Fluance Fi50 review: A premium-sounding Bluetooth speaker for an affordable price
"Fluance" isn't exactly a household name, but the online direct-to-consumer Canadian company has been a recent favorite of audio aficionados for serving up excellent performing speakers for modest prices. The Fi50 ($200) is the company's second wireless Bluetooth speaker and like its predecessor, the Fi30 ($150), it's one of the best sounding wireless speakers you can buy for the money with one caveat: it has to be plugged into a power outlet and doesn't run off an internal rechargeable battery. Call it a "luggable" more than a portable.
It looks similar to the Fi30, features the same medium-density fiberboard cabinet and comes in three different color options. But it's significantly bigger and heftier than the Fi30, weighing in at 13.4 pounds or 6.1 kg (the Fi30 weighs 8.3 pounds or 3.8 kg) and it doesn't have a handle, so it's a little cumbersome to move around from room to room.
This new model adds an LED display (the no-frills Fi30 had nothing), has a much larger, 40-watt amplifier, better drivers and tweeters and an equalizer that lets you adjust treble and bass via the touch controls on top of the speaker. Those touch controls also include volume up/down buttons but no pause/play button.
That LED display can be dimmed or even completely turned off so it doesn't bother you when you sleep. I like the look of the speaker, though its somewhat retro design may not appeal to everyone. The black ash version Fluance sent me to review wouldn't be my first color choice; I'd probably go for the white version with bamboo (there's also a black option with walnut trim).
On the back of the speaker you'll find an audio input for connecting non-Bluetooth devices, a USB input for charging smartphones and tablets, and a physical power switch. Although I was only mildly annoyed that I had to reach around to the back of the speaker to turn it on and off, others may find it more of a nuisance.
I'm more of a fan of rubber feet, but Fluance does include a set of screw-in metal cleats as a style element. You can opt to go with rubber pads instead, but the spikes will work well on softer surfaces.
It's worth mentioning that the speaker uses the older Bluetooth 2.1 standard (though I had no problem connecting) and offers AptX streaming for devices that support the feature. AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth audio sound better, although it's debatable how much of an impact it has on sound quality.
Back in the days when the 30-pin adapter ruled the roost, Fluance made an iPod/iPhone speaker dock called the FiSDK500 . That model had a "two-way" driver design with 0.6-inch (15mm) soft dome tweeters mounted in the center of 5-inch (127mm) woven fiberglass woofers. That same "two-way" design, which is usually found in higher-end speakers, returns in Fi50.
As I said, it sounds really good for a Bluetooth speaker. It's able to produce a lot of sound with good detail and deep bass without distorting. It also sounds relatively natural for a Bluetooth speaker.
It's not totally fair to compare it to such compact stalwarts as the UE Boom , Bose SoundLink Mini II , JBL Charge 2+ , or even the larger Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III and UE Megaboom , all of which are excellent portable Bluetooth speakers than are powered by internal rechargeable batteries and are designed for mobility.
Those types of speakers tend to compress your music as you drive them harder and while they do their best to keep from distorting, you do get some distortion. By contrast, the Fi50 -- which doesn't have to worry about battery life -- doesn't get strained when you crank up the volume. Ok, maybe a little when you take it up to 9 or 10, but none of these Bluetooth speakers are perfect.
The Fi50 is at least two to three times the size of most portable Bluetooth speakers and has a more powerful amplifier. It just plays a lot bigger than those more compact models and offers fuller, richer sound and comes across as a larger speaker. In fact, it plays loud enough to power a small party in a medium sized room.
The only drawback is that you just don't get the stereo separation and wide soundstage that you get from a pair of more expensive separate Bluetooth bookshelf speakers. We put it up against the Ruark Mr1 system (it features two separate Bluetooth speakers), and while the Fluance could play as loud as Ruark, it just didn't sound quite as good. The Ruark was a little cleaner, slightly more natural sounding and offered that stereo separation that was lacking in the Fluance.
All that said, the Ruark costs $500 USD and the Fluance is $200.
If you're looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker, this isn't it. However, if you're looking for a Bluetooth speaker that delivers the best sound for the money, the Fi50 is hard to beat. While it costs $50 more than the Fi30, you're getting a significantly improved sounding speaker that adds an LED display, touch controls, and an equalizer. It's definitely worth the extra dough.