcomm CSR8675 chip employed further up the Bluesound range.
It’s the smallest speaker in the Bluesound stable but the Pulse Flex 2i has an output that belies its physical size. Take one into the garden (an optional £ battery pack makes it truly portable) and neighbours will wonder where the festival has pitched up. Providing this clout is a 25W DirectDigital amplifier.
Its output is monophonic, but this limitation is balanced by crisp detail and a smooth mid-range. Vocal clarity is superb, making this compact speaker a great choice for audiobooks and podcasts. The upgraded bass driver delivers a nuanced and forceful low-end.
If you’ve already invested in a Bluesound system, this versatile all-in-one is an obvious addition. It’s a tight, cohesive performer with bonkers DSP-enhanced bass, and excellent articulation.
However, if you want a small speaker primarily for voice interaction there are more affordable options available, be they Amazon’s own Echo models, plus Google Assistant-enabled rivals from Harman/ Kardon, LG and more. And Sonos’ similarly sized Play:l remains an obvious challenger.
If musicality is paramount, though, you won’t be disappointed.
Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i
This wireless speaker may be small but it sounds huge, and it's compatible with MQA and other hi-res audio sources. Playful and potent.