Fluance HFF Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed

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Fluance HFF Floorstanding Speaker Reviewed

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Fluance-HFF-225x225.jpgLike many current-model speakers, the Fluance HFF is made in China. But there's often a big difference between speakers that are designed by engineers at big-name speaker companies then built in China and speakers that are designed and built in China then sold under the brand of a U.S. importer. The HFF was designed in Canada, a country whose name is, in the audio business, literally synonymous with "well-designed speakers."

Fluance's original tower speaker, the XL7F (which I reviewed three years ago), showed what can go wrong when companies buy speakers lock, stock, and barrel from an OEM (original equipment manufacturer). The product looked amazingly nice for its $499/pair price, and its drivers were decent, but its crossover points and slopes seemed randomly chosen and thus reduced the speaker's performance. The XL7F managed to sound okay, and it played very loud for the price, but I knew it could have been better with just a few different parts and an extra choke.

At $699/pair, the HFF carries a slightly higher price tag, but anyone who's familiar with the technical aspects of loudspeakers will know at a glance that it's a superior design. It's a three-way model, the configuration that most speaker engineers consider optimal for a tower speaker. Starting at the top, there's a one-inch silk dome tweeter, a five-inch glass fiber midrange, and two eight-inch polypropylene cone woofers. The crossover points are 530 Hz between the woofers and mids and 2,600 Hz between the mids and tweeters--all reasonable and rational choices. (The crossover slopes aren't published, but my measurements gave me some insight into them, which I'll share shortly.)

Fluance-HFF-bp.jpgThe look is big, black, and bulky, but the fit and finish are nice. The drivers have trim rings to hide their screws, and the grilles attach magnetically. On the back, above the vents for the woofers, are biwirable speaker cable binding posts that wouldn't look out of place on an $8,000/pair speaker. Thick metal posts bridge the two sets of binding posts when the speakers aren't biwired. Each speaker rests on sturdy metal outriggers that help prevent tipping. In fact, this $699/pair speaker looks more expensive than most of the speakers I've reviewed for HomeTheaterReview.com, almost all of which have been at least twice as costly.

The only place where cost cuts are obvious is in the MDF panels that make up the speaker. The front baffle is spec'ed at 1.4 inches thick, so it's pretty sturdy, but the rest of the enclosure seems less so. Removing the jack panel on one speaker showed that the MDF is relatively thin and not especially dense, and the hollow "thunk" I heard when I knocked on the side suggests that the cabinets aren't heavily braced inside.

Even after I attached the outriggers and gave the HFFs a thorough examination, nothing suggested a potential problem or a crippling compromise. So let's find out what they sound like ...

The Hookup
I used the HFFs with my usual stereo rig, which consists of a Class� CP-800 preamp/DAC, a Class� CA-2300 stereo amp, a Music Hall Ikura turntable, and an NAD PP-3 phono preamp, plus an Audio by Van Alstine AVA ABX switcher for level-matched comparisons. For movies and TV, I used a Sony STR-ZA5000ES AV receiver. I used Wireworld Eclipse 7 interconnect and speaker cables.

The speakers sounded good in the same positions where I normally put my Revel Performa3 F206 tower speakers, so I left them there for most of my listening. I did move them a few inches closer together for a while to tighten up the center imaging, but they sounded good both ways--which placement is best is just a matter of opinion. Both speakers were pointed straight at my listening position. As I'll explain shortly, the treble was a little on the soft side with the grilles off; because using the grilles would make the treble sound even softer, I leaned them in a corner and never used them.

It was clear to me from the first notes of "Mr. Tambourine Man" from Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home album that the HFF basically has its act together. Dylan's voice has a nasal, reedy character that can sound thin and shrill through some audio systems, but with the HFF it sounded clean and natural. I got the essential character of his voice, with a nice, smooth midrange and no shrillness at all. His acoustic guitar and harmonica had the same smooth character, with no extra edge or bite added to create a false sensation of "detail."

I liked the HFF's ability to create a natural, compelling sense of space, which it exhibited clearly on my ancient vinyl release of jazz organist Jimmy Smith's The Sermon. Although The Sermon was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder, the most famous jazz recording engineer of all time, it's a pretty weird-sounding presentation. Smith's Hammond organ stretches across the soundstage, while the drums stretch from the right speaker to roughly where a center speaker would sit if there were one, with the guitar appearing to come from right where the kick drum would be. Soloists, including trumpeter Lee Morgan and tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks, appear hard in the left channel. Despite the peculiarities of the recording, the HFFs gave the recording a nice sense of depth; I actually could sense the positioning of the snare drum behind the cymbals.

Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" sounds big on almost any system, but the whistling behind the vocal in the bridge sounds ultra-mega-spacious on the right speakers. And that's just the way it sounded through the HFFs, with the whistle appearing to come from maybe 20 feet behind the vocals in a large, hard-surfaced performance space. I also noticed that the bass line sounded even and melodic, something that's often difficult to achieve with tower speakers, which can't be positioned for optimum bass because they have to be positioned for optimum mids and treble.

The presence of Justin Bieber and, apparently, no acoustic instruments makes Major Lazer's hit "Cold Water" unlikely material for audiophiles, but I'm going to guess that someone buying a $700 pair of speakers might want to spin a few pop hits on occasion. If they try this through the HFFs, they'll like what they hear. Recordings like this are engineered to sound big, exciting, and reverberant, and the HFFs get that 100 percent right for two reasons: the nice sense of spatial depth that the speakers convey and the combined air-pushing power of four eight-inch woofers (which, BTW, have the same combined radiating area as a single 16-inch subwoofer).

Those big eight-inch woofers make a subwoofer optional. As I suggested before, you won't get the precise control of the bass that you would with a subwoofer, but there's enough bass extension and output to convey the impacts of action movie soundtracks. When I watched Thor: The Dark World, streamed through a Roku Stick and Amazon, I often pined for a comprehensible plot, but I never once pined for more or louder bass.

As I look through my listening notes on the HFF, I see the phrase "nice balance" appear over and over again. It has a few subtle colorations, which I'll describe below; but, as with most classic budget hi-fi products, its sins are of omission rather than commission. Basically, you can play any music through the HFF, with just a decent stereo receiver driving it, and it'll sound quite good. No part of the audio band sticks out from the rest, and the speaker has no performance anomalies that make it fussy about positioning or acoustic treatment. It's one of those speakers that just works, which I consider especially important in this price range.

Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...

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