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This article was originally published in issue #41
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Confession: before this review cropped-up I’d never actually heard of Fluid Audio. A couple of quick hits on Google tells me that the company was founded by Kevin Zuccaro who has been involved in monitor design for getting-on towards a quarter of a century, so let’s see what two and a half decades’ worth of experience brings to the budget monitor sector.
The monitors I had for review were the Fader Series F4 and F5. They are quite different; the F4 is configured like a consumer/studio monitor, whilst the F5 is set-up more like traditional studio kit. What does that mean? Well...
Fluid Audio Fader F4
The F4 has a smallish form, certainly bigger than an average set of computer monitors but still small enough that you could smuggle a pair onto your desk. The ones I have are black, but the Fluid website (www.fluidaudio.net) also shows them in white which looks very clean and modern and might suit a living space set-up quite nicely. Connectivity is a useful consumer/studio crossover, with back-panel options for RCA or balanced/unbalanced jack which should be fine for most folks. Whilst we’re on the back panel, there’s a power switch, permanently attached power lead, bass port and a set of spring connectors to attach the passive right-hand speaker. Around the front are the drivers - 4” composite woofer and 1” silk-dome tweeter, headphones and aux-in sockets and a volume fader. When I first flipped the power switch I actually though the powered speaker was broken - it was dead quiet and the power indicator is a tiny red LED on the front panel. Feed a signal and there’s an audible click from somewhere in the chassis (sounds like a relay), the LED turns blue and you get sound. After fifteen minutes (give or take) with no signal, the amp switches to standby mode and that LED resets to red - both eco-friendly and convenient.
Sound is pretty well on par for this size of speaker. I could hear into the all-important mid-range in mixes, and listening to some of the sparse arrangements on ZZ Top’s First Album, I was impressed with the separation and clarity of the low end, though you do need to be a bit careful with the level control as things can get a bit busy when that bass port starts to kick in, and I’d certainly rather have a bigger box for higher volume listening. Luckily, there’s the Fader F5. Overall, I'd say that while compact and cheap, for studio use they are overshadowed by their bigger range-mates.
Fluid Audio Fader F5
What a difference an inch makes! The F5 is instantly noticeably warmer and fuller sounding than the F4 - and handles higher levels better, as you’d expect from a box with more speaker and more amplifier. The F5 has a more conventional studio form; each enclosure has its own Class A/B bi-amp setup and you get balanced XLR inputs in addition to the jacks and RCAs of the F4, as well as detachable power leads and voltage selector. There’s no bass port on the back panel, that’s moved onto the front where it occupies the space where the F4 has the front panel sockets (no FP connections on the F5 - but you do still get the volume fader). Sound is robust and like the F4 has nice clear mids and easy-to-listen to highs, but with more depth and detail. I did notice that when I pushed the level control up, a bit of fluff that had settled on my desk took-off on the blast of air from that bass port, and as is often the case on more budget-end ported speakers I actually preferred at high levels to stick a bit of foam in the ports and accept the reduced bass response in favour of a tidier sound.
Speakers are some of the most subjective items of kit in any studio set-up. They are like an always-on EQ, so it’s worth taking the time to listen and check if they do what you need, and also if you actually like them. Both of these sets of speakers deliver a balanced sound within their comfort levels but I definitely found the F5s to be more involving, even for casual listening. The F5s seem to retail for about 50% more than the F4s (curiously - both F4 and F5 versions are listed for the same price by the US distributor - Ed), but at this price point that’s really not a lot of actual cash difference, and for both casual listening and studio work I’d personally save for a while longer and go for the bigger box. To sum-up, this is a competent budget studio speaker with clear mids and a pleasing sound.