While the resurgence in popularity of vinyl records in recent years may have started with hipsters, the trend has already spilled over to mass consumers. Major retailers from Best Buy to Walmart are now selling vinyl LPs while top artists like Taylor Swift and Sam Smith have jumped onboard by releasing albums on vinyl this year. While we generally think of Fluance as a high quality, Hi-Fi speaker manufacturer, it introduced its first entry-level turntables this spring, and we were pleasantly surprised.
Two versions of Fluance’s turntables were released simultaneously: the RT80 and the slightly more expensive RT81. Both are similar in terms of build quality and include a clear plastic dust cover and wooden plinth. While the RT81 is built from solid wood with a high-gloss walnut wood grain, the RT80 uses a fiberboard cabinet with a slick piano black finish. Both versions use a cast aluminum belt-driven platter, however, the RT81 comes with a thick rubber slip mat versus the standard felt mat bundled with the RT80. The final, and perhaps most impactful difference, is the included phono cartridge; the RT80 comes with Audio Technica’s AT91 cartridge and the RT81 sports the slightly more advanced AT95E cartridge which offers a better fidelity.
Setting up the turntable takes only a few minutes if you follow the clearly spelled out instructions in the user manual for installing the platter and balancing the tone arm. If you’re not familiar with these terms yet, don’t worry; Fluance has videos of the setup process on their website to make things easier. The player uses a simple control dial to select play speed for 33 1/3 RPM or 45 RPM records, and you’ll get a plastic spindle adapter that allows 45s to be used on the smaller 33 1/3 spindle. Both the RT80 and RT81 have a built-in pre-amp so you can use the turntable out of the box, after supplying your own amplifier and speakers of course. You will, however, get better sound and performance out of a better quality external pre-amp, like the Art DJ Pre II or the Bellari VP130. The only other feature is the Auto Stop setting which, when switched on, starts spinning the platter when the tone arm is positioned over the record and stops the platter after it plays the last track on the record.
We tested the RT81 with Fluance’s Signature Series bookshelf speakers, and the sound certainly met and exceeded our expectations. Music played on the record player was deep and smooth with excellent clarity. In general, there was low distortion, sparkling treble, and strong bass across the records we listened to, from Broadway to Drake. While there are many factors that can affect sound quality, from the condition of the record to the quality of the pre-amp and cartridge used, the sound from the player out of the box using the built-in pre-amp and included cartridge was quite impressive, considering the entry-level price.
If you’re picking up vinyl for the first time or getting back into it, Fluance’s turntables are a good starting point. The RT80 is affordably priced at $200 while the RT81 goes for $250. For a relatively minor price difference, the handful of upgrades and better sound quality of the RT81 are worth it, if you can spare the extra bucks.
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