JBL Pulse 5 review: Lightshow and party starter

JBL’s Pulse 5 Bluetooth speaker has a lot going on. At its most basic, it carries over the company’s professional audio quality in a (mostly) portable wireless speaker that would work just as well at a beach BBQ as it is stowed on a shelf in your shower.

What makes the Pulse 5 really stand out, though, is its whole secondary role as a smart light. It’s in many ways a party within a speaker, containing enough power to fill a room with sound and light for hours if needed. There are even more robust, rich sounding Bluetooth speakers out there, even in JBL’s own lineup, but if you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker that offers the peanut-butter-and-jelly pairing of a highly customizable light and incredibly loud sound, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything better.

JBL Pulse 5


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The JBL Pulse 5 combines loud, powerful bass with a customizable light system that can instantly spruce up your next party or set the mood in your office.


  • Customizable light patterns
  • Sounds great out of the box
  • IP67 dustproof and waterproof

  • No physical volume controls
  • Heavy

Designed like an alien lava lamp

When it’s off, the JBL Pulse 5 is restrained, maybe even plain. At 4.2 x 8.5 x 5.2 inches, it’s about the height of a water bottle and only marginally thicker. Inside, the Pulse 5 has a 2.5-inch 30W woofer and a 0.6-inch 10W tweeter, and a dynamic frequency response range of 58Hz to 20kHz. JBL has designed the Pulse 5 to have a built-in fabric carrying strap to make it easier to port around, and in my time with the Pulse I appreciated it. This speaker, despite its size, weighs in at 3.2lbs, the weight of most 13-inch laptops. That doesn’t make it impossible to lift, but it might make you think twice about throwing it in your backpack before walking to the park.

Of course, that’s just the Pulse 5 when it’s off. Press the power button on the back and the speaker fills with pulsing colored light. JBL is proud to note that the Pulse 5 is a Red Dot Design Award winner, and I think it deserves it. The way the Pulse 5’s light source is set multiple layers deep into the speaker gives it an added sense of depth that makes the bright light and sound that emanates from it all the more ethereal and alien.

The JBL Pulse 5 hanging from it's built-in strap and glowing green.

One of the few problems I had with the Pulse 5 was how limited its controls and inputs are. Besides a power button, there’s a button to enable Bluetooth pairing, a button for cycling through the Pulse 5’s various light modes, a button for connecting to other Bluetooth speakers via JBL’s PartyBoost feature, and a USB Type-C port for charging speakers.

Noticeably missing are any kind of volume controls, which isn’t a huge deal, but I found it to be annoying the whole time I used the Pulse 5. Speakers, especially speakers designed to be the centerpiece of a living space because of their unique ability to put on a light show, should have an easy way for anyone to control them, not just the person holding the phone.


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Moody lights and white noise

Paying for the JBL Pulse 5 gives you modern JBL features, like an easy way to group multiple Bluetooth speakers together, but the standout is the JBL Portable app. Companion apps can be hit or miss, and are often straight-up bad, but in this case JBL showed restraint. You need the JBL Portable app to adjust how the Pulse 5 looks while it’s on, among other things, so it helps that it has some useful features on top of just letting you adjust the speaker’s “Lightshow” feature.

Different colors and light patterns sync to your music, matching the weather, the fluctuating flow of the Aurora Borealis, or the reflections of a spinning disco ball.

Once you’ve connected to the Pulse 5 over Bluetooth the JBL Portable app displays a screen with multiple preset Lightshow options to choose from, loosely themed around things like Nature, Cocktails, Weather, and Party. Each of these categories has different colors and light patterns that can sync to your music, matching the weather, the fluctuating flow of the Aurora Borealis, or the reflections of a spinning disco ball. From there, you can change the speed and brightness of the Pulse 5’s patterns, including turning off entire sections of the light (specifically the top and bottom) if you want to.

These various light patterns are fun and can be further customized with a built-in color wheel, but the feature I found most surprisingly enjoyable was the app’s white noise feature. Basically, you can select from a few preloaded white noise tracks with matching light patterns that could be set to end at specific times. This is functionality you can get by downloading a simple pomodoro timer app on your smartphone, but I liked using the Pulse 5 to schedule little focused writing sprints for myself that had some background noise, but without extra distractions.

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Photos paint a better picture of how the Pulse 5 lights up a room than words ever will, but you get quite a bit of range from the speaker depending on whether you need moody purple hues for a night home alone or something, brighter, faster moving, and fun before pre-gaming a night out. It’s not as customizable as a Philips Hue product, but it gave me more options to play with than I was expecting.

The back buttons on the JBL Pulse 5.

Loud, bassy, and clear even at higher volumes

You ultimately want loudness from a party speaker, and the Pulse 5 delivers handily. Even at medium volume, it fills up a room, and it can get to pretty high volumes (higher than I was comfortable with, sharing a wall with my neighbors) without noticeable distortion.

The speaker has a deep, booming bass that feels greater than its size and closer to what I get out of my TV’s Sonos Ray sound bar.

Placed on a table, you can hear and feel thump on songs like Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. On the whole, just about everything I played on the JBL Pulse 5 sounded crisp and clear. My only real issue was a problem I chalked up to the size of the speaker rather than anything JBL did. You naturally get less separation between bass and treble on a smaller speaker with fewer woofers and tweeters and I noticed it after listening to the Pulse 5 for long enough.

It’s a testament to how good the Pulse 5 sounds that that’s what sticks out above everything else. I loved how much texture Katie Crutchfield and MJ Lenderman’s voices had in Waxahatchee’s Right Back to It, and the groovy riffs of Age of Consent by New Order were easy to throw on repeat because of how much punch the bass had. You could probably get even better audio quality by tweaking the equalizer settings, but what JBL offers out of the box is good enough for most people.

The JBL Pulse 5 on a bookshelf with its lights off.

Bumpin’ bass and battery

JBL says the Pulse 5 gets around 12 hours of playback time, which feels accurate for extended periods of use during a social event, but might be conservative if you’re not constantly changing the Lightshow on display. I made it through over four days of playing music from the Pulse 5 for two to three hours a day before the battery status light signaled I should charge.

You could get even more if you use the Pulse 5 less regularly. I ultimately ended up using the Pulse 5 more because the speaker’s IP67 dustproof and waterproof rating meant I could use it in the shower without having to worry about water damage. The outer plastic layer fogs up, but it never stopped blasting light or sound as I got ready for the day.


The JBL Pulse 5 is a lot of fun, and for a speaker that’s so clearly meant to be enjoyed by a crowd, its flaws, weight and a lack of volume controls fade to the background when you’re entertaining with customizable lights and a punchy, bassy sound. Ultimately, JBL delivered a competent party speaker with some fun features to try when you’re alone, relaxing, or trying to focus. There’s not a ton to it, but if you’re looking for a fun way to play audio at home or an event on the go, the JBL Pulse 5 sounds and looks good enough for just about everyone.

A tube-shaped, rainbow-colored Bluetooth speaker with JBL printed on the side.

JBL Pulse 5


$200 $250 Save $50

Songs I enjoyed on the JBL Pulse 5

As I tested the JBL Pulse 5, these are a few of my most listened to songs that made listening even more of a joy.

  • Age of Consent by New Order
  • The Bottom by HEATWAVE
  • Right Back At It (feat. MJ Lenderman) by Waxahatchee
  • I Been Young by George Clanton
  • Soft Axe by Saintseneca

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