If you are on the lookout for a superb wireless speaker you can use in and round the home, then stop your search. The Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i is the latest addition to Bluesound’s speaker family, and it works well either on its own, paired with another speaker in the same room, or paired with multiple speakers around the home, delivering true multiroom wireless sound.
- Brand: Bluesound
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wireless,
- Integrations: Multiple radio and music streaming services, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Roon Ready
- Battery: Optional battery pack available
- Water Resistance: Unknown
- Fantastic sound reproduction
- Integration with a wide range of services
- Works perfectly in a variety of scenarios
- Intuitive design allows device to blend into surroundings
- No documented IP rating for outdoor use
Bluesound, it seems, can do no wrong. The NAD sibling company released its updated Powernode streaming amp at the back end of 2021, alongside the Pulse Flex 2i wireless bookshelf speakers. And don’t let mention of the word “bookshelf” fool you. These are small in stature but big on sound.
With a retail price of $299, we can compare this to rival devices from Sonos and Bowers and Wilkins. So, does the Pulse Flex 2i speaker emerge victorious from this sound clash? Let’s see.
What’s in the Box?
As usual, we’ll start with what you get when you pop your Pulse Flex 2i speaker’s box and check out the bounty inside. You’ll find:
- One Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i wireless bookshelf speaker.
- Two power supplies depending on your territory.
- One mini TOSLINK/3.5mm adapter.
- Quick start guide and warranty.
As this is a wireless speaker, you don’t get any cabling with the device aside from the power leads. But that is all you need. Plug it in, and you’re (almost) ready to blow your own socks off with sumptuous sound.
How We Tested the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i
We tested the Pulse Flex 2i speakers in a pair, so we had two review units. This enabled us to test the speakers’ capabilities within a multiroom capacity, and also as stereo speakers in a single-room setup.
We reviewed the speakers when paired with the Bluesound Powernode; a streaming amplifier designed for use as part of a multiroom system, as well as part of a home theater and standard Hi-Fi arrangement. The Pulse Flex 2i don’t need an amplifier though, so we also tested them independently, with the BluOS app as the control source, to assess the standalone chops of this diverse piece of kit.
A Perfect Package
The Pulse Flex 2i wireless speaker is a striking little unit. I say little, because it is just that. With dimensions no larger than 4.92 x 7.2 x 3.9 inches, and weighing in at 2.7 lbs, your entertainment real estate will barely notice when the Pulse Flex 2i pitches its tent.
Interestingly, the Flex speaker isn’t square when you look at it from above. Instead, it follows a more corner-friendly form, with triangular cutouts at the rear, allowing you to plug any cables in and nestle the speaker neatly into a corner space. This is perfect if you want to mount the speakers via the wall-mounting thread; it allows you more range of movement than if it was a square device.
This is where the Pulse Flex 2i shows a marked difference versus the Sonos One and Sonos Move; both of which are competitor devices and both of which weigh significantly more. Another similarly priced competitor, the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex, weighs in at 5.1 lbs, nearly double that of the Pulse Flex 2i.
You can get it in a matte white or black plastic finish. Like its compadre, the Powernode, the Pulse Flex 2i is no worse off for its plastic casing. It might lack the attractive grain of a wooden finish, but thanks to its color options, it will blend into or complement its surroundings.
Obviously, these colorway options also mean the speakers match the tonal choices available across the rest of Bluesound’s wireless audio range, from amps through to soundbars and subs. So, a series of devices that works in harmony, aesthetically and sonically.
In terms of external features, the front of the device is a familiar grille-like fixed fascia. Up top, we have the volume, skip back/forward, and play/pause controls, as well as five buttons representing each of the programmable, presets you can save to your setup. You also have the Bluesound logo above the control panel.
The back of the device features all the inputs. While it can function entirely wirelessly, you also have plenty of cabled options should you wish. You’ll find an Ethernet port should your wirelessly connection prove to be unreliable, Optical/Analog combination input (works with the TOSLINK), as well as USB Type-A input for directly connecting a storage device. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack for personal listening, and you’ll even find a battery port for the optional battery pack (meaning you can take it outdoors with you, if the weather is dry).
There is also a Service button. This isn’t for you to muck around with, though. As you might expect, the Service button is for installing firmware and so on, and only a qualified Bluesound engineer should operate it. Don’t worry, though, if you knock it by mistake, nothing happens. You need other factors in play to operate service mode.
And that’s what your Pulse Flex 2i speaker looks like!
It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts
Yes, the Pulse Flex 2i wireless speaker is quite an attractive unit, but it is the work it is doing internally that really matters. As this works as a standalone Bluetooth speaker, it needs a little more chops than your standard passive loudspeaker.
The Pulse Flex comes with a robust ARM CORTEX A9, 1GHz processor, which is perfect for streaming audio data. The accompanying Powernode streaming amp has a processor with more oomph, if you are intending to build a wireless sound system across the home. However, this should be perfect for your needs as a standalone device.
For connectivity, you have Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac, dual-band) networking capabilities, or alternatively, you can opt for Bluetooth, with support for aptX® HD.
The speaker also takes care of the full gamut of file formats. You can play MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, ALAC, and OPUS, if lossy sound files dominate your digital library. If you’ve got a penchant for hi-res formats, then the Pulse Flex 2i is also compatible with FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF.
Natively, it uses a sampling rate of 32-192 kHz, with a bit depth of between 16-24 bits. This is great for a standalone device, but if you want to boost that sampling rate, you’ll need an amp to do so. The Powernode, which is in the same family of Bluesound products, has a built-in DAC that offers such an advance in sampling rates. It will also raise the bit depth to 32 bits.
BluOS Is a Treat
Bluesound products, including the Pulse Flex 2i, run their own in-house software; BluOS. I made much of the software in my review of the Powernode, but I’ll recap here.
You can install the BluOS Control app on a wide range of devices, allowing you access to the proprietary BluOS software. These include devices that run Windows, Android, iOS, Mac, and even Kindle makes an appearance (although we can’t imagine you’ll be too successful playing Tidal’s MQA files via your Paperwhite, this is for Fire tablets).
In terms of home networking, you can enjoy the 200,000 track network file system via the speaker’s SMB protocol. Perfect if you (like this writer) have an extensive library of digital music residing on your SSD or music server.
You can access plenty of digital music sources as well. Aside from streaming your own music files from your home network, you have access to plenty of internet radio stations from inside the BluOS software, including CALM Radio, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, RADIO.com, Radio Paradise, LiveXLive, and (of course) TuneIn.
In terms of the platforms you have access to, these include Amazon Music, Bugs, CustomChannels, Deezer, IDAGIO, KKBOX, Napster, Neil Young Archives, nugs.net, Qobuz, Qsic, Spotify, Sound-Machine, Tidal, and Tunify.
Operation Is a Dream
Operating the Power Node couldn’t be a simpler task, really. Particularly with the inclusion of the BluOS software and the associated Connect application. So, whether you’re after a standalone speaker or a full home multiroom array, you can achieve this with one (for standalone) or multiple Powernode speakers (for multiroom).
The name of the app should give the game away. It is called Bluesound Connect for a reason. Or rather, for several reasons. It connects to your home network and also connects you to the streaming apps you know and love. However, it also connects you to the speakers and any other hardware on your BluOS network. Now, controlling your Pulse Flex 2i is as simple as reaching into your pocket for your smartphone.
From the app, you have access to all the operating tasks you need. Obviously, as the app functions as a player, you have all the standard controls at your disposal, including increasing and decreasing volume, play and pause, and skip tracks. You can also operate each device individually, so if you want the sound louder in one room, you simply adjust the volume for that particular speaker.
You can also access the same operations via the control panel on top of the speaker. These are regular push buttons, which feature a satisfying soft click when you depress them, indicating that you have successfully upped the volume, or skipped the track.
If you would like to incorporate third-party control into your system, then you can. The Pulse Flex 2i is conversant with a range of controllers, including AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, and Roon (if you’re a REAL digital music enthusiast). You can also use Control4, Crestron, ELAN, Lutron, RTI, and URC systems.
During testing, I had no issues operating the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i speaker, and I can’t imagine you will either, given the massive selection of control methods on offer. It is so simple and easy to operate.
How Does the Pulse Flex 2i Perform?
The three-word response to this question would be “like a charm”, but we’d forgive you if you felt we’d short-changed you with this reply, so let’s expand.
We mentioned that the Pulse Flex 2i is a fairly small device, but that doesn’t mean it can’t deliver on sound. In general, the speaker impressed me with its superb sound performance.
Given its size, you’d possibly expect the Pulse Flex 2i to struggle a bit when it comes to delivering the bottom end, instead, concentrating on the middle and upper registers. Not the case. Don’t forget, you can use this on its own, so it needs to be able to handle bass. And that it does, with quite alarming capability for a speaker of its size.
I tested it alongside a little subwoofer with an 8-inch driver, and I have to say, while it lacked the familiar whomp that a sub generally offers, the bass reproduction from the Pulse Flex 2i is marvelous. It coped wonderfully with the liquid drum and bass I threw at it via Tidal, Blu Mar Ten’s gorgeous 2009 long player Natural History sounding perfect via this little bookshelf speaker.
The mid-range has excellent clarity, with vocals popping through when they need to. Terr’s Tale of Devotion shines through the Pulse Flex 2i, with its vocal elements sublimely present, gifting listeners with the track’s full sound stage in all its glory. The top end is crisp and clean, and at no point did I notice the treble veering off into tinny territory.
My only concern is using the speaker outdoors. There is no IP rating stated in the device literature (that I could find) so I would exercise caution using the device outdoors. Don’t let it get wet and definitely don’t place it near the pool with the battery pack in place.
On a whole, the sound quality that the Pulse Flex 2i delivers will thrill you rather than deliver disappointment.
Is the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i Worth Your Cash?
Of course it is. It is only $299 which, while this might seem expensive, is still cheaper than its competition. It is easy to install, operate, and it performs with precision. The app is excellent, and allows you to do a great deal within the BluOS ecosystem, aside from just controlling your devices with it.
I would recommend the Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i with absolutely zero hesitation. It looks great, it sounds great, and it plays nicely on its own or with the rest of the Bluesound family surrounding it. Put simply, this is a brilliant little speaker.
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