Any company coming out with its first Bluetooth speaker this late in the game needs to bring it bigtime. BenQ, best known for its projectors and computer monitors, might be an unlikely case study for such a scenario, but its new Trevolo speaker ticks all the boxes. Not only does it strike an innovative and attractive design, but it’s packing a technological first for Bluetooth speakers: Electrostatic drivers.
Known for their brilliant transparency and lightning-fast transient response, electrostatic drivers are normally the stuff of premium rarities, like Martin Logan’s line of loudspeakers. BenQ’s new TreVolo (formally eVolo) wears its pioneering set in the form of two adaptive plates that can fan out like robot wings, or fold into an angled chassis for travel. And while there are definitely some limitations at play, the TreVolo proves incorporating electrostats in a Bluetooth speaker provides a lot more than just a flashy form factor.
Hands on video
Out of the box
The Trevolo is appropriately heavy for a $300 speaker, though less than you might think from looking at it. Gold rings etched into a single slab of gunmetal-grey aluminum sparkle in the light against an otherwise matte metal finish.
While the plastic screens that cover the electrostatic driver “wings” feel just the slightest bit flimsy, they move fluidly along their hinges, easily snapping in and out of place. You wouldn’t want to throw the TreVolo in the corner at an outdoor barbecue (for more reasons than one), but as a tabletop accessory, it’s an eye-catching solution that’s as elegant as it is modern.
In the box with the speaker is a single charging cable and a small packet of basic instructions.
Features and design
For those unfamiliar with the science, Electrostatic drivers emit sound by exerting force on an extremely slim membrane suspended in an electrostatic field. They were pioneered in the ‘50s, and achieve their cutting accuracy thanks to the sensitivity of their implausibly thin diaphragms. To supplement those dual electrostats with a bit of bass, the TreVolo houses two 2.5-inch dynamic drivers up front, and a pair of 4 x 2.5-inch passive radiators at the sides, hiding underneath the electrostatic panels when folded in.
The extra drivers do a good job of filling in the bottom end, compensating for the electrostats’ notoriously light touch. The system has a claimed frequency response of 60Hz-20kHz, which seems congruent with our testing, though it predictably doesn’t offer much power at the lowest point. The system is powered by a 4-channel Class D amplifier that pushes a claimed 10 watts per side.
At the top of the speaker are a selection of controls, including a shimmering power key, and smaller buttons for volume control/muting, play/pause, answering calls from the onboard speakerphone, and mode selection. The speaker offers three basic EQ modes, including “pure,” aimed at a flat sound, “warm” for a thicker sound with boosted bass, and “vivid,” which adds zip to upper midrange to push vocals and instruments like acoustic guitar forward.
At the back is a large Bluetooth pairing key along with a power port, 3.5mm line-in and line-out jacks, and a micro-USB port for a direct digital connection. Other features include Bluetooth 4.1 for high-efficiency audio transmission, aptX for CD-quality sound from compatible devices, and a battery with an estimated 12-hour runtime. An LED circlet on top glows blue, green, and red as battery drains, and doubles as an EQ selection indicator as well.
The TreVolo is capable of delivering some absolutely gorgeous moments of sonic brilliance, utilizing its electrostatic drivers to saturate your ears with crystalline detail. The crack of a hi-hat, the breath of a vocalist approaching a microphone screen, and the textured attack of a picked string are all carved out in remarkable precision – especially impressive for a Bluetooth solution. We rotated between the pure and vivid modes for most of our listening, the latter of which adds a serious punch of presence to vocals and acoustic instruments.More surprising, the TreVolo handles the lower frequencies with equal care. The speaker balances out the sparkling topside by proffering a smooth and creamy midrange, coupled with enough musical bass to stay true to most recordings, and drive some pleasant vibration through your coffee table or countertop.
However, the speaker has a weakness that isn’t immediately apparent: this little sucker just doesn’t get very loud. We kept our iPhone at max volume or just below it from only a few feet away. It’s uncommon that we’ll raise the volume above 75 percent when listening to most Bluetooth speakers at this price point, or far below. The issue is surprising, considering there are 4 active drivers at work here. However, no doubt looking to safeguard those sensitive electrostats from harm, BenQ has incorporated a governor system on the TreVolo that would rival even the most sluggish golf cart at your local course.
Gorgeous moments of sonic brilliance up top are matched by rich and balanced mids and bass.
Through the deployment of a heavy-handed digital signal processing (DSP) limiter, the speaker clamps down like a bear trap on any dynamic expression that threatens to push the drivers toward distortion. We first noticed the issue rocking Peter Gabriel’s “Sky Blue.” When the song ramps up towards the texturally-rich climax, the speaker begins to “pump” with the music as more instruments are added, raising and lowering the overall volume as instruments enter and exit.
Acoustic music, jazz, and lighter rock tracks are all generally unaffected by the issue. However, even bouncing between two tracks on the same Ray Lamontagne album, “I Still Care,” and “Winter Birds,” there was a notable difference in the quality of the experience as the former was burdened by the beefy instrumentation, while the latter was clear and pure. There are still plenty of worthwhile moments for discerning listeners to enjoy thanks to the TreVolo’s unquestionable accuracy and brilliance, comparable to top performers like the B&W T7, but unlike the T7, this simply isn’t the kind of speaker you’d employ to rock a party.
A gorgeously designed speaker from all angles, the talented TreVolo has enough brilliance, balance, and accuracy to satisfy even the most discerning Bluetooth critic, but what’s the fun in a wireless speaker if you can’t blast sound from across the room? Those looking for an intimate audio companion cast in a striking design will find plenty to crow about here. But the speaker’s power and volume limitations make its $300 price tag hard to swallow.
- Elegant and innovative design
- Class-leading treble accuracy
- Warm and balanced midrange and bass
- Solid stereo separation
- Max volume very underwhelming
- Dynamic compression is frustrating