With the extraordinary popularity of vinyl records today, and their record-setting sales over the last couple of years especially, people everywhere are looking for new turntables, especially for affordable, excellent quality turntables that really capture that wonderful analog record sound.
As a result, there is a lot of buzz around turntables like the inexpensive Fluance RT80, which some say is almost ridiculously good for its price – but how good is it, really?
In this article I will give the Fluance RT80 a closer look, and share my own experience setting it up and listening to it, to help you decide if it is the right record player for you.
Spoiler Alert! Yeah, for the money the Fluance RT80 is, in fact, ridiculously good!
Who Is Fluance?
Fluance may be a new name to a lot of people – even audiophiles and music lovers – but in fact, this excellent Canadian company has been around for well over two decades now, producing some of the best budget and mid-range turntables on the market today, as well as both powered and passive speaker systems.
Pretty much without exception, Fluance turntables have received amazingly positive reviews, from the industry and from customers, and their turntables are often considered the very best available at their respective price levels.
And Fluance as a company also enjoys the same kind of nearly unanimous positive reviews from their customers and has established a reputation for engaged, friendly, and helpful customer service and support as much as for their wonderful products.
Where are Fluance turntables made?
Although the company is based in Canada, and all engineering, design, marketing, and other aspects of the operation are handled there, the manufacture of any Fluance turntable, RT80, RT81, or RT85, and the rest is done in Taiwan.
Fluance RT80 Turntable Overview
You can call the Fluance RT80 a record player or a turntable, but we might want to make an important distinction about this – the RT80 is not one of those complete record players with built-in speakers (and sometimes radios, Bluetooth wireless, MP3 players, slots for SD memory cards or memory sticks, flashing LED lights or whatever else).
No, the Fluance RT80 is a proper old-school turntable, It needs to be plugged into a stereo system, or powered by active speakers, and focuses only on one thing – playing records perfectly and making them sound as good as possible.
As a result, the RT80 is a refreshingly simple-looking turntable, and in fact is also super simple to use – ok, yes, the initial setup is a bit more involved than with some cheaper (if not less expensive) all-in-one record players, but it’s still easier – far easier, in fact – than you might expect.
And the fact that there is a bit of setup involved means that the RT80 is a highly precise turntable, with not just far better sound on every level but capable of really taking care of your records – allowing them to not just sound as good as possible, but last as long as possible as well.
The Fluance RT80 includes:
- A beautifully made high stability, low resonance aluminum platter with felt mat
- An s-shaped aluminum tonearm, which has a counterweight for balance and a removable headshell so you can easily change cartridges
- An included Audio-Technica AT91 cartridge with a diamond needle
- A solid and dense MDF wooden plinth (base) with excellent suspension feet
- A nice lightly-tinted acrylic dust cover
- An integrated phono preamplifier
- A 45 RPM adaptor
So, although this is not an all-in-one player, with speakers built in, the RT80 does come with everything you need to play records.
The cables can be plugged into a stereo system’s phono inputs, but the integrated phono preamplifier means that you can also plug into a less sensitive auxiliary input, making the RT80 turntable way more flexible and useful and even allowing for direct connection to powered speakers.
However you use it, this is a pure analog experience – no Bluetooth, no digital convertors or digital circuitry of any kind – just pure, warm, musical analog record playback.
Fluance RT80 Pros and Cons
- True audiophile sound quality at an entry level price
- Rich, warm and musical analog sound
- Especially dynamic and energetic
- Super easy to set up
- Incredible value for the money
- Built in phono preamplifier
- Very easy on records
- No 78 speed
- Higher priced turntables have a bit better imaging, detail and clarity
Fluance RT80 Features and Specifications
Here at Speakergy we’ve never been that concerned over specifications, and I personally have found, again and again, that even the best specs don’t necessarily lead to good sound.
Still, we would want to see at least a certain level of performance, and the Fluance RT80 definitely meets our expectations on every parameter.
(If you’re not as much of a geek as I am, and just want to get to how the RT80 sounds, please feel free to skip ahead to my Review Section.)
- Drive System: Belt drive
- Motor: DC with 3-point rubber suspension
- Playing Speeds: 33 & 45 RPM (includes 45 adaptor)
- Adjustable Speeds: Yes, +/- 1%
- Wow and Flutter: .2%
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 67+ dB (A-weighted, 20kHz LPF)
- Tonearm: S-shaped aluminum, static balanced
- Adjustable Tracking Force: Yes
- Adjustable Anti-Skating: Yes
- Cueing Lever: Yes
- Interchangeable Headshell: Yes
- Included Cartridge: Audio-Technica AT91 moving magnet with conical diamond stylus
- Frequency Response: 20-20,000Hz
- Channel Separation: 18dB at 1kHz
- Channel Balance: 2.5dB or less at 1kHz
- Load Impedance/Capacitance: 47k Ohms/100pF
- Output Voltage: 2.5mV +/–3dB
- Output: Phono and line level, switchable
- Phono Level: 2.5 mV
- Line Level: 140 mV
- Cabling: Gold-plated RCA connectors & ground wire
Setting Up the Fluance RT80 Turntable
There are definitely easier record players to set up – with cheap all-in-one systems it’s pretty much take them out of the box, plug them in and you’re set – well, there is a bit more than that, but no really involved setup.
But real turntables – the kinds audiophiles and serious record collectors use – are different, requiring a bit of actual physical assembly and adjustment – attaching the drive belt, the cartridge, the counterweight and the dust cover and setting the tracking force.
Does all that sound a bit intimidating? Don’t worry – with the Fluance RT80 it’s all a breeze – really, quick and super simple, and with the clear and complete instructions the company provides it is absolutely no problem for even the most technically challenged among us.
And, again, this setup, and the precision it leads to, is to the turntable’s advantage, as it allows for a much higher level of performance, as well as really taking care of your precious vinyl records.
Basically, all that’s involved is:
- Unpacking all of the parts (carefully, of course)
- Stretching the soft rubber belt across the drive motor’s spindle and setting the platter into place
- Attaching the cartridge to the end of the tonearm, and the counterweight to the other end
- Balancing the tonearm (which is actually kind of fun) and setting the weight to 2 grams (clearly marked)
Really, that’s it! These few steps done, you’re ready to play your records – and to enjoy a true audiophile experience for a very low price!
How Good Does the Fluance RT80 Sound?
But seriously, an audiophile experience? I mean, sure, the high precision parts, the adjustable tracking force, the nice removable cartridge, the great specs – they’re all promising, and this is clearly an actual high fidelity turntable, basically the same parts, setup and operation as ‘tables that can cost literally thousands of dollars.
But the Fluance is not thousands of dollars. Heck, it’s barely hundreds of dollars!
So how good can a turntable that is less than two hundred bucks – cartridge included – actually sound?
Turns out, pretty darn good – shockingly good, in fact!
Putting the Fluance RT80 Through its Paces
I connected the Fluance RT80 turntable to a bunch of different devices, to get an idea how it sounds with different systems and in different situations, and to hopefully give you an idea what to expect in your own setup.
I wired the RT80 up to my main stereo system, which normally has a much more expensive turntable attached (currently a Rega Planar 2, but this changes from time to time). With this system I used both the Fluance’s low level phono output and the higher level auxiliary output.
I also tried the Fluance with a less expensive tabletop stereo system (the Denon D-M41 Compact Stereo), an active Bluetooth speaker (my beloved Klipsch Heritage The One) and even plugged the turntable directly into a headphones amplifier (the inexpensive but incredible iFi Zen DAC V2) so I could listen intently with various headphones.
And I played all kinds of records, from classics like Dark Side of the Moon, Aja, Court and Spark and Slowhand to modern gems like Radiohead’s King of Limbs, Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version), and M.I.A.’s Kala, as well as the best sounding classical and jazz records in my collection – I really wanted to push the Fluance RT80, and it ends up the RT80 was up for the challenged, and pushed back a lot more than I expected.
Just a brief note about the records I used before we get into the sound – the links above are for expensive, often limited edition audiophile and/or collectors’ releases of albums famous for their excellent sound – and especially in the case of the older ones, their fat, warm analog quality.
That said, I should be clear than the majority of the records in my collection, many of which I also used for auditioning the RT80, are 49 cent thrift store finds, or at least cheap used LPs from record stores, which if they look decent, clean and unscratched (and if you carefully clean them before playing them, like with my favorite cheap record cleaning system, the Big Fudge) can often offer pretty much the same rich, full and incredibly engaging analog vinyl sound.
Just saying, you don’t have to spend a lot for records, any more than you have to spend a lot for a turntable – and in fact you can in fact spend almost nothing and put together a brilliant and beautiful collection!
Listening to the Fluance RT80 Turntable
I wanted to come up with a single word to sum up the amazing and surprising experience I had listening to the Fluance RT80, and kept writing in my little notebook words like “warm,” “rich,” “detailed,” “energetic,” and even “authoritative.”
I also notice that I wrote the word “cheeseburger” more than once, but that wasn’t related to the turntable…
With every system I used, and every record I listened to, I was strongly and repeatedly impressed by the warm, dynamic, detailed and highly musical sound of this affordable Fluance turntable.
It has that rich, fat analog sound in full force, not just because Fluance has intentionally stayed away from any and all digital circuitry or processing, but because this is obviously a high quality turntable, very well made and correctly designed to get the most out of those magical grooves.
Although it is so inexpensive, the Fluance RT80 sounds much closer to high-end audiophile turntables than to lower-quality record players – many of which are at around the same price as the RT80. The Fluance has deep bass extension, clarity and detail all the way up and down, open and accurate imaging, a realistic and palpable overall presentation, and remarkably low levels of noise or distortion.
Even subtle micro-details (like the kind of texture and inflection you hear on Clapton’s guitar playing, which digital files or CDs don’t quite capture any more than cheap record players) come through with… what was the word? Yes, authority.
The Fluance also has remarkable imaging and soundstage. My Rega P2 – which to be fair is more than three times as expensive – does cast a slightly larger soundstage, but in fact, isn’t that much better at specific placement or movement within that stage – don’t get me wrong, the Rega is great, and in fact well known for its imaging, but the Fluance RT80 is close, and it just goes to show you just how good – in absolute audiophile terms – this turntable really is.
This also brings up the question of the Fluance RT80 vs the RT81, which is actually more popular and only about fifty dollars more expensive. I didn’t have them both at the same time for direct comparison and haven’t heard an RT81 in a few months, but honestly, I don’t think there’s much of a difference.
Yes, the RT1 has perhaps slightly more detail and captures even subtle levels of micro-detail with real aplomb, but in terms of that big, warm, rich, and dynamic analog sound they are very similar, and I would definitely give the RT80 the nod in terms of value – of course, the Fluance RT81 is also an exceptional value and is widely known as such.
When listening to classical music, I was repeatedly struck by the musical energy of the Fluance RT80. Not only was it effortless in conveying the whole range of dynamics, from timid triangle touches to the blast of cannons, but also found the subtle micro-dynamic information that vinyl records are so great at capturing – the tiny change in volume in a violinist’s playing, or the smooth increase in force in skillfully done crescendos.
And this dynamic energy and accuracy also works in very exciting – and often unexpected – ways with pop music, and makes, for example, some complex EDM tracks reveal new secrets, with subtle shifts in level and relationships between lines and sounds coming through so clearly. Whatever I listened to, though, I was so engaged all the time, so amazed at how energetic and expressive the turntable’s sound was.
Vocals have a warm and palpable presence that one doesn’t always get in digital, and which cheap record players only hint at, and all instruments and other sounds – acoustic, electric and electronic – just sound right, clear, accurate and realistic. Again, here we’re getting back to that idea of authority, and I really kept thinking, all through my listening, that the Fluance RT80, especially for an opening-level turntable, has real confidence.
My positive experiences were consistent with all of the various kinds of music I played, and also with the different systems. Of course I got more detail and accuracy, more specific and correct imaging and a larger soundstage, when I was using my big system, and it was so nice to see that this cheap little component could keep up with my expensive amps, speakers and the rest.
But even with the less expensive Denon system, or the Klipsch Bluetooth active speaker, the same kind of authority, musicality, energy and beauty came through in spades – and, for some reason, with the Klipsch there was a special synergy, and an indescribably beautiful sound.
Listening to the Fluance through headphones was just fascinating. Even with the also inexpensive iFi Zen headphone amp, so much detail and so many specific characteristics and qualities of the sound came through so clearly and directly, and in this highly focused and highly analytical listening, I was just blown away by how silent the background was (a sign of a very well built and well isolated turntable with a very good motor).
I could also hear incredible detail and even more of that highly persuasive and expressively powerful reproduction of micro-detail and micro-dynamics, again very close to the level – if not quite there – of my expensive Rega turntable.
But headphone listening emphasized one thing more than anything else – see, I normally use my iFi amp and headphones for listening to my PC, phone or music player, and so digital files, and it really does sound great. But with the Fluance RT80 the iFi – and all of my headphones – just sounded better – more musical, more dynamic, more expressive. The same level of what I might abstractly call “hi-fi quality” sound, but yeah, so much more beautiful!
And this is not just due to the differences between analog and digital sound, but largely down to the fact that the Fluance is, again, a very well made, well engineered and designed turntable, with superior material and construction quality, and sounds like a proper piece of audiophile gear.
In fact, though in some ways my Rega, or (some) other more expensive turntables – like the similarly excellent Fluance RT81 and RT85 – perform and sound better, the Fluance RT80 may be the least expensive way I know to get the most out of records, and thus to get the kind of detail, accuracy, energy, realism and warm musicality cheaper record players can’t come close to, and even expensive digital playback systems can only kind of approximate.
Conclusion: Would I Recommend the Fluance RT80 Turntable?
Well, if it isn’t clear from the raves above, yes, absolutely!
There are actually quite a few real turntables with decent cartridges for around two hundred dollars, and while many of them are a bit iffy – with mediocre sound, quality control issues and a tonearm and needle that aren’t too kind to your records – some of them are actually quite good, and comparable to the Fluance.
But in direct comparison to turntables by, say, Audio Technica, 1 by One, Angels Horn House of Marley and even Denon – all of which I’ve spent at least a little time with – the Fluance sounds better and is built better as well.
And in comparison to the kind of all in one record players that have speakers (and usually a lot more) built in, this is a whole new level – with clarity, subtlety and power to the sound that even much more expensive record players don’t get at all.
If you need a record player that has everything, with speakers, a radio, maybe an MP3 player, there are some great choices, and I and my colleagues have written several articles and buyer’s guides on that type of unit (I’ll include some links below).
But if you already have a good Bluetooth speaker, a tabletop or desktop stereo system, or even a higher quality audiophile stereo system, the Fluance RT80 offers, in my opinion, the best sound available at this competitive entry level, as well as real material and build quality, long term reliability and a fantastic company standing behind it.
So yes, the Fluance RT80 is highly recommended, and my favorite turntable at this price level.
Final Note: What Else Will You Need?
Like I said, you actually don’t need anything else to play records with the Fluance – just set it up, plug it into a powered speaker or stereo system and you’re good to go.
But there are a few basic accessories which can make the Fluance RT80 sound even better, and/or clean and protect your priceless vinyl records, while really improving their sound as well.
First and foremost, I would get a good basic record cleaning kit, and my favorite inexpensive one is the Big Fudge. Yes, that’s really what it’s called, and it is a very effective and safe way to deeply clean your records, making them sound much better and last much longer.
I would also consider getting some good anti-static record sleeves, to keep your records cleaner and dust free between playings and make taking them out and putting them away safer. And while the Big Fudge Master Sleeves are as good as their record cleaner, the Invest in Vinyl Sleeves are the real value here – just as good and a lot cheaper.
Finally, while not as necessary as record care products (the record cleaner, at least, is a must-have), an upgraded turntable mat can make more difference in the sound than maybe any other accessory – tighter bass, more detail and better imaging, among other things.
The Fluance Cork Mat is a big improvement over the basic felt mat the RT80 comes with, and isn’t expensive, while the Mobile Pro Shop Acrylic Slipmat is also an excellent choice, and comes in 7 cool colors.
Other than that, spend all the rest of your money on records!