It’s difficult to review products like the JBL Pulse 3. Does one rate it as a new-age lava lamp, as a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, or as the combination of both that it is? Call me old-school, but if a speaker doesn’t sound good, I don’t care how shiny it looks. At least at the Pulse 3’s $200 price point.

At $75 or $100, I’d probably feel differently about the Pulse 3, which is cleverly designed and radiates attractive color patterns in time with the music. But the Pulse 3’s sound lacks clarity, to say the least.

Design and features

To be fair, the Pulse 3’s mediocre sound is hardly surprising when you consider its IPX7 waterproofing. IPX7 means it will remain functional after 30 minutes under about three feet of water. (Dive to the bottom of the pool and you’re on your own.) But it also means means less than sonically optimal materials where the rubber meets the air and other design trade-offs. Less than optimal sound is a hallmark of the breed.

Even more challenging for the designers sound-wise; the upper 60 percent of the Pulse 3 is given over to an attractive 360-degree LED light show that offers a number of color and pattern variations. Said lights follow the music, but it’s somewhat reminiscent of interpretive dance, with some pulses on the beat, and other effects sliding through time between them. 

I should also note that the light show is configurable using the nine elements from the eight preset light shows (using the Andorid/iOS JBL Connect app), and it is perpetual in the sense that the show continues even when music isn’t playing.

To be honest, that’s the way I enjoyed it the most—and I did enjoy it. Enough so that it was pulsing and whatnot for most of the Holiday season. Put bluntly, in case you hadn’t caught my drift, the light show is the reason to buy this product, not the sound.

jbl pulse3 phone black 0555 JBL

JBL provides a phone app that allows you to control the Pulse 3, including altering the light show.

The lower 30 percent (plus the top and bottom, with passive radiators) is given over to three speaker grills plus six touch controls: power, volume up, volume down, Bluetooth pair, JBL Connect+ (more on that in a bit), and a button for switching between light patterns or disabling them.

Sitting amid the buttons is a captive plug hiding the 3.5mm auxiliary and micro-USB port. The plug looks a bit like a large slide switch. It isn’t (yes, I tried sliding it) and it fits quite snugly. That’s good, as without it in place, say goodbye to your IPX7 rating. Moreover, put it under water without the plug in place and say goodbye to the Pulse 3.

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