Disclaimer: This review was written as part of the We Love Testing program. I've received one unit of the Soundcore Flare to review, and purchased a second unit to properly test the stereo pairing. A link to this review was shared on Twitter, and a version of the same text was sent as a review to Amazon - pending approval, I will update the link here when it's on.
Anker's Soundcore brand are playing for a extremelly coveted position: a place in the table alongside consumer premium audio suppliers. They are taking the likes of Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, JBL, UE and others. After spending almost two weeks with a pair of Soundcore Flares, I think it's fair to say they deserve to seat in that table.
The Flare's promise is quite a simple one: omnidirectional sound with good bass and stereo pairing capability. Oh, they throw in waterproffness and lights, too. Still, in such a small package, it's not all that easy to deliver. Yet, they do, in style.
The units have the looks and feel of a premium product. The rubberized top, where the controls sit, are nice to the touch. The mesh, contrary to what I believed seeing the pictures, are firmly in place and don't give signs it will wear off anytime soon. The light ring on the bottom is nice even when the lights are off. I'm not a particular fan of the slight curve on the bottom, but it does the job of distinguishing it from other tube-shaped speakers. There are no visible seams, and all the corners are well shaped and elegantly combine with each other.
I tested the stereo pairing without using the app with my iPad and this video. I actually started filming the test with my phone before realizing phones most likely wouldn't film in stereo... So, lacking the proper equipment to show you, you have to believe my word on it: it works. It's easy to pair one speaker with another, the first speaker assuming automatically the left channel. I'm still longing to test it the way I envisioned: paired with a Nebula Mars II for an ad-hoc movie session with amazing stereo surround sound. To test the stereo pairing with the app, I used the Beatles's When I'm Sixty-Four, because the main vocals are all on the left channel only. I placed the speakers on each end of my living room - which is quite long - to fully appreciate not only the stereo but the loudness and bass. The song filled the room nicely. So much so, I let the song repeat three more times before my wife claimed she would never be able to take it off her mind... Of course, through the week and a half I have been using it, a variety of songs played through it, to amazing results.
I compared audio quality with my wife's Bose SoundLink Color II. I asked her to change between one and the other - while testing with only one Flare unit, since we have only one Bose SoundLink - without me looking. After a few times, I wasn't sure which was which. Listening very carefully, the Bose speaker does have a slightly better bass, even with the Flare's BassUp turned on, but it's by so little margin you would need a particularly bassy song and a quiet environment to really hear any difference. Volume-wise, the Flare went just as loud as the Bose without losing quality. I would say unless you have a very keen ear and are an audiophile, you won't notice any difference.
The lights are mainly a side attraction. They sync when you are using a pair of Flares in stereo mode, and you can change the mood through the top button, and the mode in the app. It's more a curiosity feature than anything, unless you have them in your blacked-out bedroom in Relax mood. Don't expect the light to be able to illuminate any ambient, no matter how dark, that's not what they are there for. Expect, though, your friends being interested by it for a couple of minutes, before noticing the sound is actually really nice.
The app allows you to control the pairing, the volume, and even play/pause and skip songs. It also allows a finer control of the lights through four different modes, but this is basically a gimmick. Finally, you can change equalization using the app, though only through a few set EQ modes. The app is pretty and well-made, but you absolutely don't need it to enjoy the Flare. Other than EQ, only the light modes are absent from the controls on the unit.
Battery life is, of course, great. They promise 12 hours of playtime, but I actually got close to 15 hours the only time I got to use it throughout the day on a full battery - the very first use, so it could theoretically get even longer. If you listen to 2 hours a day, you can expect to go almost a full week before needing to recharge. That said, when in stereo pairing mode, the left unit will deplete a little faster than the right - I guess because it's responsible for pairing the right unit, too - so if you are using it in stereo for long hours, you might want to keep an eye in that. Maybe changing the main unit from time to time will help balance the battery usage.
While I used in in the shower, I didn't submerged it - you can watch @elmo41683's video doing it here and be sure it will survive as advertised. You can bring it to your pool party without worries! Don't expect it to deliver good sound while submerged - yes, I've actually read some complaints about it.
Going back to that premium speaker table: the Soundcore Flare delivers enough sound quality to deserve a seat, without costing as much as the others. You can get a pair of Flares for the price of one Bose SoundLink Color II - which also have stereo pairing, though through app only. It's a shame some reviews outlets still frown upon brands such as Anker/Soundcore, because of their low-price policy. You'll get as good a sound from the Soundcore Flare as you would get from a similar sized Bose, for about half the price. Or you can get two, which is what makes this product shine, for the price of one Bose.