Fluance RT81 Reference Turntable Review

The Fluance RT81 is an affordable, high-quality turntable aimed at both entry-level and more seasoned vinyl enthusiasts. As interest in vinyl and record collecting continues to grow, options for good turntables at lower price points are always welcome. Fluance has made a name for itself in recent years for delivering great sounding audio equipment with pleasing aesthetics, all while managing to keep costs relatively low.

The RT81, which retails for $249, slides into Fluance’s lineup as an appealing midrange choice. It lacks some of the premium build materials and high-end features of the company’s more expensive Reference series turntables, but makes up for it with solid engineering and components. The tonearm, platter, and cartridge seem thoughtfully specified to extract clean audio from your records without breaking the bank. Meanwhile, the minimalist design and multiple finish options allow it to blend into a variety of decors.

In this review, we’ll take a closer look at the setup process, physical design, and audio performance of the Fluance RT81. We’ll examine how it stacks up both against other turntables in its price tier, as well as against pricier competitors. And we’ll help you determine if the RT81 deserves a spot on your equipment rack as a low-cost ticket to the vinyl experience.

Key Takeaways

  • The Fluance RT81 is a solidly built turntable that offers an approachable entry into vinyl listening.
  • Designed with a modern-meets-retro aesthetic, it is as much about performance as it is about style.
  • Its ease of use and straightforward setup is ideal for both beginners and experienced users.
  • Sonic performance and overall value make the RT81 a competitive option within its price range.
  • The RT82 is only marginally more expensive, but yields significant performance improvements, which makes the RT81 slightly less appealing.

Design and Build Quality

In assessing the Fluance RT81 turntable, we observe a marriage of aesthetic appeal and solid construction that caters to both the newcomer and vinyl enthusiast. Let’s take a closer look at the precise elements defining the visual and tactile experience of this device.

Materials and Aesthetics

The Fluance RT81 is available in 3 finishes (Natural Walnut, Piano Black, Piano White) applicable to a range of interiors from modern to classic. Constructed mainly of Medium-Density Fiberboard (MDF), this material is chosen for its durability and ability to reduce unwanted resonance, ensuring a cleaner sound playback.

Physical Features

Upon examining the RT81, we find an aluminum platter which contributes to both the unit’s stability and aesthetic. This choice of material leads to consistent rotation and, by extension, reliable playback. A dust cover is provided, which not only protects the delicate components from environmental contaminants but also aligns with the sleek design philosophy of the RT81. The attention to detail in the design translates to robust build quality, ensuring the turntable not only plays well but can also stand the test of time.

Technical Specifications

In our assessment, we’ve determined that the Fluance RT81 turntable stands out for its solid construction and fine-tuned components, which deliver a reliable and enjoyable vinyl listening experience.

Cartridge and Stylus Details

The Fluance RT81 is equipped with a high-quality Audio-Technica AT95E cartridge, ensuring accurate reproduction of sound. The stylus on this model is user-replaceable, which allows for an easy upgrade path as we enhance our audio setup. However, the RT82 which is only $50 more includes the Ortofon OM10 cartridge, which costs more than the difference of the two turntables.

Tonearm and Counterweight

The aluminum tonearm features an adjustable counterweight, allowing us to fine-tune the tracking force to the precise specification required by the stylus. It also includes an anti-skate mechanism that prevents the arm from moving toward the center of the record, ensuring that the needle tracks accurately through the grooves.

Drive Mechanism and Platter

Our turntable employs a belt-driven motor that isolates vibration to provide cleaner sound. It operates at both 33 1/3 and 45 RPM, catering to all standard records. The platter is constructed with a heavy, high-quality material and is accompanied by a rubber slip mat that dampens unwanted resonances. Beneath the platter, the sub-platter and motor further refine the drive system to enhance audio performance.

Sound Performance

In evaluating the Fluance RT81, we thoroughly examine its audio performance, focusing on how it delivers sound output and manages isolation as well as vibration control, critical factors affecting sound quality.

Audio Output

The Fluance RT81 is reputed for its solid, weighty presentation of sound. Users experience a clarity that’s often admired in higher-priced decks, particularly in the midrange frequencies that give life to vocals and string instruments. It leverages an Audio Technica cartridge, which contributes significantly to the detail and dynamics of the audio profile. Though it may not expose the micro-details a high-end turntable might reveal, for its price point, the RT81 manages to deliver balanced and warm audio that is both pleasing and immersive.

Isolation and Vibration Control

The construction of the Fluance RT81 contributes to its isolation capabilities and reduction of unwanted vibrations. The turntable boasts a solid base that aids in preventing feedback loops from external sources. Our assessment shows that it also offers impressive vibration resistance, minimizing the impact of external resonances on the sound output. This stability is key for maintaining consistent speed and, as a result, audio integrity. However, users should be mindful that while the RT81 does well in vibration control, it does not entirely eliminate it, especially at higher volumes or in environments that pose a greater risk for acoustic feedback.

Ease of Use and Setup

Setting up the Fluance RT81 turntable is designed to be straightforward and user-friendly, ensuring that even those new to vinyl can get started with minimal hassle. We focus on the key aspects of installation and the built-in features that contribute to its ease of use.

Installation and Calibration

When we receive a Fluance RT81, we find that most essential components are pre-assembled. This turntable comes equipped with an adjustable counterweight and anti-skate feature, which are critical for proper calibration. To begin, we attach the headshell to the tonearm and then proceed to adjust the counterweight for proper tracking force. It’s essential to set the tracking force according to the cartridge specifications to avoid damage to records or the stylus. The adjustable feet ensure that leveling the turntable on uneven surfaces is a hassle-free process.

  • Initial Setup Steps:
    • Attach the headshell to the tonearm
    • Adjust the counterweight for the correct tracking force
    • Level the turntable using adjustable feet

Automatic Features

The Fluance RT81 is appreciated for features like the auto-stop function, which adds to the convenience by stopping the platter when a record reaches its end. While not entirely automatic, this feature aids in preserving the stylus and vinyl by preventing continuous spinning. Initial power setup is simple; we just connect the included power adapter to the turntable and plug it into an outlet. Regrettably, the RT81 does not offer full automatism like auto-return or auto-play functionality, which would require no intervention once the record is placed on the platter.

  • Automatic Features:
    • Auto-stop engages at the end of a record
    • Simple power connection with the provided adapter

Value and Comparisons

When evaluating the Fluance RT81, we consider its placement in the market in terms of affordability and how it compares to other entry-level turntables. Let’s analyze its price point and examine the competition.

Price Point Analysis

The Fluance RT81 is often lauded for providing excellent value within its price bracket. With a retail cost that typically hovers around $249.99, it positions itself as an attractive option for those new to vinyl. For its price, it offers a well-constructed design, user-friendly setup, and satisfactory acoustic performance. The incorporation of an MDF body and aluminum platter with a built-in phono preamp justifies its price for entry-level enthusiasts.

Competing Turntable Options

Among competitor brands, the Audio-Technica AT-LP120XUSB is a notable alternative that offers similar features within the same price range. The AT-LP120XUSB also comes with a built-in preamp and has a USB output for digitizing records, which the RT81 lacks.

Fluance’s own RT82 is probably the turntable that cannibalizes the RT81’s sales, since for a small additional expense you get a new optical sensor speed controlled motor for lower wow and flutter and speed variation.

Moving up the price scale, the Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Rega Planar 1 are frequently compared with the RT81. These models start at a higher price point, around $399 and $475 respectively, but are acclaimed for their superior sound quality and less feature-centric design aesthetics. They cater to those who may be looking to step up from an entry-level turntable and invest more in audio fidelity.

Boldly, the Fluance RT81 holds its ground against competitors by offering a blend of features, design, and performance that satisfy the core needs of newcomers to vinyl, while still allowing room for future upgrades.


We find the Fluance RT81 to stand out as an exceptional entry-level turntable for both beginners and audiophiles looking to delve into the vinyl experience. The RT81’s solid build quality, partnered with a handsome walnut finish, complements any setting. We’re impressed by its built-in phono preamp which allows for a more convenient setup.

In terms of sound quality, the RT81 does not disappoint. The turntable renders audio with clarity, capturing the warm and full-bodied sound signature vinyl enthusiasts seek. While it’s constructed for those starting their vinyl journey, even seasoned listeners will appreciate the attention Fluance has given to sound fidelity.

Here are key takeaways about the Fluance RT81:

  • Build Quality: Sturdy and well-engineered design, conveying resilience and quality.
  • Ease of Use: Well suited for beginners, with straightforward setup procedures.
  • Sound: Provides a rhythmically and dynamically able performance, enhancing the vinyl listening experience.
  • Features: The automatic cueing and anti-skating features reduce the risk of damage to records, encouraging peace of mind for users.

In our collective view, the Fluance RT81 offers a balance of aesthetics, functionality, and quality that few turntables at this price point can match. It is, without a doubt, a smart investment for those starting their vinyl journey and looking for a reliable turntable that neither compromises on quality nor breaks the bank.