The Fluance AB40's sound base offers significant performance advantages over competitive sound bars, if you can use it.
Not to be confused with rectangular sound bars that sit in front of your TV, squat, boxy sound bases are designed to sit under your TV as a sort of second stand. They've been around since the early 2000s and peaked in popularity about two years ago. But now they're fading fast.
The reason? Many televisions are now designed in a way that makes a "sound base" impractical -- the TVs have feet at the ends rather than in the middle. If you have a TV like that, it simply won't fit on top of a sound base. A sound base only makes sense for use with TVs that have central pedestal stands, especially in areas where space is at a premium -- on top of a dresser for example.
The Fluance AB40 sound base is one of the best we've seen, especially for $250. It's built like a tank and offers great sound in addition to Bluetooth playback. Due to the larger cabinet it's also able to outperform some sound bars in terms of bass response. If you have a TV with a centralized stand and are looking to upgrade your flat-screen's sound, then the Fluance deserves your attention.
Amazingly the AB40's wood cabinet is sturdy enough to support TVs that weigh up to 150 pounds. That's really heavy, and the weight spec says a lot about its build quality. The cabinet is finished in black ash and measures 3.9 inches high by 26 inches wide and a fairly shallow 14 inches deep. That's way too tall to fit under any splayed-leg TV.
The steel grille at the front protects a pair of silk dome tweeters, and four aluminum midrange/woofer drivers. The drivers are angled in order to deliver a wide soundstage, according to Fluance. The speakers are driven by two Class D 60-watt amplifiers and the company claims the unit is capable of reaching all the way down to 30Hz.
Controlling the thing? The unit itself has capacitive controls but in a unique touch (get it?) these are built into the top of the wood cabinet. While they work most of the time, we did find them to be a little finicky and needed a strong, dead-on "push" to activate. Be aware that these are set deep into the cabinet -- about 2 inches in -- which could be an issue if your TV has a very large base. As you can see by the photos, though, a 50-inch LG TV had no issue fitting on top.
There's also a well-appointed hand-held clicker, which is easy to use and comes with an attractive faux brushed finish.
The unit offers three separate inputs -- aptX Bluetooth, optical digital and a 3.5mm auxiliary. Unfortunately it doesn't have HDMI ports or Wi-Fi streaming, both found on the $300 Polk MagniFi Mini sound bar for example.
We found the setup of the AB40 to be absolutely straightforward: We just plugged in the TV and paired our Bluetooth source, and we were good to go.
The Fluance AB40 checked every box in our performance evaluations. It may be just a stereo, two-channel sound base, but it projected a wide and spacious soundstage with movies and music. The stereo image seamlessly extended wall-to-wall across the CNET listening room, so we never felt the sound was confined to this 26-inch-wide speaker.
Sound was also richly balanced, without a hint of the hollowness/phasiness we've heard from other sound bars and bases that process stereo sound to produce faux surround effects. The AB40's sound processing is excellent. Dialogue also sounded natural and clear, dramatically more so than what we heard from the much smaller ZVOX AccuVoice speaker, which retails for the same price as the AB40.
Bass was full and rich, so we never once missed not using a subwoofer when we blasted through some of the action scenes on the "Mad Max: Fury Road" Blu-ray. The AB40's dynamic power to generate excitement defied expectations for budget-price sound bars and bases. The scenes in the forest in "The Revenant," also on Blu-ray, put us inside the movie.
One of our favorite sound bases ever produced -- the Pioneer SP-SB03 -- lasted only about 18 months on the market, and it left a very big hole when it disappeared. The Fluance AB40 is the closest thing we've seen to taking up the mantle since.
The highest compliment we can pay to any sound bar or base is that once we're involved watching a movie or listening to music we can forget we're listening to a sound bar or base. The Fluance AB40 is in that group.