AB40 Soundbase Introduction

Earlier this year speaker manufacturer Fluance made their first foray into the soundbar craze that every audio manufacturer has added to their lineup: The AB40 High Performance Soundbase Home Theater System.  We covered the release in a preview of the AB40, but wanted to see for ourselves what a speaker manufacturer could do with a better enclosure than the limited dimensions of a normal soundbar. Unlike a soundbar, a soundbase is designed to fit under your TV, rather than above or in front of it. In this way, the soundbase acts as a TV stand, but can only be used if your TV has a center stand and not two sets of legs on either end. 

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The AB40 came double boxed in corrugated cardboard. Upon opening the boxes, the unit was nicely nestled in soft foam inserts to protect the unit itself and the accessories.  The entire product arrived intact without damage or missing pieces. For the price point, it is good to see that Fluance included the optical sound cable and batteries for the remote control with the AB40.  These are the little touches that Fluance puts into their products that sets them apart from many other manufacturers. Sure we can go out and get better optical cables and longer lasting batteries, but when you are unpacking the system for the first time it’s good to know that everything you need to get started is right there.

Build Quality

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At 24 pounds, the AB40 is not especially heavy, but the cabinet itself is rated to hold up to 150 pounds! I didn’t think Fluance would appreciate me testing this particular feature since invariably they want their product back after the review. The AB40 does have a beautiful real wood exterior in a black satin finish. The woodgrain shows through and complemented our mahogany TV stand extremely well. The front metal grille is very strong, and will do well in households where curious fingers might be an issue.

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The biggest concern with a soundbase is finding one that will fit your TV. With the overall width of 26” the AB40 is 3” too narrow for my TV. Though the AB40 can be used above or below the TV like a normal center channel speaker, it might just be the push I need to mount the TV to the wall (or upgrade my TV). In fact, if we look at some of the best-selling TVs of 2017 the AB40 will not fit under the majority of them in the 50” range. But where the problem of compatibility is the soundbases’ biggest downfall, it is also its greatest advantage. The first reason is covered in our article Myths & Facts about Loudspeaker Cabinets. The AB40 is made of engineered wood whereas most soundbars are made of ABS plastic that are intrinsically inferior at suppressing resonances and destructive vibrations. The second advantage of the soundbase is the additional enclosure volume compared to a soundbar that is acoustically tuned to enable the speakers to perform at their optimum level. Much like an in-wall speaker, there are many pros and cons for soundbars vs. soundbases and the idea of free-standing vs in-wall is covered in our article The Truth About In-Wall Speakers.

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Under the hood, the AB40 has an impressive 90-watt Class D amplifier to power dual silk dome tweeters for the highs, and four midrange/woofer drivers for the lows. The outer drivers are angled at 35 degrees to help create a larger soundstage and broaden the imaging. Personally, I think that either the soundbase itself should have been curved to fit the 35 degrees angle of the outer drivers, or Fluance should have had more of an angle on these side drivers to widen the soundstage.

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Each of the six speaker drivers is solidly encased in the cabinet, including the four 3” aluminum cone woofers with butyl rubber surrounds and the pair of 1 inch silk soft dome ferro fluid-cooled tweeters.

Set Up

Some quick start guides are getting too quick (ie. Apple). So, when I took out Fluance’s guide for the AB40, I thought there was going to be trouble. After getting my soundbase and TV on a sturdy table (yes those are the first two steps in the quick setup guide), I used the supplied optical cable to connect the soundbase to my TV. I turned off the speakers in my television’s menu, and turned on the AB40.

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Inputs on the AB40 are pretty basic.  Optical cable, 3.5 mm aux and power.  That’s it. No HDMI, RCA, or anything else, so if you’re using an older Blu-ray player with just RCA jacks you’ll have to buy an RCA to 3.5mm converter.

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On the top of the AB40 is an LED behavior sticker that explains how the LED colors correspond to the input source, along with power and volume. White light pairs with the optical cable, green light with the 3.5mm Aux, and the blue light is for when the unit is paired with a Bluetooth device.

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I expected to see these lights shine through the wood just above the sticker on the top of the cabinet and became impatient when the power light wouldn’t come on.  It wasn’t until I looked at the front of the unit that I realized the light colors are displayed through the front grille.  While using the AB40 it is important to note that the light does stay on (White, Green, or Blue), which some users might find annoying.

The sticker on top is designed to be peeled off by the user, and just above the sticker are some of the functioning buttons for the unit itself, including power, source, and volume control.  The buttons are not buttons per se, but touch-enabled spots in the wood.  By looking at them I wasn’t sure that they did anything at all, but they function very well in turning the device on or off and changing the volume and source with just a small amount of pressure from your finger.

The AB40 also features AptX enhanced Bluetooth technology so you can also stream your favorite media from your portable devices. That’s a lot of technology packed into a product of this price class.

Our 3D Sound uses Bass Boost and psychoacoustics to calculate precise harmonics that are related to the fundamental tones of sound, virtually reproducing the lowest frequencies just as if there was a subwoofer in the room.

Fluance

I am leery of any product using circuitry to artificially boost the bass response of the system without having the physics behind the air displacement. This was our biggest concern we had before listening to the AB40. EQing a driver to get more bass is valid provided that there is enough amplifier power and displacement in the driver and I wouldn’t totally write it off.  In the case of the Fluance, they probably boosted in the 80-100Hz range to give a fuller bass sound. Fluance claims their AB40 soundbase can reach bass frequencies down to 30 Hz (though no spec on output level is given), which will be pretty impressive from four 3” aluminum drivers. We revisit this bass discussion in our listening tests portion of the review.

gene posts on October 13, 2017 00:40

Looking for improved sound from those wimpy little TV speakers? Sure you could go with one of those ubiquitous soundbars being sold in any of the big box stores, but why not buy a soundbase instead? The Fluance AB40 Soundbase goes under your TV rather than in front of it. Does the larger cabinet equate to larger sound? Read our in depth review of the AB40 to find out.

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Read: Fluance AB40 High Performance Soundbase Review