Let's continue with discussions and measurements of bookshelf/desktop speakers. As I expressed a few weeks back, these days I've transitioned to using passive speakers on the computer workstation table with the S.M.S.L. SA300 Class D amplifier. It has enough power I believe for almost any speaker one might want to use nearfield with great energy-efficiency.
What I have on the tabletop today is a pair of new Fluance Reference XL8S speakers that was released recently in summer 2020. These are the walnut veneer version (known as XL8SW). Fluance is a Canadian brand and over the years, may be more well-known for their affordable turntables (eg. the Fluance RT81 Elite looks nice with the RT85 Reference for their higher end), but their product line also includes speakers - other passive bookshelf models include the SX6 out since around 2014, and more recently the Signature HFS (released 2016). I see that they also have floor-standing versions.
I. Physical characteristics
Here's the box on arrival for the Reference XL8S:
Not the robust triple-boxing as described for the Edifier S2000 Mk III. :-) The box looks a bit roughed up in transport, but it's good enough to keep the speakers safe inside. As you can see in the first picture, it comes with a color brochure, a basic manual, and some rubber stick-on "footers".
Here's a look at the front and rear:
Due to the side curvature and taper, the rear looks more slender. The 5-way binding posts are of good quality and accept banana plugs snugly. There's mounting hardware for on-wall placement, and I like the thoughtful little bumpers already in place at the bottom rear if you do place it against a wall. They have a little Canada flag by the binding posts; this product is designed in Canada but as you can imagine for speakers in this price range, are "Made in China".
Drivers are silk 1" tweeter and 5.25" "woven glass fiber" mid/woofer with butyl rubber surrounds - should be good for many years of service. As an online purchase, they have a 30-day return policy and I saw "lifetime warranty" on their passive speakers.
Here's a better look at the magnetically attached grille with the fabric mesh:
II. Let's Measure! Impedance and qSpin...
First, let's have a look at the speaker impedance and phase curves:
As you can see, the box resonance frequency is 54Hz. Impedance dips down to 6Ω at 2-3kHz. This should not be a challenging load for most amplifiers these days. Fluance rates these speakers as "8Ω compatible" in their specs which is appropriate. There are a few little "kinks" suggesting possible resonances around 280, 550, and 1.5kHz.
The speaker EPDR does dip down to a minimal level of 3.5Ω around 150Hz which is low but remember that many speakers these days (like the KEF LS50) have portions that dip down into the 2Ω range.
With 2.83V output, here's the sensitivity graph calculated from 500Hz to 7kHz.
III. Some Time Domain Stuff...
IV. Dynamic Linearity and Distortion
Okay, let's see how well it tracks a 200ms "transient" burst from 70 to 100dB SPL amplitude, relative to 0 at 85dB SPL (the Emotiva XPA-1L amplifier was used):
Here's the THD graph across the audible spectrum with playback at ~85dB SPL:
-40dB correlates with 1% THD so it looks like distortion stays relatively low through most of the frequency range. Remember, below 60Hz, the bass drops off quickly so most of what's detected is just background noise or distortion. Notice that most of the distortion is 3rd harmonic at this ~85dB SPL playback amplitude.
V. Stereo Pair comparisons
These speakers come in a stereo box. Let's see how well matched they are with the impedance response, frequency response and cumulative spectral decay.
|Stereo pair impedance.|
I rarely see stereo pair comparisons examined and I think this is one area that's important to review (regardless of price!). Significant differences may be reflective of less precise component matching whether it be the parts used for the crossover or speaker parts like the voice coils.
VI. Subjective Listening & Summary
From the measurements, we can obviously say that these Fluance XL8S bookshelves are not flat-response speakers. Indeed, subjectively these sound very different than the KEF LS50 or the Edifier S2000 Mk III playing on my computer workstation desktop as I listened to them before performing the measurements. These are not as "smooth" sounding as the Edifier nor as analytical as the KEF LS50. Rather, they seem to be aiming at being "pleasant" for longer term listening. The diminished upper-mid and "presence" frequencies accentuates the bass and sweetens the "brilliance".
For example, on a track like Dave's True Story's "Like A Rock" (Dave's True Story, 1994), the bass was rendered with a good sense of low-end authority and sibilance in the female vocals well controlled. While these are not the highest-resolution speakers I've heard (finger snaps not as clean), it's still good, able to reproduce each bass pluck with nice definition and Kelly Flint's voice sounds natural even if slightly recessed.
While it's not able to reproduce the really low bass/sub-bass (as usual for bookshelves), when listening to He Xun-Tian's Mystical Scent (神香) (2007, DR12), one gets a taste of deep bass presence even if one cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the sub-bass; check out Sa Dingding's song "Mystical Scent" or the sonic depths of track 5 "Tibetan Drama Dance" to hear what I'm referring to.
One area that I thought these speakers were a bit weaker at was soundstage rendering. By no means is it poor - just that compared to other small speakers the instrument and vocal placements didn't seem as precise. I can't know for sure if it's the case, but I wondered if this is related to how precisely the speakers matched on the frequency response. For example, I mentioned previously with the LS50 discussion that "One Day More" off the London Cast of Les Misérables (1985) provided a nice test of the stability for each vocal part in the soundstage. The Fluance in comparison to the LS50 just didn't "anchor" the singers as stably especially for the more subtle positional differences of voices placed closely beside each other.
One last measurement. You might be wondering, "Is it better to have the grilles on or off for this speaker?" Let's have a quick look on-axis:
Unlike the Edifier S2000 Mk III where we saw with the "MONITOR" DSP setting that it achieved a smoother frequency response with the grille on, here's an example with the Fluance where we see the opposite; grille off is smoother. I think this is a good example of how objective testing can give you an answer quite easily but of course, one should double check in the listening room.
Okay, bottom line guys and gals. The Fluance XL8S is an inexpensive speaker. As a budget product at the price of around US$180, there is certainly good value to be had here. It's built well, the convenient size and front ports provide placement flexibility, and the curved sides and walnut vinyl veneer model that I have here add a bit of style to the physical presentation (very much dependent on your décor of course).
Do not expect a "neutral" sound however, but one that accentuates the bass a bit and adds "brilliance", sparkle and "air". Remember to listen slightly below tweeter level, so make sure your speaker stands are tall enough or maybe angle the speakers up a bit like on my desktop. Another option might be to listen to them upside down with tweeter below woofer (like the PSB Alpha P5)! Alas, I wish they didn't have that "FLUANCE" name so obvious on the front panel. :-(
Despite the imperfections, I suspect many listeners will subjectively like the sound. Since this is a new product, there are only a few reviews on places like Amazon at this point. As for myself, I could easily see them being used in my secondary sound system or as surround speakers. They would make a great entry-level pair for a young family member. Hey, back in the '80s, I started listening with lightweight and hollow-sounding mass market speakers of much worse quality, and it was still tons of fun! For my computer workstation, unless EQ'ed, these speakers would not be neutral enough for my needs.
For completeness, I think it's good to compare with the XL8S's close relative the Fluance Signature HFS. That model's list price is just US$20 more (but can be found on sale). Physically it also has dual front ports, but taller and the mid/woofer looks to be different with its pointed phase cap, and lower crossover frequency listed at 2.3kHz. Audio Science Review has measurements. Comparatively, the HFS look like they're "brighter" speakers overall. They both have irregularities through 1-5kHz, and the vertical polar map suggests they both sound best below tweeter axis.
Wow. Just noticed that with today's post, we're up to 401 articles on the blog since inception. Of course, that's not a huge number compared to many other sites but I think the articles here tend to be pretty long and "denser" than most blogs.
I actually could not have imagined that in 2020, I would still be writing stuff on the topic of audiophilia! Back in 2013 when I started writing, I was just trying to put up a few articles looking at the high bitrate MP3 blind test and the results.
Over the years, I think we've covered a lot of material here and while there's more to say and do, as a "more objective" audiophile, there's also a limit to how much I actually care once some answers have been found to satisfy my curiosity. This is perhaps one area of difference between an "objectivist" from the pure "subjectivist". Unlike magazines that seem to tout "best sounding amplifier ever" in perpetuity, the objective audiophile I think recognizes that at some point, this is simply not possible and in fact rather silly; there is such a thing as "more than good enough"... I know, the "high end" audiophile industry will be unhappy with this assessment! After all, how can one imagine that they might not be able to keep using the "best sound" argument as a selling point for the next generation of products?!
Around 2013, with the advent of the transition to asynchronous USB DACs, we have been able to follow the improvements in jitter performance. With the advent of inexpensive SBCs like the Odroid and Raspberry Pi, we have followed the evolution of high quality streaming and recognized that the digital source really doesn't affect sound quality significantly with good DACs. We have followed the hype of Pono and discussed the questionable need for "hi-res audio". We have looked at the (IMO) scams of audiophilia like MQA, talked about the decades of snake oil, examined Synergistic stuff, and silly software like JPlay. Along the way, we've explored the more pedestrian topics like whether lossless formats sound the same, evaluated cables (both analogue and digital variants, argued with silliness), the minimal differences USB hubs made, discussed ethernet switches, explained about "bits are bits", and countless musings related to the audiophile press and their typical irrationality plus expressed the philosophy of achieving high fidelity and how we can approach it as hardware enthusiasts. We've looked at the microscopic impulse responses, understood what digital errors sound like and I think stopped worrying about jitter. We've discussed DSP room correction, evaluated server-side software (like Roon and computer-related stuff), and even done a few other blind tests along the way! Hey, we've even "infiltrated" audio shows here and there with commentary as a "more objectivist", visited dealerships locally, in North America, and abroad.
After 8 years of running this blog, personally, I'm glad to have collected a heck of a lot more knowledge and experience, and worried a lot less about the minutiae that actually make no difference by exploring the principles rather than holding on to beliefs and following suggestions because someone (Golden Ear? Audiophile High Priest?) said so. I hope you've benefitted from these thoughts and measurement results as well. For the most neurotic among us (myself included), I hope you're much less anxious about the "high-fidelity" hobby and finding yourself well along the way to being liberated from many of the unsubstantiated beliefs so readily promoted as "truths" over the decades.
Stay safe as we enter December, friends.
I hope you're enjoying the music, and the sounds of the season!
Addendum December 20, 2020:
Here's a FIR correction filter for those who want to try getting a flatter frequency response...
Let's deal with that mid-range bump and strengthen the upper-mid and "presence" frequencies.