I've been using the same nearfield studio monitors for almost ten years now. My main pair is no longer in production, and my alternate pair is from a company that shut down – and I've been concerned about what might happen if any of these break. Over the past few years, I've grown accustomed to the sound of my monitors, and I think I understand them well. When the opportunity came up to check out something new I was ready to dig in, but also a little bit nervous.
I had not heard of Fluid Audio before, but it turns out they've been around for eight years now; the product of ex-JBL engineer (and musician) Kevin Zuccaro. One of the features that make the FX80 somewhat unique is its coaxial design. With the FX80's, the tweeter is suspended directly in front of the woofer cone, instead of being mounted above or such in the cabinet separately. This alignment is said to improve off-axis response, resulting in greater imaging and depth. Each FX80 contains two Class D amplifiers, with DSP to control the crossover network and user-adjustable options (more on that later). The 8-inch woofer and advertised frequency response of 35 Hz - 22 kHz (± 3 dB) caught my attention, and I was excited to hear how they would sound in my studio.
Though the FX80s are compact, they're still larger than both my other monitors. After getting them set up and aligned properly, I began listening to some reference tracks. I enquired with Fluid Audio about a break-in period, and was told that a little wouldn't hurt, but they should be ready to use right out of the box. Over the next few days of use, I didn't really notice a difference.
The FX80 has both TRS and XLR balanced inputs, plus unbalanced RCA inputs. There are also DIP switches on the rear of the monitors to adjust the EQ to the room. I felt the FX80 lacked a bit of lower mid-presence that I was used to with my current monitors, so I increased the mid-EQ (centered at 1.5 kHz) by 1 dB, which got me into more familiar territory. The user's guide was not entirely clear to me, so I had to look at the back of the monitor for clarification. I asked Fluid Audio about this, and a few days later a close-up image of the rear of the monitor appeared on the website. Hopefully, the image will be added to the user's guide – often the back of a monitor is not easily viewable after installation.
New monitors take a while to get used to and after a month with these, I'm really starting to see where they are helping me. On a few recent projects, I was listening on some larger systems that could produce lower frequencies and was hearing more sub frequencies in my mixes than I wanted – they came across as muddy. This meant my usual monitors were not reaching that low. The FX80s, on the other hand, extended a bit further than my current monitors and allowed me to hear enough low end so that I could clean it up. My mixes started sounding better to me on the FX80s. Sure, I could get a subwoofer to my current monitor setup, but with the FX80s I felt the sub frequencies were represented well for my needs, and I heard where to set my high-pass filters properly!
I also feel that with its coaxial design, off-axis response and imaging is better with the FX80s, and the listening sweet spot is wider than with my other monitors. I can roll back in my chair and the sound doesn't change drastically, whereas with my other monitors I've learned there is a specific spot where I get the best stereo image – I think this is going to be beneficial when listening to playback or mixes while the artist or band is in attendance.
While they do look a little different than most traditional speakers or monitors, the FX80's co-axial design doesn't really sound different to me – nor would I want or expect them to. When mixing tracks or listening to playback, we depend on our monitors to provide an honest representation of what has been recorded. Sometimes I use the FX80s for a "second opinion" while other times they are my primary playback option. Either way, I'm happy with the mixes I am getting so far.
Auditioning new monitors isn't something I like to do often, but it's comforting to know that there are affordable options out there that can produce good results. At this price point (a mere third of what I paid for my other pair of monitors) the FX80s definitely exceeded my expectations.