Review: Fluance RT81 Turntable
This plug-and-go, twin-speed turntable is aimed at the lifestyle market…
For some, Fluance seems to have popped into existence from nowhere, but the company has actually been around since 1999. Set up by Deepak Jain in Niagara Falls, Canada, Fluance began by offering home theatre products, but vinyl fans have now begun to notice its range of turntables. There are six in all, ranging from the RT80 to the RT85. The RT80 is a sub-budget model fixed at £199 and the turntable under review here pushes that figure upwards by £50. By doing so, it enters into serious budget territory with plenty of competition about.
I wouldn’t call the RT81 a likely competitor to the Rega Planar 1, though. It’s not really equipped to do that. Why not? Well, this turntable features a built-in phono amplifier. Like similar configurations, the attendant veiling noise will slightly reduce sound quality. Right there and then, the battle with the Rega is lost.
There are upsides, though. The great thing about a built-in phono amplifier is the lower footprint because it’s built into the turntable plinth. You also don’t have to worry about connecting it to the turntable, so that’s a saving on cables. And of course, you save cash because the phono amp is a freebie. So, the RT81 reduces worry for the beginner. It does enable you to use an external phono amp if you want to upgrade later, too.
The twin-speed, belt-driven RT81 arrives with a dust cover and offers a semi-automatic operation that can be switched off if not needed. Well, maybe quarter-automatic would be a better description. On traditional semi-automatic decks, when a record has finished playing, the built-in gearing lifts the tonearm from the grooves and returns it to the arm cradle. Not here. When play is finished, power is switched off, the turntable dies and the stylus remains in the vinyl groove. That’s great if you’re out of the room and you want to conserve electricity, but be careful not to then jolt the turntable to prevent possible scratches as the stylus bounces all over the LP surface.
There are good and bad points in the RT81 design. The solid wooden plinth, with a walnut veneer top option, is good: massy, heavy, meaty and oozing good value. I expect a strong bass performance from it. The aluminium platter is not so good; it rings like a bell, and the rubber mat is basic and should be upgraded at the earliest opportunity.
The best thing about the turntable, hanging off the S-shaped arm, is the Audio-Technica AT-95E cartridge with an elliptical stylus tip. To see the latter included with a turntable at this price point is worthy of note (although not entirely unheard of). Saying that, the Dual MTR-75 (£250) doesn’t have one, and even the Rega doesn’t have a superior elliptical stylus.
Comparing the RT81 with a Lenco L-3808 direct drive turntable and switching the RT81’s cartridge for a cheaper conical-tipped stylus (as found on the Lenco) in order to review the turntable design itself, I found the midrange rather warm, the treble rolled off, but bass excellent: the plinth, I’ll bet. That said, in this configuration, the RT81 remained a pleasant listen.
Adding the AT-95E cartridge again, the performance of the RT81 was transformed. It pushed the dynamic reach upward, adding air and space to cymbal taps, giving welcome reverb tails to percussive strikes on rock tracks, and a sense of resonance to trumpet blasts and a fragility to the tinkling piano keys via jazz. Dynamic reach was not as high as I wished, but the overall presentation remained very good indeed.
The RT81 is a good turntable aimed at a lifestyle audience, and that’s how it should be judged. Don’t see it as an audiophile product and don’t expect that level of performance but, nevertheless, do be impressed by the RT81 in that capacity. There are plenty of other lifestyle-oriented turntables out there and the well-priced RT81 does well in a face-off with its competitive kith and kin.