Bluesound Pulse M: Packed with Sound and Features

PRICE $399

BluOS 4 Controller App is easy to navigate
Full bodied, room-filling sound
Attractive, modern design
Capacitive controls only light up when in close proximity
Equalizer controls are limited to treble and bass
No built-in voice control
Alexa and Siri, voice control is spotty
Play queue wipes out previous songs when adding a new track

While the Pulse M doesn't have the musicality of higher-priced wireless speakers, it's a solid performer, especially at top volume. Its driver configuration does an excellent job of filling the room with sound. Plus, it's a joy to use, as the BluOS controller app is one of the best-designed controller apps for any wireless speaker.

Ever since Sonos came out with a multiroom audio solution nearly two decades ago, companies like Bose, Denon (HEOS), and others have followed suit. In 2012, Canada-based Lenbrook Group—which manufactures NAD, PSB Speakers, and Bluesound—first launched its BluOS platform for speakers and devices. It has morphed and developed into BluOS 4, the most uncomplicated controller and aggregator app for wireless speakers.

The elegantly sculpted Pulse M speaker has a contemporary design that fits into any home decor, unlike Bluesound's boxy predecessors. The acoustic fabric on the top half of the speaker gracefully curves down, meeting a matte base. A chic oval glass top conceals capacitive touch controls for volume, skip and repeat, and five preset stations. The surface comes to life as the proximity sensor recognizes a hand hovering over the speaker, and the controls light up. Overall, the 8-inch tall Pulse M is a sleek device that surreptitiously fits into your home decor.

At $399, it's pricier than other wireless Bluetooth speakers but comparable to Sonos and Bose wireless models. Designed for audiophiles and others who want high-resolution music in more than one room, the Pulse M is ideal for those seeking a premium background music experience.

What Can the Pulse M Do?
What elevates the Pulse M is its ability to stream and play high-resolution music directly from music services over a home network. Last fall, Lenbrook acquired MQA, so its speakers naturally include Master Quality Authentication decoding for playing MQA high-res music from Tidal and other sources.

The Pulse M is equally capable of other high-resolution formats, including WAV, FLAC, and ALAC. Still, these high-resolution formats are limited to WiFi streaming, a wired network to the speaker's Gigabit Ethernet port, or via a USB drive connected to its USB port. The speaker's other wireless streaming options—Bluetooth aptX HD and AirPlay 2—max out at CD-quality.

AirPlay 2 also allows users to create synchronized speaker groups within a room or throughout the home. Or the Pulse M can expand its capabilities using other Bluesound devices. Pair it with a second Pulse M for stereo speakers or integrate it with the Pulse Soundbar+ or Powernode and add two more speakers to create a wireless surround sound system with dedicated rear channels.

As if all the wireless ways to connect to the Pulse M weren't enough, the speaker has a USB-A input to connect a hard drive with your downloaded music library, and a 3.5 mm input; a TOSLINK optical to 3.5mm mini adapter is included. Music from a device plugged into the Pulse M's inputs can be shared with the speaker group.

There are many ways to connect to the Pulse M speaker and about as many ways to control the music and playback. The BluOS 4 Controller app is available for iOS, Android, and Kindle Fire; an app for Windows or Mac OS X desktop, and a four-screen app for the Apple Watch.

Music services in the app will stream with the highest audio quality. Streaming services include Amazon Music, Custom Channels, Deezer, Napster, Neil Young Archives,, Qobuz, Qsic, Spotify, SoundMachine, Tidal, and Tunify, and a handful of regional offerings. Internet radio support includes Calm Radio, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio (now, Radio Paradise, and TuneIn.

Apple Music and YouTube Music are conspicuously absent in the app but can be easily streamed to the Pulse M using AirPlay 2. Although music may be streaming outside the app using AirPlay 2, the track appears as Now Playing in the BluOs 4 app, where you can control playback and volume.

Like other connected speakers, you can go to sleep to calm radio or whatever makes you dozy and set a sleep timer to turn it off in up to an hour and a half. Or, you can use the speaker to wake you at a specific time by setting an alarm time where you can choose a service or preset to wake to. The settings can be found under the gear icon.

As the Pulse M lacks a microphone, it's missing built-in voice control. Still, Apple Siri and an Amazon Alexa skill can be linked to the speaker to request music and control playback. If you don't have the control app on your iPhone or device handy, try voice control using Siri or Amazon Alexa to play songs or control playback. Siri works best when playing Apple Music. Still, voice control is a weak link on the Pulse M. Both Alexa and Siri occasionally worked but frequently needed help finding the speaker.

The capacitive touch panel under the Pulse M's top glass is handy for controlling playback when you are near the speaker. A quick tap on one of the preset dots starts your favorite music without having to look for your phone. Bluesound offers the $60 Bluesound RC1 Remote Controller with 10 presets, volume, and playback control for those who prefer a physical remote control.

Pulse M's graceful exterior encases what Bluesound calls an "omni hybrid" driver arrangement, allowing the speaker to fill the room with 360-degree sound. This is accomplished using a 5.25-inch up-firing woofer whose sound hits an acoustic reflector that diffuses sonic artifacts. Two 45-degree facing tweeters project out into the room, creating a stereo effect from a single speaker.

A 50-watt DSP smart amplifier powers the woofer and two separate 15-watt amplifiers power the tweeters. These amps supply dedicated power to each speaker as the DSP controls the frequency bandwidth and dynamic range, reproducing instruments and vocals with wider sound dispersion. The Front Row filter functions similarly to loudness compensation, boosting mids, vocals, and highs for increased clarity.

First Impressions
After my recent experience of repeatedly getting lost in the DTS-Play-Fi app, the BluOS 4 Controller app was a pleasure to use. Not only was it easy to return to the previous screen by swiping down the settings or Now Playing screens, but the navigation bar at the bottom made it fast to display the home screen, favorites, music sources, players, and a search screen. Plus, a switch at the top of the Now Playing screen let me toggle back and forth to display my Play Queue.

Setup includes a wizard that helps you connect the speaker to Wi-Fi, making it easy to connect to AirPlay and Bluetooth in the iPhone settings. I needed to change the Wi-Fi connection, which required unplugging the speaker to reboot it and reconnecting to another network router.

When I first opened the box, I liked the sleek look of the speaker, which fit perfectly on a side table in my living room. When I plugged the speaker in and reached to position it, a light illuminated the touchscreen controls under the top glass, creating an elegant look. As I moved away, the control panel returned to its hidden black state.

Impressivey, from the first time I used it onward, the speaker easily filled the room with sound (as long as the volume was above 50%). I could enjoy it equally well from the sofa or a chair across the room.

As I began testing the Pulse M, it was immediately apparent that it was a serious upgrade from typical Bluetooth or wireless speakers. The speaker performed well in its basic settings and enabling its Front Row filter brightened the midrange and vocals.

As Front Row may be too bright for some listeners' taste, the sound can also be adjusted using bass and treble controls. When Front Row is enabled, it supersedes any other audio settings, and the tone adjustments aren't visible in the Settings menu. As soon as I switched the filter off, I was able to tweak the sound using the tone controls, but I ultimately preferred the Front Row setting's more forward sound.

Initially, the bass sounded flat and indistinct until I noticed the speaker's Output Mode was set to Stereo, and I was using one speaker. (Other modes include Left or Right, which help set up a stereo pair.) Setting it to Mono made all the difference, improving the dynamic range, though I suspect some listeners will prefer more a more bass-forward sound.

One of my go-to audio-quality test tracks is "As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls" by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. Background percussion sets a gentle beat, with the haunting keyboard effects and spoken word coming forward. Throughout the 20-minute song, every sound was distinct, separated, and clear, but it lacked the emotional impact of a high-priced speakers.

Streaming the duo's "September 15th" YouTube video via AirPlay 2 from my Mac Studio maintained nearly the same level of sound quality with no discernible lag or latency. The Pulse M did a great job leveling up my Mac's audio.

AirPlay 2 is also used instead of Chromecast in the iPhone's YouTube Music app. Listening to Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" (2000 version), I was surprised that this was only CD-quality and not a high-resolution stream. With Front Row enabled, there was excellent separation and clarity of the whole orchestra accompanying Mitchell. The strings came through melodically, along with the woeful muted trumpet. Still, the Pulse M lacks the musicality of each instrument and the emotional nuances of Mitchell's voice that I've heard on systems such as the SVS Prime Wireless Pro Soundbase.

Streaming with aptX HD enabled Bluetooth offers CD quality sound and beyond, up to 24-bit/48 kHz. The rich vocal harmonies on The Spinners' "It's a Shame" from Tidal were clean and filled the room. But Bluetooth would likely be my last choice for how to connect to the speaker. When streaming from a phone or device, every sound plays over the speaker, interrupting the music with dings, keyclicks when typing on the source device, etc.

What's more, once you connect your phone using Bluetooth, the default is for the phone to automatically connect any time you are within reach of the speaker. Fortunately, a setting in the BluOS 4 app lets you control when you want to connect to the Pulse M via Bluetooth. It can be found in Settings>Player>Customize Sources>Bluetooth. Choose manual connection instead of an automatic one.

Wi-Fi is the best choice for playing music on the Pulse M. Music sources in the BluOS 4 Controller app stream to the speaker wirelessly (except for Spotify, which uses Spotify Connect).

The quality of the sound varied depending on the quality of the music source. Sam Burton's "Nothing Touches Me" on Radio Paradise's Main Mix had decent bass, but when I streamed the same mix in CD quality from the service, the low-end was more precise, especially on the kick drum.

Sound quality is important when choosing a wireless speaker but if the app is hard to use and changing music isn't simple and intuitive, I will rarely use it. The BluOS 4 Controller app got it right. From the customizable home screen to a common-sense navigation bar at the bottom of the app screen, it's easy to navigate and control playback.

I particularly appreciated how easy it was to start playing my favorite music. You can access five presets from the top of the speaker or 10 presets on the optional RC-1 remote, but a whopping 40 presets are accessible from the app, providing direct access to the music you listen to regularly.

Presets can be set for various services. I added a playlist from Amazon Music, my Caro Emerald Pandora Radio Station, Oregon Public Radio on TuneIn, the Margaritaville channel on Sirius XM, the Radio Paradise Mellow Mix, and a John Mellencamp Orpheus Descending album. Because Spotify uses Spotify Connect, which takes you out of the BluOS 4 app, Spotify playlists, songs, or artists can't be added to the presets.

Unlike the excellent global search on the Sonos app, BluOS 4 only searches one service at a time. Still, there is a single search page where you choose which service you want to search from a pull-down menu. Type in the query once, and if you don't find it, you can just pull down to instantly search the next streaming service. I was looking for the "Making Movies" album by Dire Straits and wanted the best audio quality. I found it in Ultra-HD on Amazon Music and MQA on Tidal.

The only epic fail of the BluOS 4 app is the Play Queue. Unlike other apps, the songs in the queue are wiped out when you exit the app, when you choose to play an album or choose a song and tap "add next." I quickly learned that when adding to the queue, it's best to select "add to last" from the menu as that preserves the songs and albums previously added to the queue.

I could change the order of tracks in the queue by tapping an icon in the bottom navigation bar without removing other tracks from the queue and simply tap on a song in the queue to play it. But once I left the list and played an album, the album was added to the queue, and the previous list disappeared.

Because BluOS allows for adding songs, albums, and playlists to the queue from several services, when putting together a mixed queue (each time choosing "add to last"), be sure to save it as a playlist before starting to play music, or all your hard work could vanish with the tap of the play button.

The Pulse M's musicality is about what I would expect at this price level. The speaker projects a large soundstage, making it a terrific choice for parties, and it is stellar for background music when you're, say, working on the computer, dusting the living room, or cooking. And it will occasionally surprise you with audio tracks that sound so good you'll stop and listen.

The speaker's crisp and clear midtones and vocals will satisfy all but the most bass-loving fans, who might want to add Bluesound's Pulse Sub+.

With its easy control, the Pulse M will likely become the way you listen to music every day, whether you create a playlist that you add to a preset or search for specific music that suits your mood. Plus, its simple aesthetic won't make you curse that it's messed up the look of your living room.

HIGH-RESOLUTION AUDIO SUPPORT: Up to 192 kHz sampling rates, 16-24 bit depth
AUDIO OUTPUT: 80W total (50W woofer, 15W x 2 tweeters)
SPEAKERS: 5.25» woofer, 0.75» tweeters
FREQUENCY RESPONSE: 60Hz-20kHz (±1.5 dB), extends to 40Hz at -10 dB
AUDIO CONTROL: Via BluOS Controller App
NETWORKING: Supports up to 200,000 SMB files
MUSIC SERVICES: Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Roon Ready
VOICE CONTROL: Amazon Alexa compatible
WI-FI: Dual-band Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) BLUETOOTH: Version 5.0 aptX HD
ETHERNET: Gigabit 1000 Mbps
INPUTS: Mini Toslink/Stereo 3.5mm combo, USB Type A (FAT32)
OUTPUTS: 3.5mm stereo headphone, wireless to Pulse Sub+
CONTROL FEATURES: LED indicators, touch LED for play/pause, volume, track navigation, and presets; proximity sensor
FINISH OPTIONS: Black or white, matte satin paint
INCLUDED ACCESSORIES: AC Power Cords (120V & 230V), ethernet cable, optical to 3.5mm adapter, safety/warranty guide, quick setup guide
OPERATING CONDITIONS: 32°F to 104°F, 20% to 80% RH
DIMENSIONS: 6.7 x 8 x 5.9 inches (W x H x D)
WEIGHT: 5.6 lbs

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