- The JBL Pulse 3 stands out with its 360-degree customizable light show, setting it apart from other Bluetooth speakers.
- The battery life of the JBL Pulse 3 is realistically shorter than advertised, lasting around 4 to 5 hours on higher volumes.
- The speaker is water- and dust-resistant, but the charging port cover can become loose over time.
- While the JBL Pulse 3 offers a pleasant listening experience, it may not be worth the steep price for some due to the battery life and subpar bass.
If you’re into your music, then buying a Bluetooth speaker is a no-brainer. The sound quality of these speakers has come a long way in recent years, and the ability to pair seamlessly and wirelessly with your smart devices is incredibly useful in an increasingly portable world. When it comes to speakers, JBL is easily one of the top names in the industry. But do they deserve the hype? I’m here to give you the inside scoop on the JBL Pulse 3, from their ever-popular Pulse range. I’ve used this speaker on and off for over five years, so it’s definitely been tested extensively.
What’s Special About the JBL Pulse?
As soon as you check out photos or videos of the Pulse, one of its biggest selling points quickly becomes apparent. The light show functionality is easily the feature that sets it apart the most from not only other JBL speakers but also Bluetooth speakers in general. It’s fairly common to have a couple of lights here and there, but a 360-degree customizable light show is pretty unique. Saying that, in my experience, the Pulse comes with a healthy (or unhealthy) list of negatives. Let’s get into it.
- 360-degree customizable lightshow
- IPX7 Water resistance
- Connect up to 100 speakers with JBL Connect+
- Noise and echo cancelling
The Lowdown On the Light Show
The basic light show can be adjusted manually by pressing buttons on the speaker, but the magic is in the customization. For this, you need to download the JBL app. This will be “JBL Connect+” for the Pulse 3, Xtreme 2, Charge 4, and Boombox models, and the “JBL Portable” app for the Pulse 4, Pulse 5, Flip 5, Xtreme 3, Boombox 2, and Charge 5. It’s rather strange that JBL has decided to distinguish their speakers with two distinct apps, even speakers within the same range, but that’s how it goes.
Once you connect your phone and open up the app, you can customize the lights. The design of the speaker is split into three sections: low, mid, and high. You can drag and drop different light patterns into each of these sections to create your very own mixes. In addition, you can choose a particular color, or opt for randomized RGB lighting.
Sparks Didn’t Fly For Me
While this all sounds great in theory, for me, it didn’t cut the mustard. I don’t know about you, but when I’m listening to music, I don’t tend to pay much attention to the speaker itself. Usually, I’m chatting with friends, playing a game, or reading a book, which doesn’t leave much room for staring at the pretty speaker lights. I also tend to prefer natural light, so the likelihood of sitting in the dark and being captivated by a JBL light show was fairly minimal.
Granted, if you’re a particularly visual person, partial to ambience, or hosting a party, the light show may cinch the deal for you. But otherwise, I can’t say this feature really stood out as much as I wanted it to. This is especially true considering it significantly cuts into the speaker’s battery life (more on this next).
The Battery Life Is Less Than Impressive
JBL claims their Pulse speakers can last for up to 12 hours on a single charge. This would be an amazing feat if it held up to reality. It may certainly be true, but only if you like to use your speaker at half volume with the lights so dim, they may as well be turned off. If you’re partial to bass (and partially deaf) like me, chances are you like to ramp up the volume to levels that aren’t recommended by an ear specialist. In my case, the battery life was a lot more humble, lasting for around 4 to 5 hours. Indeed, I have used the speaker a lot for around 5 years. Although I can’t remember a time when it ever exceeded 6, and that would be a push.
This isn’t exactly a disastrously short runtime and is more than suitable for most evenings and hangouts with friends. However, if you expect to blast out the bass for an all-nighter, that probably won’t happen.
Charging Feels Awkward
The official adapter that comes with the Pulse is almost as unique as its light show capability. But I’m not exactly using “unique” here as a compliment. The adapter comes with three components: the main plug, a two-prong or two-blade attachment reminiscent of a shaver socket, and an adapter that converts this into a typical plug socket. Using this does tend to charge the speaker a little quicker than using an alternative, but it’s rather clumsy. Added to this, it hardly weighs much at all and doesn’t feel that sturdy. And if you lose even one part of it, you’re going to have to completely replace the set or opt for using something unofficial. This may or may not have been what I resorted to after repeatedly losing parts of the charger (ok, that is what happened).
Wishy-Washy Water Resistance
The speaker is water- and dust-resistant, which is great. What isn’t so great is the seemingly feeble charging port cover. While it seems to do the trick initially, after extensive use, the flexible plastic becomes gradually looser and more deformed. There’s no rigidity, and no protective cap included. After around 6 months of use, I just didn’t trust that the cover was secure enough to guarantee water resistance. It’s safe to say I didn’t jump into the sea or the pool with my speaker in hand after this point.
Style Over Substance
This is a hot take, but it’s my take nonetheless. And since the price is no joke, it’s only natural that the sound quality comes under the magnifying glass. After all, that’s really the main purpose of a speaker. I’m not saying that the quality of the acoustics was particularly awful, but it never stood out to me either. A lot of the time, I’d resort to using a Bose speaker or even the JBL Charge instead.
The Pulse did pretty well at producing a well-rounded sound. But I feel the 360-degree nature of the speakers helped carry the sound better than the hardware warranted. The bass booms but feels rather restricted, with the lowest notes failing to keep up. For most people, this probably won’t be much of an issue, but bass lovers like me do notice something lacking. The maximum volume leaves a lot to be desired as well. Many other Bluetooth speakers will outperform the Pulse in this regard.
Is the JBL Pulse Worth It?
It’s hard for me to tell you with a straight face that buying the JBL Pulse 3 will be a decision you’re extremely happy with. But saying this, I do realize that some of the issues I encountered may not occur to everybody. If loud, thumping music isn’t your thing, then this likely won’t bother you. And if you don’t intend on going swimming with your speaker, the durability of the charging port cover probably won’t cause you any problems either. For all the negatives I discussed, I can’t say that the JBL Pulse 3 is a terrible speaker at all. It definitely offers a pleasant listening experience.
You’ll find a lot to love in the JBL Pulse range if you’re a more casual listener wanting to upgrade the ambience of your next get-together. This is especially true if your friends have a JBL speaker too, as the JBL app allows you to connect up to 100 speakers together with the press of a button. Admittedly, I didn’t have the opportunity to test out this feature with even 10 speakers, let alone 100. However, I can see how this feature could easily be a huge point in JBL’s favor.
Overall, I don’t hugely regret buying the JBL Pulse 3. But I still don’t feel the customizable lights justified the rather steep price that I paid. I would’ve appreciated some more powerful bass as well as a longer battery life. The light feature may persuade you to press the buy button. But if you’re in it for the acoustics, there are some better options out there.