William Judd

Editor-in-Chief for XSReviews. Find me @AcerWill or on G+.

BenQ treVolo review: spread your wings and fly

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The BenQ treVolo is a high-end Bluetooth speaker, with a funky folding design that’s hinted at in its maker’s creative capitalisation. BenQ boast that it’s the first portable unit to use the same electrostatic panels as high-end living room speakers, providing the opportunity to reach “new heights of audio satisfaction” for only £230. The electrostatic panels have certainly influenced the avian look of the treVolo, but will it make for a radically better sound as well? Let’s find out!

Specifications

  • Frequency response: 60 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX
  • Wired connectivity: 3.5mm stereo in and out, USB audio in
  • Battery: Rechargeable lithium ion, 12 hours battery life
  • Buttons: power, volume +/-, sound mode, play/pause, BT pairing
  • Dimensions: 174.6 x 134.6 x 78.5mm (closed)
  • Weight: 1.2 kilograms

Design

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In lieu of the usual unpacking section, let me simply say that the treVolo was well packed, and comes with an AC adapter and the usual literature.

Out of the box, the treVolo is an immediately handsome creation. About the same height and depth of a typical paperback (and perhaps four times the width), the unit feels dense and durable in the hand.

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The electrostatic panels so vaunted by BenQ are mounted on swinging arms, extending easily to rest at a right angle to the base. The design of the panel “enables sound to be projected in front and behind the speaker”, in contrast to most speakers which project sound in a single direction. That’s a useful ability for filling a room with sound.

 

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The treVolo is ringed by a vertical band of metal, with eighteen gold-ringed cutouts on the front allowing air to pass from the twin 2.5-inch woofers.

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On top, we have five similarly gold-ringed buttons, which are nice and clicky under the fingers. Four are for adjusting the volume, playing or pausing and adjusting the mode between the three options available. The different modes are reflected in the LED that surrounds the large power button:

  • green = pure, aka flat
  • red = warm, aka bass boost
  • blue = vivid, aka vocals + lead instrument boost

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On the back, we have a Bluetooth pairing button at the top…

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…and four inputs at the bottom. These are, from left to right: AC in, line out, line in, micro USB.

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The base is rubberised for grip, and also contains the obligatory regulatory information.

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So that’s the design; quite befitting a speaker of this price point, I think.

Testing

We tested the treVolo speakers on a range of music, played through a PC using the USB connection to ensure the highest-possible quality. An assortment of tracks were played, both local FLAC songs and 320kb/s MP3s streamed from Google Music. Additionally, we tested Bluetooth aptX streaming using the Tidal music app on a OnePlus One Android phone. Finally, we tried Skype audio calls using the treVolo as a handsfree unit, again with the OnePlus One.

The treVolo was set to green (flat) mode for the duration, placed at ear-height, and we adopted expressions of contentment, as seen below:

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Performance

With our faces and music thus prepared, we began the testing listening to Vivaldi’s Music For Lute and Mandolin. It’s an album very familiar to me, and was well-reproduced on the treVolo. Each instrument was distinct and clear, with a pleasing accuracy to the sound compared to playback on much larger (and similarly flat) speakers. Both mids and highs sounded great here.

Next, we moved onto DNA’s simple remix of the Suzanne Vega song Tom’s Diner (which itself was famously used to develop the MP3 compression algorithm in the 1980s). The vocals of the song come through clearly, although the drum beat feels a bit timid compared to other Bluetooth speakers of similar size.

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Our final big test was Daft Punk’s best-known song from their first album: Around the World. The ascending intro is particularly nice, and the song’s constant bassline and vocals allow plenty of time for experimentation with equalisers and so forth. Anyway, the reproduction here was reasonable, but even at maximum volume the bass was quite lacking.

In general, we found the treVolo sounds exceptionally clear and accurate, making it easy to pick out each instrument on a deeply layered track. The treble and mids are excellent, but bassier sections are missing a little punch. Still, the low end isn’t gone entirely, and the vast majority of songs that we tested sounded fine.

In general, we’d recommend the treVolo most for fans of lighter genres like classical, jazz, ambient, folk or pop. Bassier music – particularly stuff like DnB or metal – lacks some of its sonic oomph. Still, the vast majority of recorded music sounds clear and brilliant on the treVolo, and that seems to have been BenQ’s aim.

Connectivity

The treVolo has three options for connectivity: Bluetooth, a wireless connection common to phones and tablets; 3.5mm stereo, that traditional audio connection used on MP3 players and pretty much all modern mobile devices and computers; and micro USB, used to connect to computers. No cables are provided for the wired connections, which is a bother given the price of the treVolo.

The treVolo supports Bluetooth 4.1 and the high-quality aptX standard, ensuring that if your phone or tablet supports aptX, you’ll get noticeably better music quality than non-aptX Bluetooth. In theory, it should be about as good as 3.5mm or micro USB audio, and in practice I couldn’t tell the difference between these options in a blind trial. Note that iPhones and iPads do not support aptX, so you might prefer to use a 3.5mm stereo cable here.

Finally, the unit has a line-out port, allowing it to serve as a Bluetooth receiver for a larger Hi-Fi system. Given its high price this would be a foolish primary use case, but it’s a nice capability to have in reserve.

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Handsfree use

You won’t buy the treVolo to use for conference calls, but it’s nice to know that you can easily take calls that come in while you’re listening to your music, thanks to the inclusion of a microphone and buttons on the unit. FaceTime audio calls sounded great, with the caller easily audible and the caller reporting the same on the other end. We didn’t expect any problems here, and happily none occurred. Consider the box ticked.

Conclusion

The treVolo delivers on its promise, providing top-quality audio in a uniquely beautiful package. Whether you keep the treVolo on your coffee table or take it out for a picnic, this portable unit will provide clear and flat sound that’s perfect for lighter music like classical, jazz or pop. Fans of heavier, bassier genres will be disappointed by the quiet bass response, and audiophiles won’t like the noticeable DSP, but everyone else should be more than happy with this admittedly premium Bluetooth speaker.

Pros

  • Very clear mids and highs
  • Elegant folding design with style to spare
  • Inclusive range of connectivity options

Cons

  • Speaker isn’t quite as loud as similarly-sized models
  • Bass-heavy music lacks a bit of oomph
  • High price puts this in the premium tier of Bluetooth speakers

Score

score9

 

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QPAD MK-90 review: a worthy flagship

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Today we’re looking at QPAD’s latest mechanical keyboard, the top-of-the-line MK-90. We found the mid-range MK-70 solid if uninspiring, but with fancy LED backlighting and some added features the MK-90 has a chance to do better. Let’s see whether these added features are worth the price premium!

Specifications

  • Kailh mechanical switches (red, soft linear)
  • Full N-Key rollover (NKRO)
  • 60 million keystroke lifetime
  • Per-key RGB LED backlighting w/ 16.8M colours
  • LED modes: breathing, trigger, explosion, random, audio, rainbow, custom
  • On the fly macro recording, repeat speed, profiles
  • Gold plated USB connector + 2m braided cable
  • 2x USB 2.0 + 2x 3.5mm audio passthrough
  • Media keys for volume control, play/pause, skip
  • Comes with key cap puller
  • 448 x 149 x 35mm, 1.27 kilograms

Design

 

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The MK-90 has a similar design to the MK-70 we looked at earlier this year. That means a few sloped sections, an unusual perforated texture around the status LEDs in the upper right, and plenty of QPAD branding.

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The layout is quite ordinary, which is always nice. A Function key in the lower right allows access to various controls – media, backlighting, macros. A numberpad is included on the right side, making for a relatively wide keyboard.

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While previous QPAD keyboards used Cherry MX switches, this latest effort has switched to Kailh switches. These are generally held in lower regard than Cherry despite being made to the same specifications, but they are much more readily available to manufacturers. This unit has Red switches, which offer a very light feel thanks to their low weighting (40g) and linear nature (no added bump or click, like Brown or Blue).

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The keycaps are made from thin ABS plastic, with laser-engraved legends that allow the backlighting to shine through and still remain readable when unlit.

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On the far side of the keyboard, you can see the passthroughs: two 3.5mm audio ports for your headphones and microphone, and two USB 2.0 ports for mice, USB drives and other peripherals. The two metre USB cable is gold-plated and braided for durability.

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The bottom of the keyboard includes the traditional flip-out legs and rubberised pads.

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Overall, there’s nothing I can really complain about with this design, except for its lack of originality. As I mentioned in the review of the MK-70, this same chassis is used by iOne, Rosewill and Max Keyboard, with only the branding differing between them. I’d really like to see QPAD make their own distinct design, rather than rely on what is the most convenient to use.

Software

Final drivers for the MK-90 have not yet been released. As the 0.98 beta drivers didn’t work properly on my Windows 10 test machine, software testing was instead performed on a Windows 8.1 laptop (the Gigabyte P37X).

While it’s possible to record macros and change lighting levels without using software, it’s necessary for customising each of the six profiles and access the different lighting modes.

There are seven different modes available:

  • Standard: All keys are the same colour and level
  • Breathing: LEDs slowly fade from max to zero and back
  • Trigger: keys light up when pressed, then fade to zero
  • Explosion
    • Pressed keys emit a horizontal shockwaves
    • Pressed keys emit a shockwave
  • Random
    • Individual keys are set to a random colour, and change periodically
    • All keys are set to a random colour, which changes quickly
  • Audio*: Keys are lit in the manner of a graphic equaliser
  • Rainbow: A rainbow wave goes across the keyboard
  • Customise: Choose the colour of each key yourself

* This mode didn’t seem to work at all, with no level of music playback producing anything other than a completely dim keyboard. This – and some crashes – should be fixed by the time the software exits beta.

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The modes are fairly similar to what we saw with the Tesoro Excalibur Spectrum. While it doesn’t quite approach Corsair or Razer’s assortment of modes, it is reasonably deep and it’s fun to try each one. The random (individual) setting was the standout choice for me, which produced a very cool sparkling pastel look.

Otherwise, the software is quite standard – you can set up macros and profiles, tweak the LED colours and set up automatic profile switching. It’s a little cleaner than Tesoro’s efforts, but less comprehensive than Corsair or Razer’s software.

Testing

We used the MK-90 for gaming and writing over the course of a week. Games played included Counter-Strike, Project CARS, and Wolfenstein: Old Blood.

Writing

As a writing keyboard, the red switches on this MK-90 were quite reasonable. The thin ABS keycaps didn’t feel as good as more expensive PBT alternatives, but everything worked well enough. The layout of the media controls was appreciated for quickly skipping tracks; as the media controls are directly above the Function key, it’s easy to press with only one hand. The wrist rest is also appreciated, although it could stand to be taller. All in all, a reliable keyboard for writing essays or long emails to grandma.

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Gaming

As a gaming keyboard the MK-90 has no real flaws. The red switches are well-suited to a range of games, particularly shooters and MOBAs, but ultimately the choice of switch is a personal one. N-Key rollover ensures that all of your presses will be registered, and the backlighting allows you to play in low light conditions without suffering a loss in accuracy.

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The new backlighting modes can be helpful here, particularly the custom setting. With this, you can colour keys used in a particular game to make learning them easier. For example, in a game like League of Legends, you could make your four abilities one colour (QWER), your summoner spells another colour (DF) and active item abilities yet another (1-3). Setting up a new custom backlighting layout takes time, but it can be helpful when you’re learning a game.

Conclusion

The MK-90 is clearly a strong mechanical keyboard, with all of the must-have features at the moment: mechanical switches, per-key RGB backlighting and powerful software, all packed into an attractive keyboard with a standard layout.

Ultimately, the question that we have to answer is this: does the MK-90 justify its higher price point (£115) over the MK-85 (£100) and the MK-70 (£75)? I’d say yes, largely down to the popularity and utility of per-key RGB backlighting. While the MK-90’s design and lightning modes could do with differentiation from other keyboards, QPAD have crafted an excellent keyboard that any gamer should be proud to own.

Pros

  • Per-key RGB backlighting is always welcome
  • Solid construction, some nice design touches
  • NKRO, media controls and profiles all prove useful
  • Red switches and a wrist rest keep things comfortable

Cons

  • Profile modes disable Windows key by default
  • Not very distinct: the same design is used by Rosewill, Max, Asus and iOne
  • Kailh switches are less trusted than Cherry alternatives
  • Software is buggy at times

score9

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Cover-Up WoodBack review: a beautiful wood iPhone case

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Today we’re going to take a look at the Cover-up WoodBack case. This case uses real wood as a centrepiece, providing a classy look and feel to your phone. We’re looking at the White Ash version for the iPhone 6 Plus, but you can get the same design with different woods and for different iPhone and Android phones too. Let’s get started!

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EnerPlex Jumpr Stack 6 review: portable, stackable power

 

 

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Today I’m looking at a power bank and portable charger for mobile phones and tablets called the EnerPlex Jumpr. EnerPlex promise that it’s portable, capacious and convenient – and it even matches the orange theme of the site. Let’s put it to the test!

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Element Gaming Iridium 820 gaming mouse review: bargain basement

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Earlier this week we covered the Element Gaming Beryllium gaming keyboard, and now it’s time to turn our attention to its mousing counterpart, the Iridium 820. This mouse offers a pretty wide range of features, yet costs just £23. It sounds too good to be true, but is it? Let’s find out!

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Element Gaming Beryllium mechanical keyboard review: the element of surprise

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Today we’re taking a look at Element Gaming’s first mechanical keyboard, the Beryllium. At £80 it’s one of the cheapest mechanical keyboards on the market, but it still offers a fair few features – backlighting, N-key rollover, media controls, a wrist rest and a pretty (if familiar) design. Let’s take a look at how it shapes up!

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QPAD 8K laser gaming mouse review: Swedish superlatives

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Today we’re looking at the QPAD 8K, a laser gaming mouse. The 8K includes a high-DPI laser sensor, fancy RGB lighting and a ergonomic five-finger grip. It’s been a long time since we’ve reviewed a QPAD mouse, so I’m curious to see what I’ve been missing!

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Gigabyte P37X V3 gaming laptop review: 17 inches of steel

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Last month we took a look at Gigabyte’s latest 14-inch gaming laptop, the Gigabyte P34W v3. Now, we’re back to look at its bigger brother, the 17-inch P37X. This gaming laptop is impressively equipped, with a 4th-gen Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and the best GPU available to gaming laptops: Nvidia’s GTX 980M with 8GB of GDDR5 memory. That kind of firepower should make for a top notch gaming laptop, so it’s remarkable to see that the chassis of the P37X measures just 22.5 millimetres. Let’s see how well it performs!

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BenQ RL2755HM monitor review: console gaming special

The BenQ RL2755 is a stylish gaming monitor, measuring 27 inches along the diagonal.

The BenQ RL2755 is a stylish gaming monitor, measuring 27 inches along the diagonal.

Console gamers often use HDTVs for their games, but a smaller and less expensive monitor like BenQ’s RL2755HM seems like a strong alternative. BenQ are promising plenty of console gaming extras you won’t often find on TVs or other gaming monitors: features like places to store your headphones and controllers, screen modes optimised for different genres, and dual HDMI inputs that can be used simultaneously for side-by-side gaming or lag-free mirroring to an HDTV for people to watch you play.

In this review, we’ll see how well these added features work, and whether the RL2755HM does enough to distinguish itself from the flood of 27-inch 1080p monitors on the market.

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