|Min OS X: Any Version Requires: RCA Audio Port|
October 16, 2003 | Greg Gant
The Fluance AV-HTBs are a traditional five piece speaker set. By “traditional”, I mean they are not self-powered but need an external amplifier, such as a home theater receiver. The set consists of two front/main speakers, a center channel, and two rear/surround speakers that make up the 80-pound bundle.
What separates the Fluance speakers from other home theater box speaker sets is the rock bottom price tag. At $200, you’ll be hard pressed to find any set that offers the same specifications on paper (such as full sized floor standing mains) for anywhere in the price vicinity. I was a bit suspicious of the Fluances at first. Generally, rock bottom prices means lots of corners are cut, such as sacrificing build quality for cost. But after reading plenty of good things online I decided to give them a go.
Small Price, Big SetOnce I received the speakers, I was pleasantly surprised that their cabinets exceeded my expectations. Instead of flimsy pressboard, each speaker was constructed from sturdy wooden panes with easy to connect speaker grills.
Setting up the AV-HTBs is no different than any other “traditional” speaker: simply run speaker wire from the receiver to the speaker. I did have a minor complaint. The center and rear speakers don’t have banana plugs. Banana plugs are speaker terminals that are suited for easy speaker connectivity. The Kenwood VR-409 receiver connected to my computer only accepts banana plugs on the mains and center so I wasn’t terribly disappointed.
The AV-HTBs do not include a subwoofer but the two main speakers each have a 6.5-inch bass woofer. With almost all home theater receivers, you can pass the LFE (the subwoofer channel) to the mains, which works well with full-range speakers that are capable of reproducing low bass frequencies. The LFE channel is often mistaken as the sole source of bass and referred to as the "subwoofer" channel. The real intention of the LFE is only to reinforce movie sound effects that already exist on other channels which makes it fairly optional. All one must do is set the main speakers to “Large” in the configuration menus, and subwoofer to “none” to pass the LFE to the mains. The moment of truth finally arrived when I was sufficiently satisfied with my room placement.
My audiophilia intuition says to never pass full judgment before a speaker has had a sufficient amount of break-in time. To be honest though, if a speaker sucks out of the box, it’ll most likely suck after being broken in.
I gave them a good 20 hours of usage before I started performing listening tests. It didn’t take long before I noticed the mains were the best part of the AV-HTBs. They claim to hit a low of 38 Hz and I can testify that they do. The HTB Mains do quiet well at cranking out deep and powerful low end. I did find at uncomfortably high volumes, if the bass was maxed on my living room receiver, a Yamaha HTR-5660, that it can distort. The midranges presented proper detail although at times the imaging sounded slightly off. I’d notice that some sounds seemed to be muffled while others were over pronounced. The highs were for the most part clean and in balance. If I had to guess the price of the mains, by themselves I’d placed them about $150-200 for a pair. Its rare when I find speakers that I sincerely think sound much more than they cost and the AV-HTB mains made my very short list.
The center channel didn’t grab me like the mains. Its not bad but just seemed to be a little lacking in comparison. I tend to see the center as the most important speaker in a home theater since a bulk of the most important sound comes from the center. The AV-HTB center is adequate and clean but it only sounded like a $65-100 center channel. I did however notice that with my Yamaha HTR-5660’s Prologic II Music mode, that for the first time I actually preferred listing to music in multi-channel over plain ol’ stereo; thanks in part to the center.
The surrounds are just sorta there. By no means are they bad, but being an audio geek, the Dolby Digital spec calls for full ranged back speakers. The surrounds cut out at 70 Hz meaning they don’t produce a whole 2 octaves of sound. Surrounds are the 2nd least important speaker only behind the subwoofer in a home theater. Generally most movies and games make only minimal use out of them. I toyed with the surrounds by themselves and they made okay bookshelf speakers but weren’t anything terribly special. They could have used a bit more low-end but they still were in check with the rest of the speakers in the package.