A belt-drive design featuring an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge, Paul Rigby reviews this budget turntable
I recently reviewed Fluance’s RT81 turntable, priced at the bottom end of the budget sector. Despite one or two quirks, I liked the overall design. It certainly has a place in the market and I know that it’s loved by many people who use the deck. In fact, Fluance has been busy. It has targeted the budget turntable sector with some vigour. The RT81 is actually one of six turntables offered by this Canadian outfit. If you were to rank the six designs with the most expensive being the RT85 (at $500) at the top of the pile and No.1 and the RT81 heading in at the No.5 position at £250, them this RT83 snuggles in at No.3 at $350. I did ask the company about a confirmed UK price but I’m still waiting on that. I would take an educated guess at a dollar-pound transfer to £350, though.
A belt-driven design, the RT83 is a twin-speed turntable with the speed controlled by a dual power/speed control knob on the near left of the plinth. That plinth, which supports an included dust cover, is wooden with a Walnut veneer.
The included motor, apparently supported by silicone isolation, holds the belt that runs around the outer rim of the aluminium platter. A rubber mat sits a-top of that.
A sub-9”, S-shaped tonearm features a typical SME-type removable headshell. Under that is an Ortofon 2M Red moving magnet cartridge, a quality design.
No internal phono amplifier is featured in this design so you will need to supply an external model or one found within an integrated amplifier.
The RT83 features an auto-off feature too which means that this turntable is almost semi-automatic. Not properly, mind you. At the end of the track, the tonearm is not returned to its cradle. No, when the stylus hits the run-out grooves of your LP, the power cuts, the platter ceases to turn and the arm just sits there…snoozing.
Fine if you’ve walked away during play or fell asleep in the meantime, I suppose. The auto-off feature saves a smattering of electricity if your turntable is ever left unattended and you also reduce a small measure of wear but be careful not to knock the resting tonearm later on in case you send the stylus skipping across your precious LP surface.
Spanning 419 x 140 x 349mm, the RT83 weighs in at a healthy 6.8kg.
I decided to look at two turntables for reference purposes. Firstly, I dragged in the cheaper RT81 from Fluance, with its Audio-Technica AT-95 cartridge, to see exactly what sonic differences there were between the two designs and to see what you receive for paying that extra $100. So that’s basically a Fluance vs Fluance test.
The next test was based on price/performance. Finding a top quality turntable for a similar price point. So I brought in a Rega RP1 for that job.
First up? The battle of the two Fluance turntable designs.
I compared the two Fluance turntables utilising an external phono amplifier. The RT83 has to use an external model but the RT81 features an internal model too. Via the latter the RT81 sounded no more than fair as the internal phono amp offered upper mids that barked a bit, bass was constricted and dynamics sounded a little tense. The RT81 sounded far superior with an external phono amplifier and so that’s how I proceeded.
I played Ethel Ennis who sang in front of a jazz-tinged orchestra while singing He Loves Me on the original pressing of 1964’s This is Ethel Ennis (RCA).
Comparing the two Fluance decks out of the box as it where, without any tweaks or improvements to either, the RT83 offered a noticeably greater sense of maturity.
To illustrate what I mean, take the backing orchestra on this track. Via the 2M Red, the RT83 was able to portray the orchestra as a live entity. That in itself was a bit of an achievement. Hence, the orchestra held that spacious, heavy ambience that is so distinctive of a live orchestra sound: a mass of instruments where the sound of the moment bounced across the orchestra itself and off the walls of the hall they sat in. The 2M Red provided that spacious, lots-of-people-primed-with-instruments feel.
Bass offered a foundation in terms of mass but did not (because it basically could not) add too much definition because of the microphone placing and the auditorium while brass offered reverb tails within the midrange that seemed to scatter in all directions.
Now, having read the above paragraph, all of that information you’ve just digested was just not there via the RT-81. The music was there sure and it sounded great for the price but you just didn’t get the subtle stuff: the slices of atmospheric and ambient detail, the nuances that added life. That’s what the RT83 provided.
The bass sax performance on this track was notable when comparing the RT83 to the RT81. The sax offered a greater focus via the RT83, giving its late-song solo a more incisive edge.
So quite a start then for the RT83.
Moving onwards to the second test, how did the RT83 face up to the Rega? Well, it didn’t, to be frank. The Rega was superior across the board. Why? I point the finger directly at Rega’s tonearm. The Rega cartridge was not as good as the Fluance’s 2M Red and the Rega’s phono cables were average but there’s a RT83 issue, the extra electrical noise from the auto-off feature which, to my mind, shouldn’t be anywhere near the RT83. The RT81 sure, that makes sense but not the RT83 which pretends to have more audiophile aspirations, I feel.
For the Rega? There was no semi-automatic faff, the Rega’s platter and platter mat were both superior and it did have that tonearm. Rega thus spent more development money in and around the critical source components and it showed. It really showed.
If Fluance had managed to rope in a better quality arm from Pro-Ject for example, then the sound quality would have increased further, I’m sure. Don’t forget, the tonearm is a support system for the cartridge. If the tonearm cocks up and cannot successfully perform then any sonic goodies emanating from even the best of cartridges are muddied and broken before the sound even enters the tonearm cable to the phono amplifier. Further, if the platter was changed or even damped, that would have helped too. Changing the rubber mat for a felt example would have been another upgrade. As would upgrading the headshell.
The Fluance sounded good when compared to the Rega but lost out in terms of overall precision, focus and midrange insight while bass offered more character via the Rega.
When viewed against the majority of the lifestyle competition at this price, the RT83 remains a quality choice with an excellent blend of strong bass, admirable dynamic reach and delicate treble output.
It also scores because of its hot-swappable headshell but also the semi-automatic (ish) feature that may be important to you. These are both features that the audiophile-centric Rega RP1 cannot offer. The RT83 is also prime for upgrading and tweaking. Sonic enhancements can be made by damping the platter, upgrading the platter mat, upgrading the headshell and the phono cables. That little list has been compiled off the top of my head. I’m sure other areas could be addressed too.
The Fluance RT83 is a solid, well made lifestyle turntable that is easy to use with very good sound quality to boot. If the lifestyle angle is what you’re after, then you won’t be disappointed.
FLUANCE RT83 TURNTABLE
GOOD: cartridge, general sound quality, lifestyle features, easy to install and use
BAD: tonearm, platter, platter mat
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