JBL Pulse 5 review: this light-up speaker will get the party started

The JBL Pulse 5 has bright customisable lights that dance along to the music

JBL Pulse 5 review: woman holding light up speaker
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The JBL Pulse 5 is a fun speaker with a vibrant, customisable light show taking centre stage. Because of that, you do miss out slightly on the quality of the sound but it's still very powerful and loaded full of bass.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Customisable light show

  • +

    Pair multiple speakers together

  • +

    Punchy energetic sound

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Only 12 hours of battery

  • -

    Not as clear as other speakers

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If you’re hunting for a fun portable party speaker then this JBL Pulse 5 review could be a good match - it’s the best Bluetooth speaker with a 360-degree light show, that’s for sure. 

JBL’s range of audio devices reaches far and wide, whether you need a pair of noise-cancelling headphones like the JBL Tune 660NC, a seriously powerful and sturdy speaker to use out in the elements like the JBL Xtreme 3, or even if you want something tiny to pop in your bag when you go on holiday like the JBL Go 3

What sets JBL apart is that all their devices have a super energetic, fun sound and they look really cool with loads of colourways and designs to choose from. If you’re after a more clean, precise sound with a more grown-up aesthetic then you’re better off looking at the best Bose deals instead. 

In this JBL Pulse 5 review, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about this portable speaker before you decide whether to buy it or not. 

JBL Pulse 5 review: price and what’s new 

You can buy the JBL Pulse 5 right now starting from £230 in the UK, it’s not yet available in the US or Australia, but we expect it to be coming to those regions soon. Take a look at the widgets on this page to see the most up-to-date information on where you can buy one. 

Following on from the JBL Pulse 4, the 5th generation makes a few improvements here and there, although nothing major has changed so it may not be worth the upgrade if you already own the last model. 

The wattage has been boosted from 20W of power to 30W and it’s been made slightly bigger to allow for that. You now get the latest Bluetooth 5.3 up from Bluetooth 4.2 the last time around. And you’ll be able to use it in more places now because it’s IP67 water and dustproof, whereas it was only protected against liquids before. 

JBL Pulse 5 review: design and battery 

JBL Pulse 5 review: light up speaker from the back

(Image credit: Future)

One thing you absolutely cannot deny is that the JBL Pulse 5 looks really cool. Anyone who spots it is sure to comment on it. A party speaker that’s designed to look almost like a lava lamp with a 360-degree light show, it syncs to the beat of your songs, dancing along with loads of vibrant colours and patterns.

The tube of light is surrounded by a black-tinted transparent outer body. There are three feet to prop it up, a large JBL logo across the front and a little hook on the back to carry it around or hang it up, with rubberised strips to stop it slipping. You’ll also find a panel on the back that houses the power button, the Bluetooth button, a light show button to switch between lighting effects and a PartyBoost button, as well as a small LED bar to see the battery level and the USB-C port to charge it. 

The buttons are firm to press but they work well overall, it's a shame you don't get control over the music with them, though. 

Measuring 10.7 x 21.6 x 13.2cm and weighing 1.5kg, this is quite a big portable speaker, it’s certainly not something you’ll want to keep in your bag all the time, but it will fit in a backpack when you do want to take it out and about. You’ll actually be able to use the Pulse 5 just about anywhere because it’s IP67 water and dustproof so it’ll survive sudden bursts of heavy rain and sandy beaches on a windy day. 

The battery will last a respectable 12 hours of music before it needs recharging, which will take about 4 hours in total. What that means is that this will last long enough for hosting a party and even a whole day out but it may not survive an entire weekend away. 

JBL Pulse 5 review: performance and features

JBL Pulse 5 review: speaker from above with lights

(Image credit: Future)

As you’d expect from JBL, the Pulse 5 is full of energy with plenty of bass. For it to fill up the room, it needed to be at about 50% volume which leaves plenty of room to crank it up. 

PartyBoost is a feature that lets you pair the Pulse 5 with other compatible speakers to give the audio a boost, but it only works with the devices in their portable range. To activate it you can use the JBL Portable smartphone app or alternatively you can simply press the dedicated button on the back. 

While it is plenty powerful, it’s nowhere near as clear or as precise as a speaker that’s purely about producing sound. At times vocals got a bit lost and could come across a little empty so this is definitely more of a party speaker for dynamic electronic music than a solo listening device for power ballads. 

Because of the upward-firing design, it has a 360-degree sound when you’re standing above it which means the experience is similar wherever you are in the room, but if the speaker is placed above you then it does suffer somewhat and can sound a little more dulled out. 

Through the app, you can tweak the sound to better suit you across a three-band equaliser. Unlike elsewhere there aren’t currently any preset sound modes to make that a bit easier for those who don’t know their way around an EQ. 

Let’s talk lighting. Unlike a lot of other portables with party lights, this one is actually quite bright so it doesn’t need to be dark to make the most out of it. During the evening it won’t illuminate a whole room but it’ll definitely have a decent impact on the space.  

You can choose how the speaker lights up through the JBL Portable app. There are a number of options to choose from with different patterns and colours such as Natural, Spiritual, Cocktail and Canvas, but my two favourites were Party where all of the coloured lights energetically dance around changing routines as they go, and I also really liked the Weather option which looks like white clouds passing through a blue sky. 

You can actually edit each one and what it does as well. For instance, the Weather mode can look more like a storm than a summer’s day if that’s what you prefer.

If you don’t want multicoloured lights, you can choose to display just one colour using the colour wheel and there's an option to adjust the brightness of the lights too. 

Another cool feature I really liked was the ability to change the speed of the lights and even pick which parts of the speaker to illuminate. So if you wanted some lights but not the full show, you can keep the base switched on and turn off the main lighting or vice versa. That means you can also switch all the lights off when you need to. 

One other interesting thing this speaker can do is play ambient noise like the sound of waves, moving water, the forest or a fire. Play one at a time or have a couple playing together, and you can decide how long they play for. Where that will come in handy is when you're falling asleep because the noises won't stay on all night and drain all the battery. 

Having been upgraded to Bluetooth 5.3, the JBL Pulse 5 stayed connected to my phone even when I wandered into the next room with it but if I went further afield it would disconnect. 

JBL Pulse 5 review: verdict 

JBL Pulse 5 review: speaker lit up on white background

(Image credit: JBL)

The JBL Pulse 5 has the best light show available on a portable speaker - it can actually illuminate parts of the room with its customisable dancing lights. It's sure to be an excellent party starter.

The downside to that is that you will have to make a sacrifice here and there, like the actual quality and clarity of the sound which does suffer somewhat. In saying that, it’s still powerful and loaded with a decent amount of punch which makes it well-suited to dance tracks or even a bit of rock n’ roll. 

JBL Pulse 5 review: also consider  

A speaker with more discreet dancing lights is the Huawei Sound Joy. It’s both smaller and a lot cheaper than this. Granted the lights won’t blow you away but you will get decent sound and a huge 26-hour battery life from it. 

Not too worried about the lights? Another option to consider is the JBL Charge 5. It’s properly powerful for its size with a 20-hour battery life, and you can even charge your phone from it. 

Yasmine Crossland
Reviews Writer

Reviews Writer for T3, Yasmine, started writing reviews in 2019 and is always knee-deep in the latest tech products. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her tending to her plants and planning her next big trip.