Fluance XLBP Bipole Surround Sound Loudspeaker - Review

Fluance XLBP Bipole Surround Sound Loudspeakers
Fluance XLBP Bipole Surround Sound Loudspeakers. Photo © Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

When putting together a speaker system a home theater setup, it is usually best to use the same branded loudspeakers for all your channels (including the subwoofer). The reason for this is that speakers of the same brand, and model series, have the same acoustic properties that make the entire system easier to balance.

However, let's face it, many consumers started with two-channel stereo systems and when surround sound came along, just added the center channel, surround, and subwoofer as needed - without being concern about branding. Since most modern home theater receivers have built-in speaker setup systems that can compensate for some of this issues, you can make speakers of different brands or model series work well together.

With that in mind, Fluance is offering up its XLBP Bipole surround speakers.

What a Bipole Speaker Is

Briefly, a Bipole (or Bipolar) speaker is actually two speaker combinations (in this case each combination consists of a woofer/midrange and tweeter) that are housed in a single cabinet, with each side angled away from the center point.

Ideally, the speaker is placed either on a stand, shelf, or a wall in a position where the sound is projected in two directions, such as towards the listening area and reflected off the back wall. The goal is to provide more encompassing surround sound coming from the sides and slightly from the rear.

Another option is to place the Bipolar speakers on the back wall where the sound can be directed both to the side walls and directly behind the listening position.

Also, if you are in a large room, where there is a lot of distance between the front and back of the room, you can also opt to place a Bipole speaker more toward the midway point between the front and back walls to minimize any sound dips as sound moves from the front to the listening area.

However, a Bipole speaker should not be confused with a Dipole speaker, which outwardly looks the same, but operates in a slightly different manner. For more details, read the article: Direct Radiating vs Bipole vs Dipole Speakers from About.com Stereos.

Description and Specifications

1. The Fluance XLBP is a 2-Way - 4 Driver Bipolar Surround Speaker loudspeaker featuring a dual ported Bass Reflex Design. The speaker can be a shelf, stand, or wall mounted (wall mounting brackets included - but additional wall screws required).

2. Dual 5-inch midrange/woofers (Polymer treated with Butyl Rubber edges)

3. Dual 1-inch Neodymium Ferrofluid Cooled Balanced Dome Tweeters

4. Frequency Response ranges is stated as 60Hz to 20khz.

5. Crossover 3,500 Hz.

6. Sensitivity 88 dB.

7. Power handling is rated at 60 to 100 Watts

8. Dimensions (H x W x D) 11.4 x 7.6 x 13.8 inches, Weight 11.5 pounds.

Setup and Use

In evaluating the Fluance XLBP, I opted for a 5.1 channel setup, replacing current surround speakers in one my systems with the XLBPs.

The system that I integrated the Fluance XLBPs into included:

Note: For the purpose of this review I replaced the two E5bis I was using for surrounds with the Fluance XLBPs. I did comparison listening with both the E5Bis and the XLBPs as part of the system

Blu-ray Disc Player: OPPO BDP-103 (Blu-ray/DVD/CD/SACD/DVD-Audio Playback).

I used the Fluance XLBPs in three difference configurations:

1. I just switched two of the EMP Tek E5Bi's that I was using for my two surround speakers, and replaced them, in their same position (on the left and right, and slightly behind my listening position by about 10 degrees, or 110 degrees from the front center channel speaker), with the Fluance XLBPs, with no change in speaker setup parameters.

2. To the left and right of the seating position, on the side walls, and also reset the speaker level and equalization parameters using the Audyssey MultEQ setup option in an Onkyo TX-SR705 Home Theater Receiver.

3. On the back wall, behind the seating position, in between the center of the back wall and the side walls - again resetting the speaker level and equalization parameters using Audyssey MultEQ.

In all cases, the speakers were placed at the same height level as the front left and right speakers, which was about 48-inches above the floor.

The Listening Experience

I had no preconceptions going into my review of the XLBP - but I was pleasantly surprised at how well they performed.

The surround sound results were a positive improvement, over my original speaker setup, in all three cases, but each with is own characteristics.

In the first setup, although the speaker levels weren't tweaked, I did find the surround field be more open and lively than with the EMP Teks that I replaced, but a little too dominant in the surround area.

In the second setup, having tweaked the speaker parameters, the open and liveliness I experienced with the XLBPs in the previous setup were more precise and balanced with the front speakers, resulting in less dipping with sound moving back and forth between the front channels, as well as from side-to-side on sounds moving from the left to the right side of the room.

Also, due to the wider sound dispersion capability of the XLBPs, I noticed a "slight overhead" effect on some content, such as a scene in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, in which the camera is focused on action below deck, but you can hear the sound of footsteps on the deck above.

Of course, for a more effective height effect, you need a system that includes Dolby Prologic IIz/ Atmos, or DTS:X, which also require different speaker configurations and placement, such as placing additional speakers above the front left and right channels in the case of Prologic IIz, or  vertically firing or overhead speakers in the case of Dolby Atmos.

On the other hand, since the XLBPs where placed along the side walls in the second setup, there wasn't much being reflected off the back wall than I would have preferred.

However, in my final setup, I moved the XLBPs to the back wall, reset the speaker level and equalization parameters and ran the same Blu-ray, DVD, SACD, DVD-Audio test discs and found that the bipolar design of the XLBPs once again did a good job.

The surround field was still open on the sides, and reflected back into the center of the room, but now, there was more emphasis in the rear, as one side of each speaker was directed to the seating position - not as precise as you get with a true-7.1 channel speaker setup, as the surround information coming from the back was the same as reflected off the side walls and into the room, but enough that you experience more sound coming from the rear position than you would with a 5.1 channel speaker setup not using bipole surround speakers.

Running the Audio Test portion of the Digital Video Essentials: HD Basics Test Disc (Blu-ray Disc version)  the XLBPs were able to produce a faintly audible tone starting at about 45Hz, with a usable audio tone at about 60Hz, and a strong audio output beginning at 80Hz. These results are actually very good, as in home theater setup, it is typical that frequencies below 80Hz are handled best by a subwoofer.

Final Take

What makes the Fluance XLBP's different than many speakers is that two sets of speakers combined within a single channel, but are projected in two directions. As a result, they can contribute (along with the acoustical properties of your room) to a wider surround sound field, as well as fill in audio gaps between the front and back of the room.

However, it is also important to point out that with a wider surround sound field, the precise directionality of the points at specific sounds originate does become more diffused.

Also, another tip, you might find, after placing the XLBPs in an existing speaker setup, and running a setup system, such as Audyssey MultEQ - that the XLBPs might produce a surround sound level that is too dominant, in relation to the front and center channel speakers. In that case, it might necessary to manually reduce the surround level output somewhat to get just the right balance for you. My suggestion, use a sound meter for this task for the most precise result.

All of the above being said, if you desire more room filling surround sound (especially from a 5.1 channel speaker setup), definitely give the Fluance XLBPs a try, I expected that you will like what you hear.

Also, if you even more adventurous, you might even try the XLBPs as left and right front main speakers (with a subwoofer) in a 2.1 channel system - definitely provides a wide stereo field with a solid phantom center channel.

For added setup and placement convenience, wall mounting brackets are already built-in if you want to take advantage of that option - you just supply the properly sized wall screws.

The Fluance XLBP surround speakers are available in available Dark Walnut or Mahogany and are priced at $199.99 a pair - Official Product Page

For more on Fluance speakers, read my previous review of their 5.1 channel XL Series speaker system. Tip: You can add the XLBP to this system and make it a 7.1 channel system, mounting the XLBPs along the back wall.

Software Used Used to Conduct Review

Standard DVDs: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, John Wick, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

CDs: Al Stewart - Sparks of Ancient Light, Beatles - LOVE, Blue Man Group - The Complex, Joshua Bell - Bernstein - West Side Story Suite, Eric Kunzel - 1812 Overture, HEART - Dreamboat Annie, Nora Jones - Come Away With Me, Sade - Soldier of Love.

DVD-Audio Discs: Queen - Night At The Opera/The Game, Eagles - Hotel California, and Medeski, Martin, and Wood - Uninvisible, Sheila Nicholls - Wake.

SACD Discs: Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon, Steely Dan - Gaucho, The Who - Tommy.