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At the budget end of the A/V spectrum, Canadian company Fluance has been making its name as a high-quality speaker manufacturer since the turn of the century. After a run of seriously impressive Bluetooth speakers, the company is spreading its design wings and gliding from entry-level up into enthusiast territory with its new Signature Series floorstanders.
The Signature Series Hi-Fi Three-Way Floorstanding Speakers are available separately for $799 or as part of a 5.0 system (with surrounds and a center channel, but no subwoofer) for $999.
We first encountered the Signature Series in February 2016 and were unimpressed with what we heard. While movie sound was fine, the speakers couldn't attempt any kind of music at all. We scored them a 6.6 out of 10. But it appears the company has made some tweaks, and while the outward design appears identical, we're happy to say the wait has been worth it.
The floorstanders' main strength remains the sizable 8-inch drivers, which virtually do away with the need for a separate subwoofer. But the midrange has now had the upgrade the speakers deserved. Music is expressive, wide-open and has a dynamic heft it lacked before.
While the Fluance's main attraction is their overwhelming size and astonishing looks, the designers have tried to ensure that the speakers now sound every bit their $800. To the designer's credit, we can say they've been quite successful.
Meanwhile, Fluance representatives have informed us if customers who bought their speakers in 2016 have an issue they should contact Fluance to discuss replacement (with potential shipping costs covered).
Editors' note: This review has been updated to reflect the new version of the speakers available as of September 2016. The rating has been raised to account for the improved sound.
It seems Fluance is participating in an arms race to create the biggest speakers possible, a race in which it is the only participant. The company's previous flagship, the Fluance XL7F, was a stupendously large speaker. We said at the time that it dwarfed the others before it.
Well, imagine a school bus being swallowed by a sperm whale and you get an idea of how big the new Signature Series is. At 4 feet tall, they could be the largest consumer speakers we'll ever see in the CNET audio lab.
And heavy. At 62.4 pounds per speaker, you'll definitely need help from a friend to set them up.
The Fluance is a three-way speaker with a 1-inch silk dome tweeter and a 5-inch yellow glass fiber driver, which looks smaller than it is thanks to the enormous dual 8-inch bass woofers it sits above.
The crossover network seems to have had some attention this time around, for while the original points were set at (an insanely high) 1.2kHz and 2.3kHz to the tweeter, the blend is much more natural.
In its piano-black finish, the speaker is undoubtedly Fluance's most attractive speaker to date. Although it lacks grilles, it also lacks the proliferation of fasteners on the front panel of its predecessor, for a cleaner look. We also like the luxurious touches, such as the angled cabinet and the substantial speaker terminals.
Due to their immense size and weight these speakers are difficult to handle, and attaching the floor spikes is also fraught with peril. The speakers come with eight "spikes" and four metal brackets, but sadly, there are no instructions on how to attach them. Trial and error is your only recourse. After that ordeal, we found that toeing the speakers in toward the listening position and setting them a few feet from walls gave the best sound. We used an Onkyo TX-SR646 receiver (in stereo mode), in conjunction with an Oppo BD-P105 Blu-ray player for our home-theater testing. In order to gauge the speaker's low-end performance, we opted to forgo a subwoofer. For music tests, we ran Roon on a laptop connected (via USB cable) to our reference Rotel RA-1592 amplifier.
Starting our tests with movies, "Mad Max: Fury Road" was propelled out of the Fluance speakers with an urgent, guttural roar. As the movie opens you hear the voices of the ones Max could not save, and the Fluance makes it seem they are coming from within your head. The slam of the car door and the "riiiip" of the Interceptor's engine is also more felt than heard.
Despite their smaller stature, the ELAC F5's managed to capture most of the excitement of the opening scene, and also managed to steer the sound effects better than the Fluance did. The ELAC made sure voices came from specific places in the soundstage and not just from somewhere above the screen. On the other hand, the ELAC wasn't able to go as low as the Fluance, and while it was able to give a sense of the soundtrack's slam, you would probably need to pair it with a subwoofer to get the most out of action movies.
Next up was the Thanator chase scene from "Avatar." On the Fluance, we found there was more of a kick from the Helicoradians (shell trees) as Jake touched each one, sending it spiraling back down into its base. The Fluance also brought out the thump of the large pack animals' footfalls and elicited a real guttural roar from the Thanator itself. In comparison, the ELAC was almost as good, but the forest just seemed more alive with the Fluances.
I was very unimpressed with the original version's musical performance, and especially its efforts in reproducing guitars -- I thought it made The Stokes' "Last Night" sound like it was being squeezed through a car crusher. Happily, there was a lack of hydraulic impediments this time around.
The first thing I did to confirm this was turn to guitars, lots of bristly, gnarly, spiky guitars. And lo, it was good. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name." Zack De La Rocha's voice had a real shape to it with the Fluance, revealing some of the vocal booth's natural echo. And the speakers weren't at all stretched by the song's stop-start dynamics -- even at volume.
It was only when switching to another nu-metal classic, System of a Down's "Bounce," that the speakers revealed some of their flaws. While the speaker is great at producing bass thanks to those 8-inch woofers, it can be a little behind the rest of the music when things get hectic. The "chugga-chugga" of the track's guitars were a little smeared and slow, especially when compared to a more composed speaker such as the smaller PSB X2T.
Similarly the bass in the jazz standard "So What" by Miles Davis was a little behind the rest of the band when the trumpet and sax came in. The PSB was able to deliver all the disparate elements at the same time.
Where the Fluance shone, though, was in intelligibility and open-ness. Big songs sounded even bigger, and male voices sounded especially expressive and natural. And this helped every type of music we played though these speakers.
As long as dialogue is intelligible, most speakers can play movies, but surprisingly few do well with both music and movies. With the company's tweaks, the Fluance are able to deliver exciting soundtracks with real low-end punch as well as music that sounds like music.
If you want speakers that can go from playing Tchaikovsky to blowing away the Covenant in Halo without blinking, the Fluance Signature. is finally able to achieve that. It may not be perfect, with a lack of high-end refinement and slight bass mushiness holding it back, but it is finally the speaker it should always have been.