JBL Pulse 3 vs Pulse 4: Is the Update to this Trippy-Light-Show Speaker Worth it?

Not all Bluetooth speakers actually improve in their new additions — though most do. We’re excited to take a peek at the JBL Pulse 4 and see if it’s a worthy follow-up to the Pulse 3.

The JBL Pulse 4 was released in September 2019 and Pulse 3 in January of 2017, so we wouldn’t expect a JBL Pulse 5 for quite some time to come.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on September 18, 2019. It was thoroughly updated on November 6, 2019.

Side-by-Side Comparison: JBL Pulse 3 vs JBL Pulse 4

The Main Differences to Be Aware of in the Pulse 4 Upgrade

With the JBL Pulse 4, JBL kept what was working really well with the Pulse 3 — the trippy, music-coordinated light show, and made it even better.

In the Pulse 4, the glass LED screen that smartly and dynamically dances to your tunes now takes up the entire body of the speaker. There are plastic caps at each end, which give the impression that if you could yank them off, your bottled lightning would shoot around the room, and perhaps offer to grant you a wish.

As with the Pulse 3, on the Pulse 4 you can choose colors and adjust the types of lightshow via a smartphone app. An additional feature on the Pulse 4 is the ability to shake the speaker and have it pair with another Pulse 4 (or JBL PartyBoost-enabled speaker) that is nearby. This is possible on the Pulse 3 with other JBL Connect+ speakers, but needs to be set up in the app.

The Pulse 4 also uses the light show as a volume indicator, giving you visual feedback with the way the speaker is lighting up about how loud you’re going.

Here’s a look at the 360-degree light show from the JBL Pulse 4. Truly impressive, we think, a nice step up from your granpappy’s lava lamp.

As for sound, JBL appears to be doing something similar as with its Charge 3 to Charge 4 upgrade; it is reducing the number of transducers to one while attempting to keep the same basic sonic profile. Audio critic reviews have so far complemented the JBL Pulse 4’s neutral mix across all frequencies, the solid bass performance (including even sub-bass), the powerful room-filling sound at high volumes, and the even 360-degree performance. There is some surprise that a speaker whose main feature is a bit of a gimmick — a light show — is also a truly beautiful-sounding piece that can animate a hell of a party.

There are other small changes. Not all are improvements; several very minor features are actually lost in the move from the Pulse 3 to Pulse 4. Here’s the rundown of what’s different:

  • The system that allows you to pair multiple units together for bigger sound or stereo is now PartyBoost on the JBL Pulse 4, and not the older Connect+ systems as was on the JBL Pulse 3. So no, if you already have a JBL Pulse 3, you will not be able to connect it to your newer Pulse 4. It’s possible that JBL may release an update to make them compatible, but there’s no guarantee.
  • The Pulse 4 charges via the more modern USB-C (same as most high-end phones coming out this year). The Pulse 3 charges via mini-USB.
  • The Pulse 4 fully charges in 3.5 hours, versus 4.5 hours for the Pulse 3.
  • On the Pulse 4, you can no longer access Google Assistant or Siri Now through the speaker; you’ll have to talk to your phone directly instead. If you want a true portable smart speaker from JBL, check out the JBL Link 10 or 20 instead. We don’t particularly recommend smart speakers, however; your phone will almost certainly be better for such features in terms of voice recognition and success connecting. The Pulse 3 was sort of an intermediary between your voice and your phone; all data was sent through your phone in any case.
  • The Pulse 4 is slightly shorter, slightly stouter, and heavier than the Pulse 3.
  • The Pulse 4 loses the speakerphone function that was present on the Pulse 3. We think this feature doesn’t actually get much real world use since you have the same on your phone; most speaker brands have been eliminating it in the last few years.

Pros and Cons of the JBL Pulse 4

All around this is the best light show in a Bluetooth speaker from one of the top-sounding Bluetooth speaker brands. The following pros and cons are also relevant for the Pulse 3.

Other advantages of the JBL Pulse 4

  • The 12-hour battery is more than enough for most normal use; you can rock an all-night party well away from a power source. It can go even longer if you turn the light show off.
  • The speaker is completely IPX7 waterproof and floats. Don’t actually listen to music underwater (it won’t sound good), but it’s great to know that if it suffers an accidental spill or dunking, there won’t be any issue.
  • If you pair a second JBL Pulse 4 for stereo sound, you can also synchronize the light shows between the two in the app.
  • Yes, as should be obvious, the JBL Pulse 4 is the ultimate stoner’s Bluetooth speaker. It can be placed in the center of a circle and sound great from any angle, plus visually it produces a very modern version of the lava lamp.

Disadvantages of the JBL Pulse 4

  • While we expect the Pulse 4 to sound great, as with the earlier versions, the sans-light-show JBL Charge series is still slightly better; see for example our comparison of the previous JBL Pulse 4 and Charge 4. The Charge 4 is unidirectional however, and sounds best if you’re in front of it, versus the Pulse 4’s 360-degree sound. If you don’t need the light show and do love 360-degree sound, we also really love the Ultimate Ears Boom 3’s sound — and it’s even more portable.)
  • The Pulse 4 loses the speakerphone and ability to receive Siri and Google Now commands. In the real world, we don’t think those actually get much use (your phone already has them), but if you want them, opt for the JBL Pulse 3.

Wrap-Up: And the Best Light-Show Speaker Is…

While we’re ardent environmentalists around here, we do not recommend buying a used or refurbished Bluetooth speaker, as there is no telling how many cycles the battery has already been through. So watch out for that if ordering the Pulse 3 (we only link to the new versions of both).

JBL Pulse 4
Sounds great and gives the LED screen that smartly and dynamically dances to your tunes