Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper

Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper

Home assistants are quickly becoming an invaluable piece of hardware for the modern person. The access to quick Internet searches, music playback, and integration with many of the programs we use on a daily basis, shows how convenient home assistants are. Around half a year ago, Google released the Google Home. Now, Google wants to put more access to it’s assistant throughout your home with the release of the Google Home Mini.

Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper 5
Google Home Mini (Image credit: CGM Staff)

 The Google Home Mini does live up to the mini in its name. Coming in at only around 2 inches tall and only approximately 4 inches in diameter, the device is small and discreet. The Mini is primarily made of the speaker with a small base attached along the bottom. The unit I received was the chalk colour; which has a white base and a grey mesh on top for the speaker. Visible within the grey mesh are the four dots that signify any and everything the Google Home Mini does. These dots represent when the device is listening to your commands, when it is performing its functions, and even the volume control.

Using the Google Home Mini is straightforward. Just say, “Okay Google…” followed by your request and the device gets to work. Only on one occasion did I find that the device couldn’t hear me and this was when there was already loud music playing in the room. I didn’t attempt to use the device from across any space larger then a room as this device is intended for individual rooms, unlike its larger, full-size cousin.

Using your voice is the primary way that you can interact with the Google Home Mini. Touch controls are limited to only volume control. By touching the sides of the device you can have the volume raised or lowered. These controls were always responsive and it’s a shame that there were not more controls that could be done by touch.

Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper 3
Google Home Mini (Image credit: CGM Staff)

Having access to Google’s searching capabilities is immensely helpful. Any time I would need to know something, the Google Home Mini could find the answer. That isn’t to say that this device exists solely to be a physical Google search engine. The device has many more capabilities then that.

The other primary feature I used from the Google Home Mini was its ability to make phone calls. At first I was sceptical that the device could make proper phone calls but after getting accustomed to the commands, I never had to pick up my cell phone while around the Home Mini. Call quality was clear for the recipient on the other end and I never found myself struggling to hear the other person.

 For anyone with other Google devices in their home—such as a Chromecast—the Google Home Mini works with them to create a functioning ecosystem of convenience. I could ask my Home Mini to play the latest episode of Stranger Things through Netflix and it would cast the show to my TV through the Chromecast. Integration with my phone was great as well. Being able to ask about the traffic, and then having the fastest directions on my phone was incredibly convenient while I was getting ready to leave for my day.

Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper
Google Home Mini (Image credit: CGM Staff)

Using the Google Home Mini as an assistant to my day felt natural. Getting the weather and news while I was busy getting ready is incredibly useful. Having something that can tell me step-by-step instructions to some of my favourite recipes made cooking new food a breeze. Having access to all of these features made me always want the Google Home close at hand.

 This was Google’s goal with the Home Mini. They wanted you to be able to place a device throughout all the rooms in your home so that the Google Assistant is only a phrase away. Having a few of these devices sprinkled throughout the house with a full size Google Home as a central hub is what Google aims for these devices.

 There is only one minor hiccup with Google’s plan, the base cost of the device. At $79 CAD, the Google Home Mini is a small investment if you want the device in multiple rooms of your house. With the full-size Google Home only being a hundred dollars more expensive at $179 CAD, the devices don’t seem to be properly priced. As of this writing, the devices are on sale and available for much cheaper. The Google Home Mini is only $39 CAD and the full sized Google Home is only $99 CAD. At these prices, the devices are amazing. For such a low cost to entry, I would whole-heartedly recommend these devices. However, outside of this discount, I have to pause and think if they are worth it.

 The Google Home Mini is a great purchase if you already have a Google Home and are looking to expand it’s use throughout your home or if you want Google Assistant in one room of your home such as an office. As something to pick up on a whim, the price tag makes it harder to justify. If you can snag it on sale, I say go for it.

Google Home Mini (Hardware) Review: A Little Helper 2
Google Home Mini (Image credit: CGM Staff)

A retail version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Jesse Cabral’s review of Divinity Original Sin 2 and his review of the MSI Stealth Pro!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Logitech MX Sound Speakers Review

Logitech MX Sound Speakers Review

Gaming headsets have become the essential all-in-one sound system for many players. While these are a great product for delivering an isolated and immersive experience, they leave little room for socialization among a group of friends. Nothing hurts more when you’re hosting a small event and that crisp, clear audio you’re used to from your headset suddenly becomes drowned out and crunchy when you switch to the objectively garbage built-in speakers of your monitor. For a cheap and efficient solution to this pertinent first-world problem, Logitech has developed the MX Sound 2.0 Bluetooth Speakers.

Logitech MX Sound Speakers Review 3
Logitech MX Sound Speakers (credit: CGM Staff)

Retailing for $100 USD, the Logitech MX Sound Speakers package in two quality-built plastic drivers, a 3.5mm audio cable, a connector cable, and the ever important power brick. Aimed at audiophiles as the core target market, Logitech has prioritized using premium materials and fabric to deliver the best possible sound in an unobtrusive and minimalistic package. Being just over 6” tall and wide, the Logitech MX Sound drivers’ ideal placement is on each side of the user’s monitor or desk. Each speaker is clearly labeled right and left respectively and the driverless nature of the hardware means setup is hassle free.

Spec wise, the drivers of the Logitech MX Sound Speakers run comfortably at an RMS value of 12W and short bursts with a peak value of 24W. To deliver a full bass experience while maintaining balanced audio to the user the drivers are built with uniquely designed port tubes to extend the range and the front of the devices are covered in premium fabric to protect the sensitive internal components. A smart design choice by Logitech is their decision to tilt the speakers 10 degrees up so they are aimed at the users ears instead of at their chest. While the Logitech MX Sound Speakers will find their primary home on the workstation desks of its users, the system also takes advantage of Bluetooth  2.0 technology to seamlessly switch between up to three devices, similar to the previously reviewed Logitech Craft keyboard.

Logitech MX Sound Speakers Review 2
Logitech MX Sound Speakers (credit: CGM Staff)

A key feature advertised about the Logitech MX Sound Speaker system are its motion activated volume controls. While the feature works well, I wish there could have been more implementation because I feel there’s some wasted potential here. Instead of just adjusting the volume overall I would have loved to see some service pairing with Spotify or any music streaming services, allowing the user to change the track they’re listening to with a tap or even the playlist they were listening to if they held their finger on the forward button.

Using Destiny 2, Stranger Things 2 and various genres of music as my test suite, the Logitech MX Sound Speakers performed admirably for the price. While I wouldn’t blast music at full volume using this system because the full bass drowns out songs with a higher pitch, I enjoyed their powerful feel in cinematic titles and shows when the media would reach a tense action sequence.

Logitech MX Sound Speakers Review
Logitech MX Sound Speakers (credit: CGM Staff)

The result of the testing left me in a conflicted state. While the speakers work well for shows and games, the core target market of audiophiles has definitely gotten the short end of the stick. I wouldn’t recommend the Logitech MX Sound Speakers to this set of consumers as a primary candidate for their hard-earned money, but they certainly serve as a great budget replacement when in a pinch. Overall, the Logitech MX Sound Speakers accomplishes the goal of being an affordable set of quality speakers, but lacks the power to stand out as a clear winner from the diverse competition.

A retail version of this device reviewed was provided by the manufacturer. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Cole Watson’s reviews of Assassin’s Creed Origins and Gundam Versus!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out the First 15: Star Wars Battlefront II, Sonic Forces + Episode Shadow, and  Super Mario Odyssey!

Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!

Never miss when new CGM articles go out by following us on Twitter and Facebook!

CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!

Logitech Announces Two New Peripherals

Logitech Announces Two New Peripherals

Logitech has announced a new keyboard and speaker system aimed at high-end professionals. The CRAFT Keyboard and the MX Sound are the latest peripherals from the company. Both peripherals are expected to be launched this October.

The CRAFT Advanced Keyboard is aimed directly at professionals who want to get the most out of their keyboard. Featuring a touch-sensitive aluminum dial on the top of the keyboard known as the Crown, the CRAFT Keyboard hopes to provide professionals with great two-handed interactions. Examples of what users can do with the Crown includes changing brush sizes in Adobe Photoshop, stroke width in Adobe Illustrator, or control fonts and format in Microsoft Word.

“Our new flagship Logitech CRAFT keyboard is for all creators who spend a lot of time designing and creating who want to work with greater precision and feel connected to their work,” said Art O’Gnimh, global head of keyboards at Logitech. “The creative input dial gives you instant access to the functions you need, the moment you need them, allowing you to increase your productivity by simply touching the dial. CRAFT puts you in your creative element every time you sit at the desk.”Logitech Announces Two New Peripherals 1

The MX Sound is a Bluetooth speaker that promises a premium sound in a compact and stylish design. Featuring high-end drivers and a rear-facing port tubes, Logitech is trying to bring convenience and power in a portable and stylish form factor. The speakers promise to reproduce sound as the artist intended which is something that other speakers of this size cannot deliver.

“With MX Sound you now can have amazing audio in a product designed to complement even the most premium desktop environment,” said Philippe Depallens, Vice President and General Manager of Logitech Audio. “This exceptional speaker was designed from the ground up to provide an immersive experience whether you are streaming from your computer, smartphone or tablet.”

Both the CRAFT Keyboard and the MX Sound speakers are expected to be available this October. The Keyboard is expected to retail for $199.99 and the MX Sound is expected to be available for $99.99.

To learn more about the upcoming products, check out the website for the keyboard and the speakers.

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review

Modular attachments for smartphones are really starting to pick up steam, and it’s amazing to see where companies will take them. For instance, LG presented their versions earlier this year alongside the G5, and they’re just one of many companies innovating in this field. While the one I happened to try out was less than spectacular, I could see the potential, and that’s where Moto Mods come in. Officially launched in Canada with the Moto Z and Moto Z Play, these attachments seek to add new capabilities to the already amazing smartphones. These include an extra battery, speakers, a projector, and a camera attachment. After some intimate time with all of those peripherals, all I can think is what a lineup.

Incipio Offgrid Power Pack
Price: $89

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review 3Let’s begin with this little beauty. Manufactured by Incipio, the Offgrid Power Pack is an attachable 2220-mAh battery that gives your phone almost an extra day of juice. More often than not, anytime I’m around my friends, they are charging their phones because of how quick they kill their battery life. The Power Pack takes away the need to be attatched to a wall by not only acting as an extra battery, but also using that power to charge your phone’s main battery. It barely sticks off the phone as well, so you don’t need to worry about extra baggage. It also has a little button you can press to check how much power is remaining in it. If the light is red, it’s time for a fill up. To do this, just attach it to your phone and charge it like you normally would.

This is a very handy piece, but it’s a little expensive for some. Try and find this one at a better price if you can.

JBL SoundBoost Speaker
Price: $99

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review 2If you’re in the market for a new sound system, JBL has you covered with their unique SoundBoost Speaker attachment. I was blown away the first time I experienced this piec. It has amazing sound quality and a powerful sound even at half volume, so it will definitely have your guests wondering how your phone is giving off such a powerful noise. The bass is particularly deep which shocked me. It isn’t desk shaking by any means, but you will for sure notice those bass drops. A little built-in kickstand keeps it propped up to deliver these sounds too. It also features its own internal battery, which can be charged either attached to the charging phone, or by itself.

I feel like the price is right with this one, considering how great the sound quality is. Gone are the days of putting your phone in a cup to amplify the sound.

Moto Insta-Share Projector
Price: $399

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review 5A projector for your phone? Yeah, you read that right. The Moto Insta-Share Projector was for sure the craziest of the mods I used. This one is definitely for the business folks out there who need to show off a project in a snap, but it’s versatile. It has the ability to shine up to a 70-inch projection with 50 lumens of nominal brightness, so it could come in handy if something were to happen to your main projector. But don’t let its professional design fool you; this is made for projecting on the go. It’s helpful when you want to show off your latest Internet video to a bunch of people and not have them all crowded around a small phone screen, and it comes with integrated kickstand and a focus wheel to make said video look its best. A built-in battery also gives it an extra hour of life, which can be charged separately. As an added bonus, it also comes with a little carrying case.

Again, I think the price is a bit much on this, but it does produce a great picture quality. It should prove helpful for business-on-the-go.

Hasselblad True Zoom
Price: $349

This was by far my favourite Moto Mod. Produced by legendary camera company Hasselblad, the True Zoom opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your phone’s camera. Looking like a digital camera itself, the True Zoom adds in a 10x Optical Zoom that makes you feel like you can take a photo of Mars. Okay, maybe not that far, but it zooms in an incredible distance, and the photos still look amazing. This zoom is also physically controlled next to the capture button, making this feel a lot more professional than most peripherals. On top of that, a Xenon Flash helps illuminate the darkest of scenes that you want to capture. This doesn’t have a battery as I assume any power needed is drawn directly from the phone, but I didn’t notice any significant drainage when using it.  And to make things easier, The True Zoom comes with a little carrying case, which can fit the phone with the True Zoom attached.

Moto Mods (Hardware) Review 8The True Zoom is extremely helpful when you need some semi-professional looking photos in a pinch. The quality of photos this attachment can take, along with it’s professional design make the price feel right.

The Moto Mods were some of the best modular attachments I’ve used, and are for sure the best executed concept I’ve seen yet on smartphones. Even though price is an issue for some, quality is not something that comes into question.  Despite my lackluster introduction to this scene, the Moto Mods made me very excited to see where this market is heading in the next couple years.

Braven 705 Speaker (Hardware) Review

Braven 705 Speaker (Hardware) Review

While many don’t compare to a more traditional sound system, wireless speakers are great for a party, or patio get together. They’re (usually) compact, easy to use, and pack some pretty great sound. But since they’re so in demand lately, there are a lot of choices for your portable sound needs. One such option is the Braven 705 portable wireless speaker. While it somewhat meets the aforementioned criteria, it falls short in many areas making it well built and functional, but overpriced.
Braven3Visually, the Braven 705 is a sleek little brick. It’s a palm-sized device with smooth, curved edges and a tough exterior that can take its fair share of ‘oopsie daisies’. The speaker is advertised as weather resistant, so the device can withstand a splash or two, which is clear in its crisp, sealed design. Looking at the speaker straight on, the left side is sealed by a thick waterproof cap, which protects all inputs, outputs, and permeable buttons. The right side has four impermeable buttons, for initiating Bluetooth pairing, toggling volume or skipping tracks, and turning the device on or off. The top of the device features a surprisingly sensitive microphone above the product logo. The strong, shock absorbent frame holds it all together, but it’s hardly needed with the speaker’s rubbery, slip N’ slide-proof base. The device has eight colour options, including purple, yellow, and the package-featured blue. We got the standard black model, and it’s as subtle as it is handsome, as far as portable speakers go.

Before I get into the features I did test, I’ll mention one I couldn’t. The Braven 705 advertises the ability to pair with other Braven speakers. However, we only received one Braven 705, so I was unable to try that out.

One of the most unique features of the Braven 705 is its ability to charge devices using the built-in 1400mAh Lithium Ion battery bank. Unfortunately, the speaker is actually unable to charge most external devices that you’d probably use this feature for. The device manual notes that the power bank can only charge USB devices that draw from a 0.3A – 1A power source. Most cell phones, smartphones, tablets, and pretty much anything else you’d want to charge with your Braven 705 are 2A devices. While the speaker is technically able to charge these common devices, I found the speaker’s battery drained in a matter of minutes when I plugged my iPhone 5s into the USB port. It’s kind of like advertising an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar, but the only utensils you can use are chopsticks. Sure, you can do it, but not the way you’d hoped.

Despite that, the speaker itself holds a better charge than it provides. The manual claims it can obtain a full charge (five illuminated lights on the battery indicator) in about two or three hours. The speaker is advertised to last for about 12 hours of medium-volume music streaming, and from our tests, that’s accurate.

Of course, the most important feature of any portable speaker is the sound quality. I’m really big on bass, and this speaker’s falls flat in that category. Despite the lack of bass, the speaker sounds okay at pretty much any volume, although the treble crackles at higher volumes. All things considered, the sound is mediocre at best. For a price of $119.99 I expected a little more.

The Braven 705 is an unimpressive speaker for it’s price tag. The features that are supposed to make it unique ultimately fail at what they want to offer. The power bank doesn’t charge any modern devices, and the sound quality is less than ideal. If you’re looking for a well-designed speaker with decent sound, there is a wide range of higher-quality speakers at a much lower price.

Sonos Play:5 (Hardware) Review

Sonos Steps up the Game With New Offerings

Sonos has been synonymous with wireless home audio for a while now, allowing anyone the ability to set their own home up with interconnected wireless speakers, filling every room with sound. With the completely redesigned Play:5, they are hoping to build a new flagship; one that not only improves on the past iteration of the Play:5 but as will stand as a must-own flagship audio device. If our testing is anything to go by, they have managed this feat without question.

The new Play:5 is a full $100 more expensive than the previous model Play:5, costing $500 ($549 CAD)—well above the $199 for the Play:1 and the $299 for the Play:3. What you get with this extra money, though, is significant. The new iteration of the Play:5 is revamped both inside and out. The new matte design will fit into any home and be a stylish figure your chosen room. Sonos wants their devices to stand the test of time in clients’ homes, and with the play:5, that’s obvious. Whether your preference is a black or white colour, the speaker will fit with most decors, ensuring it never feels out of place or an eyesore to the user.

sonosplay5insert1Even though the Play:5 works best while oriented horizontally, Sonos have built the speaker to know which face it’s resting on and automatically optimize itself for that particul setup. The new touch controls give easy access to needed features of the speaker when the app is not easily accessible, while sticking with the clean, sleek design that makes it such a pleasure to look at. Some clever additions, for sure.

The new design also features 60,000 individual speaker holes in the new front polycarbonate speaker grille. Behind the sleek non-removable grille rests the heart of the speaker: six in-house-built drivers that allow it to create rich, clear, room-filling sound. The three tweeters and three mid-woofers provide a sound that is far and away above what you can find in comparable speakers. The sound is clean and crisp, while still managing to fill most rooms with rich depth. It’s something that many Bluetooth speakers claim to achieve, yet none can match the richness Sonos has managed.

The real test for the Play:5 was the ability to play a wide range of music genres the way the studio intended. From the deep bass of Dubstep to the rich clean sound of Jazz, the Play:5 managed to play the music I wanted to hear, the way it was intended, for hours at a time. Never once did I feel that the sound was muddy, or lacking in depth.

sonosplay5insert2The fact that I could crank the Play:5 in a group setting without hearing any noticeable distortion is a true test of the quality of the drivers. Most Bluetooth speakers—and even the Sonos Play:1—could not come close to matching this ability. With many rival options sounding weak until cranked, the Play:5 managed to sound fantastic at any volume, ensuring it was always a pleasure to listen to.

The real key to making everything sound so crisp with the Play:5 is the new Trueplay calibrator included in the new Sonos app. This new iOS-only ability allows the user to calibrate the speaker for the room and placement, ensuring that no matter where the speaker is placed and what the surrounding area is like, it will always produce the best sound possible. In testing, the short tutorial allowed us to get the speaker working fantastically within minutes, and the sound difference was like night and day. It is only a shame that this calibrator is only on iOS for now, since android users will be missing out on one of the Play:5’s best features.

There are many multi-room audio options now on the market, yet Sonos manages to stay at the front of the pack, largely because the software they build and the speakers they offer are a step above what the competition offers. The Sonos app for iOS, Android, or Windows gives you easy access to all the audio services you could want, from Spotify to Apple Music, it is all easy and all available with the tap of your finger. Moving between services was easy, and having it all within one app ensures you will have no need to flip between apps to find the music or audio you want.

sonosplay5insert3For the gamers out there, the Sonos Play:5 has a few offerings that may make it a great fit for your house, as well. Not only can it be paired with the Sonos Playbar to act as the surround speakers for your living room, it now offers an audio line-in. This means you can easily hook up your PS Vita, or 3DS and have booming rich sound while enjoying your games at home. In testing, this was a great way to play, the sound from these games elevated the experience to a whole new level. If only there was a way to play it without the need for wires, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

Pairing two Play:5 in an array with a Sonos Playbar will bring your music, movies, and games to a new level, entirely. With the Playbar, Sonos managed to build a setup that allows for a 5.1 audio experience that is hard to beat. Placing the Play:5 in the corner of the room, along with the Playbar and the Sonos Sub, and you will have yourself a sound system that would compete, without question, against the top products on the market. But with each Play:5 costing over $500, it’s certainly an option for only the most serious of audiophiles—ones with the disposable income to spare, no less.

The real question for anyone looking to buy the Play:5 is if the cheaper options, the Play:1 or the Play:3, serve your needs. Yes, the Play:5 offers rich, clean, booming sound, but it does come at a price. The Play:1 and the Play:3 both offer fantastic audio, will work with Trueplay, and have the full range of Sonos abilities, at a fraction of the cost. They’re not be as loud, or quite as crisp, but still phenomenal options none the less. It would be a hard bet for anyone to fill their home with a Play:5 in every room, no matter how amazing that would sound.

Sonos Play: 1(left) Play: 5(right)
Sonos Play:1(left) Play:5(right)

It all comes down to needs. If you need a speaker that fills your rooms with sound, then the Play:5 is your best option. It fits into a Sonos home well and with the new Trueplay ability and will be a hard speaker to beat. Sonos have clearly knocked it out of the park with this speaker and any audiophile would enjoy the sound it produces. While The Play:5 may be the best speaker Sonos have built to date, the Play:1 and Play:3 are also fantastic options, meaning no matter the speaker you ultimately choose, you’ll be sure to enjoy sound that will take your audio experience to the next level.

CGMagazine October 2015: The Buyer’s Guide

CGMagazine October 2015: The Buyer's Guide

October 2015

The 2015 CGMagazine Buyers guide is here. With guides to help you make the purchases for people on your holiday wishlist, and selections of the best products of the year, this is your invaluable resource for the shopping season.


Understanding ESRB Ratings
The Console Guide
The Evolution Of Living: Living Room Audio
Gaming On The Go: Making The Right Choice

Must Own:

Must Own: Top 10 Blu-Rays
Must Own: 10 Must Read Comics
Must Own: Hardware
Must Own: Indie Games
Must Own: Racing Games
Must Own: Remastered Games
Must Own: Action Games
Must Own: Roleplaying Games
Must Own: Multiplayer Games
Must Own: Atmospheric Games
Must Own Titles That Are Fun For All Ages

CGMagazine October 2015: The

Fluance XL Series Home Theater Speaker Set Review

Fluance XL Series Home Theater Speaker Set Review

Step Up Without Going Broke

fluanceXLinsert6The home theatre concept has brought surround sound, active subwoofers and a whole world of room shaking and directional audio to the masses, and when it comes to gaming, it adds a new immersive level that movies can never quite match. Thanks to the popularity of the first person shooter, directional audio has become not just entertaining, but critical to survival in a game. Most people that want to experience surround sound will take the easy way out, and buy an inexpensive home-theatre-in-a-box solution for a few hundred dollars. It’s easy to understand why; when quality, high end audiophile speakers are over $7000 for just a pair, most people are unwilling to splurge for a jump in sound quality they’re not sure they’ll actually be able to perceive. But what if there was way to experience sound even an audiophile would accept, for a set of speakers that won’t cost thousands of dollars? That way does exist, and it’s thanks to a small Canadian audio company named Fluance.

The Sound

With movies, the XL surrounds provide clear, powerful sound, which is no surprise since they’re not tiny satellite speakers, but full blown bookshelf speakers that can act as main left/right speakers for smaller audio set ups. The centre speaker provides clear, clean dialog, and of course, the subwoofer will shake the room depending on what you throw at it. Movies like the latest Godzilla showed off what the subwoofer could do, while other films like 2009’s Star Trek reboot displayed a constant, quality use of surround speakers to immerse the viewer. Once again, even with the volume cranked, the speakers managed to render the sound cleanly, without breaking up or distorting.

When it comes to games, the XL speakers are a knock out. Unlike movies or music, the soundstage of a game can change dramatically based on the situation or actions of the player. Going through the final caves of the latest Tomb Raider game displayed some sharp, consistent directional sound as dripping water moved from left to right or front to rear depending on how Lara was maneuvered on screen. With FPS games such as Destiny, even the treble, telltale twinkle sound effect of upgradeable materials can be cleanly, distinctly heard with music and gunfire all around. However, it has to be horror games that best show off the effectiveness of a good surround system. Games like Dead Space and Alien: Isolation use surrounds to great, tension building effect. The surround speakers precisely carried the unsettling whispers of ghost voices in Dead Space, while the crawling of the alien through ventilation ducts carried through front, rear, left and right in Alien: Isolation, with distinct directions for the footsteps of the alien itself whenever it was in the area, hunting for you.

The XL speakers did an impressive job of carrying sounds through the different speakers as defined by the movement of the player, maintaining a full soundstage at all times. However, it was also able to deftly handle everything from the room shaking boom of a rocket launcher and its explosions to whispers for building paranoia and other subtle sound effects for atmosphere. It has to be stressed that the separation of these sounds at different ranges is very good with the XL series. Many of these little distinctions can be lost entirely with less capable speakers, such as the built in speakers of a typical HDTV, cheap PC speakers, or inexpensive HTIB solutions that some consumers use a half-measure to try to improve the sound from their TVs. Even speakers at an equivalent price point may struggle at this, particularly if you’re playing a game or movie at louder volumes.

Does that mean the XL speakers are perfect? No, they can’t be, not at this price point. A complete 5.1 set of speakers for a little over $1000 will never meet or exceed the quality of a $7000 pair of dedicated stereo speakers. The bass of the powered subwoofer, for example, while more than adequate for conveying the rumble of explosions in games and movies, can’t handle the subtleties of full, rounded bass required for the best jazz listening experience, making for some muddier bass and drums. Music—which is where an audiophile will do the most strenuous testing of a speaker’s capabilities—is a weak point, and more refined ears may perceive deficiencies in the detail and richness of the XL soundstage. That’s probably the most impressive part of the criticism for the XL speakers; these are weaknesses or deficiencies in the audiophile world, but not deal breakers that result in terrible, unacceptable sound.

The XL speakers manage the impressive trick of delivering the kind of crisp, clear, powerful sound most would expect from a similar 5.1 package that costs $4000-$5000. In other words, for the price of what would be considered an entry level audiophile budget, the Fluance XL speakers provide mid-range audiophile sound. It’s not often that consumer electronics perform at a level four to five times greater than their actual price range, but that’s exactly what’s happening with the Fluance XLs. If you’ve decided that you want to spend a bit more money on your home theatre/man cave set up to get some strong, dynamic sound out of your games and movies but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars to do it, the Fluance XL speakers are your ticket. This is, quite simply, an exceptional level of audio quality for this price point.

If you want more information about the Fluance XL speakers, you can go directly to the Fluance website and see the technical details for yourself.


Fluance Bluetooth Speaker System Review

Fluance Bluetooth Speaker System Review

Professional Audio With Limits

fluanceinsert3The audio side of the spectrum is one that is incredibly important to gaming, even if it doesn’t get the same, easy priority evaluation that graphics do. Most people can easily tell the difference between the original rendering Final Fantasy characters like Cloud on the PS1 and Tidus on the PS2, but when it comes to gauging the difference in audio quality, things can get a bit more subtle. Some people claim that having discerning taste in sound is strictly the realm of audiophiles, but companies like Fluance are here to challenge that notion. They are a Canadian company trying to provide quality sound at affordable prices, and they’ve released a wide range of products to accomplish this. One of those products is a Bluetooth speaker system, and while there’s no question of how good the sound is, there are plenty of questions about its actual utility.

Quality Curiosity

The Fluance Fi30 is a tentative first step for users entering the world of the audiophile. All the basics for outstanding sound are here, at a price range of only $150. It’s a small stereo speaker system that’s made out of MDF audio grade wood, which means Fluance cared enough about the sound to use building materials that wouldn’t distort or resonate with the sound coming from its speakers. Unlike most consumer products, the speakers for the Fi30 also have a “break-in” period, which, again, is something that will be familiar to audiophiles. This simply means that components of the speaker have to be used continuously (in this case, roughly ten hours) before they reach peak operational efficiency. Most of this will be new to more casual consumers used to simply having their sound play out, but for audiophiles, the type of construction material used, and the break in period are all aspects of ensuring that the sound is as clean and good as it gets.

And on that front, the Fi30 delivers. From a pure audio perspective—especially considering the price—this is an impressive speaker set. Once properly broken in, this delivers fantastic, rich, warm sound that nicely represents all the ranges, whether it’s bass, mids and highs. In many ways, despite the relatively cheaper price, the Fluance Fi30’s sound rivals many mid-range and high end speakers, and sits firmly near the top of the heap when it comes to smaller, all-in-one stereo speaker solutions. It really does sound that good.

fluanceinsert1Where the problems with the Fi30 come in are the usage of this little speaker system. The system is designed with Bluetooth connectivity and is meant to pair with a Bluetooth enabled device such as a smartphone, tablet or even portable gaming system, like the PlayStation Vita. This means that the Fluance Fi30 has been designed around a VERY specific audience. It’s for people that want tip-top audio quality from a Bluetooth ready device, perhaps for use in the office or the home. At $150, you’re paying a relatively low price for a quality audio experience, but this is not a particularly versatile or portable speaker solution despite its high audio quality. It’s very specific purpose limits the amount of usage you’ll get from it, but if you have a phone or tablet with an extensive ripped CD collection, or are willing to simply plug your device in via 3.5 mm audio jack (thus negating its Bluetooth functionality entirely and defeating its intended purpose) then there’s a lot of bang for your buck in terms of sound quality.

If you would like to purchase this speaker system, you can find them at online at