Designed to operate either on its own or as a stereo pair, the Pulse Flex 2i is the smallest member of Bluesound’s speaker range and the recent 2i update sees support added for Amazon Alexa and Apple Home integration (but not Google Assistant).
The relatively small and sealed chassis is fitted with a 102mm mid/bass driver partnered with a 25mm tweeter to deliver a claimed frequency range of 45Hz to 20kHz and driven by an onboard amplifier claiming 25W total power output. The hardware is backed up by a useful spread of facilities and although the Flex 2i doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some of the larger speakers further up the range and sports Bluetooth version 4.1 rather than 5.0, it offers a combined optical and 3.5mm analogue jack input and 3.5mm headphone out.
As a BluOS product you get home networking features too, meaning it can handle PCM files up to 24-bit/ 192kHz as well as offering MQA support for Tidal Masters. It can stream files from a network library like the company’s Vault 2i music server and CD ripper (HFC 452) installed on the same network or access content from a wide selection of external music streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer and Qobuz etc. If you want to connect to components outside of Bluesound’s eco system, AirPlay 2 support is also on hand.
The Flex gets its name thanks to its flexibility that allows it to be used in different configurations. It can be used as a wireless rear speaker partnered with a Bluesound Pulse Soundbar 2i (with an optional wall bracket priced at £49) or you can attach a £69 Flex Battery Pack and take it out and about – although it claims just six hours of life, which is rather lower than many of its Bluetooth rivals. It is well made, with a high-quality chassis and soft touch finish, is available in black or white matte casework and sports useful navigational controls on the top.
With the painless setup process that has become a Bluesound trade mark completed, the Flex 2i puts in a strong initial showing. Used on its own, the mono speaker presentation is engaging and there is little sign of constraint or cabinet colouration. The rhythmic and elegant Colors by Black Pumas delivers enough funkiness to get the head nodding and to give the suspension of disbelief.
There’s also no shortage of lower frequencies, although this can be a mixed blessing. Placed on a sturdy table, it delivers a decent level of bass extension. It’s controlled, pleasantly quick and has an impressive level of clout to it. If you place it on a hollow object like a cabinet or kitchen work surface, though, its slightly boomy quality quickly becomes wearisome. Provided a degree of care is taken, however, the Flex 2i sounds bigger and more imposing than expected.
As might be anticipated from a device of this size and basic design, the ability to handle hi-res is more a convenience feature than a ticket to the best of what digital can offer. The 24/88.2 version of Dead Can Dance’s Black Sun sounds very pleasant, but there is little real difference between it and playing the same track via Deezer’s 320kbps service. Given that I suspect most Flex 2i speakers will spend their time accessing the latter, this makes complete sense.
The secret weapon of the Bluesound is the performance when two are run as a stereo pair. Like Yamaha’s MusicCast 20 wireless speaker (HFC 443), the boost in performance by allowing each to handle a single channel is considerable and can more convincingly be described as hi-fi, with a big, effortless soundstage underpinned by that same excellent bass extension.
Thanks to the combined optical and analogue input on the rear panel, the Bluesound feels like it offers a little extra flexibility compared with rivals. At the price, there’s certainly no shortage of competition, but the Pulse Flex 2i has a useful spec and delivers an excellent user experience combined with strong sound. ES
Product: Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i
Type: Wireless speaker
Dimensions: (WxHxD) 125 x 183 x 100mm
● Quoted power output: 25W
● Supports for up to 24-bit/192kHz music files
● Integrated streaming support for: Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and Internet Radio
● AirPlay 2; aptX HD Bluetooth