Speaker design is a study in compromise. Every speaker company wants to make speakers that people will find beautiful, great sounding, and affordable. But trying to deliver on all three is an enormous challenge that some of the greatest minds have had to face. It was NASA scientists and engineers who coined the phrase, “Better, faster, cheaper: pick any two.” It’s with this in mind that I say that while I haven’t found speakers that are beautiful and great sounding and cheap, I may have found a pretty good compromise of all three. When I first contacted Fluance, I asked for a pair of their XL7F towers for evaluation. I’d heard Fluance speakers before, having bought my in-laws a set to use as surrounds. I’d never heard of the brand then, but the reviews were good and I thought they’d probably be . . . good enough. But when I hooked those little surrounds up, I was very pleasantly surprised. Since then, I’d wondered if those were a fluke or if they were indicative of a brand that made speakers that performed above their price. I’m very happy to say that it’s the latter. These are not Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or even BMWs, but I would say they’re Lexuses (Lexi?) selling for Toyota prices. They’ll meet or exceed the needs of all but the most discriminating audiophile, for a price you won’t believe. Who’s Fluance? Quick, name three major exports of Canada. Maple syrup, right. Hockey? Okay. And yes, speakers. I don’t know what it is about America’s attic that makes them such darned prolific speaker builders, but they sure seem to be. The Fluance website says they were “Established in 1999” and that they’re “Based in Niagara Falls, Ontario.” What they don’t say is that Fluance is owned by a company called CWD, short for Circus World Displays, Ltd., and that they also own nine other brands, including Citizen, SVAT, Levana, Nyrius, and Defender. So they’re not a little Canadian mom-and-pop operation. That’s not always a bad thing, and when it comes to warranties, it can be good. The speakers come with a lifetime warranty, for instance, which could come in handy. The speakers feel well made, but that’s good to have in your back pocket. Like so many speaker companies these days, Fluance sells only over the Interwebs. That means they have no physical stores to stock, staff, or keep lit, but it also means you can’t hear their speakers before you buy ‘em. Additionally, it means that if you don’t like the speakers, it’ll cost you shipping to send them back--a fact not listed anywhere I looked on the Fluance site. But I’ll say again that the best audition takes place in your room, with your components, with your music, and this purchasing process facilitates that. Level-setting No company on the planet would choose a slogan like, “Good for the Money” or “Not Bad, Not Bad At All” because no company wants their buyers to feel like they’re settling. Lexus buyers know they’re not getting a Mercedes, but they don’t say that in their ads. We’ve gotten so used to the marketing game that hyperbolic statements like, “Serious Performance” and “The choice for audio enthusiasts” on the Fluance website come as no surprise. But years ago, when I was selling audio gear, a mentor said something that has stuck with me. He said, “Yes, you should have that looked at, and stop scratching it. You’re only making it angry” Wait, that’s the wrong quote. He said, “There’s nothing here you wouldn’t have loved to own at some point in your life.” He was right (about both things, BTW), and “performance” is completely subjective. Yes, Fluance makes “value” products and no, they’re not for hardcore audiophiles. But they’re beautiful, sound great for the money, and they won’t break the bank. The unboxing This company knows a little something about shipping speakers, and they arrived undamaged. The surrounds and center were boxed conventionally, but the cartons for the towers were different. Unlike most boxes, which open at the ends, these opened on the side, like a coffin. That made unloading pretty easy and I thought it was unusual enough to mention here. My only complaint with the packaging was the Styrofoam slabs, which leave white confetti absolutely everywhere. I’m still finding those little dudes weeks later, and in the most interesting places. When you take the speakers out of their beds you get the feeling they’re well-constructed. The center channel in particular feels hefty, presumably because there are three drivers stuffed into a small box, and knocking on the surrounds produces a reassuring thud. The towers feel a little light for their size, but that by itself doesn’t mean anything. Note: The tower speakers come with little gold-colored metal spikes--another nice touch. The system I’m going to spend most of my time talking about the XL7F towers here, but I was sent the entire XLHTB 5-channel package, including two bookshelf speakers for the surround channels, and a center that contained the same drivers as the surrounds, ensuring they’re voice-matched. The system consisted of: [*]XL7F towers [*]XL7S bookshelf/surrounds [*]XL7C center [/list] The system sells for $799. For the entire system. All five pieces. Yes, seriously. Such a pretty face The first thing that strikes you about the tower speakers, of course, is their size. They’re almost four feet tall, at 45.8 inches, so they already exude the impression of value just by sheer volume. Still, they’re thin, at just 8.5 inches, and pretty deep at 13.4 inches. So far, those are super-model proportions in the speaker world. Then you notice the architecture. They’re wider at the front and gently curve around to a slimmer backside, and the bases of the speakers are just a little larger, detached from the body, and glossy black. In fact, the entire front of the speaker is that gloss black, so even with the demi-grills on, you see that combination of (vinyl) cherry wood grain and shiny ebony. Mmmmm. Tasty. When you take off the masks, you’ll immediately notice that the midrange drivers--6.5” on the towers and 5” on the surrounds and center--are pure white and have no dust caps. They’re just cones. Curiouser and curiouser. The tweeters are 1” soft domes and look credible enough. Around back, all five speakers feature gold-plated (or gold-colored at least) binding posts. The towers are bi-ampable, but the spacing on the posts isn’t standard, so using dual banana plugs is out. That’s fine with me, since I don’t use them, but I found it odd enough to mention. And then there’s the connection between the upper and lower binding posts, which consists of two gold rods. These are not the flat plate-style connectors I’m used to, but faceted rods. Again, interesting. Yeah, yeah, but how do they sound? In a word, they sounded surprisingly good. Okay, that’s two words. But they do sound pretty darned good. All five speakers are remarkably open and balanced, and the towers sound remarkably full. After a few laps around some of my favorite demo tracks I found myself really liking the towers. They absolutely sound best on simply recorded songs, like the Dixie Chicks’ “Let Him Fly” from their album Fly. The vocals are pure, and the recording isn’t overproduced, letting the speakers really shine here. They imaged well, though a tad low, and sounded open. It’s also true that the XL7Fs are capable of some bass. On my Telarc recording of the “Back to the Future” theme there is a low rumble a few minutes in. I never expected to get that from these, but I’ll be darned if I didn’t. And on my tweeter test, David Benoit’s “Waiting for Love,” from Letters to Evan, was duly delicate and airy. Also, on Jennifer Warnes’ “Song of Bernadette” from Famous Blue Raincoat there is some intentional sibilance that was well represented. My only complaint with the tweeters was that they brought out a hiss in some of my analog-mastered CDs that I hadn’t heard on other speakers. You would expect something like that to produce shrill highs, but I didn’t experience that. Weird, huh? But I suspect these speakers were really designed for movies, which they do beautifully. The opening scene of Pixar’s Cars is both musical and immersive, and the opening scene from A Bug’s Life surrounds you in delicate effects. The vocals from the center are also clear and surprisingly rich when given a good baritone voice or music in the lower-midrange band. Overall, I’d like to be clear that I was really pleased with these. But would I have been as happy if they cost $1,000 a pair? A $1,000 apiece? No. I would have expected more for that kind of money. My concerns include a “chestiness” that is surely caused by a cabinet that resonates, particularly when playing music loudly. Crank up the music, put your back to these, and you’ll get a lovely massage. This is far less noticeable at lower volumes, on music with less bass, and when playing movies, but it’ll bother the purists. I would also argue that the speaker contains a subwoofer, as the literature claims. There is a passive 8-inch down-firing woofer, but with a crossover point somewhere between 450-500Hz, and a lower limit that the company claims is 45Hz, I’m not sure what kind of sub they had in mind. And the fact that there are sounds at high as 500Hz playing into the floor doesn’t help the sound much either. I’m happy to have a discussion about how one defines “subwoofer” but this would be a hard argument to make. I would also point out that without a dedicated amp for any sub, you won’t be able to take advantage of the LFE (the .1 in 5.1) on nearly any DVD or Blu-Ray movie. Specifications Audiophiles are a number-crunching bunch, and Fluance clearly doesn’t want to play that game. What’s the impedance on the towers speakers? Hmmm, well, somewhere between 4 and 8 Ohms. What’s the frequency response? 45Hz-20kHz, though no “tolerance spec” is provided. The rep I worked with assured me that all frequency response specs were based on a +/-3dB spec, but I found it odd that it wasn’t listed. Maybe their typical customer would find that confusing? Conclusions I started this review by saying that while these weren’t a Ferrari or even a BMW, they were a Lexus for the price of a Toyota, and I stick by that. Nits aside, they balance beauty, performance, and price extraordinarily well, and 99.999995% of the population would be amazed by the sound they put out. They are a tremendous value and perform well above their price-point in nearly every respect. Beat that, NASA. Floorstanding Speakers [*]Tweeter: 1" Neodymium Balanced Silk Dome Ferrofluid Cooled [*]Midrange: Dual 6.5" Polymer Treated Butyl Rubber Surrounds Separate Enclosures [*]Subwoofer: Isolated Down-firing 8" Polymer Treated High Excursion with Butyl Rubber Surround [*]18 gauge internal lead wire to reduce signal degradation [*]Magnetically shielded to avoid interference with other video products [*]Floorstanding main configuration for full-range sound in any application [*]Power Handling: 80 - 200 Watts [*]Frequency Response: 45Hz - 20000Hz [*]Sensitivity: 89 dB [*]Crossover Frequency: 800/3500 Hz Phase Coherent - PCB Mounted Circuitry [*]Impedance: 4~8 Ohms [*]Cabinet: Precision Crafted MDF Internally Braced [*]Enclosure: Tuned Rear Port Bass Reflex Tower Design [*]Dimensions: 45.8 X 8.5 X 13.4 inches (H x W x D) [*]Weight: 45.2 pounds/speaker [/list] Center Channel Speaker [*]System Type: 2 Way - 3 Driver Center Channel (Wall Mountable) [*]Tweeter: 1" Neodymium Balanced Silk Dome Ferrofluid Cooled [*]Midrange: Dual 5" Polymer Treated Butyl Rubber Surrounds [*]Power Handling: 30 - 120 Watts [*]Frequency Response:60 - 20K Hz [*]Sensitivity: 85dB [*]Crossover Frequency:3600 Hz Phase Coherent - PCB Mounted Circuitry [*]Impedance:8 Ohms [*]Enclosure:Vented Bass-reflex Design [*]Dimensions: 6.9 X 18.5 X 9.0 inches (H x W x D) [*]Weight: 13.8 pounds [/list] Surround Sound Speakers [*]System Type: 2 Way - 2 Driver Surround Speaker (Wall Mountable) [*]Tweeter: 1" Neodymium Balanced Silk Dome Ferrofluid Cooled [*]Midrange: 5" Polymer Treated Butyl Rubber Surround [*]Power Handling: 25 - 120 Watts [*]Frequency Response: 60 - 20K Hz [*]Sensitivity: 84dB [*]Crossover Frequency: 6000 Hz Phase Coherent - PCB Mounted Circuitry [*]Impedance: 8 Ohms [*]Enclosure: Vented Bass Reflex Design [*]Dimensions: 11.4 x 8.1 x 9.0 inches (H x W x D) [*]Weight: 8.6 pounds/speaker [/list]  Voice-matched means they sound the same, so there is a seamless tonal quality in all channels. Although the midrange drivers in the towers are larger, the character didn’t vary enough to be distracting.  These speakers use a D'Appolito configuration that puts in tweeter in between two mids in a vertical array. It’s designed to limit vertical dispersion, which it seems to do here.  Oddly, the center and surrounds list a definite 8 Ohms.  Estimate based on people I know and the popularity of a certain high-priced, low-performance brand we all know.