An online Canadian company that has a wide array of budget-conscious products to offer. I had previously reviewed a few of their products including the larger sibling to the Ai40, the Ai60. I loved it and had a hard time parting ways with it. The Ai40 carries much of the same DNA of the larger model and, though smaller, its construction and capabilities are largely the same in this nicely scaled-down version. Fluance once again offers an elegantly styled speaker for a modest price.
There are many more powered speakers on the market than there were previously for consumers to choose from. Granted producers have always had a pair or two on hand for recording purposes, everyday audio enthusiasts have largely gone down the route of a stack of components and a pair of passive speakers. In recent times most consumers have picked up a Bluetooth speaker or soundbar for their listening and while some sound pretty good, it is still listening with a compromise.
Musicians have more than likely owned a pair of studio monitors and powered speakers for the home are becoming much more common as of late. And with good reason, the guesswork of which amplifier to pair with your speakers is removed from the equation. Add to that, the manufacturer has control over the signal path and optimizing it for the drive units. Additionally, the mess of wires connecting the amplifier to the speakers is all but gone. Powered speakers are normally relegated to recording studios or on top of desktops acting as computer speakers. With mobile devices as the sole source for many people, convenience has taken priority and single box Bluetooth speakers have become more commonplace. So, this move towards powered speakers to me is a very logical, happy medium if not a nice step up for HiFi.
Fluance Ai40 Powered Bookshelf Speakers
- 2 Way – 2 Driver Powered Speaker
- 1 Inch Silk Dome Ferrofluid Cooled Tweeter
- 5 Inch Woven, Glass Fiber Composite Drivers with Butyl Rubber Surrounds
- Integrated Class D amplification, 70 Watts Per Channel of Continuous Average Output (2×35 Watts)
- Bluetooth aptX and RCA inputs
This is my fifth go around with Fluance and the Ai40 is yet another wonderful addition to their lineup. An MSRP of US$199, begs a closer inquiry. Does it sound as good as the marketing material suggests? Will it knock my socks off?
The Fluance Ai40 Powered Bookshelf is priced to appeal to consumers who would normally not consider a pair of dedicated speakers for budgetary reasons, space constraints or, to those just looking for a step-up in audio quality. For their part, Fluance doesn’t make any claims to the Ai40 monitor being audiophile reference, and it would be unjust to judge them by that standard. Fluance does, however, tout the simplicity of use, and ‘effortless music enjoyment’ that can be had. So, simplicity and a fun, lively sound are the barometers of this review.
I took on this review in the middle of the summer of 2019. Which meant I was going to be spending a fair amount of time at my cottage. And while I love escaping the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto to the quiet serenity of the countryside, I do end up missing having a dedicated speaker set-up on hand. We Airbnb our cottage as it’s located in wine country, so I generally wouldn’t dare leave any serious hi-fi gear unattended and hope that it doesn’t get abused. So all we have up there is a Bose Soundlink which just gets the job done but doesn’t blow your hair back or even fills the room in a way that I would like, so I decided that I would bring the Fluance Ai40 out to wine country and give them a listen. Better still, the Fluance Ai40 arrived tightly packed into a reasonably small box that was able to snugly fit in our already overstuffed Q5 which was carrying two adults, two children (and car seats), two dogs, a stroller, food, two duffels, toys and more.
2 Way – 2 Driver Powered Bookshelf Speaker System with Integrated Amplifier (Pair – 1x Active 1x Passive)
Yes; aptX Codec
1-inch Silk Soft Dome Ferrofluid Cooled
5 inches Woven, Glass Fiber Composite Drivers with Butyl Rubber Surrounds
Class D 70 Watts Continuous Average Output (2x 35 watts)
40Hz – 20KHz (DSP Virtual Sound)
2600Hz Phase Coherent – PCB Mounted Circuitry
TOTAL HARMONIC DISTORTION:
Input: 100-240V; Output: 24V 3.0A
Acoustic Suspension Design
DIMENSIONS (H x W x D):
10.9 x 6.5 x 7.6 inch
fluance, active, monitor, powered, bookshelf, speaker, Bookshelf Speaker Review 2019
The Ai40 is available in all Black and Walnut (both which have black faceplates) and Lucky Bamboo (which has a white faceplate). I was smitten with the looks of the Lucky Bamboo variant I received when reviewing the Ai60. This time however I was sent the Black variant. The build quality is really good, but it doesn’t feel as premium as does the Lucky Bamboo. The speaker boxes measure 10.9” H x 6.5” W x 7.6” D and have curved cabinet edges. The cabinets are engineered MDF and are sealed enclosures with an acoustic suspension design. The black 5” woven, glass fiber driver is housed in Butyl rubber surrounds, while the soft dome tweeter is surrounded by a waveguide for a better off-axis response. The Fluance Ai40 is powered by a 70-watt Class D amplifier and claims a frequency range of 30Hz to 20KHz and via DSP (Digital Signal Processing) Virtual Sound.
Included in the smallish box is a remote control supplied with 2-AAA batteries, a 100-240V Power Adapter, 8ft of 18 Gauge Speaker Wire, a 3ft 3.5mm Aux to RCA Cable, a Quick Start Guide, the Fluance product catalog and a 2 Year Manufacturer’s Warranty.
Just like the Ai60, the right speaker is active, and the left is passive. The right speaker is the one that houses the connections. Starting from the top, You’ll find a Bluetooth pairing button, then an RCA input, speaker terminals, and lastly Power in. That’s it. The back of the left speaker just has speaker terminals. On the front of the right speaker, you’ll find an infrared port for the supplied remote and a knob that switches input sources and when pressed turns the speakers on and off. An LED light indicates by color which mode you’re in. To mitigate any confusion as to what setting you’re in, the Ai40 arrives with a small removable sticker on the right speaker that indicates which mode corresponds to which color. The modes are further detailed in the Quick Start Guide.
The supplied remote is simple to use and nice to have, and all of the essentials are on hand; power, mute, volume, track forward and back, source, and play/pause, LED brightness setting, and dedicated treble and bass tone controls! The default tone settings are flat, but you can tweak by +/- 6.
Set up is just so easy. Connect the supplied 18-gauge speaker wire to the terminals on the back of each speaker, plug in the power adapter and then choose your source. You have two options with RCA or Bluetooth. Most, I would assume would connect via Bluetooth and that was my first go-to. Pairing is easy as well. Set the Ai40 to Bluetooth, press the pairing button on the back of the speaker, and find the Ai40 on your smartphone or source device and you’re up and running. The Fluance Ai40 is aptX compatible and therefore you can enjoy 16 bit/44.kHz audio at 352kbps. Bluetooth paired instantly from my iPhone 8. I didn’t use the RCA hook up at the cottage, but I did once I was back in the city. More on that below.
I had the Ai40 placed on a mantle above our couch in the living room. Although that places them above ear level, the Ai40 was well placed to fill the living room with sound but my wife had reservations for their aesthetic placement. She felt these black speakers stood out against the all-white walls and the power cord dangling down the wall just wasn’t working for her. So, the next best place for them was in the kitchen, on the counter, on either side of the sink. They all but disappeared on the dark grey countertop. And there, they sat for the remainder of the stay. Fortunately, the kitchen opens up to the entire main floor and the speakers at counter height are just above ear level.
Fluance’s recommended break-in period is 10-12 hours of play at a moderate volume and I did my best to give them some warm-in time. We unpacked and got situated, settled in and did some cooking while we casually listened to a Bluenote Spotify playlist. At moderate volumes without breaking them in they were lively, wonderfully neutral, well-balanced speakers. I knew I was in for a treat as we listened on in the coming days.
These rock! They really do. Like their larger siblings, the Fluance Ai40 is a great neutral sounding speaker. But on day two of our cottage trip we had them cranked up, I think I might be as smitten with these as I am with the Ai60. I’m a bit of a bass fiend but I didn’t find myself reaching for the remote to tweak the sound straight away. It might have been because I was aware of the sonic limitations of a sealed enclosure and had curbed my expectations. In any case, when we decided to crank up the Fluance Ai40 to party levels we did find ourselves adding a bit of bass and notching up the treble a touch.
When played loud, we were able to sit outside on our porch approximately 18 ft away and hear the music clearly as we sipped glasses of Pinot Noir and watched the sunset (I’m bragging a little). The ability to play loud is partly due to a subtle compression that Fluance has to the sound of Ai40 to aid the sealed enclosure design so that you can turn up the volume without worry that you’ll damage the drivers. Much like the Fluance Ai60, the soft sounds are louder, and loud sounds are quieter. Again, this is no reference monitor, so this compression is a thoughtful consideration.
Fleetwood Mac “Dreams”
This is our new favorite cottage track. For some reason, it just suits our place. It’s a favorite of my wife April and reminds her of childhood and long drives in the car with her father. I’ll admit to not knowing anything about Fleetwood Mac, but as one of my favorite radio hosts used to say, ‘If you haven’t heard it before, then it’s new to you!’ And to me, it’s a summer old. The drums and bass at the beginning of the track encouraged us to punch up the bass a few steps via the remote to help fill in the lower regions.
Mr. Fingers “Can You Feel It”
This is in the top ten for me. It never gets old. The kick bass and synths are prominent and a stripped-back track like this shine on the Ai40. It’s another one of those tunes that begs to be turned up and I happily obliged. Even my daughter Winnie approved and joined me dancing around the living room.
T>I “Minimal Genocide”
So How does Jump up Drum and Bass fare on these little speakers? Surprisingly well! This track was mixed to be aggressively loud and quite frankly is the kind of tune that needs to be played obnoxiously loud. I did so when the kids were playing outside to not damage their hearing. The Ai40 handles the track well. I found myself turning the bass up 4 steps and the treble up 1 step and decreasing the volume slightly. The sub-bass rumbled through and dipped out every so often which made me miss not having a subwoofer, and the ability to connect one. But this was to be expected for a pair of 5’ woofers.
Once I brought the Fluance Ai40 home I connected them to my Rane mixer and tried out some vinyl to get a gauge of how the RCA connection fares. As I noted in my review of the Ai60, there is an audible hiss coming through the speakers. And the same goes for the Ai40. This is somewhat par for the course for budget powered speakers. Depending on the source, it is more audible if you’re paying attention to it. I do notice it more with the RCA connection and the hiss does get louder as you increase source volume. You can mitigate the hiss by lowering the source volume and increasing the speaker volume.
Jaime XX “Gosh”
The ‘Gosh’ is a few years old now but I still like it. The sub at the beginning dips out a fair bit but not so much that it ruins the impact of the tune. I added +4 on the bass and +2 on the treble via the remote and restarted the song. The added bass added some weight and the treble helped open up the midrange. I kept this setting for future tracks. All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised.
The FLUANCE AI40 BOOKSHELF SPEAKERS retail for US$199. At this price, they’re a steal and worth considering. If you’re looking for a simple set up, with great sound for less than you would shell out for a smartphone. You really can’t go wrong here. Add to that the fact that Fluance tacks on a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty and lifetime support, you might as well head on over to their site and make a purchase.
- Beautiful fit and finish (especially if you nab the Lucky Bamboo version)
- Nice neutral soundstage and bass and treble tone controls
- Their sound can easily fill a room!
- A Subwoofer output would be nice to have
These are special speakers.