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There is one type of loudspeaker that I just keep coming back to and that is a good old fashioned two way bookshelf loudspeaker. Just like the loudspeaker that set me off on my journey, today’s review is all about an affordable two-way aimed at the budding enthusiast. So prepare yourself because we’re reviewing the Fluance XL8S reference series bookshelf loudspeakers.
The XL8S is part of the brand’s newly redesigned reference series loudspeakers which we have covered on this blog and the reference series sits between their now ageing Signature Series and their entry level Elite Series.
How do the XL8S FLUANCE REFERENCE SPEAKERS LOOK?
The complete Fluance home theatre system usually consists of a tower speaker, a matching centre bipolar surround and of course the XL8S bookshelf loudspeaker we are reviewing today. This high performance has a two way design that utilizes a one inch soap dome tweeter and a five and a quarter inch woven fiberglass mid bass driver.
Now it has a reported frequency response of 50 to 20 kilohertz which puts it in the category of requiring a subwoofer for true full range play. Sure it is a good looking loudspeaker; especially in its natural walnut finish but the natural one is not a real wood veneer; it is a wrap, but from normal distances, it does the job.
It has magnetic grilles which is a very nice touch especially at this price point but the magnetic grilles cover up the vast majority of the speaker’s front baffle; which is finished in a very high gloss black paint scheme and is carried over from the towers. I am a bit torn on whether or not I like this look.
I think I would have preferred the walnut to carry all the way over to the front baffle or at least for the black to be knocked back to matte black to cut down on fingerprints, but for what it is, it does dress up an otherwise visually subdued loudspeaker.
We have had these speakers for a while now. Originally using them as the surround channels for our reference series tower, but I felt that there was more to the reference series story. So i hang on to the bookshelves for a while and in that time, we have demoed this loudspeaker with a wide range of electronics; everything from the Naim Uniti Atom, Yamaha S1200, MUSICAL Fidelity m5si as well as the budget friendly Sony receivers.
As far as components, we have also run the gamut from the ultra high end in the Altair G1 Auralic streamer to the more affordable Google Chromecast with Google TV. Now this is not a full range loudspeaker, so of course it needs a subwoofer and we relied on either the Rel Tzero MKIII, or the Sundown audio 10”.
What You Should Not Expect From The XL8S
Let us start by discussing what these speakers are not, and that is a full range loudspeaker. They have virtually no bass to speak of and pretty much any environment, save for maybe small rooms or at really low volumes. Anything apart from that and you are gonna want to budget for a subwoofer. However, you do not need a big subwoofer for these loudspeakers.
Which Subwoofer Should You Pair These Bookshelf Speakers With?
I quite liked them with the very compact REL Tzero MKIII. Now the REL did not make the Fluance full range, but the tube blended together so beautifully that the bookshelf started to sound like a modest tower speaker. The reference series is sorely lacking the XL8F tower speakers which are great; especially if you love bass, but they can quickly become overwhelming both visually and sonically in small to medium sized rooms.
Their bass can just become overpowering. Coupled with the fact you can’t tune or turn down their included subwoofers, it leaves you with a speaker that’s just not going to sound its best in a wide range of rooms. Conversely, the Fluance bookshelf loudspeakers lack enough bass on their own to satisfy a lot of music genres; nevermind home theatre, and this is where the Tzero comes in as I really feel it bridges the gap that is missing in the reference series line.
The Tzero has all of the speed and articulation necessary to keep up with the bookshelves that have excellent detail retrieval without overwhelming it or colouring it with muddy bass. Sure, if you want more bass, you are going to have to step up to a beefier subwoofer. But be careful not to trade ultimate bass extension and otherwise upset top to bottom coherence if you do.
With the bass out of the way, let us talk about what the Fluance excel at and that is detail. For speakers retailing for less than $200 a pair, the Fluance are an embarrassment of riches. They mildly lean on their own but are able to be brought closer to neutral with a subwoofer virtually.
They sounded incorrect in their neutral setting with a virtual sub. Look, let’s be real for a second, the delta between high end and entry level components, especially with respect to loudspeakers is shrinking by the minute. Sure, I am not gonna deny that more money buys you better materials, better looking design and more control at the extremes, but you have to understand, we are talking about extremes; which for the vast majority of people are never going to reach.
They just never will either because they have space or financial constraints, or they just don’t care to. And because you don’t care to does not mean that you don’t care about good sound, you just may not require your speakers to be able to recreate a pipe organ at 120 Db without distortion. If this sounds like you, then a loudspeaker like the XL8s might be a better fit.
For weeks I’ve enjoyed these small bookshelf loudspeakers and never once did I think about changing them out for something else. Even when I stepped up our electronics to a more high end affair, these speakers just never felt like the weak link. If anything, each improvement in our associated equipment was met with an equal reaction from the speakers themselves, always positive.
The good news is that they do not require high end gear to sound their best, and they are as enjoyable through a budget Sony av receiver as they are through a more expensive Yamaha S 1200. It all comes down to the speaker’s strengths and the Fluance is capable of tremendous feats of detail; backing vocals, subtle harmonies, even the trailing edges of notes themselves are just more pronounced through this speaker than through others, especially cheaper options.
And this may come down to the tweeter having just a little bit more energy or top end zip but it’s not a forward sound, especially if you pair the speaker with a subwoofer. So, mildly lean, Yes, but not forward. The Fluance’s attention to detail carries over to its soundstage, the speaker not only disappears orally but casts a wide and vast soundstage that is frankly embarrassing. Though I will admit that the detail found within that soundstage is a little bit associated equipment dependent.
For example, when paired with budget Sony electronics, I was treated to all of the width and depth that I could ask for, complete with good centre imaging. Its just that the delineation within that soundstage was a little bit soft or blurry in direct comparison to what I heard through the Yamaha S1200, where every instrument, every performer stood in stark contrast to one another.
The good news is that through either system, I never felt as if my enjoyment was diminished. One area where the Fluances aren’t the best is dynamics. These are not explosive loudspeakers. They lack that lightning quick response that some music and movies require but they do get close and that makes them just a little more forgiving.
But you do have to turn things up a bit to get these speakers to come to life and this has to be the fault of their less than sensitive rating at 85 Db which isn’t uncommon among more inexpensive loudspeakers though. Admittedly, I am still shocked every time I see a sensitivity rating, like 85 db.
Still, no matter what I connected the bookshelf loudspeakers to, I was able to drive them to satisfying levels. It was just the volume that had to vary, but at moderate to everyday volumes, these speakers still managed to be engaging. Now there is no shortage of cheap two way bookshelf loudspeakers on the market right now. We have several in house that I directly compare the Fluance to starting with the Jamo S809.
It could come down to a coin toss which of these two loudspeakers I preferred as they are very evenly matched with the S809, which to me is the better looking loudspeaker though it is not a runaway victory.
Though the Jamo S809 does have that little bit of top in zip that does help with dynamics and music crescendos just hit with a little bit more authority. That said, this speaker has a little bit better upper mid bass weight, especially around where it crosses over with the tweeter. Both loudspeakers need a subwoofer without question as they both sound positively anaemic without one.
The Q Acoustics 3010I retail for a little bit more than the Fluance bookshelf loudspeakers but I do consider the two to be comparable based on their driver complement and specs. Build wise, the Q Acoustics are definitely putting that little extra money to good use as the material and construction is just better sound wise.
The Q’s are also a little bit more composed, a little bit more refined and do have, well, they feel like they have more bass which is surprising because their reported frequency response isn’t as good as the Fluance. Now this may come down to the fact that the Q’s have a rear facing port which in my room just loads bass differently than the front facing port found on the Fluance or Jamos.
Either way, there was a notable difference between the Q’s and the Fluance and I just happen to prefer the Q’s. And like the Fluance, I do think that the Q Acoustic bookshelf speakers are better than their tower counterparts. The XL8S are fantastic and in my opinion they are better than their larger tower brothers in every respect, save for the bass output and dynamics. But like I said earlier in this review, the tower speakers aren’t going to be good for every person or room and that makes the reference bookshelf loudspeakers the better all rounder.
The problem with the phrase, “all rounders” is that it implies a certain concession; and there just simply aren’t any to be made here because the Fluance reference bookshelf loudspeakers are great, and not just good for the money, great, but truly great. These speakers are going to end up being someone’s entry point into this hobby, the same way the mini monitors from paradigm, were mine. Only that person is going to enjoy arguably better performance at a lower cost.
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