Review: Fluance AB40 TV Soundbase

The AB40 is a TV soundbase from Canadian speaker maker Fluance. This accessory promises to improve upon your TV’s built-in sound by delivering deep bass, crisp highs, and clear midrange in a sturdy black box that sits under your display. So let’s take a look and listen to this affordable AV audio option.

Features and Setup

Unpacking and setup of the AV40 was quick and easy. This is a simple device with only two physical inputs—one digital and one analog—plus Bluetooth with aptX. Most users will probably connect to a TV using the optical-digital option and be done with it, and perhaps stream some tunes from a phone. But the inclusion of the 3.5mm analog lets you add another source like a Chromecast Audio or an Amazon Echo Dot.

This is a two-way system with 90 Watts of class-D amplification and six drivers total. This includes dual 1″ soft-dome tweeters for precise high-frequency reproduction, as well as four 3″ aluminum-cone woofers (with butyl rubber surrounds) that grant it a frequency response of 30 Hz to 20 Hz, at least according to the specifications.

I was a bit surprised to see that it uses a external power supply—a so called wall-wart—given how much room there is inside the AB40’s sizeable cabinet. Having said that, I was impressed by the build quality of the enclosure (considering the MSRP) and it looks pretty good, too.

This 24 pound soundbase measures 3.9″ (H) x 26″ (W) x 14″ (D). The enclosure features twin tuned ports that vent to the sides and can support a TV that weighs up to 150 pounds.


Fluance’s AB40 comes with a wireless remote control as well as a 6 foot digital optical cable. What it does not do is connect to any networks nor does it have an app to control it. Fluance appears to have eschewed connectivity and instead concentrated on audio fidelity.

The soundbase offers optical digital input as well as a 3.5 mm stereo analog input, but does not feature HDMI. It has Bluetooth for wireless connectivity, including support for the aptX codec. A virtual surround-sound function provides enhanced audio immersion, and bass boost is there for folks who want more punch down low.

In order to test the AB40 in its intended application, I used it in conjunction with a Sony X930E 65″ UHD/HDR TV. The Sony has a pedestal stand that fits perfectly on top of the AB40. Plus, the TV weighs 93.4 pounds, a substantial load, which the Fluance supported without complaining.

The Fluance AB40 soundbase decodes PCM digital data, but it is not compatible with bitstream data such as various flavors of Dolby or DTS. That’s no big deal given that it is a stereo device, and most TVs output PCM stereo through the ubiquitous digital optical connection.

The upshot to the basic connectivity is that the AB40 keeps things simple. PCM over optical-digital is practically a “guaranteed to work” connection. The primary catch is there’s no actual surround-sound involved, but the AB40 is a stereo device so it does not matter.

Listeners craving some kind of surround effect may care to know the AB40 includes a 3D virtual surround-sound mode. This feature is said to work in conjunction with the outermost 3″ drivers that are angled so as to generate a more enveloping soundfield.

Conveniently, you can control all of the AB40’s functions using the included remote, and it even offers playback controls for connected Bluetooth devices. The cabinet itself has a power switch, source select switch, and volume controls. It also has a color changing LED that indicates which input is selected and responds to other commands with blinks.

Since this is a soundbase, it is designed to go underneath your TV, as opposed in front of it. There is a definite benefit to that approach for an all-in-one system.  Namely, the large, vented cabinet allows it to create deep bass with comparative ease. However, you must be sure that your TV’s stand will fit on the AB40 because not all do. Furthermore, more and more TVs come with legs instead of pedestal stands. So, you have to double check a TV’s specs to make sure the AB40 will work for your intended application.

The AB40 does not decode bitstream audio like Dolby surround or DTS, so you have to set your source device to PCM output. It works fine with the Sony TV I paired it with. I also had no issue establishing a Bluetooth connection.

Use and Listening

Since the AB40 is explicitly meant to be paired with a TV—which becomes the defacto primary source—I consider it a plus that it is a “dumb” device where the main focus is on achieving good sound quality.

First things first, the measured frequency response of the AB40 reveals a degree of optimism when it comes to 30 Hz bass extension. Namely, at that frequency output had dropped by about 25 dB versus higher frequencies. But 40 Hz was down only a few dB, so it’s totally fair to say the real-world response of the AB40 is 40 Hz to 20 kHz. At this price, and considering it’s an all-in-one, that’s good response.

Measured frequency response was surprisingly flat from 100 Hz up to 8000 Hz. However, at 8000 Hz the treble starts to rise markedly, resulting in a 12 dB boost stretching from 12,000 hz to 16,000 Hz. Then the treble response drops 20 dB before it reaches 20,000 Hz. The end result of this bump is that the treble put out by the AB40 has some sizzle to it, and there’s no way to adjust that effect.

With music and movies, I found that the 3D surround sound enhancement had little impact; the stage may be a bit wider, but it already sounds expanded without the processing. I did enjoy the bass enhancement function, the results it produced sounded dynamic, not bloated. Moreover, the AB40 had the surprising ability to rattle nearby windows with the impact of the bass during action movies like Transformers: The Last Night, or Atomic Blonde.

The boosted treble struck me as a boon for movie and TV content, adding some clarity to speech, and it went well with the enhanced bass. Watching football, I found the voices of the announcers easy to hear.

The analog stereo 3.5mm inout worked fine, but at high volume there was a slight hiss. I wound up using an Amazon Echo Dot with a Bluetooth connection for most of my music, and for a total cost of $300 it made for a rather sweet system.

With music, I thought the AB40 sounded a bit bright, but not excessively so. Here again, the bass boost helped balance that out. The AB40 is not an example of a soundbar with “textbook flat” response, but considering its price/performance ratio, there’s not much to complain about here. This soundbase offers lively, clear audio that can get loud enough to provide some real impact.

One oddity I found in my testing was that the AB40 prefers 48 kHz or 98 kHz digital audio. If you feed it 44.1 kHz digital and run a sine wave sweep, it sounds like the transporter in Star Trek, with all kinds of swirly-sounding aliasing artifacts. But, here again, the AB40 gets a pass because 48 kHz is the bitrate it’s going to receive most often.

Conclusion

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall fidelity of the sound produced by the Fluance AB40. The angled drivers did a good job of expanding the soundstage beyond the confines of the enclosure. I’m not sure the 3D audio feature does much, but so long as you sit within the AB40’s “sweet spot” you will enjoy surprisingly decent audio.

When considering a $250 all-in-one audio device, there’s always the thought in the back of your head that you can surely get something better for just a few bucks more. And generally speaking that’s true. Plus, you’ll find a lot more options in a soundbar form factor. However, at its price point, you likely won’t find another soundstand as sturdy, nor will you find that many soundbars at this price with the overall fidelity this sizeable and stout design offers.

The main minuses here are the paucity of input options, the tall design that may not fit under a TV equipped with feet, and some unusual artifacts I heard when decoding 44.1 kHz audio. Having said that, it’s rare to find anything at the Fluance AB40’s price point that has the ability to dish out bass you can feel without the help of a subwoofer.

If your budget is tight yet you want something more than what typical budget soundbars offer, especially in the bass department, you might find this is the right soundstand for you.