Rich, deep sound reminiscent of a bookshelf speaker
aptX codec support
Button labels feel like they might wear off over time
You’ll get big sound from this big box that delivers a broader frequency range than its competitors in this price range.
Canada-based Fluance is relatively well known in the audiophile and home theater community for building good-performing, high-value speaker systems. The company generally sells direct to consumer in order to keep prices down. Shipping is free and if you don’t like the product after trying it out in your home, you can return it without penalty or even shipping costs—so long is it is within the 30-day return window. By building a good product and keeping its distribution costs in check, Fluance has gained a reputation for delivering audio products at prices far below their value.
The Fi50 Bluetooth Wood Speaker System was once the company’s flagship Bluetooth product, but that distinction now belongs to the gargantuan Fi70, which is also in our review queue. Weighing in at 13.4 pounds—the equivalent of eight UE Megabooms—the Fluance Fi50 is by no means a portable speaker. But that mass enables the Fi50 to deliver bass response that no portable powered speaker can touch.
A big engine under the hood
The Fi50 is a two-way speaker system fabricated from MDF to suppress cabinet resonances that can cause distortion. The cabinet comes wrapped in your choice of three wood veneers: walnut, bamboo, or black ash. My original review sample came in walnut, but it had obviously been around the review block a few times. There were several scrapes, some cosmetic damage, and it had a blown right woofer. The replacement Fluance sent featured the black ash finish, so now I know first hand that those two finishes are of high quality and they look great. I presume the bamboo finish looks just as good.
Fluance provides both rubber feet or high-quality metal spikes that you can thread into sockets on the bottom of the cabinet. The spikes will probably do the better job of preventing vibrations from transferring from the speaker cabinet to the surface the speaker is resting on, but they will easily mark a wooden floor or tabletop. I’d suggest using them only on very hard surfaces such as granite, marble, tile, or glass.
A pair of 3/5-inch coaxially mounted, ferrofluid-cooled silk soft dome tweeters handle the upper end of the audio spectrum, while dual 5.0-inch woven glass fiber composite deliver generous amounts of bass. These are aided by a pair of bass reflex ports in the rear of the cabinet. Everything is driven by a 40-watt amplifier, delivering an impressive frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz—a rare spec at this price point.
The Fi50’s Bluetooth radio supports the aptX audio codec for near-CD-quality audio reproduction, and there’s a 3.5mm aux input for playing from other sources.You’ll only benefit from aptX if the playback device also supports, and when I paired the speaker with a Pioneer XDB-100R high-resolution digital audio player, it immediately displayed a message that it had recognized the Fi50 as an aptX speaker.
Don’t be fooled by the USB port on the rear, however; it isn’t capable of playing music from your mobile device. Instead, it serves as a handy charging port so you can charge your smartphone or tablet while playing music.
You’ll use four touch-sensitive surface controls on the top of the cabinet to manage the front screen’s brightness (including turning it off), bass and treble, and volume. The well-used damaged review unit showed me that these stickers might not stand up to the the test of time; a couple of them had partially worn off. I didn’t notice any issues with the newer unit, but it’s something to be aware of.
When you first fire up the Fi50, you’ll notice that it sounds more like a pair of good bookshelf speakers than a Bluetooth speaker. I was immediately taken by the Fi50’s presence in my room. It throws a very large soundstage for its size. For example Lady Gaga’s vocals on the MQA version of “Lush Life” from Cheek to Cheek with Tony Bennett were far larger than the speaker’s enclosure. The accompanying piano was also full bodied. This song showed-off the benefits of speaker’s frequency response compared to the competition.
The Fi50 is voiced to the warmer side of neutral, with a gently rolled-off top end. The sound of the unit’s enclosure comes through at times, manifesting itself in a slightly boxy and syrupy midrange that colored vocals and effected how some of the dynamics came across. For example, on the MQA version of Tom Petty’s “Here Comes My Girl,” Petty’s vocals were a bit flat and too relaxed, recessed behind the music. Percussion were good, but not the best in this price range. The drums on this track were cleaner, with a bit more snap and chest-hitting thump through the much smaller Riva S—albeit at a more limited frequency response.
All, in all, the Fluance Fi50 did an admirable job of pumping out the tunes—at room-filling, ear-piercing volume—without exhibiting strain. It should do fine whether you are using it as background music in the kitchen or pumping up the jams at a party.
The Fi50 delivers big sound and that’s out of proportion to its budget price tag, but that coloration issue prevents us from giving it a higher score. It’s a great choice if you want a speaker to fill a larger room with sound, but it’s not cut out for critical listening sessions where you want to hear exactly what the artist intended; fortunately, it’s not priced like that type of speaker. Intrigued? The company’s no-risk in-home trial makes it easy to experience for yourself.