Bluesound is one of the leading streaming/multiroom platforms, although slightly confusingly it has separated the brand Bluesound from the platform itself, which is called BluOS — perhaps so that other brands can incorporate the BluOS platform into their gear, as have NAD (Bluesound’s sister company) and DALI.
As a streaming and multiroom platform BluOS has a reputation for quality above most rivals, having supported high-res audio from the start, as well as gaining from impressive access to NAD’s high-quality amplification, which is used in Bluesound’s own products — wireless speakers, streaming preamps and amplifiers, a soundbar/subwoofer combo and the CD-ripping hard-drive Vault (review here).
This $1099 Pulse Mini is the middle of three standalone wireless speakers — above is the $1599 Pulse, while below is the $699 Pulse Flex with its optional battery pack for portability. All these are now in the 2i edition, and be careful to distinguish between this and the previous Gen 2 versions which may still be available in some stores. You could save some dollars by getting the older model, but then you’d be missing out on the 2i benefits of upgraded amplification, compatibility with Alexa voice control, Bluetooth in and out with aptX HD, and also AirPlay 2, Apple’s streaming system which looks to become increasingly useful with the recent news that it will be included in 2019 TVs from LG, Samsung and Sony.
The Pulse Mini is a substantial and attractive unit, 34cm across a curved frontage which allows a slight angled spread of its two-way stereo twin 19mm tweeters and four-inch woofers. Backing these is a quoted 100W of total system power — a figure at which one might shake a cellar of salt were it not accompanied by a quoted distortion (THD) figure of just 0.03%, indicating hi-fi credentials, and as noted, Bluesound derives its amplification from sister company NAD, which is respected for quoting real power ratings (often understated, indeed).
The Pulse Mini 2i is well-equipped with a combo analogue/optical minijack input, Gigabit Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi, a rear headphone jack and a USB slot which allows playback from attached USB drives. For networked music BluOS makes and stores an index of your music shares — this process takes time when first indexing, but it is then more stable and faster for browsing than the more commonly-used DLNA/UPnP serving. One recent loss from BluOS, however, is the ability to index an iTunes music collection; you can instead use the new AirPlay 2 ability, though you’ll be out of the BluOS app and using Apple’s Remote app to do so.
Another indication of sonic credentials is the ability to stream high-res formats — FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF to 24-bit/192kHz, and other common formats to CD quality. (There is no DSD support; Bluesound suggests you convert these to PCM. )
streaming and multiroom platform,
so we had full app control from
our iPad Pro over streaming from music
storage as well as internet music
services. When used with other
players in the home, we found the
BluOS app one of the easiest especially
for switching between players in a
multiroom set-up. In the example above,
we are listening to The Strypes on
a Bluesound Vault (1). We then press the
top-right ‘house’ button to bring up a
list of all available players in the right
column (2). Then we switch to the Pulse
Mini and can immediately see and control
the music for that (3). Linking up players
is also easy, working smoothly and
without delay. Not all streaming systems
behave so smoothly!
Streaming services are plentiful and easily accessed from within the app, whether paid subscriptions (Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music) or free (iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Radio Paradise) — a host of others are listed, though a number are not available to Australia.
We found the BluOS app to be one of the best at switching cleanly and quickly between multiple players in different rooms (see panel and screengrabs, left). Indeed the latest BluOS app ran impeccably throughout our month or more with the Pulse Mini and Vault in residence, always finding the players immediately upon start-up (a common failing among such apps), and smoothly controlling them. The value of stability in a networked system cannot be overestimated!
We also enjoyed the sonic balance of the Pulse Mini. It is not flooded with false bass, as are so many wireless speakers, so that at lower background levels the sound is clean and non-intrusive whether playing across a room or right by you in a desktop scenario.
Better still, the sound scales perfectly as you go louder, the bass content rising with it but remaining tight and controlled, not flabby, overfull or dominating. Indeed the player’s EQ section is extensive and effective — you can hit the ‘deep bass’ button if that’s your preference (there’s also a Night Mode to do the opposite), or do as we did and trim the EQ with more subtlety; we added 2.5dB of bass for use at lower levels, and regularly used its ‘wide’ and ‘wider’ modes which we thought surprisingly effective at energising lower level performances without destroying either musicality or tone. Applying this to the high-res unlimited remaster of Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed, right-channel drums were thrust significantly outside the player’s physical image when widened, whereas without widening everything contracted to the bounds of the speaker. Both sounded musical and enjoyable. Some tracks gained a slight flanging accentuation to cymbals, and some midrange squawk if used at high levels, where it’s best to keep EQ flat.
There is also the option, untried by us, of pairing up two Pulse Minis to operate as individual left-right channels.
All the Bluesound range are friendly to smart-home systems, including Control4, Crestron, ELAN, iPort, Lutron, push, RTI and URC. They are also Roon ready, should you invest in that fine music delivery software; indeed Roon could address the Pulse Mini either as a Roon endpoint or via AirPlay. (Roon may be a neat way for iTunes users to fully access their collection, and it will also convert DSD files on the fly.)
And there’s Alexa compatibility for voice control. This requires a fair bit of setting up, plus one of Amazon’s smart speakers to hear your voice, and then a certain amount of language training given the need to chain commands together. You can’t just say “Alexa, play Crowded House”, you have to say “Alexa, tell Blue Voice to play Crowded House in the Office”, and even then it looks for a playlist called Crowded House, not the artist… Hampered further by Spotify not being an option for Alexa control, we failed miserably trying Alexa with the Pulse Mini, despite renaming it and trying all manner of syntax. We did get Alexa to control the Bluesound Vault. Far easier was pairing the Pulse Mini via Bluetooth with a Google Home, and then using simple Google commands to play from Spotify. As noted in many of our reviews, voice control of hi-fi in general seems too hit and miss to purchase based on this feature alone — though we optimistically expect rapid progress.
Overall then, Bluesound’s Pulse Mini 2i combines an effective high-tech streaming and multiroom platform with sophisticated sound quality from a box which is large and powerful
enough to play loud without strain.