As a portable speaker, perhaps the biggest issue was that the Flips began to distort quite noticeably when pushed to louder volume levels, less so when we backed off the volume. In speaker mode, the lower and mid bass was very rolled off, and bass in general had very little overall impact. Midrange was raspy, with a noticeable plastic resonance, and treble was sizzly, with a rolled off upper treble. The overall sound lacked fine detail and sounded very congested, and we found it didn't recover room ambience (a sense of the acoustic space in which a recording was made) very well.
In addition, stereo imaging disappeared if we were more than about 4 feet away from the speakers—not surprising, given that the speakers are only about 6 inches apart, though they are angled outward. As speakers, we think the Flips are best suited for closer listening, as they strain to provide a satisfying level of volume even in smaller rooms. Perhaps the company realizes this: The first commercial I saw was a guy walking into a party, flipping the headphones outward, and getting the whole room to rock. But the current commercial is set in an elevator.
Are we being a bit too harsh on the Flips? Not really, and certainly not any more than we are with any other set of headphones or speakers we test. Frankly, given their size and power, we didn't expect them to be great portable speakers. But we were disappointed that they didn't perform very well as headphones, especially since there are dozens of lower-priced models in our Ratings that offer better sound quality.
That's not to say we don't applaud the concept; we're just not fans of the execution. And that's not to say you might not be able to find a use for them. While I was checking out the headphones in my home one weekend, I was trying to learn a guitar part for a coming band rehearsal. It was great being able to listen to the song via the headphones, and then flip the ear cups out so that I could hear the song and my guitar through the guitar amp at the same time. You may find some of your own uses where the convenience of having this capability outweighs the limited sound quality of the headphones and speakers.
During my career as a reviewer, I've found that products that try to do more than one thing often don't do well at any of them. Unfortunately, that was our experience with the Flips. If the company decides to continue with the concept, we hope that at the very least the next generation of Flips offers better sound quality when used as headphones. Then, the speaker capability would just be icing on the cake—and something we might actually dance about.
—James K. Willcox