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JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 (2023): Is It Time To Upgrade?

JBL’s Pulse speaker lineup has always been polarizing. For some, the attention-grabbing LED lights feel more like a gimmick. Others look past the light show and find a capable device that delivers powerful audio for its size. Regardless of where you stand, the portable speakers are here to stay, especially with the release of the JBL Pulse 5

So how does the fifth iteration of the Pulse differ from its predecessors? And is it a worthy successor to the JBL Pulse 4?

JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 Bluetooth Speaker Comparison Chart

ModelJBL Pulse 5JBL Pulse 4
 
Price
Dimensions4.2 x 8.5 x 5.2 in.3.8 x 8.1 x 3.8
Weight3.2 lb2.8 lb
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.3Bluetooth 4.2
Output30W RMS for woofer, 10W RMS for tweeter20W
DurabilityIP67IPX7
LightshowYesYes
JBL PartyBoostYesYes
Battery Life12 hours12 hours
Charging Time4 hours3.5 hours

Design

The JBL Pulse 5 is slightly larger than the Pulse 4, offering a 360-degree LED panel.

JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 Design
A side-by-side look at the JBL Pulse 5 (left) and Pulse 4 (right)

The JBL Pulse 4 introduced considerable changes to the Pulse design language. Previous models sported a pill-shaped form, with the speaker grille competing with the LED panels for attention. With the fourth generation speaker, the Pulse now sports a cylindrical build. Its LED panels also run the length of the device. To accommodate these changes, the Pulse 4โ€™s 20-watt driver now projects from the top grille. 

JBL’s Pulse 5 follows a similar blueprint but is stouter and heavier. Portability shouldn’t be an issue, thanks to a built-in strap. With the increase in size, the speaker looks more like a lava lamp than an audio device. The Pulse 5’s LED panels are also slightly wider, although a large JBL Logo interrupts the streamlined design near the base.

Both speakers stand upright on three rubber feet. This creates enough space for the Pulse 5’s downward-firing woofer and the Pulse 4’s passive radiator. Because its slimmer, the fourth-gen speaker offers a sleeker overall aesthetic. To give the same uncluttered look, JBL removed the music control buttons on the Pulse 5.

The JBL Pulse 5 only comes in black. In contrast, the Pulse 4 is available in black or white models. For those who prefer something other than monotone, the JBL GO and Flip are offered in multiple color variants. 

Sound and Light Display

Both the Pulse 5 and Pulse 4 boast house-filling sound and impressively customizable light schemes.

JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 Sound and Light Show
The new woofer on the Pulse 5 offers a bolder bass performance than the Pulse 4

JBL equips the Pulse 5 with dual drivers. It also has a frequency range of 58Hz to 20KHz. The speaker only supports the SBC codec, so if you want more detail, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But for a portable mono speaker, the Pulse 5 delivers powerful audio with noticeable rumbling.

Meanwhile, the Pulse 4 has a frequency range of 63Hz to 20kHz. Like its successor, the Pulse 4 is a mono speaker that surprisingly gets loud for its size. But if you want a stereo pair or a multi-room system, you can pair the unit with compatible speakers via JBL’s PartyBoost. The same feature is available on the Pulse 5.

Where the Pulse 5 has the edge is in its new 30W subwoofer. With it, the fifth-gen Pulse offers more depth in the bass than its predecessor. You get some thumping from the Pulse 4, too, but it’s clear JBL has emphasized a bass-forward performance on the Pulse 5.

Thanks to the expanded surface for the LED panels, the Pulse 5 also delivers a wider lightshow. The animation remains fluid like the Pulse 4, and the customizations via JBL’s app are just as varied. While most light-up speakers are glitchy, the Pulse 5 and 4’s displays are tightly synced with the audio. And if you don’t want to customize, light presets are available, too.

Controls and Connectivity

JBLs Pulse 5 ditches physical music control buttons for the smartphone app, while the Pulse 4 offers both onboard keys and app connectivity.

JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 Connectivity and App
A closer look at the control panel of the Pulse 5 (left); pairing the Pulse 4 with JBL’s mobile app (right)

While JBL has ditched control buttons on the Pulse 5, the speaker isn’t entirely button-free. You still get dedicated keys for power, Bluetooth pairing, light controls, and Party mode. Unlike the Pulse 4, however, the Pulse 5’s has been placed on the back instead of around the rim. It’s also nearer to the LED charging indicator and charging port.

For some users, the lack of control buttons on the Pulse 5 may be a deal breaker. While Bluetooth pairing is easy, using your phone for something as simple as pausing a track, navigating through a playlist, or adjusting the volume can be cumbersome. This wireless setup comes in handy when you’re at a distance from the speaker. But the Pulse 4 offers the same smartphone app controls while still keeping physical keys. 

Speaking of smartphone apps, JBL has rebranded theirs to JBL Portable. When the Pulse 4 was released, the app was still called JBL Connect. JBL Portable is largely the same platform as JBL Connect, allowing users to adjust EQ settings, set timers, or even play ambient noises.

Battery and Durability

The JBL Pulse 5 has the same battery life as the Pulse 4, but is both dustproof and waterproof.

JBL Pulse 5 vs Pulse 4 Battery and Durability
Both the JBL Pulse 5 and 4 are safe from splashes โ€” in the bathroom or around the pool

JBL shares that the Pulse 5 can last 12 hours on a single charge. It’s the same runtime for the Pulse 4. However, actual performance will depend on the volume level during use. Since it is bigger, it would have been nice for the Pulse 5 to get a bump in battery life. It’s also worth noting the charge time of the new speaker is four hours, an extra 30 minutes from the Pulse 4.

As for durability, the Pulse 5 is finally dustproof. It has an IP67 rating, so it can handle being submerged in waters up to 30 meters. The Pulse 4 also has a waterproof build, but its protection against dust is unknown.

Verdict

The JBL Pulse 5 is a worthy successor to, and a valuable upgrade from, the JBL Pulse 4.

While there are better portable speakers, none are as captivating as the JBL Pulse lineup. And with the JBL Pulse 5, the company refines the light and music show of the series, making it less of a gimmick and more of an integral feature. The fifth-generation Pulse isn’t a complete overhaul of 2019’s JBL Pulse 4. Nonetheless, it improves LED light customization and audio performance enough to make it an upgrade from its predecessor. There’s only one caveat. JBL ditches physical playback and volume controls in favor of smartphone app connectivity. If you prefer onboard controls, then the Pulse 4 is a better and less expensive option.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ What is the JBL Pulse known for?

The JBL Pulse series are portable Bluetooth speakers with built-in LED lights that provide a unique audio-visual experience. They have long battery life and can be customized with different light patterns and colors.

๐Ÿ“Œ Can the Pulse 5 be used while charging?

Yes. The JBL Pulse 5 can still be used while it is charging.

๐Ÿ“Œ Is the brightness of the LED lights adjustable?

Yes. Through the JBL app, users can change the brightness of the Pulse 5 and 4’s LED lights.

๐Ÿ“Œ What kind of charging cable does the JBL Pulse 5 use?

JBL’s Pulse 5 speaker uses a type-C cable.

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Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.