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Fluance Fi50 review: A premium-sounding Bluetooth speaker for an affordable price

Performance

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.

Close up of the touch controls on top of the speaker. Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Conclusion

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.

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