Fluance XL7F Speaker System
AT A GLANCE
Great cosmetics for the money
Sounds a little unrefined
It’s not without flaws, but the $500/pair XL7F tower delivers a surprising value.
I actually did a double-take when I added up the price of Fluance’s XL7 speaker system. Two tower speakers for the price of a good pair of minimonitors. A center speaker for the price of a cheap Blu-ray player. A pair of minimonitors for the price of … well, an inexpensive pair of minimonitors. And the whole shebang for about what most Sound & Vision readers I know would spend for a decent subwoofer. Shipping’s free, too!
You might expect such low-budget speakers to look as ugly as a BMW i3, but they actually look nice, with curved sides, a nice faux wood grain finish, and gloss black front baffles. The XL7F tower speaker wouldn’t look out of place alongside many $5,000-a-pair speakers. In fact, the big, beefy, biwireable speaker cable binding posts look nicer than the ones on probably 99 percent of all the speakers S&V has reviewed.
What’s the Catch?
“OK, so where’d they cut the costs?” you ask. It’s not obvious. The XL7F tower, in particular, is packed with good stuff: a 1-inch silk-dome tweeter, two 6.5-inch poly-cone midranges, and an 8-inch woofer. The drivers are inexpensive stamped-basket types, but they look fairly well made.
The front baffle is made from sturdy, inch-thick MDF, but a rap on the side—and the resulting resonant thunk—reveals that the sidewalls aren’t real thick or extensively braced. Thus, they’ll probably blur the sound a bit with their own vibration. But that’s the only compromise you’ll easily find. With its gloss black front baffle, nicely finished drivers, and polished grille mounting posts, the XL7F actually looks nicer with its grille off.
The 8-inch woofer resides in its own enclosure, separate from the two midranges, its response tuned by a rear-firing port. Four posts elevate the woofer about an inch and a half off the floor.
The new XL7C center and XL7S satellite expand the XL7F into a full surround sound system. The XL7C has what appears to be the same tweeter and two 5-inch poly-cone midrange/woofers. Even this $119 speaker gets the same superb fit and finish as the XL7F tower, with sides that curve back to avoid the ugly, boxy look of most inexpensive centers. Dual rear-firing ports tune the bass response; be sure not to block them by pushing the XL7C too close to the wall behind it.
The XL7S satellite has, apparently, the same drivers as the center, minus one of the 5-inchers. It has the same beautiful look as its big brothers, although its plastic front-mounted ports spoil the look a little. Those who prefer the more spacious sound (and elegant wall-mountability) of bipolar surround speakers can opt for the $200/pair XLBP. The XLBP has two halves angled about 110 degrees apart, each with a tweeter and woofer that seem to match those in the XL7S.
There is one peculiar thing about the XL7 speakers: The crossover points—that is, the points in the frequency range where the drivers hand off to one another—seem pretty wacky. The crossover between the woofer and midranges on the XL7F tower speaker is specified at 800 hertz, which means that much of the sound of voices will be coming from the floor. The low-pass filter (crossover) on the woofer appears to be first-order (–6 decibels per octave), which suggests the woofer will be audible well up into the midrange. Because the crossover between the tower’s tweeter and midranges is specified at 3.5 kilohertz, the lower treble will come from the midrange drivers, whose 6.5-inch diameter will make them beam high-frequency sound rather than dispersing it evenly through your room.
Weirder still is the crossover point on the XL7S satellite: 6,000 Hz, which means almost all of the speaker’s sound will come from the 5-inch midwoofer. Even the cheapest 1-inch soft-dome tweeter from Parts Express has a frequency response rated down to 3,000 Hz, so this choice is baffling. Wanna know something even weirder? The crossover on the XLBP surround—which apparently uses the same drivers as the XL7S—is 2,200 Hz. If it seems to you there’s a randomness at work here, I’m with you.
But the ultimate quality of a speaker can only be judged by ear. Strange design decisions like the ones above don’t necessarily preclude the possibility of pleasing sound. So let’s stop reading the spec sheet and start listening.
I used the XL7F towers as the front left/right speakers in my system, each one placed about 2 feet from the wall behind. I tried toeing them in at various angles and got the best sound with them angled in to point straight at my listening chair. After a quick listen, I decided the speakers sounded better without their grilles—looked way cooler, too—so I shoved the grilles under my couch.
The XL7C center went atop a 28-inch-high metal stand between the towers, about 18 inches out from the wall. Each XL7S sat on a 48-inch-high stand along the side walls a few feet behind me. I later moved the satellites to the front and placed them on 28-inch-high stands so I could give them a listen on their own.
The towers got their juice from my Krell S-300i integrated amp, which I used for stereo listening. For home theater, I used an Outlaw Model 975 surround processor, connected to the S-300i (in home theater bypass mode) for left and right channels and an AudioControl Savoy seven-channel amp for center and surrounds.