When we say RGB Bluetooth speakers - whatever immediately pops up into your mind is either ridiculous or impractical. Anker has managed to break both of these connections and recreate the image of Bluetooth speakers with lighting, better performance and more features at an affordable price, all at the same time.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it is easy to give in to the elitist tendency of dismissing anything with LED RGB lights on it as being gimmicky. In many cases, that does turn out to be true but not with the Soundcore Flare. Anker has built up a reputation of offering value for money wireless speakers and we went into this review expecting the same. A good Bluetooth speaker has to provide the right balance of audio performance, battery life, portability, and durability to be worth your money. The Anker Soundcore Flare promises all of that and throws in a light show to make the deal look sweeter. Does it actually check all the required boxes? We throw some light on that.
You won't be wrong in mistaking the Flare for an Echo
At first glance, you wouldn’t be the first person to compare the Flare to an Amazon Echo. The tower speaker stands roughly 15 cms tall and goes from a diameter of 5.5cm at the top to about 9cm at the bottom. This tapering design contrasts it nicely with the likes of the JBL Flip 4’s more typical cylinder shape, without breaking the norms of the design entirely. The fabric grille that wraps it is interrupted only by the Soundcore logo on one side, and a set of buttons and ports on the opposite side.
In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the Soundcore Flare has taken some of the best and most interesting features in competing Bluetooth speakers and made them its own. The fabric grille is reminiscent of the UE range of speakers, while the light show, although found on a number of speakers now, is akin to the JBL Pulse. It is bigger than the Wonderboom, but it is also thinner so it doesn’t lose out too many points in the portability department. The speaker comes with an IPX7 rating so you’ve got nothing to worry about in a pool of water or out in the rain. However, there’s nothing onboard to make it easy to latch it to your backpack. The rubber base gives it a strong grip on most surfaces, even when you turn the BassUp feature on.
In terms of controls, you get the power and Bluetooth button on the side and the rest on a smooth plastic panel on top. The flap below the power button reveals the aux-in port and the micro-USB charging port. The buttons on top comprise of a Play-pause button, a pair of volume control buttons, and dedicated buttons for the BassUp feature and the lighting feature. The buttons sit flush with the plastic, with only the BassUp and Light button being backlit when active. This makes it a bit difficult to find the buttons in a dark room. However, if even one of them is being used, which is likely with the Light feature, a general sense of direction is good enough to find them.
The buttons might be hard to find in a dimly lit or dark room
Overall, the Soundcore Flare feels quite well built. It will fit onto your bedside tables, your work desk, even at a nighttime poolside party, all the while giving the impression that it is more expensive than it actually is.
Officially, the light feature is known as Beat-Driven Light Show. While you can activate and cycle through the different modes using the button on the top of the speaker, a better way to do it is to use the Soundcore app. Long pressing the Bluetooth button puts the Flare into pairing mode, and once you’ve paired it with your phone, firing up the Soundcore app shows the Flare as the first option. Tapping that card makes the app look for a connected Flare momentarily, after which you get a host of ways to control your speaker.
The primary interface lets you control the volume, play-pause the media and go into the Light Show and Equaliser sub-menus. The equaliser has four presets as well as a nine channel custom mode. Interestingly, tapping the Bass Up toggle here, or pressing the button shows you the actual change in the frequency spectrum on its visual representation in the section. We’ll talk about the equaliser performance in the performance section.
The Light Show/Light Effect sub-menu is where you can control the lights from. You can pick between five colour palettes - Party, Energy, Chill, Bedtime and Spring. While it might initially appear that all of them have the same options within them, that is not the case. The options are:
>Glow - A single, glowing colour that keeps changing within the palette
>M-Sync - A multi-colour, palette independent light show corresponding to the beats of the song.
>Fusion - Two colours from the palette placed alternately and keep rotating
>Pulse - Colours from the palette take turns in appearing and traversing the entire circumference of the light panel.
>Breathe - present only on Chill and Bedtime palettes instead of the Pulse mode, this takes the colour gradually through the warm palettes and also oscillates the brightness.
>Sleep Mode - Only available within the Bedtime palette, tapping this button activates a 30-minute timer for your lights, after which they will switch off.
The Light Show looks pleasant even in a well-lit room
The well-executed implementation of the Light Show feature, packed within a well-designed app, makes it more than a gimmick. Even in the M-Sync mode, its performance is quite consistent and adds to the immersion of listening to music, especially in tracks with punchy, bass-heavy beats. The app is also quite easy and intuitive to use, offering simplicity with effectiveness. If lights are to be done right on a Bluetooth speaker, the Soundcore Flare shows how.
It is in a dark room that you see the difference in how Anker has implemented the lights on the Soundcore Flare
One of the interesting things that we realised during the review was that the combined price of the Soundcore Flare and an Amazon Echo Input is still cheaper by almost INR 1000 than an Amazon Echo. This means you can bring all the capabilities of an Amazon Echo to the Flare, which looks and feels quite similar, at less the price of the real deal. We haven’t really compared the audio quality of the Echo with the Flare, but you have to admit, it does make for an interesting proposition!
All gimmicks, lights and cosmetics come to nought if a Bluetooth speaker does not perform well in the audio department. Thankfully, the Flare has been one of the best sounding speakers at its price point. A pair of active drivers and a pair of radiators power the performance of the Flare. It doesn’t exactly compete with the best you can get, but for the price, it is going for, it is definitely one of the best options sonically.
The Flare can get loud without losing most detail
To get an honest idea of how the Soundcore Flare can sound, make sure that the EQ is set to flat on the Soundcore app. Even with the Bass Up feature disabled, the Flare can pack quite a punch. Don’t expect subwoofer level lows, not even with the special bass boost thrown in there. However, what is in there can work well for small-to-medium rooms. Tracks like The Hills by The Weeknd can sound quite seismic without losing clarity. The active drivers are located on opposite sides which makes the Flare’s sound 360 degrees. Putting a track like Chris Rea’s Call on Me on the speaker shows how it is capable of reproducing rich vocal texture without letting the bass overpower the track. Adele on Hello also sounds well-emphasized and powerful.
With the lights AND the sound well executed, the Soundcore Flare makes for a compelling overall package
There are no complaints in the volume department. However, at full volume, the highs begin to sound harsh and distorted, something that the Flare manages to avoid for most of the time. Keep the volume in check, and there are clear, crystal highs with no sibilance to be detected. For a speaker of its size, the Soundcore Flare performs quite well and is highly enjoyable across most of the sound spectrum.
Umm, hello Cortana?
The Soundcore Flare is a no brainer to recommend. It checks every point on a long checklist and even adds one of its own - good performance, well-built, interesting design and coloured lighting on the bottom that has been done well. Its only real competitor at the moment is clearly the UE Wonderboom. However, it edges over the Wonderboom with its features, and even sound quality in some ways. It could easily be one of the best budget speakers to buy now. Definitely go for this one if you're looking for a well-performing party speaker.
23 Aug 2019
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