If you haven’t heard of Fluid Audio, it’s because the company is new. Veteran monitor designer Kevin Zuccaro, who spent time at JBL and Cerwin-Vega before taking over M-Audio’s pro monitor department, started the business.
The company’s top-of-the-line product, the FPX7 powered monitor, features a two-way coaxial design with a ribbon tweeter centered “inside” of a 7-inch woofer. I don’t recall ever seeing a coaxial monitor with a ribbon tweeter, so this may well be a first in pro monitoring. The other unique design characteristic is the fader-style volume control on the front panel of each monitor.
The FPX7 features a 7-inch composite woofer with a foam-surrounded hole in the center. Protruding out from this hole is a short, cylindrical, plastic stem that expands out to the tweeter housing, which is roughly three inches in diameter. The front of this housing has a widely gapped plastic grille, which exposes the ribbon element.
The FPX7’s components are housed in a relatively compact MDF cabinet. While the front panel appears very small relative to the driver size, the cabinet extends a deep 10.5 inches, which might rule them out for the smallest desktop setups.
Each monitor is driven by a pair of Class-A/B amplifiers, with 90 watts feeding the woofer and 50W feeding the tweeter. On the front panel of each unit, there is a small blue fader with detents at values of -∞, -18, -6, -3 and 0. The fader can park at positions in between the detents. Given the fact that there is no stereo linking of the faders on a pair of FPX7’s, relying on the locking positions seems like a more reliable means of level matching.
Logic would serve that the optimal operating level would be “0,” so I set the faders to that level to start. At this setting, however, the monitors were extremely loud, even at low values on my monitor controller. On top of that, the monitors exhibited an increasing trend: a high-frequency hiss was quite evident when monitoring more dynamic material. When turning the faders down to the “-18” setting, the hiss all but disappeared, and I was able to operate my monitor controller at much more typical levels.
On the rear of each cabinet are all three common connector types, with balanced XLR and ¼-inch TRS, as well as unbalanced RCA. A pair of three-way switches allows frequency adjustments to tune the monitors to different spaces. One switch allows the tweeter to run flat, or to be boosted or cut by +/- 2dB. The other switch is a low-frequency attenuator, which can run flat or drop the low end by 2 to 4 dB. In my office, with the monitors very close to an untreated wall, the full 4dB attenuation is a perfect fit. Meanwhile, the monitors sound full and balanced running flat in a treated control room.
The initial pair of monitors that I received for review had already been well broken-in, so right away they had a substantial bottom end. The upper-midrange had the kind of smooth, warm crispness that you expect from a well-designed ribbon element. In general, I was impressed. The coverage across a broad frequency response and the fast transient response both blew me away. I didn’t look at the price tag for a long time because I knew they had to be crazy expensive. I was shocked when I found out that they cost less than $600 per monitor.
During the review process, Zuccaro notified me that a firmware update was available that improved the digital crossover, so he sent a new pair of FPX7s. These, being brand new, sounded really tight and devoid of true low end. Right away, however, I could hear an improved clarity in the upper midrange. I had no complaints about their upper midrange before, but the new firmware made them sound even better. A few weeks later, the bottom end filled in and the tweeters started to sound less harsh and more relaxed.
I tracked, mixed and referenced a lot of music relying on the FPX7s, but one thing that I found particularly impressive was the way that the speakers reproduced dialog. Typically, when I edit dialog, I use headphones. You tend to catch more mouth clicks, missing fades, changes in room tone, and annoying little breaths with headphones. The FPX7’s did such a good job of highlighting all of those little problem areas. When I double-checked my work with headphones, I was pleased to find that I hadn’t missed anything. Anyone that does a lot of dialog, voice-over or book on tape editing should check these out.
When listening to any style of music, the phantom center was remarkably clear, solid and precise. I was referencing a lot of indie rock laden with synths and electronic drums, and the FPX7s were extremely crisp and punchy when playing the attack of the kicks and snares. Those elements cut well, but in a way that wasn’t harsh or fatiguing. The FPX7s never failed to reproduce any of the tiny details that I looked for in any of my reference material. The stereo image was extremely wide, with all kinds of ear candy lying on the far edges of the sound field. There was also a very clear separation between the center and the sides.
When playing dense, low-mid heavy metal, the FPX7s did a great job of staying clear without muddying up. Kick and snare attacks stabbed through a wall of guitars and held the beat. The monitors did a good job of exposing the complex layers of guitars. Listening to jazz, the position of the players and the sound of the room shone through nicely. In every case, mixes sounded extremely wide, but also extremely deep.
Though the woofers barely looked any larger than a typical 6-inch, the bottom end was surprisingly massive without being unruly. Running them against a pair of ADAM A5s, the bottom end was no contest, with the FPX7s bringing essentially an extra octave of lows. I shot them out against my usual Focal Twin6s, thinking that it would be an unfair contest, but the FPX7s held their own. Right away, the FPX7s sounded brighter and crisper. I dialed back the tweeter to the -2dB setting to try to match their sound to the Twin6, and the comparison grew a lot closer. The FPX7s still seemed to have a clearer attack and more of a forward presence in the upper mids than the Twin6’s did. This attack was still smooth and pleasant but pronounced. I would not say that this was negative, and as a matter of opinion, I liked the way the monitors exposed complex information in that range.
In general, the Twin6s seemed to have a more complicated lower midrange, which set them apart from the FPX7. The body of vocals, acoustic guitars and drums filled in a lot more on the Focals. That said, the Twin6s are a three-way, so that is the difference you would expect to hear. Aside from that, there was a little extra airiness from the Focal monitors, which the FPX7s could match with the high-frequency EQ set to +2, though this pushed the upper midrange a bit. Considering that the Twin6s are three times the price, I was impressed with how well the FPX7s kept up. There were no glaring holes in the frequency response, and any frequencies that were pushed were only subtly so.
Once I got to know the FPX7s I was consistently able to produce mixes that translated to best and worst-case scenario speakers. Mixes played well on phone and laptop speakers, TV speakers, better consumer speakers, and other pro monitors alike. I was able to reliably EQ and compress with trustworthy feedback from the monitors. Their wide dispersion allowed everyone in the room to hear the mix well, even in the back of the room; the center managed to stay put. Even when I played mixes back very loudly they resisted distortion and maintained their clarity and articulation impeccably well.
I was cautious with my expectations given the fact that I had no prior knowledge of Fluid Audio, and my first experience was such a bold offering. That said, I became a fan from the moment I heard them. This price range is a crowded playing field, so there is a lot of competition from some big names, but the FPX7s are crisp, snappy and offer a great stereo image. Their full, punchy sound blows away a lot of the competition even in higher price ranges. Before you take home something else, be sure to check these out, and you may look no further.
Brandon Hickey is an independent recording and film sound engineer.
COMPANY: Fluid Audio
PRODUCT: FPX7 Monitor
PRICES: $549.99 each (street)
PROS: Great imaging, impressive transient response.
CONS: Slightly noisy when internal amps are cranked.