For the past seven months, I’ve been on a bit of a roll reviewing portable Bluetooth speakers with light shows—LEDs that dance to the music. The latest of these is the Anker Soundcore Flare 2, another cylindrical design that’s shorter than most JBLs and other brands of Bluetooth speakers, yet provides pretty good sound along with a user-adjustable light show. At $79 (all prices in USD), it’s a strong contender if you’re looking for a really small speaker with decent sound. And you can usually get your hands on one for far less than the list price if you shop around.
In the box
In the colorful box, you’ll find the speaker, a tiny quick-start guide, and a USB-A-to-USB-C charging cable. The speaker is a cylindrical design that flares out at the base, measuring 3.5″ in diameter at the bottom and 2.75″ at the top. It stands 6.25″ high and weighs approximately 1.5 pounds. Black is the only color available. A wraparound cloth grille covers the entire speaker, and the top and bottom are made of a rubberized plastic material. The material at the bottom is a little thicker, providing a very stable base that will keep the speaker from moving around when playing loud music. At the top and the bottom, you’ll find the two plastic light rings. The build is solid and durable.
The front displays a small Soundcore logo plate near the bottom, while the back has a rubberized strip that houses a Bluetooth pairing button, a BassUp button, and a sealed compartment for the charging jack. As you might expect, for the speaker to live up to its IPX7 waterproof rating, the port needs to be tightly sealed.
At the top of the unit are buttons for power on/off, volume up, volume down, and the voice assistant. A central button controls pause/play and skip forward/back depending on the number of times you press it. This button can also control phone calls. There are slightly raised icons delineating the position of each button, but they’re small and very hard to see. Backlighting would have been a welcome touch here.
The downloadable Soundcore app lets you access additional features. One of these is a nine-band equalizer that comes with a few presets: Default, Voice, Chill, and Flat. With the app, you can also adjust the light show, which comes with six presets: Party Time, Phasing Beats, Bouncing Beats, Circle Beam, Cool Breath, and Who’s Next? Many of these presets offer different color choices. By the way, the light rings at the top and bottom operate independently of one another: the upper one seems to move faster than the lower one.
The Soundcore Flare 2 sports a pair of drivers and a pair of passive bass radiators to provide a claimed 360-degree dispersion pattern. According to Anker, up to 100 compatible-model speakers (Flare 2, Soundcore 3, Trance Go, and Soundcore Mini 3) can be paired for multi-mono sound. At this point, you might be saying to yourself, sure, the option exists, but would anyone really want to do this? For one thing, it would be a rather expensive proposition. Additional specs for the Soundcore Flare 2 include 20W total amplifier power, 12 hours of playing time (depending on the volume and light show settings), and a 3.5-hour charging time.
The Soundcore Flare 2 paired easily with my device, and once the connection was established, I didn’t have to repeat the process. Though it lacks a handle, it was just the right size to easily carry around in my hand, with the cloth grille providing a nonslip surface.
To power on or off, you have to hold down the power button for a few seconds. Other buttons worked with a lighter click point than most other speakers. The inability to see the icons for each button proved irritating. Though it’s not backlit, there is a tiny LED delineating the position of the power button.
The light show, which can be adjusted via the app, was fascinating. Most makers of speakers like this say that the light moves with the music, but with this one, it’s actually true—more or less. I preferred the Party Time setting as it offered brighter colors than the others.
Using my preferred volume and light-show settings, I could only get about seven to eight hours of playing time, but the charging time was right on the money at 3.5 hours. A full charge gives you plenty of time to use it, then plug it in overnight so you’re ready to go the next day. Range was very good: it worked everywhere in my house.
The sound of this little speaker was appealing and tonally consistent from top to bottom. It sounded like a small speaker, but a good small speaker. Midrange had appropriate presence with vocals, the lows were more prominent than one might expect, and the highs were crisp but just a tad harsh depending on the recording being played. The bass-boost circuitry—called BassUp—made a big difference; you’ll probably want to leave it on for all types of music as it produces a fuller, warmer sound.
Charles Gerhardt’s album Charles Gerhardt Conducts Classic Film Scores, originally on RCA and now on Sony (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Sony/Amazon Music HD), is a spectacular mix. “The Sea Hawk: Main Title—Reunion—Finale” provides plenty of pungent brass fanfares, lush strings, and thrilling cymbal clashes, and all of these sounds were clearly discernible through the Flare 2. Transient response was particularly good, and the overall sound was transparent enough to hear woodwind solos clearly.
The Flare 2’s handling of “If This Ain’t Love,” from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Bang Bang Bang (16/44.1 FLAC, DreamWorks/Amazon Music HD), proved that this little speaker could really rock out. It had solid upper bass on the downbeat, and the drum hits were just as tangible on the upbeat. Guitar riffs were clean as a whistle, and vocals were easily heard due to the overall transparency—it almost made me want to dance.
Jorge Bolet’s performance of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 from Liszt: Piano Works (16/44.1 FLAC, Decca Eloquence/Amazon Music HD) provides plenty of keyboard fireworks. They came across very well over the Flare 2. Rapid passages were clearly articulated, and chords had actual weight and presence. Some might find Bolet’s playing a little too percussive, and the Soundcore Flare 2 accurately revealed this characteristic to a surprising degree.
The Anker Soundcore Flare 2 is a nifty little Bluetooth speaker that provides full sound—with BassUp on—and an intriguing light show. The lighting effects and equalization settings that you can use to customize your sound even more are adjustable using the free app. The speaker is waterproof and fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. At its list price, it’s a good buy, but if you search around a bit, you’ll be able to find it for less than $50, and you’ll have a real bargain.
. . . Rad Bennett
- Portable music player: Apple iPod Touch (sixth generation).
Anker Soundcore Flare 2 Bluetooth Speaker
Warranty: One year, limited.
Phone: (800) 988-7973