In a sea of all-in-one wireless Bluetooth speakers for the outdoors or for your smart home, the Fluance Ai61 speakers ($299.99) stand out with their classic design approach and support for wired and wireless playback. Bookshelf-style speakers deliver detailed, natural audio with true stereo separation, an increasingly rare quality. They’re not perfect, however, as some aspects feel a bit more outdated than retro, namely poor Bluetooth codec support and reliance on a physical remote rather than a companion app. We’re more of a fan of Harmon Kardon Soundsticks 4 for the same price, which come with a subwoofer, as well as Audioengine’s A1-MR speakers ($229), which use Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth for wireless connectivity. Nonetheless, if you want room-filling stereo sound and the convenience of Bluetooth audio, you should definitely consider the Fluance Ai61.
Classic stereo power, wired and wireless connectivity
Each of the Ai61 speakers measures 13.1 x 7.8 x 9.2 inches (HWD) and are available in a few different finishes: black ash, dark brown walnut, white and brown (walnut), or white and tan (bamboo). . The first color in these last two models corresponds to the front panel and the second is the color of the wood veneer of the enclosure. Controllers are black on all models and the system is shipped without a fabric grille to cover them. We fully support this aesthetic choice, although some people might prefer a more durable screen protector. The passive left speaker and active right speaker, respectively, weigh around 13.1 and 14.0 pounds.
Each speaker features a 1-inch silk soft dome neodymium tweeter and a 6.5-inch woven fiberglass composite driver with butyl rubber surrounds. A 120W Class D amplifier powers the system and each channel receives 60W RMS. The speakers offer a frequency range of 32 Hz to 20 KHz. They employ digital signal processing (DSP) for all sound sources (not just Bluetooth), which may not appeal to purists, but we found the audio performance to be relatively seamless.
The speakers support the slightly outdated Bluetooth 5.0 standard. They support AAC and SBC codecs, but not AptX, which means neither Android nor iPhone users get high-resolution wireless audio streaming.
A combination knob and button on the front panel of the right speaker handles power (press and hold), audio source switching (quick press to toggle between Bluetooth, RCA, optical, and USB sources), and volume (turn the knob ). The remote’s IR sensor is located on the front, near the bottom.
The rear panel of the right speaker houses multiple connections and controls, including USB-C, optical, and RCA inputs for audio, but Fluance doesn’t include any of the related cables. Completing the connections is a subwoofer output with an 80Hz low-pass cut: Fluance offers two different subwoofer models (DB10 and DB12) to work with the system. Ports for the included 8-foot 18-gauge speaker cable (connecting the right to the left unit) and 6-foot power cable are located on the bottom of the rear panel, along with a main power switch. Further up, there is a Bluetooth pairing reset button.
The included remote control is powered by two AAA batteries. It has buttons for Power, Mute, Audio Source, and LED Brightness (which dims the right speaker’s status LED, turns it off, or restores it to full brightness). It also features a standard multifunction circular control matrix: the center button handles playback, the buttons to the left and right manage track navigation, and the volume controls are up and down. Dedicated buttons to increase or decrease treble and bass (each within a range of -5 to +5) are located further down the remote. The right speaker LED blinks red when it reaches either end and blinks blue twice when it returns to the default setting.
The remote control is easy to operate and more or less essential; Fluance does not offer a companion app and not all remote controls are available on the physical dashboard. Buttons are responsive, but IR-based technology can interfere with similar devices nearby; this remote, for example, also turned on a nearby LG TV. Yes, there are both sophisticated (universal remotes) and simple (covering IR sensors with black tape) workarounds to this problem, but it’s another reason why an app would have improved the user experience. An app would also make sense for people who plan on streaming audio directly from their phones anyway. And more sophisticated equalization controls wouldn’t hurt either.
Clear and natural sound
On tracks with heavy sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Ai61 speakers deliver palpable yet accurate low-frequency response. The DSP does a good job of preventing bass distortion at maximum volume levels without reducing bass. The difference in bass response at moderate versus high volumes is not that pronounced, which is not always the case with speakers with DSP.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover”, a track with much shallower bass in the mix, gives us a better idea of the sound signature. The drums on this track sound much less heavy than on the bass speakers. In fact, it’s Callahan’s baritone vocals that seem to grab most of the attention from the lower frequencies: the vocals exhibit a lot of richness in the lower mids and a crisp presence in the higher frequencies. Acoustic strums and higher register percussive hits are presented with lots of brilliant detail. The speakers sound wonderful overall, with a balanced and relatively transparent signature. A rich low-mid anchor is present, but the system never really digs down to the sub-bass level, hence the subwoofer output. If you want sub-bass without buying a separate subwoofer, you have to choose different speakers.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop gets a lot of upper-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punch, but the crackle and hiss of vinyl also take a slight step. forward in the sound. mixture. The sub-bass synth hits that accentuate the beat aren’t too punchy: we hear its harsher high notes but not its rumble. It’s the drum loop that gets the most weight from the low end, with plenty of punch to go along with its attack of high mids. The vocals on this track sound very clear without much extra sibilance. Of course, changing the bass and treble levels can affect the default sound quite drastically. But while boosting the bass beefs up the drum loop here, it won’t suddenly add the missing sub-bass.
Orchestral tracks, such as the opening scene of John Adams The gospel according to the other Mary, benefit from an ideal balance: lower-register instrumentation sounds full and plays a subtle anchoring role to upper-register brass, strings, and vocals. The speakers lean a bit towards the lower mids in certain mixes, but we never noticed a drop in clarity.
One operational annoyance: When streaming music from an iPhone through Apple Music, the speakers would often cut off the beginnings of some tracks. This issue didn’t seem too bad when jumping to a different track within an album or playlist, but it did appear when switching to non-sequential songs. Lots of older Bluetooth speakers and headphones used to have this problem, so we’re a bit annoyed to see the issue occur here.
Balanced Bookshelf Speakers
Fluance Ai61 speakers deliver rich, crisp, detailed audio that is highly tunable. We also like the versatility of the wired and wireless connection options, although the Bluetooth implementation could be better and we’d prefer a companion app rather than (or in addition to) the physical remote. As mentioned, we’re also fans of the Audioengine A1-MR speakers, which trade Bluetooth for Wi-Fi, and the Harman Kardon SoundSticks 4, which offer superior subwoofer depth. That said, the Ai61’s excellent sound quality and attractive design make any quirks easy to miss.