The TreVolo 2 from BenQ is a Bluetooth speaker aimed at audiophiles, and is the first in its class to use electrostatic technology, but can it deliver performance to match its price point?
treVolo 2 Appearance
treVolo 2 Build Quality
As beautiful a speaker as it is, the treVolo 2 matches its looks with the quality of its parts and production. Seams are tight, textures are lush, buttons press firmly, and the whole build exudes a level of fit and finish that you don’t get much of in this product category (but do expect in this price category). Bluetooth speakers have become a commodity item, and you can easily buy one that’s one-fifth the price, but then you’ll get one that feels like it’s worth one-fifth the cost.
treVolo 2 Functionality
While the design and quality are high, as we would hope considering the price, how the treVolo 2 functions is where it really starts to separate itself from the rest of the pack.
There are five buttons on the top for power, volume up and down, and two that do double duty as pause/play and sound mode controls (more below), and phone controls if you make speakerphone calls. There is one button on the back for initiating Bluetooth pairing. All the buttons feel solid, are easy to understand, and give satisfying tactile control.
On the back, near the base, there are four ports: one for power, one line in 3.5mm jack, one line out 3.5mm jack, and a micro USB port. Of these, the most interesting is the USB, because it’s not there as a way to recharge the speaker (in fact, it won’t). Rather, it’s to allow direct, digital connection to the speaker’s built-in DAC (digital audio converter). With such a connection from your laptop, you can deliver digital files directly to the speaker, rather than having them be decoded into analog signals via the sound card on your computer. This is, in theory, more attractive to audiophiles, since it reduces the path of travel of the analog signal, allowing less distortion to be introduced into it before it gets played. It’s a small thing, but important to some.
And yes, it’s a Bluetooth speaker, which means you can connect to it wirelessly via your phone, tablet, or laptop. It uses Bluetooth v. 4.2—not the cutting edge latest, but the very ubiquitous last generation, including the aptX technology that allows for higher bitrate transfers and thus, in theory, higher-quality audio. However, most audiophiles will still complain that aptX requires compression, which degrades the audio quality, and opt for the direct-to-DAC connection. Whether you can tell the difference is a personal experience.
treVolo 2 Sound
The selling point of the treVolo 2 is its unique method of sound reproduction: electrostatic speakers (check out this Wikipedia page for a primer on them). The short version is that these speakers deliver significantly less distortion and significantly higher musical transparency. They are clean, clear, and detailed. So why doesn’t everyone use them? Well, primarily, they’re only good for higher frequencies; they only work as a substitute for tweeters and other cone-speakers that deliver upper mid-range sound. Because the surface area of the panel needs to proportionally larger than the normal cone speaker for the same frequencies, to achieve a full range of sound, the panels would have to be too large (and use too much power) for a portable speaker. And they’re very directional, meaning they focus the best sound in one direction, rather than letting it spread out to fill a room.
So, the treVolo 2 is a hybrid. It has two electrostatic speakers—the fold-out wings—and two bass cones, so it can deliver the full range of sound. The electrostatics cover the upper mid-range and high end, delivering the promised detail and clarity, and the cones fill in the rest down below. It all comes together in a very balanced sound that fulfills the music exquisitely.
To be clear, this is not a party speaker (though, if you have two, you can pair them for L/R stereo, or to simply double the sonic output). It does not fill a room with a booming beat that can be heard and felt over conversation. This is a listener’s speaker. You need to put it near a wall and sit perpendicular to the wings to get the full effect. But the effect is very good.
As a point of comparison, I did some A/B testing against a JBL Pulse 2, which definitely falls more into the party speaker category, and it was an education in balance versus beat. Listening to the Pulse 2 brought out the low-end, and delivered sharp, somewhat tinny highs. When I switched over to the treVolo 2, I could almost literally feel/hear/imagine the middle rising up on the equalizer, and the whole sound stretching out to display its detail. The highs were no longer tinny, just distinct, and the mids came to life, no longer overwhelmed by artificially enhanced bass. To me, it was very satisfying.
treVolo 2 Conclusions
The treVolo 2 is actually the third in the treVolo line, and each iteration has improved on the concept of a hybrid electrostatic/cone Bluetooth speaker, intended to attract an audience more attuned to sound quality than party acoustics. I think it mostly succeeds in differentiating itself through its unique look, and a sound profile that’s a step above what’s available in the general Bluetooth speaker category. But then, at this price point (MSRP of $299), it needs to.
BenQ seems dedicated to positioning itself as a maker of higher-quality portable/lifestyle speakers, and while the treVolo 2 is good, I think there will be opportunities in future versions to do the right things to bring serious audiophiles into the fold. There is a new aptX HD spec for Bluetooth that will deliver even higher quality wireless sound. But to really draw the audiophiles in, you need to differentiate on DACs, amps, and wired connectivity.
Should you buy one? That certainly depends on a number of factors. While this is a portable Bluetooth speaker, it’s not ruggedized like some, and it’s not going to stand up to being taken out to the beach for a party (nor is its sound profile right for such a use). It doesn’t include a case, which would help protect the wings in transit, and it is relatively heavy for the size. The real use case for this speaker is as a private listening device for an office or study where the world can be shut out, and this attractive device can be both seen and heard so as to be appreciated. It wants your focus, and if you give it, you’ll be happy.