The Fluance Ai40 is the third self-powered speaker I've reviewed in three weeks. It follows the and speakers, and while the Ai40 is around half the price of the other two, it's the one that really got to me. There was some undefinable something about the sound that was more engaging than the other two speakers, so I kept listening long after I needed to write the review. Better yet, the price is right. They're $200 a pair with free shipping in the US. UK and Australia prices haven't yet been released, but they convert to roughly £151 and AU$269.
As regular Audiophiliac readers know, I haven't covered too many wireless products, mostly because they usually cost more and sound worse then similarly priced wired products. Paying more for inferior sound doesn't make sense to me, but I've now found a couple of Bluetooth speakers that rise enough above the norm to deserve positive reviews here. Last week it was the Kanto YU6, and now it's the Fluance Ai40's turn (the Adam T5V doesn't have Bluetooth).
The Ai40 is a sealed (acoustic suspension), not ported design, and the sound was free of bass boom and thickening I hear from a lot of small speakers trying to sound bigger than they are. The Ai40 has a 1-inch (25mm) silk dome tweeter and a 5-inch (127mm) woven glass fiber composite woofer. Power is rated at 35 watts per channel. Connectivity is limited to two sources: analog stereo RCA inputs and aptX Bluetooth, that's it. Audiophiles take note, the Ai40 sounds clearer with the stereo RCA wired inputs, no surprise there. The included remote control toggles between the RCA and Bluetooth inputs, bass and treble controls, mute and volume buttons.
The right channel speaker has a front-mounted volume control. Ai40s come in three vinyl finishes: Lucky Bamboo, Black Ash and Walnut. Grilles aren't included with the speakers. The Ai40 measures 10.9x6.5x7.6 inches (277x165x193mm).
One concern: When not playing music or movies, I noticed the Ai40s produced audible noise and hiss that some users might find distracting. That's hardly unique to the Ai40. Most powered speakers produce some noise, but this one's was higher than average.
The very first thing I noticed about the Ai40s sound was the way they reproduced male and female vocals. They sounded remarkably natural and clear in ways I don't remember hearing from any other powered speaker for this kind of money. Next came the bass: the Ai40s' goes deep. When I played test tones in my room, the bass went down to 55 hertz! Better still was the bass definition, free of any muddiness or thickening. Feeling the bass notes on the Bob Marley In Dub reggae CD was a special thrill. The Ai40 gets down!
Portuguese noir rockers the Dead Combo's album, A Bunch of Meninos, displayed a lively dynamic presence when I pumped the volume up. Dead Combo's music has a dark, moody quality that would be perfect for a David Lynch or David Cronenberg movie soundtrack.
I found the Ai40's treble slightly harsh, so I turned it down on the remote, and that helped smooth out the sound. Stereo imaging and focus were good, and the speakers make a big sound. My favorite Duke Ellington album without his big band, Piano in the Foreground, with stand-up bass and drums, communicated the trio's improvisational skills with gusto and set my feet a tappin'. The Ai40 played all music genres with equal skill.
I also played some movies with these speakers to good effect. Dialogue sounded more realistic than any $200 sound bar I've tried. Even Avatar's special effects won't take the Ai40 down in small to midsize rooms. It's just too bad you can't add a separate subwoofer to use with the Ai40s.
Stepping up to the Kanto YU6 speakers is worth considering because they have more features and the sound was more refined, clear and less harsh. On the other hand, the Ai40 is almost half the price!