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Canadian Hi-Fi manufacturer Fluance has launched a new line of turntables, targeting the budget-conscious vinyl enthusiast who has an eye on high performance. Fluance’s $499 RT85, the subject of this review, sits at the top of the company’s turntable lineup and gets our high marks for its price/performance ratio.
Build quality and Features
On paper, the RT85 reads like a turntable that should be priced close to four-figure territory.The turntable’s plinth is made of MDF (medium-density fiberboard), and it comes in your choice of traditional piano black or a real walnut veneer. Up close, the piano-black, high-gloss finish on my review model was beautiful. There are three vibration-dampening, adjustable feet that help balance the turntable.
The RT85 comes with an acrylic platter instead of the typical metal platter on most entry-level and midrange turntables. Acrylic platters are coveted for their higher density and dampening properties compared to metal platters. An acrylic platter is typically a ± $120 upgrade.
Fluance pairs the RT85’s S-shaped tonearm with an Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridge. Appealing to the purist, Fluance says there are no electronics between the signal path from the stylus tip to the gold-plated RCA outputs. You typically don’t find this more-expensive cartridge paired with a turntable at this price point. The step-down Ortofon 2M Red is more typical for sub-$500 tables. The Ortofon 2M Blue phono cartridge alone costs about $235, further adding to the RT85’s value proposition. In fact, if purchased separately, the acrylic platter and Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge alone cost about $350 at retail.
The RT85 comes with a belt-driven, servo-controlled DC motor with 33- or 45 RPM selections. Fluance says the servo-controlled motor features a speed-regulating optical sensor that suppresses motor vibration and noise from reaching the stylus. Generally speaking, belt-driven designs are more popular with audiophiles than direct-drive motors because they tend to have less vibration
The RT85 is a semi-automatic turntable. The platter will start spinning at the designated speed once you move the tonearm over the record. Once the tonearm reaches the end of the record, it will automatically stop the motor after about 20 to 30 seconds. This feature is certainly convenient if you’re playing your vinyl in the background. If you don’t like the auto-stop function, you can turn it off via a switch on the turntable’s back panel.
Like most audiophile-grade turntables, the RT85 lacks an onboard phono preamp. Without exception, I’ve always found a high-quality outboard preamp to be superior to included phono stages. Sans phono stage, any turntable’s signal output is far too low to work by simply plugging into a receiver or pair of powered speakers. Therefore, you’ll need to pair the RT85 with a phono preamp or an A/V receiver with a built-in phono pre-amp, which will apply the right amount of gain required.
Fluance sells its own PA10 phono preamp for about $80. I did not have the PA10 as part of my review setup and therefore cannot comment on its performance. My simple suggestion is that you complement the Fluance with the best-quality preamp you can afford. Fluance does offer a generous 30-day, in-home trial policy with free returns if you want to try the PA10 with the RT85.
Easy setup for the novice
If you’re intimidated at the prospect of setting up a turntable, have no fear. The Fluance RT85 is a great out-of-the-box experience. With the exception of a phono preamp, Fluance includes everything you’ll need to get up and running quickly. The tone arm is set up at the factory, and the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge is pre-installed on the head shell when you unpack the turntable.
Just about every accessory you’ll need is included. The RT85 comes with a hinged dust cover, RCA interconnects, and a pair of ground cables—a perfect solution if you’re using a phono preamp along with the RT85. Fluance even includes a 45 adapter and a bubble level, so you can make sure the turntable is perfectly level for optimal vinyl playback. From start to finish, I had the RT85 set up and ready to spin up my LPs in mere minutes.
Fluance’s package delivered high-value sound from the first note, with some warm overtones. The RT85 did yeoman’s work in several areas that will give you a good taste of what a high-end turntable can deliver. The midrange clarity and top-end purity especially exceeded my preconceived expectations. Sarah Brightman’s and Michael Crawford’s vocals on Phantom of the Opera were beautifully rendered, with timbral accuracy on tracks like “Angel of Music.” Instrument separation was excellent,with solid imaging and dimensionality as consistent strengths. If a recording contained those cues, the RT85 delivered.
No matter the album or genre, I constantly noted the RT85’s knack for musicality. This turntable exhibited a penchant for engaging me emotionally. On tracks like “The Point of No Return,” the hairs on my arms literally stood on end as I was drawn into the emotion of Ms. Brightman and Mr. Crawford’s vocal tango.
The RT85 was a window into Branford Marsalis’ saxophone prowess. Playing the album Renaissance, the RT85 was a stand-out performer. It did a good job of rendering textures and details, smoothing over some and just failing to resolve other fine musical nuances that seem almost effortless in a high-end rig.
I always use the 180g 45 rpm 2LP set of Dire Straits’ classic, Brothers in Arms, with all my turntable reviews as a final measure of any system’s muster. Among its many attriubutes, this Grammy Award-winning album is known for its spaciousness and dynamics. Needless to say, from the opening track “So Far Away” to the deeply beautiful, “Brothers in Arms,” the RT85 delivered in spades.
A solid vinyl-playing proposition
Fluance’s RT85 isn’t the company’s first turntable, yet it might very well be its finest. By any measure, the RT85 is an overachiever. From its acrylic platter, Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge, and included accessories, to its genuinely solid performance, the RT85 will have you enjoying high-end sound at a fraction of the price of the competition. If you’re looking to upgrade your current turntable or looking to join in the vinyl party in style, you should put Fluance’s RT85 on your very short list for Christmas. Highly recommended.