The Tippy Top of Fluance’s RT Turntable Line
I’ll be honest, when it comes to turntables my choice is almost always direct drive. I appreciate the accuracy, straightforwardness, and robustness of vintage Japanese direct-drive decks like Technics, Pioneer, Sony, Denon, etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I do like quite a few belt-drive turntables from manufacturers like ProJect and Rega. It’s just that when it comes down to it, they seem just a little too delicate and finicky when compared to something like an SL-1200. And don’t get me started on physically moving the belt on the motor to adjust the speed or those little dangly anti-skate setups.
My beliefs were a little shaken however when Fluance first unveiled their upscale Reference RT line (the RT82, 83, 84, and 85) early last year to generally positive reviews. Add in the fact that the RT85 almost immediately went out of stock after launch, and it seemed like music lovers and audiophiles alike were going Wonka Bar crazy over Fluance’s new turntables, and I was swept up in the hype.
Luckily, in August 2019, Fluance overcame their supply issues and I was able to finally get my hands on their top tier model, the RT85.
The RT82, 83, 84, and 85 are essentially the same turntable with incremental upgrades between each model number. The RT82 is at the bottom end of the lineup with a metal platter and Ortofon OM-5 cartridge at $300, while the RT83 bumps up the cart to an Ortofon 2M Red, the RT84 to the Ortofon 2M Blue, and the top of the line RT85 sporting a thick acrylic platter on top of that at a very reasonable $500.
Fluance does offer 2 more budget centric decks below the RT82; the RT80 and RT81, however, they come bundled with lower end Audio Technica carts and lack some of the higher-end models’ more upscale features like an external motor array. Both models also come equipped with an integrated phono stage, a feature I generally try to steer away from.
Unboxing and Setup
I usually don’t focus on the unboxing process when it comes to audio equipment, simply because of the fact that I just don’t find it as interesting as some smaller pieces of tech, like smartphones and laptops, but Fluance have really put a lot of thought into the packaging and setup process.
When first opening the box, I was greeted with some paperwork and a pair of white cloth gloves. Yes, gloves! While not completely necessary, the gloves do add a certain upscale halo when initially handling the deck, and with the RT’s super glossy finish, they did come in handy to help prevent any early smudges or scratches during the setup.
Fluance also included a very nice pair of thick isolated cables and 2 ground wires. When looking through the paperwork, Fluance recommends daisy-chaining the ground wires in case you are using an external preamp to help reduce noise as much as possible.
If you’ve ever set up a basic turntable before, the RT85 will feel pretty straight forward. The acrylic platter easily plops on top of the solid wood plinth and the rubber belt wraps around it and the servo motor placed on the upper top left part of the plinth.
The RT85 comes with 3 adjustable spiked feet with spring isolation making level adjustments super easy, especially with the very much appreciated included bubble level.
The RT85’s Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge came pre-aligned on a standard detachable headshell. Thank you! The fact that the cart came pre-aligned, basically does away with the tedious micro-adjustments of dialing in the cartridge during the initial setup.
After attaching the cart and the counterweight, it is just a simple task of balancing and setting the tonearm and anti-skate to the 2M Blue’s recommended 1.8 grams of tracking force.
Fluance’s precision servo-controlled motor is an accuracy demon, so there was no need to dial in any pots to get an accurate speed reading.
Overall, it took me around 20-30 minutes until I was spinning my first record.
Design and Layout
The RT85 is a handsome deck, even with my piano black model being more prone to scuffs and fingerprints as opposed to the woodgrain finish.
The Fluance RT85 comes with a black powder-coated steel “S” shaped tonearm and feels good in the hand, albeit a little light and cheap feeling when comparing it directly to one of my vintage turntables. Unfortunately, the tonearm assembly is stationary and does not offer any height or azimuth adjustments, something that may pose as an issue if you intend to upgrade the cartridge later on.
The precision servo-controlled motor is cleverly set to the top left corner of the plinth to help with noise and vibrations and is controlled by a single knob for power and speed selection.
In general, the turntable’s black gloss finish along with the matt black tonearm assembly and smoked dust cover give the RT85 a dark and serious look, like something you’d find in the Batcave.
Playback and Features
For the most part, the RT85 is a manual deck. When you are ready to play a record, you need to manually position the tonearm and drop the queuing lever when ready. The same goes for the end of a record. When the side is done you need to lift the tonearm and return it to its cradle.
There is however an auto-stop feature that can be turned on and off via a switch in the back of the deck. The auto stop is a little wonky and I initially thought it wasn’t working properly as all it does it kill the motor after about 30-45 seconds when it reaches the end of the record side. The auto-stop switch does change how the motor starts up though, switching from a turning when on mode to starting the motor as the arm comes closer to the platter, akin to semi-automatic turntables of the 70s and 80s, and is the only reason I keep the auto-stop on.
The precision servo-controlled motor is spot on most of the time and I had no issues staying within reasonable speed ranges, with my personal wow and flutter testing usually came back under Fluance’s stated 0.07%.
The included acrylic platter helps with added isolation, however, the fact that the platter lacks a slip mat means that there is little to no grip when placing a record on it. This isn’t super critical, but it is something I needed to start paying attention to when loading up and handling records on the RT85.
I’m not sure if this is only apparent on my model, but the plastic queuing lever seems to be set a little off, dropping the needle at an almost frustratingly slow pace, while lifting the needle can be a little fast. Nothing crucial, just nitpicking.
While looking a little odd at first, the RT85’s trio of spiked feet should offer more isolation and stability as opposed to the standard 4 feet. The spiked design and one less appendage offer less surface area for vibrations to cling to and the fact that 3 legs tend to be sturdier than 4 (don’t ask me how. It’s just science.) means that it is able to absorb and eliminate vibrations better.
With not delving into the performance of the Ortofon 2M Blue, the RT85 is a super accurate and very quiet deck that offers great sound isolation, that’s as easy to use as any other manual turntable.
The Ortofon 2M Blue
It’s hard to believe that the RT84 and RT85 come bundled with Ortofon 2M Blue when looking at their price points. At $240 retail, the 2M Blue costs almost half as much as the RT85, and an even more impressive 63% when compared to the RT84 ($382). At that price point, it may be more worth it to get a whole new turntable than just upgrade to an Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
|Cart Type||Moving Magnet (MM)|
|Stylus||0.3 x 0.7 mil|
|Frequency Response||20 – 20,000 Hz (+2/-1 dB)|
|Frequency Range||20 – 25,000 Hz (-3 dB)|
|Channel Separation||25 dB at 1 kHz|
|Channel Balance||< 1.5 dB @ 1 kHz|
|Load Impedance||47k Ohms/150 – 300 pF|
|Tracking Force||1.8 Grams|
|Vertical Tracking Angle||20°|
The RT85’s precision and quietness create the perfect stage to let a cart like the 2M Blue really shine through.
While maybe not as colorful or forgiving as Ortofon’s 2M Red, the 2M Blue provides that signature Ortofon neutral-ness that goes well with a wide array of music choices, while being very transparent and open. Without wanting to sound too cliché, it does sound like a veil was lifted from over the 2M Red when comparing the two head-to-head.
That very neutral transparency and openness can be a double-edged sword, however, leaving the 2M Blue to sound a little harsh, showcasing instead of rounding off any imperfections on the record. This means that the RT85 with 2M Blue needs to meld in well with your setup to get the best sound experience.
While the internal PHONO preamp on the den’s Yamaha receiver initially sounded good, I felt that the 2M Blue would benefit more from an external preamp that would help subdue some of the harshnesses. I hooked up RT85 to my ProJect Tube Box S2 to help warm up the sound and the pairing sounds phenomenal. The Tube Box S2 helps bring out everything great about the 2M Blue while smoothing out those harsh imperfections. The Tube Box S2 does cost $400 though, and adding it on top of the RT85’s $500 price may seem like overkill.
Fluance does sell its own preamp specifically tuned for its Reference Series turntables and its trio of Ortofon cartridges for $80, so if you don’t have an external or integrated preamp you trust, adding it on to the RT84 and RT85 may not be a bad idea.
Overall, the Ortofon 2M Blue is a fantastic cartridge to have bundled with any turntable at this price point, as long as you have a system that can help support it.
The Fluance RT85 is a solid turntable at a great price. While its features may be a little lackluster, its overall accuracy and isolation make for a great stage to help showcase the real star of the show, the Ortofon 2M Blue.