I have now done extensive listening with the Pulse 2i and also the Pulse Mini 2i. I initially agreed with the lukewarm review of the Pulse 2i by WhatHiFi. I can see why they gave the new Pulse 2i only 3 out of 5 stars. I do think though that WhatHiFi missed something. The Pulse 2 and 2i have different interfaces in the Bluesound app. The settings and controls are more extensive with the new 2i than with the 2. It took a while for me to figure out but the devil is in the details.
Where I think WhatHiFi went wrong with their review on the new Pulse 2i is that they did their review without thoroughly checking its various sound settings. In comparison to the Pulse 2, straight out of the box, the Pulse 2i sounds a bit lifeless and flat. Certainly not an improvement on the Pulse 2 and I almost returned the 2i immediately. Like I said, the interface of the Pulse 2i and Mini 2i are different from the Pulse 2.
With the 2i there are now settings for, “TV”, “Kitchen”, and “Movie”. It’s a bit buggy at the moment because sometimes the Bluesound app automatically changes my sound preference to “TV” automatically while I’m listening to the “Music” setting. At the moment I am only listening to music with the 2i so why the app switches to “TV” is beyond me. At least when the “Music” setting is selected you do get the best sound quality for music with this setting.
One of the advantages of Roon is that I can toggle on and off the sound of the Pulse 2 and 2i with the speakers side-by-side. Whether I’m listening to MQA on Tidal or my ripped CD’s the source is always the same. I don’t think WhatHiFi had this capability and if they were doing a comparison test with different sources at different times or by comparing notes I believe they were at a disadvantage.
With the older Pulse 2, when the equalizer settings are turned “on” it only muddied the sound. When I called Bluesound support they said that if I increase the bass to its maximum on the Pulse 2 what happens is that the midrange is decreased by up to 6 decibels. What? If I increase the midrange to its maximum it decreases the bass by up to 6 decibels? None of this made sense to me. If I want to increase any signal level I should be able to do so without affecting any other level. This was impossible with the Pulse 2. Without a doubt, the most open, transparent, and best sound from the Pulse 2 is achieved with all equalizer settings turned off.
Again, the Pulse 2 sounds best with its equalizer settings turned off. Conversely, the Pulse 2i sounds flat and lifeless out of the box but with the equalizer sliders maximized the 2i the sound opens up and sounds much better. With this configuration the sound from the Pulse 2i is better than the Pulse 2. Perhaps Bluesound implemented a passive equalizer on the Pulse 2 and an active equalizer on the Pulse 2i. With the Pulse 2 you can only reduce the signal levels whereas with the 2i you can boost the signal levels. So with both speakers optimized for sound quality, how much better does the Pulse 2i sound than the older Pulse 2?
My roommate is an acoustic guitar player and computer geek and together we put both the Pulse 2 and 2i through their paces once we got the sound settings maximized for each speaker. Our conclusion was that the treble on the 2i was a good 30% better on the 2i than on the 2. Bass was about 20% better on the 2i than the 2 and the midrange was a bit of a mixed bag depended on whether you were listening to a symphonic orchestra or pop music. There is something to be said about the ease of the midrange on the Pulse 2 but overall the Pulse 2i sounds as if you were listening to the Pulse 2 but someone took the veil off of it. The Pulse 2i is just more open and transparent. For instance, when listening to jazz on the 2i I really can hear the thrush on high hat cymbals that was recessed on the Pulse 2.
Another issue of note is that the Pulse 2 has 80 watts of power and the Pulse 2i has 150 watts of power. The additional wattage on the 2i doesn’t seem to make a big improvement in sound nor does it allow the 2i to reach larger sound volumes without distortion.
Overall, however, both my roommate and I have come to the conclusion that the sound quality of the Pulse 2i is about 20 - 30% better than the Pulse 2. Yes, this might not seem like what I would conclude after my previous statements about the Pulse 2i but the Pulse 2 really is a special speaker and the 2i does build on this but not as substantially as I would’ve hoped for. The added tweeters on the 2i is the biggest improvement. In addition, the Pulse 2 has one 5 inch woofer with two bass ports and the Pulse 2i has two 5 inch woofers instead.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Pulse 2i is that Bluesound should’ve carried over the two 2.75 inch midrange drivers from the Pulse 2 into the Pulse 2i. Though the Pulse 2i does sound better with two 5 inch woofers and two 1 inch tweeters the addition of the two midrange drivers would’ve added to the sound quality substantially. The 2i speaker enclosure is large enough to support the additional drivers.
With that said, I believe Bluesound’s strength is not only their pursuit of great sound quality but with their Roon integration. Bluesound is working tirelessly trying to make their speakers work seamlessly with Roon and every other source. For instance, I called Bluesound support because I could not adjust the volume of my Pulse 2 while listening to my TV through my Tivo Roamiio Plus. This is the kind of stuff Bluesound is dealing with. My hat is off to them.
Also, even though I don’t think the Pulse 2i is the hugely improved product we’ve been waiting for and Bluesound should’ve tried harder, the Pulse 2i is my only choice with Roon. For me, the improved sound quality and the improved software interface of the Pulse 2i is worth the upgrade from the Pulse 2. For others, the Pulse 2i might not be worth the upgrade because Bluesound doesn’t have the same name recognition as Sonos so selling your used Pulse 2’s on ebay may result in a bigger financial hit than its worth.
There is something else on my mind. Moving forward, if Devialet should ever equal Bluesound’s Roon integration I would definitely jump off the Bluesound ship. In Bluesound’s defense, their Roon integration is maturing at a brisk pace. As of now, Devialet’s Roon integration is a side note at best and a quick search on this forum shows that Devialet is riddled with other problems as well. Bluesound is an excellent speaker company but they need to double down on improving their already excellent sound quality if they want to thrive in these shark infested waters.
I have also done extensive testing between the Pulse 2i and Pulse Mini 2i. I was excited about the Mini 2i because WhatHiFi gave the Mini 2i 4 out of 5 stars and only gave the Pulse 2i 3 out of 5 stars. Again, in a side-by-side comparison test with Roon, from the same source, and with the ability to quickly toggle between the speakers, the Pulse 2i is bigger and better than the Pulse Mini 2i. If you can spare the extra space and the extra cash, I would opt of the Pulse 2i.