One of the most popular ways of listening to music today is via streaming wireless speakers. These are convenient and take up little space. But many people are discovering they have limitations when it comes to serious audio, especially when it comes to listening to music. This is very apparent when a turntable enters the equation. You kind of defeat the whole old-school analogue music experience when you convert the vinyl audio to digital, compress it, then play it from a single wireless speaker. But component systems that can make the most of your records take up a lot of space and can be expensive. Fluance has a great solution in the new Fluance Ai40 powered bookshelf speakers.
Speakers and amplifier, combined
Component stereo systems have a receiver or amplifier that drives a pair (or more) of speakers. This is the ultimate audio setup, but there are reasons why most people don’t go that route. Components take up a lot of space (the receiver on my desk is 36 x 45 cm), they can be expensive, and hooking everything up properly can be a pain.
The Fluance Ai40 powered bookshelf speakers house the receiver in one of the speakers. You connect the speakers with a single cable and that’s it. The two Fluance bookshelf speakers placed side-by-side have a significantly smaller footprint than that receiver. The only other physical connection to worry about is an input to connect the system to whatever audio source you want: a TV, computer, CD player, turntable or whatever.
A big audio upgrade over most wireless speakers
I love portable wireless speakers. But they have several drawbacks and their portability works against them in various ways. To be portable, they need to be relatively compact and as light as possible, they still need room for a battery and they must be as power-efficient as possible so that battery lasts. That means less room for drivers, plastic construction, and lower power output. As a result, many wireless speakers use a single full-range driver, and the amplifier output is relatively low.
The Fluance Ai40 powered bookshelf speakers are big and heavy in comparison (although still compact enough to be true bookshelf speakers) and that’s a good thing. The larger size means multiple drivers—in this case a 1-inch tweeter and a 5-inch driver. With the tweeter handling the high frequencies and the big driver handling mid-range and bass, you get better audio reproduction than when a single driver tries to do it all. That means crisp highs and some serious bass. Those big, heavy enclosures offer better acoustics as well, lending some warmth to the audio. They also have the room for a high-powered amplifier. The Ai40s have 35W per channel on tap so you can get some serious volume.
Then there’s the stereo separation, which is a huge deal. Speakers need to have distance between them for stereo sound. A single wireless speaker does not provide stereo sound—even if it has multiple drivers. It can simulate stereo sound, but it’s never the same as the real thing. With the Fluance Ai40s, you can easily create that distance for proper 2-channel stereo.
A killer, compact turntable setup
I think the killer application for the Fluance Ai40 speakers would be as part of a compact turntable setup. Vinyl is hot and more people are investing in turntables (Fluance makes some nice ones, by the way). However, not everyone has space or budget for a component stereo system to make the most of that turntable. While connecting it to a small, portable speaker can physically work, you lose a lot of what makes vinyl so special when you listen to records that way.
The Fluance Ai40 would make an excellent in-between option. It’s less complicated, less expensive and much smaller than a component stereo system. But it offers 2-channel stereo and far superior audio than a portable, wireless stereo system. I had a Fluance turntable on hand and put it together with the Ai40 speakers and the result was impressive. It looked good and sounded even better.
Fluance Ai40 key specs:
Bluetooth streaming (have your cake and eat it too)
Up until now, I’ve focused on the advantages that the Fluance Ai40 powered bookshelf speakers have over wireless speakers. But the cool thing is you don’t have to give up your wireless convenience because the Ai40s also have Bluetooth connectivity. Pair them to your smartphone, select them like any other Bluetooth speaker and stream your Spotify playlists just like you would with any wireless speaker.
The difference is your music is going to sound better than ever because you still have all the Ai40 advantages: superior acoustics, 2-channel stereo with actual stereo separation, multi-driver performance and plenty of volume on tap.
The only thing you give up is portability. Unless you want to go to extremes with a cart and high-capacity power bank, you’ll probably want to hold onto your portable Bluetooth speaker for music on the go.
Recommendation: this is a system audio lovers will be happy with
I’ve had some great experiences with Fluance products in the past, including the Fluance fi70 (which still holds the record as the largest Bluetooth speaker I’ve ever reviewed) and of course the RT81 turntable that showed up as part of this review. The Fluance Ai40 powered bookshelf speakers continued the company’s tradition of surprising me with the quality and value proposition of their products. The Ai40 speakers sounded amazing for the price and they would excel as the heart of a compact, high performance, home stereo system.
If your home audio setup could use updating, be sure to check out Best Buy’s huge selection of systems, including speakers, powered speakers, receivers and turntables.