Fluance XL8F review: Home theater heart stoppers

Way back in 1999, two companies that would play an important role in CNET’s testing labs started: Aperion Audio and fluency. While Aperion has stayed on the home theater path for the past two decades, Fluance has expanded to devices like the RT82 turntable, winner of our Editors’ Choice award. The company is in crisis and the XL8F floorstanding speaker is the latest example.

Like it

  • Large and generously proportioned speakers
  • Excellent sound quality perfect for long binging sessions
  • Nothing compares to the money

I do not like

  • It could be smoother, especially with its lower register
  • The dust caps didn’t quite line up quite

The XL8 range is an affordable home theater speaker range that incorporates rear, center, and shelves, driven by these impressive floorstanding speakers. The fit and finish of the XL8F is luxurious for $ 600 (£ 600) per pair and its sheer size is unmatched by other speakers at its level. The XL8F’s sound is open and electrifying, but never shrill, and when fed with a movie soundtrack these speakers simply emit a sound. Even with music they don’t get along.

The XL8 offers much better value than Fluance’s flagship $ 800 Signature Series and even better design. The sound is even better balanced than I remember from the Signature range.

While the same money will buy you a very nice bookshelf speaker from famous brands like Elac or Klipsch, if you really want the ultimate speaker for your money, the huge Fluance XL8F is unmatched.

Design and features

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Two 6.5-inch fiberglass drivers flank a 1-inch soft dome tweeter.

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Fluance XL8F is a modern three-way floorstanding speaker but looks like a 2.5-way, with a woofer hidden in the base. The Fluance has two 6.5-inch fiberglass drivers separated by a 1-inch fabric tweeter (called the D’Appolito configuration, named after the designer who perfected the arrangement, Joseph D’Appolito). I found that one of the center driver’s dust caps looked a bit rough when viewed up close – they are all built with a piece of fiberglass and this was not glued to the square. But from the sofa I couldn’t really tell.

Elsewhere the finish is exemplary, and I prefer the design to the uncomfortable Signature Series with its small yellow midrange driver at the top. The XL8F towers are quite tall at 46 inches tall, just 1.5 inches shorter than the monster Signature. They’re also deep to accommodate that bottom-mounted 8-inch woofer.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The speaker cabinet tapers at the rear, to reduce internal reflections, and culminates in two rear bass ports (so it works best if you leave it a few feet away from the wall). The front baffle features a piano black finish in a choice of black ash or walnut for the sides.

The appliances are as luxurious as the rest of the speaker, starting with a magnetic attachment grille. The gold-plated clamps have a solid look and there are two sets in case you want to experiment with bi-wiring or bi-amping.

The speakers have a sensitivity of 87dB which means they could be driven by most receivers or amplifiers and are capable of delivering a frequency response of 35Hz-25KHz.

While no one is really listening to speakers in stores at the moment, the company helpfully offers a 30-day money-back trial on speakers purchased through its website.

How does it sound?

As I expect from a speaker with a low-fire bass driver, the Fluance sounds big and bold, but is also capable of subtleties I wasn’t expecting. That midrange-tweeter-midrange arrangement is capable of reproducing a lot of detail in music and movies, with a generously open character. I compared the speaker to my reference speaker, the $ 900 Q Acoustics 3050i and found that the Fluance sounded better in several key areas, especially when it came to watching movies.

The Fluance XL8F’s combination of deep bass and revealing mids made it a perfect match for The Matrix lobby scene. This scene mixes slow-motion ballet, bouncing bullet sound effects, and a pumping electronic soundtrack, and the Fluance welded them together satisfactorily. Although the Q Acoustics was able to handle the bass better, the Fluance emitted the cry of “Freeze” and its echoing tail in a more revealing way.

Watching Avatar, the Fluance proved its keen ear with the lush rainforests of Pandora. During the Thanator chase scene the click of Jake’s machine gun was more jarring when he realized that the Thanator wanted a cat-shaped meal instead of the elephant Hammerhead Titanothere. The sound of the chase was simply more visceral when heard on the Fluance than its counterpart. In comparison, the Q Acoustics were a little more inert, more bass focused and overall slightly less exciting.

When it came to music the two were close, but the Q Acoustics’ more relaxed quality and top-to-bottom consistency gave it a slight edge. I have listened to everything from Claude Debussy’s nocturnes, to jazz, to rock music, and I have found that Fluance’s talent lies in the richly detailed music. The XL8F can really give you a vivid sense of space for performance and make the speakers themselves disappear, as long as things don’t let up too much.

For example, the opening moments of Phoebe Bridgers’ Know The End gave me goosebumps when heard through the Fluance, and this continued as the electric guitar in chorus slipped behind the singer. At 2:45 am the bass drum that drives the second half of the song was deep and pulsating. Only when the song got really chaotic did the details become a wash.

Surprisingly, Q Acoustics presented a different and ultimately much more satisfying song. The intro guitars of the song sounded bigger, and instead of remaining subdued they were pushed out into the listening space, enveloping me. As the song got frantic, the speakers held everything in focus better than the Fluence, and the 3050i’s midrange over the sung vocals and the raging “rahhhhhh” were more finely expressed.

Should you buy it?

Yes, you can buy yourself a pretty killer soundbar for $ 600, but there’s no way it can match the Fluance XL8F for both physical presence and the ability to play a thundering movie soundtrack. There are few floorstanding speakers that can do what the XL8F does – marry overwhelming bass power with open, detailed sound – and none of them cost $ 600. The Q Acoustics 3050i is a more refined speaker, especially for the music, but it costs $ 350 more and isn’t that well designed. The Fluance XL8F offers exceptional value and if your budget is under a large and you have the room, these speakers should be at the top of your audition list.

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