My introduction to the Fluance brand occurred over ten years ago, when I reviewed their XL7F tower, a three-way speaker with an 8″ woofer, two 6.5″ midrange drivers, and a 1″ silk-dome tweeter. At $469.95 per pair (all prices USD), I thought it was an incredible bargain.
Fast forward to the present day, and Fluance now offers its Reference XL8F tower, which closely resembles the XL7F. It has an 8″ woofer, two 6.5″ bass-midrange drivers with woven glass-fiber cones, and a 1″ silk-dome tweeter. The woofer now faces down instead of to the side, giving the Reference XL8F a more stylish appearance. And the price is $599.99 per pair. When I saw the XL8F on the Fluance website, I immediately requested a pair for review.
Based in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Fluance has been selling audio gear since 1999. As brand marketing assistant Yasmin Faruki explains, “The name Fluance was chosen to define the quality of sound its speakers produce. The prefix Flu- is Latin for flowing or wave, while the suffix -ance is Latin for a state of being.” In addition to the now-discontinued XL7F, I’ve also reviewed three turntables from the current Fluance catalog—the RT81, RT83, and RT85—all of which I thought offered fine value.
Based on past experience, I anticipated that the Reference XL8F would offer similar value. Let’s find out if I was right.
The Reference XL8Fs came double boxed, which was a good thing, as from outward appearances, it looked as if the delivery service had used the containers as punching bags. Fortunately, the inner boxes were almost completely unscathed, and the speakers emerged in fine shape.
The speaker inside each carton is surrounded by more-than-adequate polystyrene forms that keep it firmly in place during transport. In each box are the speaker, four metal floor spikes, four rubber isolation domes to protect your floor, and an owner’s manual that covers the entire Reference line. The manual is geared toward home-theater use but also contains a basic guide on two-channel placement.
The XL8F is available in Black Ash and Natural Walnut finishes. Fluance supplied the latter for review. I tried to determine whether the deep, dark finish was wood or a very fine vinyl wrap. Faruki confirmed that the finish is vinyl. Color me surprised—it was the best vinyl wrap job I’d ever seen, the only clue being the hairline seams between the top and side wraps.
Each speaker measures 45.9″H × 9.3″W × 13″D and weighs 47.7 pounds, so in some rooms, they’ll look quite imposing. The XL8F’s enclosure bows out slightly on the sides, tapering toward the back—all the better to disperse internal reflections and squelch internal standing waves. The speaker grille is held in place by magnets, and the front fascia for the D’Appolito-arranged bass-midrange drivers and tweeter is finished in a glossy black plastic. The woofer is in its own sub-enclosure to minimize interference with the other drivers. At the rear of each speaker are biwire/biamp-capable, heavy-duty binding posts and just above these are dual flared ports for the woofer. Next to the binding posts, a small Canadian flag announces the design’s origin; the XL8F is constructed in China.
Fluance claims a frequency response of 35Hz to 25kHz but does not specify deviation. Sensitivity is listed as 87dB/watt@1 meter. Crossover points are 100Hz and 3kHz, so those twin bass-midrange drivers handle much of the audio spectrum. Fluance offers a limited “lifetime” warranty covering parts and labor on all its passive speakers, including the XL8F.
Initially, I placed the XL8Fs where my Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 floorstanders usually reside: about 6.5′ apart, 30″ from side obstructions, and 30″ from the front wall. At first, I tried toeing them in so the bass-midrange drivers and tweeters were aimed directly at my listening position. But I preferred the sound with the speakers pointed straight ahead—this helped tame their brightness. I also moved the speakers outward, spacing them just under 7′ apart. I didn’t use the metal spikes or isolation domes. While it is possible to biwire or biamp the speakers, I didn’t because I believe most buyers in this price range wouldn’t attempt this.
While Fluance suggests ten hours of break-in, I gave the Reference XL8Fs more than 100 hours, using them for background listening. At first, they sounded closed in, but I noticed a blossoming of upper mids and highs during that time. Over the course of the review, I probably listened to them for an additional 100 hours.
Sources included my Music Hall Stealth turntable and Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, a Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD player, an Ocean Digital WR-10 Internet/FM radio tuner, and an HP 6300 computer running JRiver Media Center 30 connected to an iFi Zen DAC. These source components were all connected to my Apt Holman preamplifier, and the preamp was connected to my NAD C 275 BEE power amp.
One of the first tracks I played was “Orgelimprovisata over ‘Delig er Jorden’” (in English, “Organ Improvisation on ‘Delicious is the Earth’”), performed by organist Kȧre Nordstoga on 2L—The Nordic Sound, a sampler album from Norway’s 2L Recordings (24-bit/176.4kHz FLAC). The organ has the broadest frequency range of any instrument, with fundamental tones ranging from 16Hz to beyond 4500Hz (and overtones well above that). My first thought when I played this selection was, Whoa, that bass is deep! It was solid all the way down, and although some of the lowest notes were below the woofers’ capabilities, their response fell off gradually. The higher-frequency flute stops came through very clearly and crisply, and the middle registers were formidable in their tone.
One of my favorite review cuts is “Bali Run” by American smooth jazz quartet Fourplay, from their eponymous 1991 debut album (16/44.1 WAV, CD rip from Warner Bros. WB 9 26656-2). I chose this piece because I wanted to see how the Reference XL8Fs handled the deep bass line at the start of the track. Superbly, as it turned out. The XL8Fs dug deep, with excellent slam and no sign of strain. Later in the tune, I noticed finger cymbals maintaining a consistent beat, which seemed to be coming from beyond the right speaker’s enclosure. The imaging was totally stable, and the soundstage depth was about the best I’ve heard with this piece.
Then it was time to spin some vinyl, so onto the Music Hall spinner went Craft Recordings’ remastered release of Shelly Manne and His Friends’ Modern Jazz Performances of Songs from My Fair Lady (Craft Recordings / Stereo Records CR00391). In addition to Manne on drums, this 1950s classic features André Previn on piano and Leroy Vinnegar on double bass. This reissue sounds great, despite the original having been recorded in the “yes, by George, this is stereo” manner typical of the era. Previn’s piano bleeds into the middle a bit from the left side of the soundstage, while Manne’s drums and Vinnegar’s bass both show up on the right. As I listened to “On the Street Where You Live,” the tone of Previn’s piano was very natural through the Fluance speakers, and Manne’s delicate work with the brushes had exquisite texture. Throughout the song, Vinnegar maintains a subtle, steady beat on the lower strings of his bass, and this too was beautifully reproduced. Overall, the XL8Fs provided a lovely experience of this great album.
Early in her performing career, American singer Elaine McFarlane acquired the nickname “Spanky” because her surname was similar to that of child actor George McFarland, who played Spanky in the Our Gang movies of the 1930s and ’40s. When McFarlane formed her own group in 1965, it was called Spanky and Our Gang. To my mind, their best song is “Yesterday’s Rain” from Anything You Choose B/W Without Rhyme or Reason (LP, Mercury SR 61183). The lead singer on this track, one of five male voices, is presented at the front of the soundstage, with the harmonies of the other singers and the instrumental backing at the edges. Through the Fluances, I heard some harshness in the voices, but I attributed this to the hot mastering of the LP. Overall, the presentation was vital and engaging, with good pace and solid imaging.
My favorite song of the Motown era—as much for James Jamerson’s phenomenal bass playing as for the vocals—is 1967’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. In 2003, Michael McDonald, smoky-voiced former lead singer of the Doobie Brothers, covered the song on Motown, an album of old Motown hits (16/44.1 WAV, ripped from Motown B-0000651-02). This arrangement is very different from the Funk Brothers’ original, but no less appealing. McDonald carries both vocal parts well—his unique voice is well suited to Motown songs. Through the XL8Fs, he was nicely out front, with the bass line full and dense down below. The backing chorus and instruments were spread across a wide, deep soundstage behind McDonald.
The title track of Steve Winwood’s Roll with It (16/44.1 WAV, CD rip from Virgin V2 90946) practically demands that you get up and engage in some dirty dancing. The combination of rolling bass line, soulful Hammond B-3 organ, tight playing by the Memphis Horns, drumming so frenetic it sounds as if the drummer might break his sticks, and Winwood’s blue-eyed soul voice is enough to get even my feet moving. The Reference towers reproduced the writhing bass with palpable presence and satisfying slam. The Memphis Horns were crisp and forward but not overpowering. Winwood’s voice, however, sounded edgy and even uncomfortably steely at times, an effect I attribute to the speakers’ forward midrange presentation.
Given this disappointing experience, I decided to try another rock classic from the 1980s, Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” from their Brothers in Arms album (45-rpm double LP, Mobile Fidelity MFSL 2-441). This track sounded much better. During the famous guitar passage, the Fluance speakers presented the world’s widest drum kit and what appeared at first to be the world’s widest guitar on a broad, deep soundstage. But the XL8F towers revealed that I wasn’t listening to a solo guitar—there were two instruments playing in harmony and then going off in different directions. I hadn’t noticed this before. Mark Knopfler’s voice was in front; slightly behind Knopfler was the high-harmony singer, and Sting’s “I want my . . .” behind him. The keyboards and guitars were left and right, just as the engineer mixed them. The bass was down front. On this tune, the References’ response was in perfect harmony with the music.
I have always liked the group Heart, and one of their best songs is the single “Alone,” from their Bad Animals album (16/44.1 WAV, CD rip from Capitol PJ-12546). It starts with solo piano and Ann Wilson’s exquisite voice singing a plaintive verse in a somber minor key. After the first two verses, the rest of the band comes in forcefully and at full volume, and the song takes on a new dimension.
When I played this track through my reference Acoustic Energy Radiance Three speakers, the sound was full, and Wilson’s voice was reproduced with excellent warmth. The guitars were powerful but not screechy. Through the Reference XL8F towers, when the song started rocking, guitars and female voices took on a brash character. Overall, this was a sonic win for the Acoustic Energy speakers; however, when they were available, their price was about four times that of the XL8Fs.
Fluance’s Reference XL8F loudspeaker has many upsides and one downside. First the negative. During my listening, hotly mastered male and female voices had too much edge. So did some electric guitars and brass instruments. A lot of rock music is meant to screech, but on the Fluance towers, it sometimes screeched too much. Could this be because the speaker is voiced for home-theater use, where dialog is of utmost importance?
Now the positives. In my room, the Fluance towers delivered generous, well-controlled bass with good punch. Response fell off gracefully at the bottom of their operating range. Mids sounded clear but had a bit of extra presence, which worked fine with most material. Highs were smooth and detailed. The Reference towers sounded very fine on classical and jazz, and quite good with singer-songwriter tracks and on a wide range of rock.
If you’re intrigued by what you’ve read, Fluance’s 30-day home-trial policy offers a no-risk chance to see how a pair of these towers will work in your room, with your system and your music. Although they’re not at their best with strident rock, they performed well with all the other musical styles I threw at them. At $599.99 per pair, the Fluance XL8F is a stone-cold bargain—just like the other Fluance components I’ve reviewed in the past.
. . . Thom Moon
- Loudspeakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275 BEE.
- Preamplifier: Apt Holman.
- Analog source: Music Hall Stealth turntable with Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
- Digital sources: Cambridge Audio Azur 650C CD player; Ocean Digital WR-10 Internet/FM tuner; HP 6300 desktop running JRiver Media Center 30, iFi Audio Zen DAC
- Interconnects: Manufacturer supplied for turntable and computer-to-DAC; Linn Silver on CD player; Dayton Audio analog from DAC and tuner to preamplifier.
- Speaker cables: Audtek 14-gauge OFC cable terminated in banana plugs.
Fluance Reference XL8F Loudspeaker
Price: $599.99 per pair.
Warranty: “Lifetime,” parts and labor.
4080 Montrose Road
Niagara Falls, ON
Canada, L2H 1J9
840 Aero Drive,
Cheektowaga, NY 14225
Phone: (888) 617-6863