Kevin Hunt: Fluance's FiTSD600 Talldock a towering presence



The search for the starting center on the all-dock basketball team is over, now that Fluance's towering Talldock is in the building.

The Talldock stands almost 44 inches, including its chrome-plated copper feet, and weighs 38 pounds. It's so big that it needs a pull-out metal handle on the back for room-to-room transport. The FiTSD600, the Talldock's official name, looks more like a tower speaker than the average short, stout, pathetically horizontal speaker dock.

No wonder. The Talldock comes from Fluance, a speaker brand owned by Canadian electronics manufacturer CWD Ltd. of Niagara Falls.

Its first dock for iPhones and iPods (no iPad), the unmistakably horizontal FiSDK500, ranked among the most memorable products this professional consumer plugged in last year. At the time, it was only $200 (now $229) and yet, sonically at least, rated with some of the world's best, and most expensive, speaker docks.

The Talldock, at $349, is a similar sonic bargain that, aside from a dock, includes an AM/FM tuner and alarm clock. But where does it go? It's awkward beneath or adjacent to a television, despite two analog video connections, composite and S-video. It would overpower any central location. And curious guests might ask of the lonely heart Talldock, "What happened to the other speaker?"

It's a bachelor, forever, built more like an exotic high-end speaker. The Talldock's upper body, only about 2.5 inches deep on top, flares out while descending to the 13-inch-deep butt-end bottom. Removing the cloth speaker grille reveals two distinct speakers packed side by side. Each has a 3-inch midrange driver and a not-quite-1-inch silk-dome tweeter. Below that, a 6.5-inch woofer, enormous by speaker dock standards, provides the bass for both speakers. Is there another speaker dock with chops like that?

All five drivers are mounted on real, almost half-inch-thick wood, the same medium-density-fiberboard preferred by high-end speaker-makers over other bracing materials like plastic. The construction quality is far beyond any speaker dock in its price class.

An iPhone/iPod atop the Talldock appears miniaturized instantly. Just below the dock, on a black inlaid panel, are touch-sensitive controls and a 3.5-inch LCD display. More elaborate controls, including iPhone/iPod navigation, are available on the remote control.

Fluance favors old-school speaker quality over technological flash. Like the first Fluance dock, the Talldock doesn't have HDMI or digital audio connections, it doesn't have AirPlay or Bluetooth for wireless music, and it uses a low-frills analog amplifier while other dock-makers prefer more efficient Class D amplification. But it does have those pointed feet, usually found on high-quality speakers, that add clarity by isolating the Talldock from the floor's vibrations.

The FM radio, too, is clearly old school in an age of Internet radio and streaming music. Fluance adds fine-tuning in .05-megahertz steps, so if 91.3 doesn't sound quite right, you can try 91.25 or 91.35.

The instructions, however, sometimes fail. Using the manual as a guide, I could only set the time using a 24-hour clock. A Fluance representative later explained that pressing AND holding the time-set buttons on either the Talldock or the remote give the 24/12-hour options.

The display is also maddening because it's viewable only from a straight-on view. Sit down or stand up and the screen washes out.

Fluance has still made a superb speaker dock that despite its 2.1 designation — two speakers and a subwoofer — still sounds like a single tower speaker. Using a test tone that identifies stereo channels, I could indeed identify a "left" and "right" channel, but when actually playing, the Talldock lacked stereo imaging and the traditional left-to-right soundstage.

Instead, it reproduced sound more vertically than horizontally, exactly like a single "mono" speaker. The Talldock's vertical reproduction, of course, sounds exactly like a real speaker. So what do you favor, the horizontal soundstage of a traditional squat dock or the vertical soundstage of the Talldock?

It depends on your taste, or whether you're starting a neighborhood all-dock basketball team.

khunt@tribune.com

What: Fluance FiTSD600 music system

Price: $350, fluance.com

Hot: Great value, high quality, excellent sound.

Not: It's huge! Screen washes out from certain viewing angles. No digital connections or wireless features.

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