You probably know that BenQ makes monitors and projectors, but did you know they make portable speakers too? Here it is, the BenQ Trevolo S portable speaker – and it’s a radical departure from competitors. It is the first Portable Speaker to successfully incorporate Electrostatic speakers, and it’s claimed to deliver 3D sound.
Build Quality and Design (Portable Speaker)
Though the main body is constructed of mostly plastics, the BenQ Trevolo S feels like a solidly built speaker with a lot of heft. The design is pretty elegant and its wide face area makes it stand out rather than blend into my decor. And I can’t help but to mention that it looks like a space satellite!
It is a very simple speaker system and so it doesn’t have many bells to ring. Not even an App, or water resistance! But, it is the only portable speaker I know of that uses electrostats for sound output. The Trevolo S has a pair of electrostats that fold out, to direct sound towards the listener. (An Electrostatic speaker is a thin diaphragm sandwiched between 2 conductive plates. As electricity passes through the plates, the plates exert positive and negative magnetic forces on the diaphragm, which produces sound. Electrostats are known to produce a cleaner and more open sound compared to regular speaker designs.)
It’s no secret that electrostats cannot produce bass of any kind, due to the limited space within its sandwich structure. To remedy this, the speaker is Bi-Amped and also has two small woofers to handle the lower frequencies. It is a solid design but not a rugged one, so I might bring it out to my next BBQ, but not for the pool or beach.
Performance and Features
The Trevolo S claims a battery life of 18 hours which is slightly stretching it, because the speaker isn’t very loud! I had to push it to 90% volume to what the JBL Charge 3 can achieve at 50%. But at that volume level, the speaker still managed to achieve almost 16 hours of battery life. Pretty impressive! It charges up by Micro-USB, but for quicker charging you’ll have to use the included 10W power adapter. Strangely enough, it only comes with a 2-pin flat US plug and not UK 3-pin. If you don’t have a converter on hand, I found out that the iPad’s 10W Charger with a Micro-USB cable could work just as well. It’s uses the latest Bluetooth 4.2 protocol and has NFC for quick pairing. It does not have multi-pairing nor an App to manage paired devices or make customisations.
The Trevolo S claims that its 3D Mode is able to reproduce an immersive soundstage. On default mode, I was very surprised that the sound quality was flat and very compacted. It had some degree of clarity but the mids were muffled, and there was little bass to speak of. The speaker also sounded pretty soft, as I wrote earlier.
But when 3D mode was activated, the speaker sounded so much better! The speaker sounds slightly louder and richer. The clarity and mids were so much clearer, and the speaker can project the staging forward pretty well. When playing ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ by Diana Panton, I could even hear layering and depth, which very few portable speakers had managed to achieve. This is probably what BenQ referred to as 3D sound, but it couldn’t recreate a wide soundstage at all. This may be due to a signal processing trade-off for such a unique design.
I wasn’t so impressed with its detail reproduction. When I was playing ‘Have A Good Time’ by the Brand New Heavies, parts pf the percussions track was recessed to the point that I couldn’t really make it out. Again, this could be a signal processing issue. It’s great for watching videos because there are no audio/video sync issues.
What failed to impress me the most was the bass. It may have two woofer cones but the bass could only extend to the mid-bass frequencies. (Try ‘Stressed Out’ by Twenty One Pilots) Any further than that and the bass distorts. It gets worse when the speaker is played very loud. This speaker is not for bass heads, but I will recommend this speaker if you like vocals and certain kinds of pop music. For Jazz, it’s a mixed bag because it can perform for vocals but not for popular jazz instruments like double-bass.
The speaker isn’t very loud which can make it quite challenging to cover an outdoor area. The Electrostats need to be folded out before playing which makes it less convenient to set up and put away than other portables. Folded in, the panels will actually rattle during playback.
It has NFC for quick pairing and it’s possible to pair up 2 Trevolo S speakers to play in Stereo. Despite that, the Trevolo S lacks many features that the market has come to see as standard in portables, such as water resistance, speakerphone and an App. I don’t mind that it doesn’t have many accessories (some portable speakers don’t even include a power adapter) but if it comes with an adapter, I expect it to come with a local UK 3-pin plug, or a converter at least! The sound quality is average for its price point of S$199, and there are other speakers in the market that sounds just as good (or better), have more features and a more rugged design for less money. Like the JBL Flip 3 (S$179) and the UE Roll 2 (S$149).
I like the Trevolo S for its great battery life, but it is an ambitious design that fell short of being something truly revolutionary. A more portable design that doesn’t take up space, a more competitive feature set, bigger sound and fuller bass – these are the things I hope to see in the next version of this promising design.