JBL Pulse 4 Review: A Mesmerizing Light Show Built into an Excellent Portable Speaker

It would be easy to discount a portable speaker that comes with a built-in light show as a jack of all trades and a master of none, but in the case of the JBL Pulse 4, doing so would be a huge mistake. The Pulse 4 delivers 360º sound and an LED light show that can both soothe or enliven.

Building on the success of prior Pulse models, the Pulse 4 now features a larger and more vibrant LED show with up to 12 hours of battery life (depending on light brightness and volume), and it’s waterproof up to 3-feet deep for 30 minutes (IPX7) so you can confidently use it in the backyard or by the pool.

Included in the package are the Pulse 4 portable speaker, a USB Type-A to Type-C charging cable, a quick start guide, a safety sheet, and a warranty card.

The JBL Pulse 4 measures approximately 8.2″ tall by 3.10″ wide at the base, and it weighs 2 pounds 13 ounces, so it has a nice heft. Available in either black or white, I was sent the black version.

The exterior is largely composed of a smoky black plastic exterior sleeve with hard plastic endcaps. On the front center bottom, there is a red and white JBL badge. At the top center front, there are buttons for Volume Down, Play/Pause, and Volume Up. If you press and hold the Play/Pause button, the speaker will skip to the next song.

On the right side, you’ll find the Power button and a Bluetooth connection button.

On the left side, there is a Party Boost button, which allows you to connect a second Party Boost-compatible speaker for stereo sound or you can use it connect more than 100 Party Boost-compatible speakers for a huge synchronized sound. There is also a light show button that will cycle you through five preset light shows; pressing and holding the button for a few seconds will turn off the lights if you don’t want them.

On the back, there is a USB Type-C charging port and above it …

… is an LED strip that glows to show the remaining battery life. It’s not as precise a battery indicator as five individual LEDs would be, but it works.

On the bottom of the Pulse 4, there is a passive radiator; grooves formed in the hard plastic bottom keep the passive radiator from sitting flat on any surface and getting stifled. This design allows the speaker to put out some decent bass; the speaker is surprisingly powerful and will rattle things sitting on a table.

At the top, there is a single 2.25″ driver. The JBL Pulse 4 sounds great when it is oriented so that the passive radiator is on the bottom and the driver is on the top. The Pulse 4’s sound gets tinny and weird if the driver is on the bottom or lying on its side.

Without turning on the Pulse 4, you can see a white shrouded column in the center of the speaker’s body; it looks interesting.

I was curious about what was inside the Pulse 4 but unwilling to tear mine apart to look. I enjoyed watching this teardown video; you might enjoy it, too.

When the Pulse 4 is turned on, the white center column begins to glow and (yes) pulse with the music; you can change the colors and styles of the light show by pressing the light button. The sound produced by the Pulse 4 is surprisingly loud and clear — especially when you consider that it is all coming from that single 2.25″ driver and small-ish passive radiator. The Pulse 4 can easily fill your room with sound while giving you and undulating light show, and it also works very well when sitting outdoors on a picnic table.

You don’t need the JBL Connect app to use the speaker, but if you download it new features and conveniences are unlocked.

The remaining battery life is displayed.

Opening the Light Show tab lets you select and customize each of the five light shows. The option of taking a photo of your outfit or room’s decor is available for a customized light show color.

The Party button in the app opens Party Mode which walks you through connecting additional speakers for a huge sound.

The Stereo button in the app walks you through the steps to connect a second speaker for true stereo sound.

The fact that the JBL Pulse 4 puts out such impressive sound while delivering a lava lamp-esque light show is great on its own, but I love that the speaker is rugged enough to bring along with you on your outside adventures without worrying.

While some might fault the speaker for not having a built-in speakerphone function or an aux-In port, I’m giving it a pass. Whether the Pulse 4 is sitting on a shelf in your house, operating as a fixed speaker with a built-in light show, or you are throwing it in a tote to use at the beach, I can’t see myself or anyone else looking at it and expecting it to work as a speakerphone. As for no aux-in port, I’m guessing that has something to with the fact that every single phone made anymore has Bluetooth and that’s generally what people are streaming their music from.

The Pulse 4 puts on a mesmerizing 360º light show, and it produces that great JBL sound that I love. At $249.95, the price may seem a little steep compared to similarly-sized portable speakers that don’t have an LED light show, but if you want a speaker that is as pleasurable to watch as it is to listen to, you won’t be disappointed with the JBL Pulse 4.

The JBL Pulse 4 retails for $249.95, and it is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from other retailers including Amazon [affiliate link].

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

What I Like: 130 LEDs make the Pulse 4’s visuals smooth and bright; You can turn off the light show by pressing and holding the light button for a couple of seconds; 7260Mah Li-ion battery for up to 12 hours of lights and sound; Sound produced is very clear with decent bass; IPx7 waterproof so you can feel free to bring it along!

What Needs Improvement: Some might miss the Aux-in; Can’t use as a speakerphone

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-professed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area — or not.