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Fluance RT81 review

If you’re familiar with my articles, you probably know I’m a big fan of audio gear that delivers a better sonic experience than its price would lead to believe. Fluance, a Canadian brand active since the late 90s, embodies the philosophy of affordable-yet-performing items for music reproduction I aim to celebrate.

The Fluance RT81 is one of their most renowned turntables and an excellent solution for the new audiophile. While not perfect, we’re in front of a serious candidate for the best turntable under $300: a competitive market where the RT81 stands out for sound clarity and accessibility.

About the author

I am an audiophile and audio engineer with over 10 years of experience in the music industry. When testing audio gear, I’m interested in clarity and neutrality, first and foremost, but I also want the sound to be enjoyable and engaging. When I use my hi-fi equipment for deep-listening sessions, I pay attention to the quality of frequency response across the spectrum, and when it comes to turntables, it’s crucial they can reproduce every style and genre smoothly and transparently.

Fluance RT81 turntable review
Image: Fluance
  • semi-automatic
  • belt-drive
  • 33, 45 RPM
  • built-in phono preamp

Final verdict on the Fluance RT81 4.0

A solid performance, simplicity of use, and high-quality materials make the Fluance RT81 a very good all-rounder turntable that will impress with its high fidelity and stability.

The sound is vibrant and intense, and the high-quality built-in phono preamp ensures you won’t need to invest more in the near future to upgrade your turntable. The professional isolation pads, plinth in solid wood, and anti-resonant platter offer a performance enhanced by pleasant resonances and undisturbed by vibrations.

Competition is tough at this price range, but the intuitive, plug-and-play RT81 is a great entry-level turntable for the new audiophile.

What I like

  • Great-quality built-in phono preamp.
  • Excellent build quality.
  • Intuitive.
  • Easy to upgrade or match with other Fluance products.

What I don’t like

  • Tough competition.
  • No Bluetooth.
Buy Fluance RT81 at: Amazon


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Build and design 4.5

One of the most convincing characteristics of the RT81 is its build quality, crafted in solid engineered (MDF) wood that gives it a timeless and solid feel. The good isolation pads, combined with the adjustable counterweight and anti-skating mechanism, ensure the turntable’s performance won’t be affected by sudden vibrations.

The sturdy wood plinth not only gives the RT81 a vintage feel but also enhances sonic resonances, offering a rich and spacious soundstage.

The renowned AT95E diamond-tipped stylus by Audio-Technica is reliable and performing, and while more experienced audiophiles might not be impressed by the affordable stylus, they can easily upgrade the stylus and cartridge thanks to the turntable’s excellent compatibility.

Compatibility 4.5

Let me start by saying that if you don’t already own an audio system, Fluance offers different packages comprising a turntable (with built-in preamp), amp, and speakers. Not only the speaker systems are affordable and fully customizable, but offer exceptional quality for the price, ensuring you get items that are seamlessly compatible and easy to upgrade in the long run.

RT81 turntable with Fluance speakers
Image: Fluance

That said, I found the RT81 to perform magnificently with a Yamaha A-S301, with the Sony SS-CS5 or the excellent Elac Debut 2.0 as bookshelf speakers. Thanks to the built-in preamp and simple setup, the Fluance RT81 offers endless customization options to the beginner audiophile.

Sound 4.0

The sound reproduced by the Fluance RT81 feels rich and detailed, and I’ve been particularly impressed by the sound isolation and imaging provided by this turntable.

I started the tests with Mark Hollis’ eponymous album, defined by minimal arrangements, silence, and evocative transients. The RT81 performed really well, preserving and emphasizing the nuances in every composition while highlighting the sudden bursts of energy provided by the clarinet and trumpet.

Next, I tested it with “Singularity” by Jon Hopkins, an album that perfectly combines ambient textures with more galvanizing electronic elements. The soundscape here is rich and immersive, and the RT81 reproduces it perfectly, enhancing the natural transitions and offering the listener a full, detailed experience. Despite the variations in sonic intensity, the Fluance RT81 remained untouched by vibrations or footfalls.

Although the soundstage feels engaging and immersive, it seems to me the RT81 lacks the transparency of other turntables within its price range, like the Audio-Technica AT-LP120. Finding the perfect balance between warmth and clarity is hard, even with high-end equipment, but I think music listeners obsessed with transparency won’t enjoy the RT81’s colorations.

Compared to other turntables

All things considered, the RT81 is, no doubt, one of the best options for beginners and an overall great budget turntable for most people. But here’re a few other options to consider.

Fluance RT81 vs RT82

For an extra $50, you can get the RT82, which doesn’t come with a built-in phono preamp but has other great features, most importantly, the speed sensor and servo-controlled motor. Some users complained about the speed accuracy of the RT81, so Fluance decided to solve the problem by ensuring speed accuracy in its newer models.

All in all, if you can spend a bit more and get a good-quality phono preamp, the RT82 is the best bang for your buck between the two.

Fluance RT81 vs Audio-Technica AT-LP60X

The Audio-Technica AT-LP60X is extremely affordable and delivers a noteworthy performance for its price. In terms of build quality and customization options, the Fluance RT81 is the clear winner here, but in terms of sound, things are more subtle.

The sound coming out of the AT-LP60X is warmer, but when it comes to details and accuracy, the RT81 is better. If you can spend an extra $50, I’d suggest you invest in a Fluance RT81.

Read the full Audio-Technica AT-LP60X review

Fluance RT81 vs Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB

The AT-LP120 costs around $100 more than the RT81 but comes with a couple of features that might please music enthusiasts, namely USB and Bluetooth connectivity. They both come with a built-in phono preamp, have the same cartridge, and offer comparable stability and resistance to vibrations.

Both aesthetically and sonically, these two turntables are two sides of the same coin. The RT81 looks timeless and offers a warmer sound, ideal for quiet listening sessions. The AT-LP120 is for audiophiles interested in accuracy and transparency and has a modern design that pleases my audio engineer side. To me, it’s a draw.

Who is the Fluance RT81 best suited for?

The Fluance RT81 is a fantastic option for the beginner audiophile or the music listener on a budget who wants a reliable and lasting turntable that delivers outstanding performance without breaking the bank.

Fluance offers complete sets to build a fully-compatible and easy-to-use audio system, and I can’t think of any other company providing such a level of service and quality at this price.

Buy Fluance RT81 at: Amazon

  • Picked up the RT81 and the Ai41 bookshelf speakers for my rather small hobby room, and they sound great in the confined space. I’m getting up there in age and my hearing isn’t the best any longer, so these will most likely be the last set for me!

    • Congratulations on your new setup! For small spaces the Fluance Ai41 speakers deliver great performance for the price.

  • Is upgrading the cartridge on the rt81 worth it ? Would I really notice much difference, it sounds great to me as is , also I have a denon avr-s660h reciever with dedicated phono hookup , am using that right now , would the built in preamp have a noticeable difference? Thanks

    • Hi Earl! The Fluance RT-81 does sound great as is, but replacing the stock cartridge with a better one will make a huge difference in clarity and soundstage. I’d suggest either the AT-VM95ML or the Ortofon red 2M to get the most out of your system without breaking the bank. As for the built-in preamp, yes, you’d definitely hear the difference. You won’t regret it.

  • The problem I had with my old Technics SLB-2 was the ease by which sounds were passed through the base to the needle. My dad’s Thorens was just the opposite. You hit the base…you hear nothing. With the B2 you heard everything. I thought for sure the RT-81 would be more like the Thorens. Nope. It’s just as bad, if not worse than the old Technics. You hear it when the plastic cover is touched. You hear it when the base is touched. No deadening whatsoever. It plays well, but so did my Technics with a Grado cartridge or a Shure cartridge back in the day.