Vinyl Gear Review: My Journey to the Fluance RT85 Turntable

In mid-December of last year, I decided that I really wanted to upgrade my turntable from the Audio Technica AT-LP60 to something a bit more high end.  I set myself a budget of no more than $500 and began my quest to learn about the possible options.  I queried a Facebook group I belong too to get some opinions on different options in and around my price range.  I was given a myriad of makes and models to look into which excited me to no end.  When I decide on a big money purchase, and I am definitely calling this a big money purchase as $500 isn't chump change, I do a lot of research, read a lot of reviews, and weigh the pros and cons of all options I am interested in until I feel certain I know which one I am going to buy.

With a list of about fifteen different turntable recommendations, I began widdling it down based on features and brand reputation.  I weighed cost along with ease of use, input from trusted vinyl gear fanatics, and online reviews from both end-users and tech industry insiders.  My choices came down to five models:  U-Turn Orbit Special ($450), Pro-Ject Carbon Debut ($400), Fluance RT83 ($350), Fluance RT85 ($500), and the Audio Technica AT-LP120 ($250).

I first heard about the Fluance from a trusted member of a facebook vinyl group who told me that while he hadn't tried one out, he heard a lot of good things about the Fluance RT81 turntable that recently came out.  After looking into the RT81 and watching some video reviews on YouTube, reading some reviews online, and heading over to their website (www.fluanceaudio.com), I was very interested.  Especially at the price point of $250 the RT81 had.  Upon further evaluation, I decided that if I was going to go with Fluance, I would go big or go home and eyed the RT83 and RT85 as the best options for me.  More on that in a bit.

What I really liked about the Audio Technica AT-LP120 was the pitch control feature.  I have the
Having a speed switch was a major
factor in choosing to go with
Stone Temple Pilots record store day/black Friday live album release from Rhino Records that was affected by a 4% speed issue.  The AT-LP120 would allow me to fix that pitch problem while I waited for the replacement album that is coming in April of 2019.  But after seeing how people didn't like the fact that the audio flows through the pre-amp onboard no matter if you use the pre-amp or not, I decided that wasn't the right fit for me.  There are ways to bypass the pre-amp, but they involve opening up the unit and rerouting the signal.  That's something I am not comfortable doing myself.

That left the Pro-Ject, U-Turn and Fluance options to explore.  All three had great reviews and lots of recommendations from end-users, but in the end, I felt the ease of use with the Pro-Ject and U-Turn wasn't there.  The fact that I had to move the belt to switch between 33 1/3 and 45 RPM just seemed silly.  Minor, yes, but when you are looking to spend between $350 and $500 you want the things that are important to you.

So after weeks of reading, talking, reading more, watching, and contemplating I had decided on the Fluance as the turntable I was going to buy.  All this time I had been setting aside money in order to pay for the turntable so it wouldn't be a massive hit to my wallet when I finally did get the opportunity to purchase my new turntable.  The only things that remained were which model and when the model I wanted would be in stock.  One was out of my control, but Fluance made it easy by allowing me to sign up for notifications of when new stock was available on the models I was interested in.

The acrylic platter is heavy and gorgeous
The decision between the RT83 and RT85 came down to two things.  The first was the platter options.  The RT83 comes with the standard aluminum platter while the RT84 and RT85 come with a much-touted acrylic platter.  Acrylic platters are supposed to offer better speed stability, more bass, less vibration, and less static.  I had been using acrylic turntable mats on both my current turntables and really liked them, so I was okay with the aluminum platter if it came down to that since I could just keep using my acrylic mats, and the price difference between the models was $150 which weighed into the decision as well.

The second factor was the cartridge.  The RT83 and RT84 came with the Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.  The 2M Red is a hugely popular cartridge among audiophiles and vinyl communities.  I had heard many good things about it, and it was the more common cartridge to use in the price range I was in.  The RT85 comes with the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge which is a step up from the 2M Red.  The 2M Red is a bonded cartridge in which the diamond stylus is bonded to a piece of material and then the cantilever.  The 2M Blue is a nude cartridge where the diamond stylus is bonded directly to
I felt $50 was worth it to upgrade to
the 2M Blue
the cantilever which allows for better sound transfer.   Now if you are like me, that goes way over your head too, but basically, it means that the nude cartridge will give you a better soundscape and a higher quality of audio coming from the turntable.  Early on I decided that I was good with the 2M Red as it would save me $150 if I went with the RT83.  The problem was I wanted to go with the acrylic platter, so that meant going with the RT84 which was priced at $450.  After researching the cost of the platter (about $100) and the cost of the upgrade later to the 2M Blue (about $150), it was a no brainer to pay the extra $50 to get both the acrylic platter and 2M Blue.  With that decision, I knew I was going to go with the RT85.  Now I just needed to wait for the stock to arrive at Fluance which I was told would be the end of February.

Safe and sound packed tightly in the box
True to their word, the email that the RT85 was in-stock and ready to ship came right at the end of February and I was able to hop onto the site and order my unit immediately.  The order took about 5 days to arrive from Canada after shipment, and on March 7th my box from Fluance arrived safely via UPS.  As you can see by the photo to the left, the box came in decent shape with some shipping dings along the way, but Fluance does a fantastic job of packaging the unit and everything was safe and sound when I opened up the box. (To see the unboxing video I did click here to view my facebook post)

I was immediately impressed with how everything was tightly packed and with the packaging itself.  The table was nice and secure, the accessories were secured with tape to the styrofoam that wrapped the turntable, and the dust cover was perfectly placed on top.  Inside the packaging with the manual and catalog were a pair of white gloves to be used when assembling and installing the turntable.  This was a nice add by Fluance because the finish is so gorgeous it would be a crime to muck it up with fingerprints from the get-go.

After removing all of the parts and accessories I began putting the turntable together per the instructions provided.  The process was super simple and quick.  I had the turntable put together in less than 15 minutes.  What I really appreciated was Fluances decision to go with a removable headshell for the cartridge.  This allows for easy upgrading in the future without the pain of connecting and disconnecting thin wires (something I have a bad experience with).  Once assembled I needed to set the counterweight and align the cartridge.  Once I had the tonearm balanced, I set the counterweight to the recommended 1.8 grams.  When I checked the weight with my virtual tracking force scale I found the counterweight to be off by about .3 grams, so I adjusted the counterweight so my scale read 1.8 grams and then set the anti-skate option to 1.8.  Now it was time to plug the unit into my stereo system.

Spike-style legs allow for less contact
between the surface and turntable
Fluance was kind enough to provide some pretty nice RCA cables, and since they looked better than what I had, I decided to use them to connect the unit to my receiver.  Fluance also sent an extra ground cable with the unit.  I am not sure why, but it never hurts to have extra parts.  Once the unit was plugged in, I used the included bubble level to make sure the table was level on all three legs.  Yes, that is correct, the Fluance RT85 has 3 legs made of rubber and in a spike-style fashion (see the picture to the right).  This is so that the least amount of material touches the surface holding the turntable avoiding any unwanted vibration or interference.  Another plus to keep the vibration and interference low is the plinth itself.  The plinth is made out of a solid piece of MDF which is then covered with a wood veneer (in my case a nice walnut veneer).

Fluance went with a curved tonearm, which I like aesthetically more than a straight tonearm.  Some think that a curved tonearm means that the sound has to travel further to get to the amp, but that is minimal to me as I like the look of the curved tonearm better.  Fluance also included a tinted dust cover which adds a lot to the overall look of the turntable.  It gives it a classy feel over the typical clear dust covers. You can tell they put a lot of thought into the design of these units.  All in all, the Fluance RT85 is a stunner to look at.

I chose this album as the first spin on the RT85
With the unit firmly installed and ready to go, it was time to give it a spin.  For the maiden voyage, I chose Dire Straits classic album, Brothers In Arms at the recommendation of a trusted audiophile and great guy, Stacey Nash.  Going in I knew that the Ortofon 2M Blue needed about 30 hours of spinning before it would reach the full potential of the cartridge, but hot damn was I blown away by the sounds coming from the speakers.  I was hearing things I had never noticed in songs before.  Crisp highs, good bass, cymbals I didn't know were there.  It was an eye-opening experience for me and I knew I had made a good choice.  Even my wife couldn't believe how good the music sounded and remarked that she was hearing things in the songs she never had before.  My initial thought was how can this get better over time? I decided that I needed to break in the cartridge quickly, so for the next week, almost all of my spins were on the Fluance RT85.

The servo-motor is separated from
the plinth for better speed accuracy
Another nice feature that Fluance added to the Reference series is the auto-stop option. This feature is great for me as I tend to play albums while working out of my office and many times I can't just get up and flip the record when it finishes.  Having an auto-stop feature is great to save the servo-motor that spins the platter.  Having the ability to turn that feature off is also nice.  If I want to clean a record, I can turn off the auto-stop and just flip the dial to 33 1/3 rpm to allow the platter to start spinning while I clean the record with a velvet brush.  And speaking of the servo-motor, it is decoupled from the plinth and uses an optical sensor to measure the speed and allow for constant adjustment as needed.  This keeps the platter spinning at the right speed at all times and reduces any rumble on the platter caused by vibration.  It's a pretty solid design choice.

As I write this blog, I have been spinning on the turntable for two full weeks.  I have been slowly playing some of my favorite albums on the Fluance and continue to be amazed at how good they sound on the RT85.  If there was anything I could complain about, it's that the anti-skate has issues with albums that have a small runoff area.  It's minor though and probably something I can fix by adjusting the dial on the anti-skate, but I just haven't taken the time to investigate it yet.  In conclusion, I would highly recommend the Fluance RT85.  Not only is it an amazing deal for the money at $499 (the acrylic platter would cost $100, and the  Ortofon 2M Blue Cartridge would run $250 by themselves), but the turntable looks and sounds absolutely amazing.  I am so happy with my purchase that I would love to get an RT81 for my office in the future because of how impressed I am with the RT85.  If you are in the market for a new turntable, you just can't beat the value and quality of the Fluance Reference line of turntables.  Head over to their website and check out the four different models to find out which one works best for you.

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1 comment:

  1. Great review bud! And hey, my name made the cut! 🤣 Glad it's worked out so well for you. Knowing what you have had experience with now, I can feel even more comfortable recommending this to others. Also glad you went with the higher end with the acrylic platter and the 2M Blue. It's a big punch in the pocketbook at first, but the difference in audio quality can be stunning, and worth every penny in my opinion. Again, congrats!!!


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