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Fluance ES1 Surround and Center Channel Speaker System Review

by September 19, 2013
Fluance ES1 Surrounds and Center Channel

Fluance ES1 Surrounds and Center Channel

  • Product Name: ES1 Surrounds and Center
  • Manufacturer: Fluance
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarhalf-star
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: September 19, 2013 11:10
  • MSRP: $ 220 surrounds (pair)/$120 center channel
  • 2-way acoustic suspension mid-tweeter-mid design 
  • 2 5“ Woven Glass Fiber Composite Woofers 
  • 1” Silk Dome Tweeter 
  • 35 - 120 Watt Amplifier Recommended 
  • Frequency Response: 100Hz to 20kHz 
  • Sensitivity (2.83V): 91 dB 
  • Impedance: 8 ohms 
  • Xover Frequencies: 13000Hz 
  • Dimensions: 17.3” H x 5.7” W x 6.2” D 
  • Weight: 10.5 lbs


  • Capable of Loud Playback Levels
  • Excellent Build Quality
  • Dialog is Very Intelligible


  • High 13kHz Mid-Woofer to Tweeter Crossover
  • Less than Stellar Off-Axis Performance for Surrounds
  • Limited Bass Extension


The Fluance ES1 surround and center channel use the same 5-inch woofers, 1-inch ferro-fluid cooled fabric dome tweeter and design fundamentals physically matching the 51-inch tall ES1 pillar loudspeaker.  The small footprint and attractive design means that they are not obtrusive in most setups so long as the modern industrial look fits in. At $220 per pair for the surrounds and $120 for the center channel, the ES1 series surrounds and center are a little pricier than other offerings from Fluance.  Fluance has a couple of 5 channel and 5.1 channel configurations featuring the ES1 surrounds and center.  With full 5 channel systems starting at $750, the ES1 Series loudspeakers are a pretty good value based on component count and the overall build quality.

The Fluance ES1 series loudspeakers are advertised as “higher fidelity” loudspeakers.  This begs the question, higher fidelity than what?  This review intends to get to the bottom of this question with listening impressions and detailed loudspeaker measurements.  Fluance apparently had a design goal of creating an attractive speaker with a small footprint at a low price point with a lifetime warranty to boot.  With 15 years of loudspeaker design experience, let’s see how Fluance made out with the ES1 series surrounds and center channel.

Fluance ES1 Surround and Center Channel Design Overview

Sans a few rubber feet adhered to the bottom of the center channel, there is very little separating the center channel from the surrounds.  This creates a sense of continuity that just makes economical sense from a production standpoint.  The ES1 surrounds and center channel are fabricated out of a combination of medium density fiberboard and extruded aluminum just like the ES1 tower loudspeakers they compliment.  The extruded aluminum rear enclosure is dampened with medium density fiberboard panels that add a little more weight to the lightweight and potentially resonant extruded aluminum.  The design of the cabinet looks good if you are into a modern looking speaker.

ES1 Center Channel

ES1 Center Channel

The center channel is small enough to comfortably sit below a big screen television or can easily be mounted to a wall with the built in wall mounting mechanism.  Likewise, the surround channels feature the same wall mounting mechanism allowing vertical or horizontal mounting.  With the loudspeaker grilles in place, the ES1 surrounds and center channel are relatively unobtrusive.  For a more aggressive look the speaker coverings can be removed exposing the piano black baffle and yellow faced mid-woofers decorated with chrome mounting rings.  The speaker grille is attached to the baffle using small chromed studs that do a good job holding them and the speakers also look pretty good with the grilles off.  This is a nice touch at this price point where most grille attachment points use plastic cups. 

ES1 Surround/Center Wall Mount

ES1 Surround/Center Wall Mount

The ES1 surround and center channel have very high quality 5-way binding posts that are simple to use with banana connectors or bare wire.  The overall build quality, components, assembly, fit and finish are all top notch.  The top and bottom of the surrounds and left and right side of the center channel are also finished in a shiny black finish that looks good and seems pretty durable.

The speaker is an acoustic suspension design in a relatively small cabinet. Given this and the manufacturer’s rated response from 100Hz to 20kHz,the center channel and surround speakers will benefit from bass management and mating with a quality subwoofer to handle the lower registers. 

Fluance ES1 Drivers

ES1 Woofer and TweeterTwo 5-inch yellow woven fiberglass mid-bass drivers straddle a 1-inch ferro-fluid silk dome tweeter.  The drivers used here look like the same drivers used in the ES1 pillar floorstanding loudspeaker. The magnetically shielded mid-bass drivers are made from a stamped metal frame that is chromed to improve appearance. The mid-bass drivers have a pretty hefty magnet for their size.  However, their quality is on par with what is expected at the low price these speakers are offered for. 

The 1-inch ferro-fluid cooled silk dome tweeter is a very beefy tweeter for the low asking price of these loudspeakers.  Although the faceplate is made of plastic, the rest of the tweeter’s build looks on-par with higher dollar tweeters I have worked with in the past.  The sonic characteristics of silk dome tweeters are typically much different than that of hard dome tweeters. Personally, I tend to prefer the sound of silk dome tweeters to aluminum dome tweeters found in many loudspeakers.  Newer exotic hard dome tweeters made from materials such as beryllium, ceramic and even diamond can be exceptional but also carry a very high price tag.  Fluance made a very interesting design choice by crossing over the tweeter at 13kHz.  This tweeter sounds pretty good in the ES1 pillars crossed over at 3.5kHz so the choice to cross them over at 13kHz is interesting to say the least.

Fluance ES1 Surround And Center Channel Set Up and Sound Quality

The Fluance ES1 center channel and surrounds were double boxed and very well packaged arriving in perfect condition.  The high-quality 5-way binding posts were simple to connect using banana plugs for the center and bare wire connections for the surrounds.

3 Channel Setup 

ES1 Surrounds and Center Channel

Listening Environment

As part of the review process, I first connected loudspeakers to the system in my home office.  This affords me the opportunity to generate an initial impression listening to background music for long listening sessions while I work on other things.  The office listening system consists of a do-it-yourself Buffalo III SE DAC with volume control connected directly to an ATI AT1505 amplifier.  I use a MacBook Pro running Audirvana connected to the DAC via USB for all music tests.  I do not typically use any form of equalization but do have the capability implement extensive equalization using Audirvana plugins.  The surround speakers are positioned approximately 6.5 feet apart on a 28-inch tall cabinet with the listening position 8 feet away in a 12’x13’ room.  Since this is a 2-channel system, the center channel was not connected to this system.

The main listening room is a large 24’ x 20’ great room with hardwood floors throughout.  The room itself is not acoustically treated.  A 12’ x 10’ area rug with thick foam padding sits between the loudspeakers and listening position.  This space is pretty reflective but has worked very well for my reference open baffle dipole loudspeakers.  Traditional loudspeakers have a tendency to sound a little harsh in the high frequency range due to reflections, but reducing the listening distance reduces this effect.  The system signal chain for testing the Fluance ES1 surrounds and center channel was an Oppo BDP-105 connected directly to an ATI AT6012 amplifier using unbalanced connections.  The volume control in the BDP-105 was used for all listening impressions.  The surrounds were placed on 36-inch speaker stands adjacent to the couch approximately 12 feet apart. The ES1 center was placed on the TV stand directly in the center of the listening position.  Additionally, the ES1 pillar towers and a HSU VTF-3 subwoofer round out the 5.1 system used for multichannel listening.  All channels were level matched with a calibrated SPL meter set to B weighting and pink noise.

Sound Quality Tests

With a fully matched 5-channel system from Fluance along with a capable subwoofer, I was looking forward to a seamless soundstage for multichannel music and home theater.  After watching some television and listening to a little music to get a feel for the character of the system, a few things were clear

The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over   Bluray - War Horse

Eagles DTS DVD (left pic); War Horse Blu-ray (right pic)

The Eagles – Hotel California from Hell Freezes Over (DVD in DTS)

This DVD is really an excellent performance and a good recording for testing a multi-channel system.  Specifically, the separation of instruments and vocals in multichannel space creates a nice acoustic space that can be convincing on the right system.  With all channels in play, Don Henley was distinctly placed on stage with the ambient audience applause and instruments all sitting in their expected places.  The vocals emanating from the center channel sounded pretty natural and non-fatiguing.  The sound of the center channel was not super smooth, but it was definitely enjoyable.  It is important to realize that the ES1 pillar floorstanding speakers that compliment the ES1 surrounds and center channel sound completely different.  While the ES1 pillar accentuates the treble, the center channel and surrounds seem much more relaxed in the middle treble.  This may be due to the high crossover point to the tweeter.  A 5-inch driver starts to beam at high frequencies and the lack of off-axis energy in the mid-treble is likely the reason for the laid back sound.  I can’t fault the ES1 center channel or surrounds, they sound pretty decent for their low asking price.

Since all channels were crossed over at 100Hz to the HSU VTF-3 subwoofer, the mid-bass presentation of the center channel and surrounds was difficult to discern.  Given this, I moved the surrounds to replace the front channels and ran the same track in stereo without a subwoofer.  As expected, the ES1 surrounds rolled off above 100Hz with decent mid-bass for subwoofer integration.  These speakers can handle some power above 100Hz and sound clean at loud volumes.  With the subwoofer turned back on, the surrounds themselves are capable as main speakers.  I did notice that 30 degrees off-axis listening was not very good suggesting a narrow polar response.

Blu-Ray: War Horse

With the system back in a 5.1 channel configuration, I popped in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”.  With two and a half hours to sit back and listen to all 5 channels of the Fluance system, one thing became clear; this system can play loud without sounding strained.  Although the center channel seemed laid back in my earlier listening tests, it sounded excellent for its size and especially it’s price when it comes to movies.  Some center channels and surrounds have an over abundance of treble output that is exciting at first but causes fatigue when watching long movies full of action scenes.  The Fluance center and surrounds do not over accentuate dialog but have enough response at the right frequencies to make speech very intelligible. 

The ES1 series center channel and surrounds easily handle home theater at playback levels louder than most people will actually watch movies at.   

Fluance ES1 Surround and Center Measurement and Analysis

The measurements were conducted in conformance with Audioholics Loudspeaker Measurements Standard

ES1 on-axis Frequency Response

Fluance ES1 Center Channel and Surround On-Axis Frequency Response

 Since the center channel and surrounds are identical, a single on-axis frequency response measurement was conducted.  The on-axis frequency response of the Fluance ES1 surround and center was conducted with the measurement microphone at 2 meters with a 2.83V excitation signal.  The results are scaled to 1 meter mathematically.  The manufacturer rates this loudspeaker’s sensitivity as 91dB at 1 meter with a 2.83V input according to their website.  Audioholics measures sensitivity as the average sound pressure level (SPL) from 300 to 3kHz.  The ES1 center and surround loudspeaker’s Audioholics rated sensitivity is average at 84.6dB, this is significantly lower than the manufacturer’s rated specification.  The sensitivity of the tweeter itself appears to exceed 91dB but the crossover point for this loudspeaker is very high at 13kHz which is not within the 300Hz to 3kHz sensitivity rating window.  As was the case with the ES1 pillar loudspeaker, the mid-woofers have a resonant frequency of approximately 150Hz.  With the sealed acoustic suspension alignment, the bass rolls off fairly high requiring a subwoofer crossover point well above the recommend 80Hz.  From approximately 1300Hz on, the mid-woofer response becomes pretty ragged.  The 13kHz crossover point for this loudspeaker is way too high considering the size and response of the 5-inch mid-woofers.  

Listening Window Surrounds

Fluance ES1 Surround Listening Window

The listening window response for the ES1 surround was conducted with a 2.83V input signal at 2 meters from 7 locations.  The measurement provides a picture of how the loudspeaker performs from seating locations that are not directly on axis with the speaker.  The top curve is the average of the other positions and provides an average of how the speaker performs throughout the listening area.  The off-axis response within the listening window area is pretty uniform in the horizontal plane.  The 15 degrees vertical measurements have suck outs due to lobing error based on the mid-tweeter-mid driver arrangement.

Listening Window Center

Fluance ES1 Center Listening Window

The listening window response for the ES1 center was conducted following the same procedure as the surround.  With a mid-tweeter-mid on it’s side, huge suckouts are expected as the listener moves further off axis.  In some listening conditions this is desirable because the acoustic output off-axis is less and tends to reduce interference with other speakers and reduces room excitations. 

Polar Response Surround

Fluance ES1 Surround Polar Response

The polar response graphs show how a loudspeaker performs at various angles.  The polar response graph above is generated by measuring a loudspeaker at 7.5 degree intervals around a circle on the tweeter axis from 2 meters.  The Fluance ES1 surround exhibits normal polar response from 0-30 degrees.  The off-axis response beyond 30 degrees is not great due to the high crossover frequency.  The color variations at given angles versus frequency are primarily due to the uneven frequency response and are not due to changes in off-axis performance.

Polar Response Center

Fluance ES1 Center Polar Response

The polar response of the ES1 center channel speaker is typical of center channel speakers with a mid-tweeter-mid configuration.  


Fluance ES1 Surround/Center Impedance

The impedance of the Fluance ES1 surrounds and center channel remains well above the IEC 8 ohm minimum threshold of 6.4 Ohms throughout the entire audio band with its minimum impedance above 8 ohms. This loudspeaker represents an easy load for the majority of amplifiers on the market.  Due to decent sensitivity, a 100-watt amplifier is a good match to drive this loudspeaker to loud volumes. 

Harmonic Distortion

Fluance ES1 Surround/Center Harmonic Distortion 

The harmonic distortion graph was generated using a 90dB stepped sinusoid sweep measured at 2 meters.  The above harmonic distortion is marginal with 3rd order distortion products reaching over 2% in the high frequencies.  This may be attributed to cabinet resonance issues.  The mid-woofers exhibit high distortion levels below the mid-woofer’s 150Hz resonant frequency. 

Cumulative Spectral Decay

Fluance ES1 Surround/Center Cumulative Spectral Decay

Cumulative spectral decay is derived from the impulse response measurement made with a 90dB excitation signal at 2 meters.  The cumulative spectral decay shows how sound at various frequencies dies out as a function of time.  It is important to note that the left most ridge is not valid and is a product of the measurement technique.  A strong ridge is noticed at about 1500Hz and 7000Hz.  Although the extruded aluminum cabinet is suspected, this measurement does not pinpoint the source.

Group Delay

Fluance ES1 Group Delay

The group delay graph shows the rate of change of the slope of a loudspeaker’s phase.  As a rule of thumb, values below 1.6ms in the mid to high frequencies will likely not effect perception of sound quality.  Increasing group delay in the low frequencies is not as objectionable as it is in the mid to high frequency ranges.  

Fluance ES1 Surround and Center Channel Conclusion

3 Channel SetupThe Fluance ES1 center channel and surround speakers function very well for home theater when coupled with a high quality subwoofer.  They are very capable of loud playback levels without strain.  The exterior fit and finish are excellent at this price point.  Coupled with the ES1 pillar loudspeaker, the center channel and surrounds provide a visually seamless 5-channel home theater system at an attractive price.  The build quality is on the very high side for this price point.  The cabinets can easily be wall mounted and are pretty compact.

While the ES1 center and surrounds work for music, their strength is definitely home theater.  The center channel is capable of clear dialog reproduction despite the high mid-woofer to tweeter crossover point of 13kHz.  With a subwoofer the ES1 center channel and surround speakers provide a very good movie watching experience without breaking the bank.



Fluance ES1 Surround and Center Channel Review

MSRP: $220/pair surround & $120 center

For more information, check out the Fluance ES Loudspeaker Product Page

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStarStar
About the author:
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Joel Foust's experience in quality control, product certifications and do-it-yourself loudspeaker design bode well for the consistent application and development of in-depth loudspeaker testing. Joel is committed to providing accurate results that are comparable for each loudspeaker tested.

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