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Fluance Fi30 Bluetooth speaker review: Best sound for your Bluetooth buck

The Fluance Fi30's design isn't for everyone, but for those in search of the best sound for their Bluetooth buck, the $149.99 Fi30 is hard to beat.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
5 min read

When I handed off Fluance's Fi30 Bluetooth speaker to our photographer, Sarah Tew, to shoot product images for the site, she looked at it and said: "Didn't I shoot this before?"


Fluance Fi30 Bluetooth speaker

The Good

The very affordable <b>Fluance Fi30</b> delivers high-quality sound from a retro-styled Bluetooth speaker which is solidly built with a medium-density fiberboard cabinet and a high-gloss black or white finish. It plays loudly without distorting, is simple to operate, and has a USB port for charging smartphones and tablets.

The Bad

No battery-powered option; no volume or transports controls on the speaker; no speakerphone capabilities.

The Bottom Line

The Fluance's design isn't for everyone, but for those in search of the best sound for their Bluetooth buck, the $149.99 Fi30 is hard to beat.

"No," I said. "You shot the one with the iPod/iPhone dock. This one's a wireless speaker."

Fluance, an online direct-to-consumer Canadian company, is known for serving up excellent performing speaker for modest prices. And that earlier iPod/iPhone speaker, the Fluance FiSDK500 (no, that's not a good name for a product), costs $200 and sounds excellent for the money.

Our photographer wasn't wrong. It looks similar to the new Fi30, featuring the same medium-density fiberboard cabinet and a high-gloss black or white finish. (In the fall, it will also come in a bamboo version, which looks like the swankiest of the bunch). But this is a smaller speaker, and has two drivers instead of four, and leaves off such extras as a remote and LCD screen on the front.

Despite those difference, the Fi30 still sounds excellent for its modest price point ($149.99), measuring up well against Bluetooth speakers that cost twice as much or even more. It doesn't have a battery-powered option, which limits its portability, but if that isn't a priority, it's a great deal at $149.99.

Fluance Fi30 High Performance Bluetooth Wood Speaker System (pictures)

See all photos

Design and Features
While the the Fi30 is smaller than FiSDK500, measuring 16.5 inches by 5.5 inches by 5.5 inches (420x140x140 mm) and weighing 8.3 pounds (3.8 kg), it's bigger than your average Bluetooth speaker. Sleek, the Fi30 is not, but it is distinctive, and when it comes to sound quality, size still matters.

In our review of the the FiSDK500, we noted how impressed we were that had stereo 0.6-inch (15mm) soft dome tweeters mounted in the center of 5-inch (127mm) woven fiberglass woofers. You just don't see "two-way" tweeter and woofer iPod speakers for $200, and they usually have much smaller drivers.

The Fi30 doesn't have the same speaker architecture. It has 3-inch (76mm) woven fiberglass woofers with butyl rubber surrounds and tuned rear port bass reflex design (there are no tweeters mounted in the middle of the woofers). The integrated amp also has less power -- it's rated at 6 watts per channel rather than 10 watts.

Around back you'll find an audio input and USB input for charging smartphones and tablets. Sarah Tew/CNET

This new wireless model also has virtually no buttons (just an on/off switch and Bluetooth reset button on the back). There's no pause/play, mute, or transport controls. You'll have to control everything through your mobile device, which is fine, but I just thought I'd point out that the speaker is pretty no-frills. However, it does offer AptX streaming for devices that support the feature (Samsung's newest Galaxy models, for instance). AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth audio sound better, but the difference -- if you can hear it -- is relatively small.

One noteworthy touch worth highlighting is the hardwired AC power cord. Most powered speakers come with an external, wall-wart power supply, but Fi30 power supply is in the unit, and it has a simple power cord that terminates in a two-prong plug.

In terms of connectivity, you get an audio input -- a cable is included -- for connecting non-Bluetooth devices (this could potentially be used as a speaker for your TV, but it's obviously not slim like your typical sound bar). And there's a USB port for charging smartphones and tablets. That USB connector is the only item that really qualifies as a bonus feature -- and yes, it boasts a 2.1-amp output, so it will charge iPads and tablets quickly, not via the slow trickle charge of lesser-powered USB ports. It's good to have, particularly on a speaker like this that will most likely sit in a room and not move around too much (you can move it from room-to-room easily enough, but it's not nearly as mobile as the huge number of tiny portable Bluetooth speakers on the market).

The speaker can remember up to eight devices once you've paired with them, and I had no trouble switching between an iPhone 5S and a Samsung Galaxy S4, which I used for testing the AptX capabilities with a set of lossless tracks. (Note: I didn't feel AptX made a significant difference).

I preferred the speaker in white, but later in the year it will come in a bamboo version as well for the same price. Sarah Tew/CNET

When talking about Bluetooth speakers, particularly smaller ones, I may praise the product for its sound quality, but I typically couch that praise in a disclaimer that the speaker does have its limitations and critical listeners won't be all that impressed. The Fi30 also has its limitations (you can't expect the world from a $150 speaker), but it's definitely a more capable speaker that offers richer sound than the vast majority of Bluetooth speakers in this price class. (I haven't tested them all, so I can't say that it sounds better than everything out there.)

The nice thing about the Fi30 is that it sounds like a "real" speaker. True, because the drivers are so close together, if you listen from a distance of more than 3 to 6 feet away, you won't get much stereo effect. However, as with the FiSDK500, listening close up, the stereo imaging is surprisingly good. There's a nice sense of spatial depth, and image focus is pretty good.

The speaker may not have as much volume and overall punch as the FiSDK500, but it plays pretty loudly and offers a similar sound profile, with bass that's strong but never overdone (it helps to place the speaker near a wall to get some reflection and improve bass response).

There's a little treble push, but unlike a lot of these Bluetooth speakers that have a harsh edge to them, particularly at higher volumes, but the Fi30 plays clean and is nicely detailed with a fairly warm vibe, particularly in the midrange where speaker is arguably at its strongest. It can fill small- to medium-size rooms with sound, but doesn't quite cut it for a larger room (it would be fine for background music, just don't expect room-filling sound).

It doesn't have the bass and treble controls that the FiSDK500 has (you'll have to tweak those through your mobile device), but Fluance appears to have gone the route of Bose, offering simplified playback with fixed settings on the speaker that optimizes the sound output so you get little or no distortion, even at higher volumes.

The Fluance Fi30's design -- large but minimalist -- isn't for everyone, particularly if you're looking for a smaller wireless speaker that's truly portable and has a battery-powered option. But for those in search of the best sound for their Bluetooth buck, the Fi30 is hard to beat at only $149.99.


Fluance Fi30 Bluetooth speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Sound 8Value 9