Tech talk: BenQ TreVolo portable speakers

In many years of writing about audio I have come across both good and bad electrostatic speakers, but what I have never encountered are electrostatic speakers that don’t require a second mortgage. (Although an importer once offered me a pair of $20,000 electrostatics that had put in considerable mileage in showrooms and shows for $8000. Bargain. I would have bought them if not for the threat of divorce from my better half.)

Electrostatics are imposing beasts. They’re not like normal speakers. Regular speakers have cones that punch in and out to move air and create soundwaves while electrostatics have a wafer-thin sheet of plastic film stretched in an electrostatic field that vibrates with the current to move air. The music they create is so delicate and crisp it seems to hang there, so fragile that if you sneeze you’re afraid it will all crash down. There’s a purity here that’s achingly beautiful.

There are electrostatic headphones too but these are similarly expensive. The best-known brand is Stax and they start at $1700.

So when BenQ announced a portable electrostatic speaker for $399 I wasn’t just surprised, I was amazed.

Like almost every other portable speaker around, BenQ’s treVolo has a rechargeable battery (good for 12 hours) and Bluetooth but, unlike almost every other portable speaker, it isn’t built to thump out heaping helpings of bass, rather its makers say it has been engineered around musical accuracy, with emphasis on the mids and highs.

Mind you, electrostatics are notoriously weak in low-range sound and that’s why the bulk of them have conventional coned woofers built in. And so does the treVolo. It has bass drivers housed in a centre cabinet from which the electrostatic wings, on left and right, fold out. Because the wings can each be folded through 90 degrees, they can be set up to fill quite a large space, even from a corner.

So the treVolo sounds like an attractive option to anyone into any music other than hip-hop, punk and rage.

In terms of clarity and definition it’s brilliant for $399. All of the electrostatic strengths are abundantly evident. The treVolo is a genuine proposition for people into classical and orchestral music and it also does a good job with vocals, especially female vocals.

But if you want something with lots of low end this is not for you. It can handle bass, just not lots of it and, when it gets it, it winds down the volume. And it doesn’t go terribly loud.