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Fluance Ai61 Bluetooth bookshelf speakers
Fluance makes good audio gear affordable. The Ai61 Bluetooth bookshelf speakers reviewed here cost $300, yet were competitive with my $400 Yamaha HS5 (5-inch) studio monitors while offering more versatile connectivity.
Design and specs
The Ai61 cabinets are somewhat larger than the typical bookshelf speaker, measuring 13.1 x 7.8 x 9.2 inches (HxWxD). That’s due to the hefty-for-its-class 6.5-inch woven composite woofers inside the cabinets. I had to tweak the Ai61’s EQ a bit (increasing bass) for taste, but said woofers had no trouble keeping up when I did. Note that there’s actually a recommended break-in period of 10 to 12 hours for the woofer’s butyl rubber outer ring—so don’t crank them right out of the box. Exactly what would happen, I can’t tell you, but there it is.
The 1.0-inch silk soft dome tweeters are ferrofluid cooled if you’re interested in that type of info. Do yourself a favor—forget the boutique mumbo-jumbo and listen first when you buy audio equipment.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
Between the tweeters and woofers, which are crossed over at 2.8kHz, Fluance claims a total frequency range of 32Hz to 20kHz. Output is rated at 92dB dynamic range, with a 104dB signal to noise ratio and 0.4% distortion at the rated output. Those are very good specs, if not quite in high-end audiophile territory. In practice, you’ll hear no noise or distortion unless you’re super human—or a dog.
The right-hand (active) speaker houses the electronics and controls, including a 50-watt-per-channel Class D stereo amplifier, a DAC for digital-to-audio conversion, a DSP for EQ chores, and a Bluetooth 5.0 chip (one of several upgrades from the Fluance Ai60 we reviewed about this time last year). A rotary multi-function knob/button on this speaker allows you to switch inputs as well as control the volume. An infrared receiver lens accepts commands from the Ai61’s remote control.
The back of the active speaker is even busier: There’s a USB-C port (another upgrade), a Toslink optical digital audio input, RCA analog inputs, and a 3.5mm subwoofer output that’s crossed over at 80Hz. Binding posts that accept banana plugs are provided for connecting the right-hand speaker to the left one, and the power switch and AC port are also located here.
The left-hand (passive) speaker has the same type of binding posts to receive signals from the active speaker, and that’s it. The one thing missing from the mix are the balanced analog audio connections you’ll find on some higher-end gear, but that’s not unreasonable at this price.
The smallish, charcoal-colored remote allows you to power the Ai61 on and off; adjust the volume, treble, and bass (+/- 5); change the source; mute playback; pair a Bluetooth source; play/pause; skip forward/skip backward; and adjust or turn off the LED indicator on the front of the active speaker.
The Ai61 are available in a dark finish with either a white or black face, or a light finish with a white face. A power cord and six-foot tinned, bare-wire leads for connecting the two speakers are included. The Ai61 come with a two-year warranty.
Performance and sound quality
I put the $300 Ai61 up against both my $800 Yamaha HS8 (8-inch woofers/75 watts per channel) and $400 HS5 (5-inch woofers/45 watts per channel). The Fluance held their own, though there was a stark difference in the mid-range. I’d call it busier than that of the Yamaha’s and more in line with JBL’s sound, if a bit less strident and tiring to the ear.
The overall verdict was split evenly between two listeners. I liked the Yamaha (duh, that’s why I own them); my roommate liked the Fluance, though it was a close call. Her opinion was heavily influenced by my EQ’ing the Ai61 to maximum treble, maximum bass. With the default bass and treble settings, the sub-bass on Young Jeezy didn’t quite cut it, and the overall sound seemed just a tad less lively than the competition.
Stereo separation was quite good, although Fluance didn’t provide any cross-talk measurements. I had no issues with the breadth of the sound field; i.e., the placement of various instruments and parts in the stereo mix.
Those are, of course, subjective opinions; the Ai61 sound very good by just about any standard.
For the readers who’ve been asking, I use a Google Pixel 4 for Bluetooth transmission. The music I use for home audio evaluations runs the gamut, from AC/DC to the London Symphony Orchestra. To test using other inputs, I use a Focusrite Clarett 4Pre Thunderbolt audio interface running at 44.1kHz. One set of outputs is used for the test speakers, and another for the comparison speakers. iTunes on a MacBook Air is used for playback.
My bottom line is always how much I enjoy just sitting back and listening, then how well I can pick out instruments when I mix a recording using them. I’d give the Ai61 an A in the first category and a B in the latter. That’s compared to my Yamaha monitors, which I’d rate as an A+/A. In short, the Ai61 are very nice speakers that will do your bookshelf proud.
Fluance Ai61 Bluetooth bookshelf speakers
These versatile speakers sound good and connect to just about everything. An internal DSP lets you EQ to taste, and the components inside are top-notch. They're even affordable in the grand audio scheme.
- Bluetooth, analog, digital, and USB connectivity
- Very good sonics
- Attractively designed
- No balanced analog audio input