Fluid Audio FX80 Point Source Studio Monitors – the Discerning Synth and Software Review
An updated take on an old concept: putting the tweeter in the middle of the woofer so the sound source is one point
Studio monitors aren’t as sexy as our synths and screens, but neither makes a sound without them. They’re a critical lens for when we’re working on our music – and how others will experience it.
Therefore it’s almost perverse that so few retailers are set up to audition all the models out there. And if you live outside one of the large music meccas (as I do), it can be downright impossible to put your ears on speakers you’ve heard great things about.
That includes Fluid Audio’s FX80s, with the allure of their modern coaxial driver design. So I bit the bullet and ordered a pair online.
Spoiler alert – these babies do not disappoint.
The FX80 and little brother FX50 are the brainchild of veteran designer and musician Kevin Zuccaro, who was behind many well-known monitors from JBL and M-Audio.
This model’s biggest calling card is Zuccaro’s coaxial driver implementation. The 1.2″ natural silk diaphragm tweeter is mounted concentrically with the 8″ composite paper woofer, bringing with it the goodness of…
Time alignment. In traditional designs, signals coming from multiple drivers can result in phase issues and compromised off-axis response. With coaxial design, all the signals come from a single point source.
That makes for better phase coherence, improved imaging, and a wider, more uniform sweet spot. This is especially welcome in synth project studios, where ergonomics usually prevent all our creative gear from being positioned at the ideal monitoring position.
While coax speakers were somewhat of a thing in ‘50s and ‘60s hi-fi, the results were less than stellar. That’s because the tweeter was behind the woofer, and they used it as a wave guide -which was always moving, causing intermodulation distortion.
Fluid Audio solved that by mounting the tweeter on a solid, fixed post in front of the woofer and using DSP to smooth out remaining incongruities.
A byproduct of this concentric design is a smaller cabinet with symmetrical response, letting you orient your monitors vertically or horizontally with no difference in performance. The FX80s also have a front-facing bass reflex port, which among other issues means sound bouncing off rear walls is less of a concern than with a port on the back of the speaker cabinet.
Response. To divide the sound between the low and high frequency drivers, the FX80 uses a DSP crossover at 2.4kHz. Crossovers have traditionally been analog circuits, but digital processing allows the balance to be fine-tuned to a greater degree of precision.
On the high end, the curve out to 22kHz is reasonably flat, with the most significant deviation being a bit of a dip around 2.8k. Consonants’ edges, necessary for speech recognition, are in that range.
The low frequency falloff starts around 80Hz, which is normal for monitors this size. 80Hz is roughly the top of the rumble range, but for example piano hammer thuds and vocal pops might be around 55Hz – i.e. it’s not just rafter-rattling down there. Synths generate a lot of sound in the rumble range, and sometimes you can even hear thuds that developers missed in sample libraries.
You can see on the frequency response graph that the FX80s still have usable response down to 35Hz, but it’s down pretty far. I found these monitors to present lows respectably without a sub, but as expected, you’ll certainly need one to hear the full range.
The built-in Class-D amps sound very clean. With 60 watts in the low end and 50 watts for the highs, the FX80s provide plenty of headroom for nearfield listening environments. Maximum SPL is rated at 95db, but I’ve kept the rear panel volume control at its mid-point without any need to crank them further.
Speaking of power, the FX80 goes into standby mode if it hasn’t received signal in a while, thus cutting down on power consumption and heat. A front panel LED shows blue when powered up and red when in standby.
Rounding out the rear panel are balanced ¼” TRS and XLR, as well as RCA unbalanced inputs, so there’s something for everybody.
Your space. Four sets of DIP switches on the FX80 back panel let you tune your monitors to your room. There’s compensation for the reflective and absorptive traits of your space via an HF shelf starting at 7kHz, and a mid-range EQ centered at 1.5kHz. If your set-up includes a subwoofer, the low frequency cutoff switch provides a 12db/octave rolloff starting at 80 Hz.
There’s another set of DIPs for not one but several boundary compensation settings for when the units are placed close to walls and corners. The manual provides clear setting guidance for proximity greater than 1m, less than 1m, and less than .5m.
I chose the latter since mine are about .3m from the wall – not ideal placement for any monitors, but that setting definitely helped.
The winner. At only $500/pair, the FX80s punch well above their weight. The coax design helps deliver a wide sweet spot and deep sound stage that is most welcome when moving around a studio. Their horizontal/vertical orientation option and DSP tuning facilities allow welcome placement flexibility.
For bonus points, the rear-panel mounting brackets combined with relatively light weight for their class make the FX80s a great choice for surround and Dolby ATMOS mounting.
The reality is that even if you can audition monitors you’re considering in a store, even the best will sound different in your own studio. I took a leap of blind faith ordering the Fluid Audio FX80s without having heard them, but I won’t be returning them.
- Frequency response: 35Hz-22kHz (+/- 3dB)
- Crossover frequency: 2.4kHz
- Low-frequency amplifier power: 60 watts
- High-frequency amplifier power: 50 watts
- Signal-to-noise: 90dB (typical A-weighted)
- Polarity: Positive signal at + input produces outward LF one displacement
- Input impedance: 20 k ohms balanced, 10 k ohms unbalanced
- Max SPL : 107dB Max SPL
- Power: 100V-240V ~50/60 Hz
- Protection: RF interference, output current limiting, over temperature, turn-on/off transient, subsonic filter, external mains fuse
- Cabinet: Vinyl-laminated MDF
- Size (single monitor): 13.4″ x 10″ x 11.6″ , 340mm x 254mm x 295mm
- Weight (each): 17.2 lbs / 7,8 kg
Price: $249 / €249 each