JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

From the beginning, the JBL Pulse line has been made up of excellent portable speakers which happen to include a light show. But it wasn’t until the Pulse 3 that the design became sophisticated. The JBL Pulse 3 looks like the love child of a portable Bluetooth speaker and a fancier lava lamp, and it’s one pretty baby.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

What sets the Pulse 3 apart from other cylindrical portable Bluetooth speakers is that it offers 360º sound in conjunction with a 360º light show. The Pulse 3 is IPX7 waterproof, so it’s safe to use outdoors in any weather, and it works well as a speakerphone. Let’s go ahead and open the package …

Included in the box are the JBL Pulse 3 portable Bluetooth speaker, a flat plastic coated no-tangle microUSB to USB Type-A cable, a wall charger, a booklet of safety instructions, warranty paperwork, and a quick start guide.

The Pulse 3 is available in black or white; it measures about 8.9″ tall by 3.7″ wide, and it weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces. The body of my black one is largely composed of smoky gray plastic on about 2/3 of the speaker’s body with a weighted black plastic base with matte black metal speaker grilles covering all but the center button area. The Pulse 3 has a sleek look, and I would say that it was nice enough to display just about anywhere.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

On the bottom front of the speaker (or back, if you prefer to keep this panel turned away from you), there are five battery life LEDs that will blink then glow solidly as the battery charges; when the speaker is unplugged they will glow solidly when a button is pressed to indicate remaining battery life; you’ll notice that they’ll stop glowing in 20% increments.

On the left side of the rubber pull tab in the center, there’s a Bluetooth pairing button, the JBL Connect+ button, and then the programmed light show button.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

In the center, there’s an aux-in cable and a microUSB charge port. I have to admit wishing this was a Type-C, as everything else about this speaker is so modern, but alas.

On the right side, there’s a volume up button, a volume down button, and a multifunction button which can play or pause your music when pressed once (or answer the phone if it is ringing); when pressed twice it will advance to the next song.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

Make sure that rubber door is closed if you are using the Pulse 3 near water, okay?

The back of the speaker is plain, with the exception of the JBL logo badge; on the top and bottom, there’s a subwoofer.

To get access to customization features, you’ll need to download the JBL Connect+ app. Once opened, you’ll tell the app which speaker to look for, and if the speaker is turned on, the app will recognize it and pair.

The JBL Pulse 3 has a built-in 360º light show that can show one of seven pre-programmed patterns, or you can customize the light show through the JBL Connect+ app to do something else.

Even though the first seven light shows are pre-programmed, you are still able to change the colors shown. The process for changing the shown colors is pretty cool — you give the app control of your camera, and take a picture of anything you’d like to match the color to; it will then build a light show based on that color palette.

On the eighth light show, you have the option of customizing the lights patterns with up to three of the nine available patterns.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

When you click the gear (settings) icon at the bottom of the app, you pull up controls for the brightness of the light show, and you’ll see if there are any firmware upgrades available (oops, I’d better update).

Through the JBL Connect+ app, you can also program the play/pause button to activate Siri or Google Now on your phone; however, if you choose to use it for that function, it will no longer work for play/pause.

The Pulse 3’s 6000mAh battery will last up to 12 hours with the light show going and music playing, so it’s more than ready for your next party or cookout. You can also link up to 100 other JBL Connect+ enabled speakers if you’re going for an even bigger sound.

JBL Pulse 3 Specifications
• Output power: 20W
• Transducer: 3 x 40mm
• Frequency response: 65Hz – 20kHz
• Signal-to-noise ratio: ?80dB

The first time you turn the JBL Pulse 3 on, the light show will glow blue, and a tone will sound indicating that it is ready to pair. Once pairing is complete, an ambient light show of softly undulating colors will begin. This lava lamp effect is lovely if you have the speaker sitting on a shelf in your office or bedroom — and remember that you can make it less bright if you have it somewhere like your bedroom.

JBL Pulse 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker: A Grown-Up Lava Lamp with Skills

When the music is turned on, depending upon which light show you’ve selected, you’ll see various patterns undulating to the beat of your music.

One thing worth pointing out is that because the lights are dancing from behind a clear piece of plastic instead of a speaker grille (like previous Pulse versions) the patterns are very smooth, and there is no appearance of pixelation. it’s a sleeker, more sophisticated speaker all around, and yet the speaker is rugged enough for outdoor use. With that said, because the body is plastic, it probably would be a good idea to try not to drop it on rocks or concrete. Why take a chance of destroying it?

The JBL Pulse 3 is IPX7 rated, which means that it’s waterproof if dropped in up to 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes; you can use it outside, splash water on it at the pool, play music in the rain, or whatever … it will be fine.

And how does it sound? It’s a JBL, come on; it sounds very good. If you are using it in a normal sized bedroom or home office, the speaker is loud enough to fill the room with great-sounding music. If you are using it at the pool or beach, it will be plenty loud for your personal area; if you need something louder or further reaching, you can always take advantage of the Connect+ feature with your friend’s speaker (assuming they have a JBL Connect+ capable speaker, of course).

Listening to music on the Pulse 3 is an audio and visual treat; it’s incredibly relaxing, and I’ve used it while trying to chill out — it was nice. The speaker handles all kinds of music well — the faster the music, the crazier the light show. If you want the adult equivalent of a lava lamp to enjoy while you relax and listen to your favorite music, you need the JBL Pulse 3. If you want a speaker that can keep up with your party music and provide a light show, you’ll also be very happy with it.

The JBL Pulse 3 is available in black or white; it retails for $179.95, and it is available directly from the manufacturer and from other retailers including Amazon [affiliate link].

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: IPX7 rating (waterproof in up to 3′ water); You can link to other JBL Connect+ speakers (up to 100 total); Works well as a speakerphone; Google Now or Siri access with the press of a button; Customizable light shows through the JBL Connect App; Sounds great; Sleek, sophisticated appearance update

What Needs Improvement: Doesn’t use USB Type-C; Common sense warning — Might not be quite as rugged as previous versions,  so don’t drop it on rocks or concrete

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct smaller.com; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.