It’s a likeable product in many ways, and has some impressive aspects to its sound – but the Fluance RT85N can be bettered by quite a few price-comparable rivals.
- Easy to set up and use
- Competitive specification
- Big, muscular sound
- Blunt, lop-sided sound
- Strong competition
- USARRP: $499
- Nagaoka MP-110 cartridgePre-aligned moving cartridge offers improved bass
- Auto start/stopAuto-stop feature prevents unnecessary wear to stylus
When it comes to its products, the aim of Canadian specialist Fluance is “serious performance”. And should there be any doubt, the RT85N is going to have to perform seriously if it’s to take attention – and, ultimately, sales – away from the established market-leaders where turntables at this sort of money are concerned.
I’ve listened to Fluance decks before now, and it’s safe to say they’ve never been less than “there or thereabouts”. So does the RT85N have what it takes to put Fluance higher up your shortlist?
On sale now, the Fluance RT85N can be picked up from the company’s website for a rather inelegant £432.94 in the UK. This is a quirk of international exchange rates, of course, because in North America the RT85N costs $499.
You don’t have to search long or hard to find some well-regarded alternatives available at this sort of money. The splendid Rega Planar 2 can be yours for £475, while Pro-Ject’s equally well-regarded Debut Carbon is very similarly priced. I could go on, of course, but the mention of those two brands alone should be enough to emphasise the point that Fluance has its work cut out.
- Gloss white, gloss black or walnut finishes
- Dust-cover included
- Acrylic platter
Apart from some wilful show-offs and inevitably expensive exceptions, the broad design of the turntable hasn’t changed in decades. Form follows function here and, as a consequence, nothing about the RT85N’s looks will startle or delight. It’s a record player, and that’s what it looks like.
Build quality, while perfectly acceptable, is nothing special – again, this is a functional item and it looks and feels that way. The choice of finishes is pleasant, though. Gloss black and gloss white offer a hint of modernity, while the “natural” walnut alternative should please traditionalists. The Fluance website is at war with itself where the actual materials of the plinth are concerned, however; is it solid wood or MDF? It can’t seem to make up its mind.
Supporting the platter are three heavily rubberised, height-adjustable isolation feet, which offer minimal contact with the surface on which the turntable is standing and great vibration-rejection. On top there’s an S-shaped aluminium tonearm, and hefty acrylic platter (1.6kg and 16mm deep) that’s been specified for both its damping characteristics and rotational consistency. A hinged, tinted dust-cover completes the picture.
- Auto start/stop
- Auto speed-control
- Nagaoka MP-110 cartridge
At this sort of money, some turntables include niceties such as Bluetooth connectivity or USB outputs – not the Rega or Pro-Ject models I invoked earlier, admittedly, but the likes of Audio-Technica and Sony certainly make them available. Fluance wants the RT85N to have greater purity of purpose than that, however.
So “features” isn’t all that extensive a list – although what’s included is undoubtedly useful. Auto start/stop, for instance, is worth having – especially where ‘stop’ is concerned. A little switch on the rear of the RT85N (next to the stereo RCA outputs and the earthing post) allows this feature to be switched on or off. I’d go with ‘on’, because then the platter will start turning when the cartridge is positioned above it, and the tonearm will return to its cradle once the needle has reached the run-out groove at the end of the record.
Automatic speed-change is another mild-yet-worthwhile feature. A big “on/33/45” dial at the bottom left of the platter allows you to select the speed you’d like the platter to turn at – none of this “move the belt on the pulley” Heath Robinson nonsense here. So, yes, the RT85N is a belt-drive design – as are virtually all alternatives at this sort of money. Rotational stability is provided by a servo that analyses motor speed 500 times per second.
The Fluance is supplied with a pre-fitted Nagaoka MP-110 moving-magnet cartridge. The headshell simply bayonets onto the tonearm, and all you need to do is make adjustments to counterweight and anti-skate – the instruction manual is super-helpful in this regard – and you’re in business.
- Big, well-organised soundstage
- Ample low-frequency presence
- Short of top-end sparkle
Pay attention to the manual supplied with the RT85N and it shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so to go from opening the box to putting on a record. And once there’s a record spinning, it takes even less time for the Fluance to reveal pretty much every facet of its sonic character.
A chunky 45th anniversary pressing of David Bowie’s Low lets the RT85N give a pretty full account of itself. And it’s safe to say this is a turntable that has a “con” for every “pro”.
The positives centre around the sheer scale of the Fluance’s presentation. This is a record player that establishes a generously proportioned soundstage, one with real width and depth. It demonstrates good stereo focus, and the competition between actual instruments, electronic treatments and front-and-centre vocals never gets out of hand.
Each instrument is locked in position, everything gets space to stretch out without impacting on any other element, and where multiple positions are occupied (the drum-kit, most obviously), positioning is secure and obvious. The sound is big and assertive, with authentic confidence where the broad dynamics of the record are concerned.
From here on, though, the RT85N is a much more a mixed bag. Tonally, it’s what’s politely described as “all over the shop”. Low-frequency presence is prodigious, which gives recordings real weight; but the lack of rigour where the attack and, especially, the decay of bass sounds is concerned means momentum is sacrificed in favour of sheer heft. The RT85N is able to kick like a mule, but it’s about as manoeuvrable as a mule too.
The mid-range, when it can get its head above all that low-end activity, is decently detailed and quite eloquent where vocalists are concerned. This is made apparent by listening to judicious selections from It’ll End in Tears by This Mortal Coil – quite a few of the tracks here feature voice with extremely spare instrumentation accompanying them, and the Fluance is a revealing and enjoyable listen in these circumstances. When the bass kicks in, though, singers are in constant danger of being swamped.
None of this is helped by the reticence the RT85N displays at the top-end. Despite displaying decent detail, treble sounds are modest in the extreme – although there seems to be no overt rolling-off of the high-frequency range; it’s understated to the point of shyness. This sort of top-end modesty has the effect of making the bottom sound even more assertive and domineering than it actually is, which is far from ideal.
Fundamentally, the RT85N sounds pear-shaped. There are some circumstances in which the shape of a pear is approaching the ideal – but, emphatically, not where audio reproduction is concerned.
Should you buy it?
You prefer the road less travelled Here’s a brand that’s a plucky disruptor rather than part of the establishment.
You want the best sound this money can buy It isn’t without merit, but the RT85N isn’t quite the finished article.
No two ways about it – you can buy a better turntable than this without spending very much more money. It might not have a dust-cover, or automatic speed-change, or an auto start/stop facility, but it will have greater fidelity. Which, in the final analysis, is what it’s all about. Isn’t it?
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We test every turntable we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Tested for more than a week
Tested with a range of records
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The RT85N doesn’t feature an integrated phono stage, so you’ll need to consider an external phono stage to amplify the signal from the turntable.