The Bluesound Pulse Flex first arrived in our testing rooms back in 2016 with high hopes (and a fair amount of expectatio)n on its shoulders.
The smallest and most affordable member of the Bluesound multi-room line-up, it had the family’s reputation of five-star products to uphold. And it did so honourably.
But a price hike across the range, as well as some strong recent competition, has seen the Bluesound family’s overall star-rating drop - the Pulse Flex is no less a victim.
A price rise from £270 to £300 might not be the end of the world, but it was already a fairly sizeable investment for a small wireless speaker. Now, of course, it means that you can now take home the likes of the hugely capable Audio Pro Addon C10 for the same money.
The Pulse Flex is available in a choice of black or white, with a matte soft-touch finish and an angled back panel to match the rest of the family.
The Flex can be portable too, thanks to an optional battery pack that fits to its back panel – though this will set you back a further £70.
Physical connections include an analogue/optical in (there’s a Toslink optical-to-3.5mm adapter included in the box), USB type-A port and a headphone out, plus an ethernet port for network hardwiring and a mini-USB port for servicing. Of course, wi-fi is on board here as well, as is aptX Bluetooth.
On the top panel of the unit there are a handful of playback controls, an LED notification light integrated into the play/pause button, and five presets (which you can set to music services, inputs or internet radio stations via the BluOS app).
Services available include Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Napster and Qobuz, but if you’re an Apple Music user, or other apps not covered by Bluesound, you can always use Bluetooth to fire your music direct to the speaker instead.
The BluOS app has been much improved since the last iteration, and it’s now far easier to use with a cleaner, more stylish design, with more intuitive menus and better navigation.
Adding music services and network shares is a smoother process, and grouping speakers together for a multi-room set-up is quick and simple – it will even walk you through a new speaker set-up in the app.
This helps you to enjoy the Flex’s performance - which is served up by a 9cm mid/bass driver and 25mm tweeter, bi-amplified with a total power output of 2 watts - even more.
Starting with a CD-quality Tidal stream of Adele’s When We Were Young, the Flex shows off a wonderfully open and transparent character. It picks the nuances of Adele’s powerful vocal out and lifts them to the surface.
There’s great space and scale here too – more than we’d expect from a speaker this size – and the Flex is able to communicate dynamics well.
Its tuning has been well-judged too, remaining even-handed rather than being overly forward with the vocal. This means you hear the accompanying piano notes articulated just as well as the vocals, while the bassline is deep and full-bodied without ever being overpowering.
There’s perhaps a slight roll-off of the treble here, but it works in the Flex’s favour by keeping it an easy listen even with harsher recordings.
Most importantly, it’s subtle enough to do it without affecting the Flex’s get-up-and-go, meaning it never scrimps on drive or attack - even with livelier tracks.
You should ensure the Flex is placed on a solid surface that won’t be affected by vibrations. It’s capable of kicking out some serious low-end heft, and unwanted reverb will make the bass sound looser than it should is.
Of course, as with the rest of the Bluesound family, the Flex is capable of playing hi-res files, and switching up to a 24bit/192kHz version of Nas’s Halftime via USB shows the Flex is capable of sounding better still.
Bass sounds tighter and punchier, there’s an even greater handle on timing and rhythm, and the midrange offers up more insight and expression to both vocals and instruments. Drive and dynamics are more explicit too.
Everything we loved about this speaker is the same second time round - but the Flex’s main competition hasn't stood still. Now it matches the Addon C10 for price, it's in a noticeably tougher scrap.
The Audio Pro doesn’t so much teach Bluesound a lesson as score higher by comparison - but its better timing, organisation and dynamic range are instantly noticeable.
It doesn’t offer hi-res music support and has a more basic app offering, but its native performance is exceptional for the money.
Audio Pro’s emergence in the multi-room market, at a strongly competitive price, is a significant reason why Bluesound has lost a star overall. It’s entirely to do with musical performance, because every other aspect still shows the company in a good light.
In the context of a Bluesound multi-room set-up, the Flex is certainly still a speaker you’d want to adopt. It just doesn’t have the same command of its market it once did.
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