Bluetooth speakers designed to unlock music stored on your smartphones, tablets and computers have come in all manner of weird, wonderful, and even weirder shapes over the past few years. But nothing before has looked quite like the BenQ TreVolo.
The main - though certainly not the only - reason for this is that it uses, uniquely for the portable speaker market, electrostatic speakers, known more colloquially as flat panel speakers. I'll get on to the audio ramifications of this later, but the most immediate impact is aesthetic and practical as the two flat speakers either side of the main bodywork are hinged so they can be folded back against the main body's sides for transport, and pulled forward again for music playback.
It's a nifty idea, and one that's been pretty well executed in terms of the robustness of the hinging mechanism and the flushness with which the speaker 'wings' tuck into the main unit when closed.
That main unit is also extremely solidly built, and continues the unique look with its deep grey (silver is also available) matt finish, trapezoidal vertical shape (which is nicely weighted at the bottom for extra stability), and the eye-catching array of 18 gold-ringed venting holes on its forward edge.
These holes aren't just there for show, though. Tucked behind them are two front-firing woofers built in to add some 'meat' to the audio - a likely welcome touch given that electrostatic speakers tend to struggle to deliver much low frequency action.
In fact, when you open up the electrostatic speakers you can additionally see a couple of promisingly large passive radiators, one built into either side of the main chassis, to further extend the woofers' low frequency performance.
The TreVolo doesn't ship with a remote control. While I personally wish that it had, the system can be controlled by a dedicated BenQ app for your smart devices, while the control buttons on the top side of the main unit are large and tactile. They include the main power on button, volume up/down buttons, and, unexpectedly, buttons for answering and hanging up your phone. Yes, you can use the TreVolo as a swanky speakerphone, there's even a noise-cancelling microphone built in so you can talk through it in noisy places without becoming unintelligible.
There's a further large Bluetooth activation button on the rear side, and a row of jacks along the botton edge comprising a micro USB port, a power input, and 3.5mm line out and line in ports. The USB port means you can connect the TreVolo directly to your computer and if you go this route the speaker can play 16-bit/48kHz resolution files.
The Bluetooth connection is interesting too, since it's supported by aptX technology. This overcomes Bluetooth's usual bandwidth limitations to enable low-latency streaming of CD-quality audio. In fact, I was very pleased to discover that the TreVolo even supports playback of high-resolution FLAC and ALAC file formats.
For the most part the TreVolo is admirably easy to use. It syncs with Bluetooth devices in mere seconds, with no hassle whatsoever, and its fold away speakers are an inspired way of giving you a speaker you can easily move from room to room or even outside (though be warned: it's not waterproof!) without having to suffer with a weedy sound when you get it to where you want to use it.
Also impressively useful is the TreVolo's battery life. BenQ claims a potential 12 hours of playback from a single charge, and while this will obviously vary depending on how loud you run it I found I was easily able to use it almost constantly throughout a working day without needing to plug it in. Excellent.
Counting against it from a usability point of view are the facts that it doesn't ship with a remote, leaving you having to control it via the buttons on its main chassis, and the way sound quality is slightly dependent on where you physically position the speaker.
For US$299 (about £203, AU$394) you can get better all-round sound quality elsewhere, especially if your music tastes err towards the heavy in dance, indie or rock terms.
However, if your tastes lie in the areas where the TreVolo excels, then the exceptionally detailed and immersive nature of its sound actually makes it uniquely qualified - and therefore worth the money - to deliver the goods despite its diminutive size and practical design.