Well, it’s been awhile since I showed you guys any electrostatic speakers. In fact, I think the last ones we looked at were a few years ago when I showed you the Martin Logans. My favorite speakers in the world!
But today we’re gonna take a look at the world’s first portable Bluetooth electrostatic speaker! The BenQ treVolo.
Before we get to that though, here’s a quick recap because electrostats are a completely different kind of speaker system. Traditional speaker design starts with some sort of a cone or panel that is connected to a magnet. The magnet sits near a coil, and when current passes through the coil it creates a charge that repels the speaker magnet, forcing it to move air at a specific frequency.
When you look at a traditional speaker you see a variety of small, medium and large drivers because each size is able to move at a different rate. For example, small ones can move very fast, recreating high frequencies. But they don’t move enough air to reproduce punchy bass.
But electrostatic speakers do away with the big bulky drivers altogether! Instead, they rely on a thin film sandwiched between a couple of metal grids. And when an electric charge is applied the entire film vibrates to move the air.
Now since these sheets are incredibly thin and light, they can move much faster than any traditional driver, plus they have enough surface area that they can move a lot of air. So a single electrostatic diaphragm can do the same work as multiple traditional speakers.
Which brings us back to BenQ’s brand new treVolo folding electrostatic Bluetooth speaker!
The treVolo is a relatively compact portable speaker that weighs in at 2.6 pounds and, when folded up, is around 7”x5”x3”. It’s not going to fit in a pocket, but you could certainly drop it in your backpack and take it anywhere.
I’m guessing that a good chunk of the weight is in the battery, because the treVolo offers up to 12 hours of playback, which is pretty impressive. And you can keep up with the battery status by watching the glowing ring around the power button. Blue, green and red correspond to plugged in, on battery, or near death.
Now normally, having big electrostatic panels would be inconvenient in a portable speaker, but Ben-Q has turned that liability into a benefit by ingeniously hinging the electrostats so they fold for easy transport.
By the way, another unique advantage of electrostatic panels is that they radiate sound out of both the front AND back! So if you were to set this speaker in the middle of a room, and walk around it, you’ll hear the sound both in front and behind it.
The one thing electrostatic panels don’t do so well is recreate bass. There just isn’t enough mass in the diaphrams to get it done, so the treVolo also has a woofer plus a passive radiator packed into the body. The pair does a great job of reproducing low frequencies to match the excellent range of the electrostats.
When you listen to a wide variety of music, sometimes it’s useful to be able to apply different EQ settings just to spice things up. And the treVolo includes three different sound modes that you cycle through by hitting the MODE button. When you tap the Mode button you’ll see it flash either green, red or blue to correspond to the different settings.
Green is the Pure mode, which is essentially a flat EQ setting. You get audio exactly the way it was recorded.
Red is the Warm mode. It cranks up the bass and a little and turns down the treble a bit. I didn’t have any music I really preferred in this mode, but I didn’t try any Polka or accordions or anything.
The blue mode is one they call Vivid and I could definitely detect a lot more treble.
The Mode settings are important because the primary method of connecting to the treVolo is with a Bluetooth 4.1 wireless device and most phones and tablets don’t allow for easy EQ settings. By the way, the treVolo also supports the aptX high quality audio codec.
Of course, if you wanna plug in your treVolo with an actual cable you can use the standard 3.5mm analog audio jack with basically any source, or you can plug in a microUSB cable and get digital audio straight from your source.
The treVolo also features a Line Out jack, and when you plug a second speaker into that port it shuts off the primary and just kind of acts as a pass-through.
Interestingly, when the treVolo is connected via USB or Bluetooth, it will pass audio through the Line Out analog jack. So you could actually use the treVolo as a really expensive bluetooth receiver to pump audio into an old amp or something like that.
It’s a good idea, although personally I think I’d rather just have the ability to daisy chain units together the way Braven does it.
One last thing. Since it is a Bluetooth speaker, it also doubles as a speakerphone with an integrated noise-canceling microphone. I tried it on a couple of calls and it seemed to do a good job. No complaints from the people on the other end, plus you can turn it up as loud as you want.
The treVolo isn’t yet available on Amazon, though you can sign up for notification of availability, or you can pop over to BenQ’s website and actually pick one up direct for $300.
So let me sum it all up for you. First of all, this little speaker sounds absolutely amazing, with one little exception – off-axis listening. What I mean is, as long as the electrostatic panels are pointing directly at you, the quality is unbeatable. If you move away from the sweet spot you begin to lose some of the sharpness that really makes them stand out.
This is a general problem that all speakers suffer from. The reality is that not all portable speakers are even capable of sounding this good. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything in this class before. But I mention it because if you are just looking for a Bluetooth speaker to set in a corner of your garage while you’re doing projects, you might not get the most benefit from the treVolo. Some competitors like the iLoud are going to give you more volume for the money, and the treVolo certainly isn’t going to be durable or waterproof.
But if you are looking for something for a bedroom or office, and you truly appreciate high quality audio, nothing competes with the BenQ treVolo in terms of sound quality, good looks, or coolness factor.
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