My first experience with the Fluance brand was some years ago when I reviewed their then-top-of-the-line XL7F floorstanding loudspeaker (now discontinued), which I found to be an amazing value. While the firm still makes several speakers for home audio/video applications, they’ve become just as well known for a line of turntables that retail for eye-openingly low prices. In keeping with this trend, the RT83, the subject of this review, sits squarely in the middle of their offerings but sells for a reasonable $349.99 (all prices in USD).
Now, there are a number of fine entry-level turntables currently available in the $300-$400 price range, but few of them offer an Auto Stop feature, the highly regarded Ortofon 2M Red moving-magnet cartridge (which on its own retails for $99), and a plinth covered in real wood veneer. With features like these ones, the RT83 is a major bargain, at least on paper. But how does it perform? That’s what we’ll find out in this review.
The RT83 is a rather handsome unit. It’s available in four finishes: Piano Black, Piano White, Natural Walnut, and the one on my review sample—a matte finish Fluance calls Lucky Bamboo. The tonearm, its pivot mechanism, and the platter are black aluminum, and the platter comes with a black, rubber platter mat.
The turntable’s dimensions are 16.5″ × 5.5″ × 13.75″ and the unit weighs 14 pounds. The S-shaped arm has an effective length of 8.8″, which is a bit longer than the arms included with many turntables in this price range. The 12″ platter is belt driven by a DC motor with servo speed control. The motor itself is decoupled from the plinth and placed away from the platter to minimize noise. On its own, the platter rings when tapped—not a desirable trait—but the rubber mat helps damp vibrations. Unlike many competitive units, the RT83 doesn’t include an onboard phono preamplifier, so it must be connected to an integrated amplifier, receiver, or a preamplifier with a moving-magnet phono stage of its own, or an outboard moving-magnet-compatible phono preamp.
The only control located on the top of the unit is the Off/33/45 selector. The back panel contains the output jacks, an earth/ground connection, an Auto Stop switch (more below), and the power supply jack.
Power is supplied through a typical wall wart that works on AC mains supplies from 100 to 240VAC, 50 or 60 cycles. The turntable comes with an excellent and very thorough owner’s manual, a 45 rpm adapter, a set of good interconnects with a separate ground/earth wire, a bubble level to help the owner make sure the unit is in fact level, and a pair of white gloves. As Fluance’s Kaytlin Gagnon told me, “The white gloves are an initiative to help prevent fingerprints and to prevent the oil on fingers from transferring onto the turntable/cover/vinyl records/rubber belt.”
The unit is warranted, including parts and labor, for two years. Fluance advises the owner to hold on to the packaging in case it’s necessary to send the unit in for service. Fluance also offers a 30-day home trial, which is a good deal in my estimation.
Unpacking and setup
Inside the front cover of the owner’s manual, there’s a diagram showing how the turntable is packaged and, believe me, it’s most helpful. When you turn the page, you’ll see another diagram showing what’s included in the box; the following page shows the turntable and describes all the pertinent controls, connections, and so on.
The next step in the setup process involves the platter, the belt, and a cap that makes the motor pulley more pleasant to view. First, place the cap in its designated position, then move on to the drive belt. The belt is looped around the platter at the factory, so this aspect of the setup is quite simple: Just install the platter on the spindle and loop the belt around the motor pulley. Then put the rubber mat on the platter.
As usual, the only slightly tricky part is setting up the tonearm. The first step is removing the twist tie that keeps the arm secured during shipment. Next, screw the counterweight onto the back of the tonearm and install the headshell that contains the cartridge on the front end. Fluance then suggests attaching the hinges to the dust cover and installing them to the base. Fluance further advises you to adjust the RT83’s three vibration-absorbing rubber feet until the bubble on the level is centered.
Next comes balancing the tonearm so that it’s parallel to the surface of the plinth. Of course, you must first remove the cartridge’s stylus guard or the arm balance will be off. Once you’ve completed all those steps, it’s time to set the vertical tracking force to 1.8 grams/18mN. Use the dial on the separate anti-skating control just to the right of the arm’s gimbal and set it to that value, 1.8 grams/18mN.
Finally, attend to the details. Connect the turntable to a moving-magnet phono input using the supplied interconnects and ground/earth wire. Plug the power supply cord into the jack on the back of the turntable and the power supply into the mains, and you’re set to play records.
There is one onboard option: the Auto Stop feature. As mentioned, on the back of the turntable, there’s a slide switch next to the power jack. Move it to the right and Auto Stop is active; move it left and Auto Stop is deactivated. At the end of a side, Auto Stop halts the platter’s rotation, but the stylus remains in the groove. This permits you to “set and forget” playback because no damage will occur to the stylus as the platter stops turning when the side ends. I suggest that you have Auto Stop engaged at all times. However, I’ve found it doesn’t work on certain records with lead-out grooves that end too far from the center spindle.
Operating this turntable couldn’t be much simpler. Place the record on the platter, use the cue lever to raise the arm, and then move the arm over the lead-in groove. Select your desired speed and lower the arm. If Auto Stop is engaged, the platter won’t begin to rotate until the arm is moved over the disc.
The cue device is quite accurate but it’s damped only when it’s lowering the tonearm. So be gentle when you raise the arm off the disc.
The first thing I checked when I started listening critically was how resistant the turntable was to vibration. I’m sorry to say, not very. A fairly hard thump on my equipment rack was transmitted directly to the turntable and then to the speakers. It’s not the worst I’ve experienced, but it appears the RT83 prefers to be on its own solid shelf.
Second, I used the RPM app on my smartphone to check speed accuracy. It found the RT83 to be ever so slightly fast, with an average of 33.4 rpm and 45.05 rpm on LPs and 45s, respectively. That’s comparable to some far more expensive units I’ve reviewed. Now on to the tunes.
Back in the 1990s when I began reviewing equipment, one of the go-to sonic wonders was Dusty Springfield’s version of “The Look of Love,” the Burt Bacharach / Hal David song from the soundtrack of Casino Royale (the satirical James Bond flick starring David Niven and half the western world). I don’t have that particular recording, but I do have a version of the song from the Springfield album of the same name (Philips PHS 600-256). Typical of Philips recordings from the mid-1960s, the sound is bright and almost brassy, with some detectable sibilance on the singer’s s sounds. Also typical for Philips recordings from that time, she’s dead center on the soundstage, with strings that border on screechy hard left and percussion, piano, and horns hard right. This staging is not very realistic—at the time, record companies were still pushing the “marvel” of (unnatural) stereo sound—but the Fluance did a nice job of reproducing the song. Springfield’s breathy voice sounded very natural, and the tonal balance I heard was consistent with what I know to be on the recording. Overall, it was a fine performance by both singer and turntable.
I was rummaging through my library and found The Who’s Tommy (Decca DXSW 7205), a set I may have played all the way through twice. Plus I’ve probably played “Pinball Wizard” a half-dozen times. I thought the album was a bit pretentious when it was released, but perhaps I’ve mellowed in the past 50+ years (though my wife would likely say “nah” to that). I decided to listen to “Pinball Wizard” again to see how it sounded on the Fluance. I was rather impressed. The recording seems to lack deep bass, although John Entwistle’s bass guitar was audibly present in the mix. Over the Fluance, Pete Townshend’s fuzz guitar made a dramatic entrance hard left, while Keith Moon (no relation) was just slightly to the right of center on drums. The three voices, Roger Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle, were placed above the bass in the center of the field. Townshend’s attack on the guitar was very tight and clean through the RT83. And the Fluance clearly reproduced the moderate echo on the voices, which had a decay suitable for the work. I came away most satisfied.
Another rediscovery was The Alan Parsons Project’s The Turn of a Friendly Card (Arista AL 9518). As you may have noticed, I stick pretty much to Top 40 hits, and my selection from this album was “Games People Play.” The song starts with a repeating musical pattern on a synthesizer and grouped voices coming in with heavy echo. They’re spread across the soundstage from just inside the left speaker to just inside the right. When the lead singer comes in he is in the middle. The really striking part of the song is the bridge, in which a guitar played through a flanger takes the lead over the sound effects swirling across the stage. This portion of the song is probably even more striking via headphones, but it was very effective through my speakers from the RT83. The Fluance-Ortofon combo put in a brilliant performance locating the sounds on the stage, enabling me to discern that the kick drum was muffled and the synth was carrying the load. Fabulous!
For something completely different, I chose an old Broadway tune, “Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” performed by Frank Sinatra and Tom Jobim on the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim (Reprise FS-1021). This was recorded during the bossa nova craze of the ’60s and, as is standard with Sinatra albums, it is impeccably recorded. Sinatra still had about 90% of his voice and was accompanied by a full orchestra and Jobim on guitar. Listening to the song made me think of the word “silken” in response to the sound. Sinatra was right in the center, with the strings (fairly drenched in echo) stretching all across the soundstage with a few horns scattered around, mostly on the right. Jobim offers what I can only call “bossa nova scatting” as points of interest, although he never interfered with The Chairman. This is pretty much the ultimate in martini-enhanced seduction music, and I found the RT83’s performance true to form.
At a friend’s suggestion, I dug out the Rolling Stones’ Hot Rocks: 1964–1971 (London ZPS 606/7) and queued up “Sympathy for the Devil.” As I listened, I was amazed at the soundstage produced by the RT83. From the beginning, the sound extended past the outer edges of my speakers and later, when the “whoo-hoos” come in, it was as if they were parallel to my ears. I’ve rarely heard that from any recording or turntable! Granted, the record is not ultimately “high fidelity,” but in this instance, it provided a sound that was, at the very least, exceptional. Jagger’s vocal seemed to come from each speaker with something of a hole in the middle; the middle was occupied by the drums, bass, and percussion instruments, including a shaker, a cow bell, and a conga drum. Altogether, it was a very interesting performance, and one I’m glad I heard. And the RT83 reproduced it well.
Comparison: Dual CS 5000 vs. Fluance RT83, both with Ortofon 2M Red cartridges
I substituted a 2M Red for my usual cartridge on the Dual so that any differences I observed would be the result of the turntables, not the cartridge. In this comparison, I used the tune “Speak Low” performed by pianist George Shearing and his trio, from their album Light, Airy & Swinging (Pausa 7035). I often use piano performances in my reviews because piano has one of the broadest frequency ranges of any acoustic instrument and because it exhibits all four of the major components of musical sound: attack, sustain, release, and decay.
In any event, Shearing often uses percussive key strokes in his performances, which on some systems can sound imprecise. On the Dual, the attack was OK, though not spectacular. Frankly, it was more precise on the Fluance RT83; the other three characteristics were indistinguishable. The overall sounds of the two turntables were comparable even though the Fluance seemed to provide a bit more grunt on the bass and kick drum. The Dual sounded more distant, while the RT83 was more up front. In my opinion, the RT83 won due to its superior handling of percussive notes and the overall excellent character of the sound it produced.
The RT83 is the third Fluance turntable I’ve reviewed. In prior reviews, I’ve also looked at the top-of-the-line RT85 and the second-from-the-bottom RT81, and I’ve liked all three. There’s no denying the RT85 is better than the RT83, but the RT83 can certainly hold its own—and more—when compared to similarly priced decks. It’s a solid-value turntable that delivers fine sound and the convenience of Auto Stop for a bargain price. Fluance offers a 30-day home trial, which should give purchasers plenty of time to decide whether it works for them. For the money, it’s a solid contender that’s at or near the top of its class.
. . . Thom Moon
- Analog source: Dual CS 5000 turntable with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
- Preamplifier: APT Holman.
- Power amplifier: NAD C 275BEE.
- Speakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3, Advent ASW-1200 subwoofer.
- Interconnects: captive on Dual CS 5000; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amplifier).
- Speaker cables: Acoustic Research 14-gauge terminated in banana plugs.
Fluance RT83 Turntable with Ortofon 2M Red Cartridge
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor; 30-day home trial.
4080 Montrose Road
Niagara Falls, Ontario L2H 1J9