Review: Felt Audio Pulse Bluetooth speaker

Mini speaker designed for portability, attachment to mobile devices (January 3rd, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Felt Audio

Price: $80

The Good

  • Extremely portable
    - Doubles as a hands-free device
    - Mounting configurations

The Bad

  • Effectively one volume setting
    - Eight hour battery life
    - Bad sound quality

The Pulse by Felt Audio sets out to be a speaker that you can wear everywhere and feel unburdened doing so. This tiny little speaker might fit in the palm of someone's hand, but on paper it has a lot going for it. Want to make a statement with your music? Tired of wearing earphones on a busy street when you might need to hear what is going on around you? Don't like sounding like a crazy person when talking on your headset in public? The Pulse offers answers all of these questions. The one question that really needs answering, though, is "is it any good?"

By making a compact, portable speaker that can crank out music as someone walks around town, Felt are trying to aim for a niche slice of a flooded market. The speaker, which is smaller than a playing card, operates over Bluetooth in order to play anything from your music library or make a call on your way home. At 71 grams, we barely noticed it attached to a jacket or belt. It's convex exterior makes it hard to snag as one moves about as well.

Since the Pulse is so small, it offers portability that other Bluetooth speakers can't compete with. One doesn't need to carry around a large bag or a hoodie to stash the speaker away. Instead, it'll fit right in a front pocket with a cell phone and a set of car keys. Even then if the Pulse clipped to a waistband, belt, or strap to a purse or shoulder bag, there is nothing needed other than to turn it off when it is done being used to preserve the battery.

Under optimal conditions, the Pulse is only going to last about eight hours. While that isn't bad for a Bluetooth device, it seems odd for something that touts portability and everyday use to be charged more often than most modern cell phones. It isn't that eight hours is a terrible battery life, especially considering that the speaker won't always be on like the cell phone, but fighting for another charger or available outlet is the last thing some consumers want to do when leaving the house or going to sleep. A device left uncharged can ruin a day. Fortunately, it only takes less than an hour to charge.

In addition to being able to be clipped to most things for carrying, the clip also doubles as a stand for the speaker. Simply pop off the plate from the back of the speaker and push the notch out in order to hold the clip in place and slide it back on. The Pulse will stand like a picture frame on a flat surface. Be warned that while the clip does feel secure when snapping it back on, dropping the speaker nearly any height can dislodge it. Felt Audio also offers phone cases that the Pulse can attach to for a few cell phones on the market, including the iPhone 5/5s and 4/4S.

The decibel output for the Pulse tells a sobering tale for a device that is trying hard every time you turn it on. From 100 percent to 25 percent volume settings there is little, if any, noticeable change in the output the speaker produces. Sure, in reality there is a small difference with each incremental downturn when measured, but the ear has a hard time telling much has occured. That means that most of the time when the Pulse is sending out music it is of poor quality and is fighting not to crack its voice with each additional layer of sound.

That isn't to say that the output is abysmal. For a speaker with a 39mm driver, anything above 90 dBs at a distance of a foot is admirable. However, this is in a situation where the bass ("Hunter" in this case) is the driving factor in the song. Compare the output to a set of headphones using 40mm drivers and you could easily crack 100 dBs with this song at 100 percent volume. Dynamic recordings and modern rock have a hard time maintaining a smooth sound even at 80 dBs of output. Will the sound be better than what a cell phone might deliver? In most cases, yes. Anything outside of short distance, though, isn't recommended.

The stated range of 30 feet for a Bluetooth connection is accurate almost to the dot when studied in the testing environment. Anything past the 30 foot mark yielded more silence than sound, eventually stopping completely not many feet after this distance. Usually speakers have some give and take with the range, but it was as if there was an invisible line at 30 feet. One side was clear sound, on the other it was completely broken up and fading out fast.

The redeeming factor for the Pulse is that it is handy as a hands-free device. Clipping it a car's visor during a trip ensures that directions from a navigation program on a phone or making an emergency phone call will go much smoother than a driver attempting to fiddle with a phone -- not to mention that the use of a cell phone while driving is illegal in many states (check your local laws to see if the Pulse qualifies as "hands-free"). The Pulse simply takes the phone out of the equation, needing only the press of a single button to connect and disconnect calls. Even though the sound wasn't the best for music, for phone calls it works just fine. Being a foot above or below the mic provides the optimal positioning, which makes sense considering it can clip on a visor or strap of a bag flung over a shoulder.

The Pulse speaker is surprising. The tiny little speaker that could, that isn't really much smaller than one ear cup on a set of headphones, and tries its hardest to blast big sounds to the sky. However, the surprise isn't as welcome as one might think it is. The produced sound is full of static and distortion, is really only good for the person wearing it, and doesn't have enough in terms of battery life considering its intended everyday use. On the upside, it can function as a fairly decent hands-free device in the car. Is that what you should be qualifying as "good" at $80? No, but at least Felt Audio is trying something different in a realm where everything is pretty much the same.

by Jordan Anderson


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