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Can a $250 Turntable Stack Up to a Pro-Grade System?

A budget turntable doesn’t have to mean a compromise in sound.

fluance turntable gear patrol lead full
Henry Phillips

The audio brand Fluance started out making performance speakers for home stereo applications. With the RT81 and RT80, Fluance makes its first entry into the world of record players. Does their hi-fi expertise carry over?

While the RT81 and RT80 are very similar turntables, they do have a few key differences: The RT81 has a solid wood body, as opposed to the RT80’s hollow one; the RT81 has Audio Tecnica’s AT95E cartridge while the RT80 has the lower-grade AT91; and lastly the RT81 has a rubber slip mat, while the RT80’s is made of felt. In other words: the RT81 is worth the extra $50.

turntable arm and cartridge on a walnut background

The RT81 has the build quality of a turntable twice its price, with its solid wood body with walnut finish, and its sturdy adjustable feet that make it easy to level on a variety of surfaces. To test it, we connected the RT81 to a Sonos speaker system through the Sonos Connect Amp (two Play:5s and a sub), and the sound quality was simply stunning. Paired with Audio Technica‘s AT95E cartridge with diamond-elliptical-tipped stylus (in layman’s terms: a damn good cartridge), the RT81 left little to be desired. The rubber platter mat did an excellent job at reducing vibrations — the kind you regularly experience in Brooklyn apartments.

Under the Dust Cover

Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Drive: Belt
Cartridge: AT95E
Preamp: Yes
Buy Now: $250

The strongest argument for the RT81 is its price. At $250, you can sink more of your hard-earned coin into a worthwhile speaker system like the Sonos, or devote that money to building out a vinyl collection to rival The Thing‘s world-famous library — and you would give up very little quality over more expensive setups by doing so. The sound is warm and lossless, which you’d expect from a high-end turntable, but it also stands up to — and in some cases even surpasses — digital lossless files like FLAC.

Unless you’re a classically trained musician, or a trained turntable expert with 20+ years of experience in the industry, you’ll find little more to be desired with the RT81. It plays nice in the digital world (with a system like Sonos), has excellent build quality that’ll hold out over time, and will satisfy the ears of millennials and baby boomers alike.

Buy Now: $250

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