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Review + comparison: JBL Pulse 4 & JBL Pulse 5 speakers

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Erin L

Erin L

JBL Pulse 4 and 5 speakers on a table

The JBL Pulse lineup of portable speakers has been around for a number of years now and continues to be a very popular option for consumers in terms of style and design. They’re the perfect impromptu party speakers for their rugged design, room-filling sound, and their now iconic lightshow. But with so many portable speakers in JBL’s lineup, it can get hard to choose which one to get – and sometimes, even previous models of the popular Pulse can be a veritable alternative to the company’s latest and greatest. So, which one is the best for you? We’ll give you a rundown of the last three generations of Pulse speakers from the LA-based audio company and hopefully, give you the tools you need to make an informed decision.

JBL Pulse 4 & JBL Pulse 5 speakers
4

Summary

A fun set of speakers complete with light show, great for portable audio for a weekend with friends. The lighting effects have been prioritized over sound quality, but the battery life is good for a solid evening or played intermittently through a weekend away.

Pros

  • Fun lighting effects
  • Decent audio quality
  • Battery life good for an event or intermittent listening over a weekend
  • Feel rugged & durable
  • Speakers get very loud

Cons

  • Sound quality is good, but not the greatest

JBL Pulse Speakers review

A word about JBL Pulse 3…

The Pulse 3 was a very popular speaker, though it’s no longer officially available, you can still pick it up in a few places or secondhand. But, if you have one and you’re wondering if it’s worth the upgrade, that’s what we’re here top help you with too. Since it’s the original, I’ll touch on it briefly here so you can see how the line has grown. As the budget option, the Pulse 3 gets you a really solid speaker at a very reasonable price. It’s definitely not the most feature-packed speaker out there, but it is certainly the perfect entry point into the Pulse line from JBL.

Watch & listen to sound quality in my hands-on video review


The speaker comes with a built-in LED Lightshow that is capable of syncing up to the music you are listening to. It has 16 different color options and can be set to pulse or strobe, depending on your preference.

It’s also got a battery life of up to 12 hours of playtime so you can keep the party going without needing to break out the power cord. The IPX7 rating, on the other hand, makes sure you can keep the music as close to you even by the poolside without any worries about the speaker taking in water.

What makes it stand out in the Pulse line of speakers is that it’s the last JBL Pulse product with a microphone enabling you to use it as a speakerphone. You can also connect the Pulse 3 to other JBL products granted they use the JBL Connect Plus app.

Its dimensions are also quite compact at just 8.8 x 3.7 x 3.7 inches and a weight of only 2.1 pounds, making it easy to carry around and travel with. This combination of features makes the JBL Pulse 3 an incredible option for any pool party for just $269.

JBL Pulse 4: what to know

JBL Pulse 4 speaker

As the Pulse 3’s successor, the Pulse 4 carries with it a lot of the same features with some refinements and a bit more refinement to make it a better choice for you and your family’s outdoor entertainment. It has the same rugged and durable design with IPX7 waterproof rating, allowing you to take this speaker with you to the lake, pool or beach without worrying about getting it wet.

The regular Pulse 4’s dimensions are 8.1 x 3.8 x 3.8 inches and it weighs a little more than the previous version, at 2.8 pounds; it can be purchased for $299. This model offers 12 hours of battery life on a single charge, which is also the same as its predecessor.

Getting the speaker set up and paired to your phone or device is extremely easy and takes seconds: just turn it on, and it will likely already be in pairing mode and if it’s not a quick touch of the Bluetooth button should jumpstart that feature for you. From there you can go directly to your phones Bluetooth menu to connect directly or download and use the JBL portable app.

JBL Pulse 4: Sound quality

The design of these speakers clearly shows that they’re designed to prioritize the light show and the overall party atmosphere over intricate sound. Because the entire cylinder of the speaker is wrapped in dense plastic which wraps the light effects, the only place you’re getting audio is from the top. With that said, the speaker projects quite well and gets really loud but it does suffer from directionality; since the only place you get sound it this narrow opening, it doesn’t give you the same 360 degree sound as other speakers.

If you’re choosing something from the JBL Pulse line it should be because you want decent sound, plenty of loudness and lots of cool lighting effects… which we’ll get to.

JBL Pulse 4 and 5 speakers

The sound is decent; it’s not great, and it’s not mind blowing, but it certainly does the job. For most used cases for this speaker, it’s going to be more than enough for most users. But if you’re looking for some thing that’s super high, Fidelity, or that can stand up to intricacies in music, you might want to keep hunting

The only downside is that JBL dropped the speakerphone feature on the Pulse 4. But, who has time to answer their phone when they are busy having fun?

JBL Pulse 5: What to know

JBL Pulse 4 and 5 speakers

With the Pulse 4 becoming a crowd favorite, it’s hard to imagine how to improve it. However, JBL aimed to do just that with Pulse 5. JBL carried over all of the features from Pulse 4 but added a few more. The new Pulse 5 has the same cylindrical design as its predecessor in a slightly bigger body at 8.5 x 5.2 x 4.2 inches and at 3.2 pounds.

Don’t let the extra weight and bulk get you down because it comes with several upgrades. Most important of which is the addition of low-latency Bluetooth 5.3 which allows multiple source devices to stream music from. The low-latency feature also allows it to serve as a great mono speaker alternative for movies and video games.

JBL Pulse 5: Sound quality

JBL also improved the sound quality of the Pulse 5 giving it more accurate sound reproduction, a wider range, and are overall a better-sounding device than the Pulse 4. I can confirm from my testing that the speaker gets poundingly loud and still sounds good.  Whether or not, it actually sounds that much better than the pulse four is up for debate. So I’ll simply say there’s actually a good range in this speaker and it boosts both good base and clear vocals though it can be a little tinny sounding on some tracks.

But, as always, the Lightshow and PartyBoost are the headlining features and are sure to grab the attention of anyone nearby. Combine these with the new IP67 rating making the speaker not just waterproof, but also dustproof and you have a speaker that can withstand anything.

Battery life

I was rather surprised to find that the JBL pulse five continues to sit on the fence and watch the world go by when it comes to its battery life. The 12 hours you get here is the same as the original pulse three. I’m kind of shocked to find that, though JBL added more weight, haft, and bulk to the speaker, it wasn’t at the expense of a bigger and better battery.

Lighting effects

The reason you’re going to want to pick up one of these speakers is for the light effects. Under the thick plastic wrap is an array of lights that you can play with using the JBL app. Choose one single colour, watch the lights burn like fire, or bubble and morph like a lava lamp. There’s 4 presets and a custom button where you can take control and create dozens more effects.

Stereo Pairing & Party Boost

JBL Pulse 4 and 5 speakers on a table

JBL Pulse 4’s crowning feature is the ability for you to pair multiple speakers together for even more powerful sound via the JBL PartyBoost feature. The feature allows multiple PartyBoost-enabled speakers such as smaller the Flip 5 and the much larger BoomBox 2 to link up together for bigger area-filling sound. The combined sound is impressive and the speakers can even be set to work as stereo speakers. What makes it even more interesting is that pairing can be done with a single click of a button on any of the PartyBoost-enabled speakers.

I had both the JBL Pulse 4 and Pulse 5 on hand for my testing. So I tried to pair them together. it didn’t work the first few times I tried to pair them but after a few attempts I was able to get them in sync.

Comparison: JBL Pulse 4 vs JBL Pulse 5

JBL Pulse 4 speaker

For a speaker that was released in 2017, the JBL Pulse 3 is surprisingly still one of the best portable speakers out there (if you already have one of them). It’s not quite as good as its successor, but it is still a fantastic device.

The JBL Pulse 4 launched in 2019, on the other hand, is an improvement over the Pulse 3 in one critical way: PartyBoost. Any gathering powered by the PartyBoost is sure to be more immersive than the Pulse 4. It’s a feature that makes it a good choice for anyone who wants to throw the perfect party.

The Pulse 5 is for those who want the biggest and best JBL Pulse speaker for their money.

Let’s do a quick head to head comparison… The sound is pretty evenly matched to my ear, but the Pulse 5 does have some improvements. Plus the lighting effects on the 5 are far more robust and that makes it a fun choice all by itself.

There are a few design differences from the Pulse 4 to Pulse 5; most noticeably the logoing on the front, and placement of the buttons. The new Pulse 5 also boasts a small carrying strap in the back too, which is actually handy since the speaker is big and heavy and slippery.

When it comes to battery life, the rate from the JBL Pulse 3 up to the JBL Pulse 5 hasn’t grown: you’re only getting 12 hours of battery life across-the-board.

Price comparison

Interestingly, JBL has held the price from version 4 to version 4:

JBL Pulse 4 is listed for $299CAD /$249US

JBL Pulse 5 is listed for $299CAD/$249US

Normally, I’d say you should pick up the Pulse 4 and save a few bucks, but in this case, since the price is the same, you might as well upgrade to the Pulse 5 and get that good upgrade for the same rate.

Overall review: JBL Pulse 4 and Pulse 5

JBL Pulse 4 and 5 speakers with packaging

Overall, I think these are both fun speakers. The light show is what’s bringing all the boys to the yard here and I think that’s the primary draw, as it should be. The lighting effects are fun and cool and I could watch them for hours. It does seem like sound quality comes second to the special effects and that’s okay, since JBL does have other speakers that prioritize sound quality more. The sound quality is decent on both speakers, and everyone aside from nerdy audiophiles will probably think it’s great.

When it comes to the battery life again, it’s average and hasn’t been improved upon, but it will still get you through a full day or most of a weekend of intermittent listening.

In short, I’d say go for the new Pulse 5 since it does offer more.. but if you want to save a bit I’ve seen the Pulse 4 on sale recently too.

I think these are good speakers, and would be great for people who need portable audio for hanging out with friends, or making new ones at the beach, campsite, or basketball court.


**A note about Affiliate Links: TechGadgetsCanada & TechGadgetsInternational is supported by our readers. Occasionally I will include affiliate links in my reviews. I do this partly for convenience of the reader (since I’ll almost always include a link to the company website or similar anyway) in case you want to read more or purchase, but I also may get a small commission from the click, which helps me keep the blog running. If you choose to use this link I thank you greatly for supporting the blog. There’s no obligation or cost to you for using these links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Erin L

Erin L

I'm a journalist, tech blogger, writer, TV producer, silversmith& jewelry designer, foodie and world traveler. I blog, write for publications, and supply freelance writing services to Calgary, and the world.

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