Peripheral Matters: Fluance Ai-40W 2-way Bookshelf Speakers with 70W Pre-amp [Review w/VIDEO!!!]
Fluance is a Canadian company, headquartered near Niagara Falls. Their products tend to target the mid-tier market in terms of product cost, coming in with speaker sets that exceed the cost of the average similar-to Edifier speaker set, but less than the Vanatoo’s and Bose's of the world. Their products carry a two-year warranty on most equipment, but their passive speakers carry a lifetime warranty. As a competitive differentiator, the company offers a 30 day free in-home trial, with free shipping and free returns in the event that you decide you don't like their product. Right now, they are offering a free sub-woofer with the purchase of certain sets of their Signature Speaker line. You casn check out my initial hardware impressions here:
I procured a set of their Ai40W bookshelf speakers back in August and have been living with them in active use for the last two months. This SKU is relatively new, having been released in April 2018. They have been connected to my backup gaming rig, and have received extensive use for playing movies, music, and games. Before we get into the review, let's cover the tale of the tape.
The Ai-40W's are two-way speakers, measuring 5 inches and containing a 70W Class-D amp. They only have RCA jacks for connectivity, which is almost a show-stopper. To compensate, they include Bluetooth connectivity. Which is a good thing, because it is the connection that provided the best sound reproduction for music, for some reason. However, I figure that most people will listen to these over an analog connection, so most of my comments on audio quality will be in that use-case. It is a matter that highlights the fact that, at $199 for this set of speakers, you do not get an optical connection, while some Edifier speakers that are less expensive, include one.
The speakers come in three colors. I got the Lucky Bamboo cabinets, but there are also Black Ash and Natural Walnut. I was impressed with both the size and the construction of the wood cabinets. They are not as nice as my Vanatoo's; they look and feel a bit particle boardish in comparison. But that's in comparison to a much more expensive pair of speakers. Regardless, I like the variety available in the product line. I especially appreciate the aesthetic affect of the white front panels on the set I bought. The whole kit comes with a remote control, power supply, speaker wire, and analog audio cables with RCA connectors.
The front panel has one control knob for turning on power and controlling the volume. The indicator light next to the master button shows what state the speakers are in; analog, Bluetooth, or powered off. On the back of the cabinet, there isn't anything but hookups for RCA speaker cables, connections for the speaker wire, and the power connector. The master knob is not graduated and has no tic-marks, so you’re never really certain what level it is set at. Similarly, on the remote, there are controls for Bass and Treble, but no visual clue for you to tell whether they are at a 5 and 6, both at a 3, or some other settings? Who knows.
In audio tests, I found the Fluance Ai40W's to be competent speakers, exceedingly so in some cases, but not all. In the realm of gaming and movies, the Ai-40Ws perform well. In music, you're going to need to fiddle with knobs to get everything the way that you want it. Bass can sometimes be overpowering and muddy, especially when playing music. I found myself often tweaking a setting or two to get the best performance out of these speakers. They seemed a bit fickle at times, and required a lot more fiddling than another set of speakers might.
In games, I absolutely felt like I was getting my money's worth. I put in some time on Destiny 2. Every round fired, every ship's engine sound...the guttural sounds of the Cabal's language...all seemed perfect.
For the movie test, I played "The Matrix", 1999, starting with the office building lobby invasion scene and watching through the helicopter rescue mission. Man, when the helo goes into that building across the street and you get the BIG explosion...that scene alone is almost enough to make the Fluance Ai40W worth the price of admission.
Linkin Park's "What I've Done" initially sounded muddy and washed out. But making some adjustments in my soundcard settled it into an output more to my liking. Santana's "Victory is Won", also sounded great once I set iTunes to the Acoustic equalizer profile. Overall, the speakers seem better tuned for audio quality in the mid to higher ranges, as string instruments and soprano and alto vocals sound the best overall, in terms of spectrum. "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" by Zayn and Taylor Swift really shows off the speakers' range. Good bottom end, although here is where there is sometimes a periodic dip into the threshold of muddiness. But the piano riffs were solid and Zayn's vocals benefited from the almost stadium-like effect the tweeters render.
Bluetooth pairing was simple to set up. Turn the speakers to Bluetooth mode with the remote and look for them in your device's Bluetooth menu; the speakers appear to automatically then go into pairing mode. Audio quality in this mode was superb. Honestly, the best of the other three use-cases I tested as far as clarity and crispness. "A Shot Across the Bow" by MayDay Parade, sounded remarkable over Bluetooth, as well as pretty much anything else that my phone threw at it.
The Fluance Ai40W's are a good quality piece of kit. Are they worth $199? I would say if your expected usage mirrors the use-cases above where I said the speakers worked well. Gamers and Movie buffs will be more than pleased with this purchase. BIG Music listeners and especially the snobbish type, the audiophiles, may find more warts than even I did with my look. The big issue with the so-so performance over analog connections for music, is that the Ai40W does not have any other connections available. Of course, if your motif is to connect your phone, tablet, or other device to a set of speakers via BlueTooth, then you may get more mileage out of these than my review score reflects.
The Fluance Ai40W's get a "Maybe" from me as far as my final takeaway. I know that there are tons of users out there that reflect the gamer / movies-first kind of geek and they can deal with a bit less fidelity on the music side. For them, the Ai-40Ws might just be exactly what they need.