Way back in 1999 two companies that would loom large in CNET's test labs got their start: Aperion Audio and Fluance. While Aperion has stayed on its home theater path over the last couple decades, Fluance has branched out to devices such as the RT82 turntable, winner of our Editors' Choice award. The company is on a real tear, and the XL8F floor-standing speaker is the latest example.
The XL8 range is a cost-effective home theater speaker range incorporating rears, centers and bookshelves, led by these impressive floor-standers. The fit and finish of the XL8F is luxurious for $600 (£600) a pair, and its pure size is unmatched by other speakers at its level. The sound of the XL8F is open and thrilling, but never shrill, and when fed a movie soundtrack these speakers simply zing. They're no slouch with music either.
The XL8 offers much better value than Fluance's flagship $800 Signature series and a better design too. The sound is also better balanced than what I recall from the Signature range.
The Fluance XL8F is a modern three-way floor-stander but it presents as a 2.5-way, with a bass driver hidden in the base. The Fluance has two, 6.5-inch glass-fiber drivers separated by a 1-inch fabric tweeter (called a D'Appolito configuration, named after the designer who perfected the arrangement, Joseph D'Appolito). I did find that one of the mid driver's dust caps looked a little rough when viewed up close -- they're all constructed from a piece of glass fiber, and this one wasn't glued on square. But from the couch I couldn't really tell.
Elsewhere the finish is exemplary, and I prefer the design to the awkward Signature series with its tiny, yellow midrange driver at the top. The XL8F towers are quite tall at 46 inches high, only 1.5 inches shorter than the monster Signature. They're deep, too, in order to accommodate that bottom-mounted 8-inch bass driver.
The speaker cabinet tapers at the back, to reduce internal reflections, and culminates in two rear bass ports (so it works better if you leave a few feet distance from the wall). The front baffle features a piano-black finish in a choice of either black ash or walnut for the sides.
The fixtures are just as luxurious as the rest of the speaker, starting with a magnetically attaching grille. The gold plated binding posts are solid-looking and there are two sets in case you want to experiment with bi-wiring or bi-amping.
The speakers are rated at a 87dB sensitivity, meaning they could be driven by most receivers or amps, and are capable of a 35Hz-25KHz frequency response.
While no-one is really auditioning speakers in stores at the moment, the company helpfully offers a 30-day money back trial on speakers bought via its website.
As I expect from a speaker with a bottom-firing bass driver, the Fluance has a big, bold sound, but it's also capable of subtlety I didn't expect. That midrange-tweeter-midrange arrangement is able to reproduce plenty of detail in music and movies, with a generously open character. I compared the speaker to my go-to reference speaker, the $900 Q Acoustics 3050i and found that the Fluance sounded better in several key areas, especially when it came to watching films.
The Fluance XL8F's combination of deep bass and a revealing midrange made it a perfect partner for the lobby scene from The Matrix. This scene mixes balletic slow-mo, ricocheting bullet sound effects and a pumping electro score, and the Fluance welded them together in a satisfying way. Though the Q Acoustics was able to handle the low-end portion better, the Fluance delivered the shout of "Freeze" and its echoing tail in a more revealing fashion.
Watching Avatar, the Fluance demonstrated its keen ear with the lush rainforests of Pandora. During the Thanator chase scene the click of Jake's machine gun was more jarring when he realized the Thanator wanted a cat-person meal instead of the elephant-like Hammerhead Titanothere. The sound of the chase was simply more visceral when heard on the Fluance than its counterpart. In comparison, the Q Acoustics were a little more inert, more bass-focused and slightly less exciting overall.
When it came to music the two were close, but the Q Acoustics' more laid-back quality and top-to-bottom consistency gave it a slight edge. I listened to everything from Claude Debussy's nocturnes to jazz to rock music, and found that the Fluance's talents lay in music with plenty of detail. The XL8F can really give you a vivid sense of the performance space and make the speakers themselves disappear -- as long as things don't get too loose.
For example, the opening moments of Phoebe Bridgers' Know The End gave me goosebumps when heard via the Fluance, and this continued as the chorused electric guitar slithered around behind the singer. At 2:45 the bass drum that propels the second half of the song was deep and pulsing. Only when the song got really chaotic did the details become a wash.
Surprisingly the Q Acoustics presented a different song, and one which was ultimately much more satisfying. The song's intro guitars sounded bigger, and instead of staying in thrall they were thrust outwards into the listening space, enveloping me. When the song got hectic the speakers kept everything in focus better than the Fluence, and the 3050i's keen midrange on the chanted vocals and the enraged "rahhhhhh" were more finely expressed.
Yes, you can buy yourself a pretty killer soundbar for $600, but there's no way it could match the Fluance XL8F for either physical presence or the ability to reproduce a thundering movie soundtrack. There are few floor-standers that can do what the XL8F does -- marry crushing bass power with an open, detailed sound -- and none of them cost $600. The Q Acoustics 3050i is a more refined speaker, especially for music, but it costs $350 more and it isn't as well-designed. The Fluance XL8F offers an exceptional value and if your budget is under a grand, and you have the room, these speakers should be at the top of your audition list.