Fluance Ai61 Powered Bookshelf Speaker
- 120 Watts Class D
- USB-C input
- Bass Reflex Port (Yes!!!!!)
- Bluetooth 5.0
To say that I was looking forward to this review is an understatement. Fluance has updated their Ai Series Powered Bookshelf Speakers, the Ai41, and Ai61. I got to review the larger of the two, the Ai61. I looked forward to it as I own the original Ai60 which sits pretty on the media unit at our cottage. Fluance hailed it as the best speaker for any occasion and this statement holds true. I own the original Ai60 and keep it at our cottage so we can have great sound there. Our cottage is awkwardly shaped and there isn’t a great place to have a two-channel setup. But the Ai60 works well in our space. Being an active speaker, the Ai60 negates the need for an outboard amp and keeps the TV area relatively clutter-free. I sometimes bring them upstairs and place them on opposite ends of our kitchen counter. It’s served us well having great sound at the cottage as my family has gotten quite used to having better sound for music, TV, and movies at home. There are a good variety of powered speakers on the market and Fluance has managed to enter the segment at a much lower cost than the competition but with a whole lot of speaker.
This being an audiophile-centric readership. It bears mentioning that I wouldn’t class this as a “purists reference speaker”. It’s a great speaker mind you, but it’s an all-rounder. The type that you can set up and forget and just enjoy whatever it is that you’re listening to.
Tuned Rear Port Bass Reflex Design Dampened
2 Way – 2 Driver Bookshelf Speaker System with Integrated Amplifier (Pair)
1 inch Silk Soft Dome Neodymium Ferrofluid Cooled
6.5 inch Woven, Glass Fiber Composite Drivers with Butyl Rubber Surrounds
Class D 120 Watts Continuous
60 watts RMS per channel
32Hz – 20kHz (DSP Enhanced)
2,800Hz Phase Coherent 12dB/Oct – PCB Mounted Circuitry
RCA L/R, Bluetooth & Optical, Toslink USB Type-C
80Hz Low-pass Frequency Cutoff
Pairs via Bluetooth with Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple TV
Total Harmonic Distortion (HTC):
<0.3% (THD+N 1%)
13.1 x 7.8 x 9.2 inches (HxWxD)
Active Speaker – 14.03lbs, Passive Speaker – 13.14lbs
Fluance Ai61 Powered Bookshelf Speaker Price:
2022 Bookshelf Speaker Review, fluance, ai60, powered speakers, bookshelf speakers, stand-mount speakers
The Ai61 is driven by an integrated 120-Watt Class D amplifier (up from 100 in the Ai60). The industrial design of the Ai series is largely unchanged. From the front, everything looks just as it did on the originals. It’s only when you look around back that you notice something different. Like the previous version, the right speaker is the control speaker where all of the connections are made. The port configuration has changed. Notably, there is now a power switch (to turn off the speaker entirely), and a USB-C input for playback of audio. Returning from the previous generation are the optical and RCA inputs, as well as the wireless Bluetooth subwoofer output. It has gained a much-appreciated 80Hz low-pass frequency cutoff making the connection to a subwoofer much easier. I used it in conjunction with my B&W 610 which is a 10″ sealed box type.
Up front not much has changed. It’s a good thing as I like the look of the Ai60. The multifunction knob is still there. It’s a rotary knob that allows source selection by a single press or adjusting the volume by turning it. Beside it is an infrared receiver lens to take controls from the remote. Fluance has great little remotes. They are small yet functional. You can control volume, mute, source, treble, and bass (+/- 5 clicks), pair Bluetooth, play, pause, skip forward or backward, and adjust the LED indicator on the front.
The tweeter is a familiar 1-inch silk dome with a 6.5-inch woofer. The crossover is at 2.8kHz. Fluance still claims a frequency range of 32Hz to 20kHz. Output is rated at 92dB with a 104dB Signal to Noise and <0.3% (THD+N 1%) distortion. The DSP handles EQ and helps with the speaker's overall output. It's a great-looking product. My review sample arrived in all black, it is pretty, but not my favorite colorway of the bunch. Lucky Bamboo stole my heart last time around and I still have a soft spot for it. When I do buy one, I'll be grabbing that colorway. Yeah, spoiler alert, I like these. I do wonder if Fluance will ever go the KEF route and introduce a colored face to these speakers. Hmmm.
I just have one nitpick and it’s specific to me and my family. The Ai61’s don’t come with a grill or anything to protect the drivers. My 3-year-old Milo loves to push in drivers. I have to keep a watchful eye on him and actively put the speakers up somewhere high so that he doesn’t get to them. And if he does, I have to gently vacuum out the drivers. Ugh.
But as I mentioned in my preview, what I was most excited about is the tuned bass port on the back of the speakers. Much hoopla was made when Fluance first released the Ai Series, specifically about the Ai60 and how they reach down to 35Hz. And while they do reach low it’s at the cost of the overall soundstage and output. Like, when I’m playing some drum and bass fairly loud and the bass kicks in, the overall volume drops down rather noticeably. It makes sense as the built-in DSP is protecting the drivers, but a port on the speaker would no doubt alleviate that. And adding a sub to the mix will only make for a more seriously engaging proposition.
I won’t bother comparing them to anything other than the previous generation Ai60’s. The Ai61’s are not passive bookshelf killers. If you are looking for a high-end audiophile wireless speaker upgrade, then look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a do-it-all workhorse that doesn’t break the bank, this is that speaker. Fluance does specify a run-in time of at least ten hours to make sure the butyl rubber surrounds are nice and warmed in to handle the musical onslaught that comes next. That’s fine by me. I like a good podcast while I work. Joe Rogan’s podcasts are about three hours long so three of them over the course of a week should suffice. Comparing these to the previous Ai60’s there is a marked bump in audio quality. The soundstage feels a bit more expansive. And there is good separation in the mix. The bass goes deep without the aid of a subwoofer.
It’s all about the drop. Well in this instance, the lack of one. In the previous generation when the bass kicked in the entire soundstage would just scale back. It was strange. But it forced me to not listen to a lot of Drum & Bass or bass-heavy music in general. This isn’t the case with the Ai61 because now when the bass drops, the volume does not.
I love Photek. And like a lot of his die-hard old school fans, it’s the earlier collection that warms your heart. Of note: Ni Ten Ichi Ryu, The End Remix, UFO, The Bleeps Tune/Something Else, Exocet, Special Forces, Aleph 1, and Single. I mean there’s more, but those are ones I always end up going back to. Photek’s productions are always top-notch and perfect for running through a new speaker when trying to gauge how it sounds; mainly because I know these songs so well and have heard them on everything from the smallest boombox (yep, those things) to deafening club systems. The Ai61’s do not disappoint. The soundstage is full, and the bottom end goes deep. The precision Photek-ness drum edits are clean and have lots of impact.
Continuing the trend of Drum and Bass…
Ordinarily, I use my Yamaha HS8 Studio Monitors as general listening monitors while working. Aside from being way too big for my space, I find them fatiguing to listen for hours on end. So, I took a shot at subbing in the Ai61’s in place of the HS8’s for my everyday work tasks for a while connecting them via USB-C. It turned out to be a great solution. While they aren’t near field per se, I wasn’t using them to mix so I was less concerned with being able to nitpick the accuracy of the presentation, but rather just enjoy it. On my desk, there was no need for a sub at all.
Where the Ai61 has found a great home is connected to our Peloton. My wife and I are trying to get into some semblance of a routine. On a good day, we get up make the kids breakfast and get them off to school in time. Then we get back in to check our emails, get a bit of work done, then take turns knocking out a 20-minute ride. On a really good day, I wake up exceptionally early, sneak downstairs undetected, and hop onto the Peloton for a solid ride, then hit the weights and get a nice calming stretch in. On these days I keep the Ai61’s at a low enough level as to not wake up the kiddos.
The Ai61’s sit on a low media stand about 20′ in front of the bike’s position. Not ideal by any circumstance, but it gets the job done. Thanks to Alex Touissant’s low-impact ride, I have Musiq’s classic Just be Friends in my head on the regular. What a tune, and a great way to start the day. With the volume fairly low, I can still get a good sense of the music. For some reason, the max volume from the Peloton via Bluetooth to the Ai61’s isn’t party-level loud. In a small room, this isn’t an issue as the vocal mix is much louder than the music and the instructors talk a lot. Almost too much for my liking. I wish they adjusted the mix so that the instructors didn’t overpower the music. Bluetooth isn’t always constrained to a small volume parameter mind you. Non-Peloton Bluetooth is all kinds of awesome.
Every so often I bring the Ai61’s over to my DJ set up and give them a listen there. I don’t listen to vinyl for any audiophile reason. I just love mixing via turntables. I find it cathartic. A good set is akin to meditation for me, there’s nothing like it. If I didn’t have so many speaker options, I would be perfectly happy with the Ai61’s as my sole speakers for my DJ Setup. It’s just so simple and clean.
Sound travels quite far in our new home. We haven’t filled it with rugs in every room just yet so when music is playing, it literally bounces around from room to room audibly. But holy crap are these great for movies! Every crash bang and wallop hits hard and has a serious impact. Even the contrasting quiet moments are clear, and I don’t find myself straining to hear subtle dialogue nor do I have to keep turning up and down the volume. With the sub in place, it’s even better, but not always necessary. But I do enjoy the added subterranean depth. I wonder if Fluance will ever have a three-channel wireless set-up for movies. (Or if that’s even possible???). I don’t confess to understanding how that could become a reality but if it does, take my money.
This is an evolution over revolution. And even more so now. The Fluance Ai61 is a powered bookshelf speaker system worthy of your and your wallet’s attention.
- Every possible connection
- Big Fun Sound
- Grills to protect the drivers
I’m a big fan of this effort from Fluance. So much so, that I’m considering getting a set for my office (in Lucky Bamboo of course). Fluance’s Latest Refresh is a worthy upgrade to the line. If you already own a pair of the previous generation, there are some useful upgrades to warrant another purchase should you so desire. But, if you’re happy with what you already have I would also agree that you could simply keep enjoying the ones you have and try not to think about the upgrade that’s out there calling your name!