The Bluesound Pulse Flex arrives in our testing rooms with high hopes and a fair amount of expectation on its shoulders.
The smallest and most affordable addition to the Bluesound multi-room line up, it’s got the reputation of a whole family of five-star products to uphold. No pressure then.
It’s now the only speaker from Bluesound to be in its first generation, a later addition to the line-up and a welcome one too.
Previously you were looking at a minimum of £420/$630 to start your Bluesound collection, now it’s a good deal cheaper at £270/$405
That’s still a sizeable investment in a small wireless speaker, but the performance of the Bluesound Flex makes sure it’s worth every penny.
At just 18cm tall, it’s a good choice for smaller spaces like kitchens or bedrooms, sitting at a similar height to the likes of the Sonos Play:1 or the Ruark R1 DAB radio.
It’s 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’s styling. The Flex can go portable too, thanks to an optional battery pack that fits on to its back panel.
Unfortunately, it’s not something we’ve been able to get our hands on for this review, but the option is a welcome addition all the same.
Physical connections include an analogue/optical in (there’s a Toslink optical to 3.5mm adapter included in the box), USB-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 – a feather in the Flex’s cap compared with its competitor Sonos, which has kept the tech out of its products thus far.
On the top panel of the unit 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.
Music services available include Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Napster and Qobuz, but if you’re an Apple Music user, or any other app not yet 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.
Menus and navigation are more intuitive, 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 even more, which is served up by a 9cm mid/bass driver and 2.5cm tweeter, bi-amplified for a total power output of 20W.
We start with a CD-quality Tidal stream of Adele’s When We Were Young, and immediately the Flex shows off a wonderfully open and transparent character, picking out the nuances of Adele’s powerful vocal and lifting them to the surface.
There’s great space and scale here too – more than we’d expect from a speaker this size – and dynamically, the Flex is able to communicate even the subtlest of shifts between loud and soft in a way that the Play:1 doesn’t manage as well.
It’s also better balanced than the smallest Sonos, and could well pip the Pulse Mini for being the best-balanced speaker in the Bluesound range.
It’s tuning has been seriously well judged. While the Play:1 pushes voices to the front of its mix for a more focused approach, the Flex is much more even handed. 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 compared to the Play:1, but it works in the Flex’s favour to keep 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.
A note on placement – you will want to ensure the Flex is 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 really is.
Of course, like the rest of the Bluesound family, the Flex is capable of playing hi-res files too, and a switch up to a 24-bit/192kHz version of Nas’ Halftime via USB shows the Flex is capable of sounding even 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, as a 24-bit/96kHz recording of Muse’s Supremacy demonstrates, building the track up to its frenzied finale without ever missing a step.
It might be the smallest and cheapest speaker of the Bluesound range, but the Pulse Flex is fast becoming our favourite of the line-up too.
It’s hugely talented, offering up a big, open sound that’s full of detail and enthusiasm, and we love its flexibility too.
It’s not the cheapest wireless speaker on the market, but it justifies its price at every turn. Whether you’re thinking about starting a Bluesound multi-room system or contemplating adding to an existing system, the Pulse Flex can’t fail to impress.