Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Back in July 2017, I reviewed the Fluance RT81 turntable, which I thought was a really good choice for its price ($249.99, all prices in USD). Amazingly, in 2024, it still sells for the same amount. Recently, Fluance introduced a tricked-out version of the RT81 called the RT-81+, which retails for $299.99.


The RT81+ closely resembles the RT81, but with a few differences. First, the platter has been upgraded to damped aluminum topped with an acrylic mat. The resonant frequency of the mat, which is 3mm thick, is similar to that of vinyl. Fluance says the vinyl-acrylic combination reduces resonances that might be generated by the motor and platter. While the standard RT81 has four non-adjustable feet, the three adjustable feet on the RT81+ provide greater isolation from vibration and make it easier to level the turntable. The feet and acrylic mat combine to provide, in Fluance’s words, “improved frequency response, enhanced imaging, and greater signal clarity.” The included cartridge is the Audio-Technica AT-VM95E, an upgraded version of the AT95E found on the RT81.


My review sample came with a veneer-covered plinth in a dark, high-gloss finish called Natural Walnut. The RT81+ is also available in Piano Black, Piano White, and Matte White. With the lightly tinted dustcover attached, the turntable measures 16.5″W × 13.75″D × 5.5″H.

The S-shaped tonearm arm has an effective length of 8.82″. It features an interchangeable headshell with standard SME-style contacts, which makes changing cartridges much easier than on many turntables in this price range. As noted above, the RT81+ comes with a prefitted Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge, which has a 0.3 × 0.7 mil bonded diamond stylus. This cartridge can be easily upgraded by installing a higher-end stylus.


On the top surface of the unit’s base is the 33/Off/45 switch; a tiny LED on the switch lights when the turntable is powered on. There’s also a manual cue lever, which is damped while the tonearm is lowering but not when it’s being raised.

The back of the RT81+ contains two color-coded RCA jacks for audio output, and next to these is a ground/earth terminal. The turntable includes decent RCA interconnects with an attached ground/earth wire to minimize hum. Next to the output jacks are two switches. The first engages and disengages the built-in phono preamp, which allows you to use the turntable even if your amp lacks a dedicated phono input. The second switch controls another great feature: it turns the unit’s Auto Stop function on or off. When it’s turned on, this feature stops the platter when you reach the end of the side you’re playing. Lastly, there’s the jack for the wall-wart power supply. The RT81+ comes with a two-year limited warranty and “lifetime” support.


Fluance has almost perfected the packaging of its turntables. When you open the inner carton, you’ll find the owner’s manual right on top. Once you’ve removed the protective cardboard top piece that covers the turntable mat and holds it in its own container, you’ll be able to lift out the dustcover. That’s followed by sturdy polystyrene forms that cradle the turntable. In the side pockets of these forms, you’ll find the headshell with pre-mounted cartridge, the hinges, and the counterweight. At the bottom of the shipping box is another box that holds the aluminum platter with the drive belt wrapped around it. Finally, at the front of the shipping box is a cardboard insert that holds the interconnect cable, the power supply, a 45-rpm adaptor, and a bubble level.


Once you’ve removed all the parts from the box, the first step in assembling the RT81+ is mounting the platter on the spindle and pressing down slightly to seat it. The drive belt is wrapped around a smaller inner platter. There’s a red ribbon to help you grab hold of the belt so you can loop it around the motor pulley. When you’ve accomplished that (and it’s pretty easy to manage), it’s time to place the acrylic mat on the platter. Make certain the side with the depression for the record label and the “Fluance” logo faces up.

Now comes installation of the dustcover. The first step is to install the hinges in the two grooves built into the dustcover. This will take some effort, as the hinges are fairly unyielding. It took me a few tries each to seat them properly. Then turn over the dustcover and insert the hinges into the mounts at the back of the plinth.

It’s always best if your turntable is perfectly level, which is why Fluance includes a bubble level. The manual suggests placing the level next to the power/speed control. All three feet are adjustable, but Fluance recommends you start with the front right foot. The goal, of course, is to get the bubble exactly in the center of the circle on the level.


The next step is to slide the counterweight onto the end of the tonearm until it clicks into place, making certain the numbers face forward. Of course, before you install the counterweight, check that the tonearm is secured using the tonearm lock. Then, install the headshell/cartridge: insert the back end of the headshell onto the end of the tonearm, and tighten the locking nut until the headshell is secured.

At this point, it’s time to balance the tonearm. On the RT81+, this process is typical of any turntable with adjustable tracking force. First, remove the stylus guard from the cartridge. From this point on, take care not to drag the delicate stylus across the mat. Ensure the cueing lever is down and the anti-skating control on the right side of the tonearm pivot is set to “0.” Now, turn the entire counterweight back and forth until the tonearm floats horizontally when the headshell is released. Set the counterweight indicator ring (located at the front of the counterweight) so that the “0” lines up with the center line on the tonearm. Check to see if the arm is still balanced. Then rotate the entire counterweight counterclockwise until the “2” on the indicator is directly above the tonearm’s center line. This means the tonearm is set to the recommended 2gm (20mN) of tracking force. Don’t forget to set the anti-skating control on the side of the pivot to “2” to ensure the arm won’t tend to drift toward the center of the record.


Finally, it’s time to connect cables. Insert the color-coded RCA plugs into their respective jacks on the turntable and secure the ground wire to its screw. Plug the RCA cables into the proper inputs on your amplifier and secure the ground wire to the screw on the amplifier’s back. The final step is to plug the power-supply cable into the jack on the turntable, then plug the supply itself into the AC mains. Adjust the preamp and auto-stop switches according to your needs. You are now ready to spin vinyl.

System description

I connected the RT81+ to the Phono input of my Apt Holman preamplifier. The Apt preamp fed my NAD C 275 BEE power amplifier, which drives my Acoustic Energy Radiance 3 floorstanding speakers. Interconnects for the RT81+ and my Music Hall Stealth were those furnished by their respective manufacturers, and Wireworld Luna cabling was used between the preamp and amp. Speaker cables were Audtek 14-gauge OFC copper terminated in banana plugs.


Fluance claims wow and flutter of 0.2% and speed variation of ±0.1%. According to the RPM app on my phone, estimated wow at 33⅓ rpm was ±0.17% and rotational speed was 33.5 rpm—about 0.55% fast. At 45 rpm, the speed was 45.16 rpm, or 0.36% fast, while the wow was ±0.21%. Both speed measurements are higher than Fluance’s claims, but this didn’t seem to affect the music during my listening. Specified signal-to-noise ratio is 67dB A-weighted, a respectable figure for a turntable in this price range. This isn’t a measurement, but I did notice that the RT81+ is fairly sensitive to external vibration.


I thought a good opening workout for the RT81+ would be “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune Empress of the World”), the first movement of Carl Orff’s secular cantata Carmina Burana from a recording by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (Columbia MX 33172). This short movement has tremendous dynamic range, traversing from whispery quiet to intensely loud. The RT81+ handled the dynamics, with no hint of overload on the loudest parts and minimal noise on the quietest. At the end of the piece, the percussion section—bass drum, timpani, and gong—is extremely loud, and the AT-VM95E offered good slam on drums and great reproduction of the gong’s shimmering decay. At first, I thought the highs were slightly veiled, but I was soon disabused of this notion when the choir came in. In all, a very good job on a challenging passage.


Steely Dan has always been known for exquisite production, and “Hey Nineteen,” from their 1980 album, Gaucho (MCA Records MCA-6102), is no exception. It’s interesting to listen to, as the voices and instruments are mostly clustered in the middle of the soundstage. On occasion, a sudden guitar riff emerges from the far left or a drumbeat comes in from the far right—but it all works. And it all worked for the RT81+, especially the guitars. Everything about their reproduction was extremely precise—tight, quick, and solid. Drums on this piece were right in the thick of the soundstage rather than up high or down low. And the synthesizer and electric piano parts seemed to wind around the guitars in a kind of dance. Every bit of the performance was outstanding, and I was impressed.

Back in the 1960s, Tom Campbell and Steve Gillette, two college students taking a course on the origins of American folk music, decided to see if they could trick their professor. So they invented some authentic-sounding folk tunes, one of which was “Darcy Farrow,” the tragic tale of a young man left bereft following an accident in which his beloved’s horse stumbles, causing her to fall and die. Canadian folk duo Ian & Sylvia were the first of nearly 300 artists to record this tune on their 1965 album, Early Morning Rain (Vanguard VSD-79175). Ian Tyson’s vocals command the left channel and his wife, Sylvia, is on the right. The two guitarists, Ian Tyson and Monte Dunn, joined by bassist Russ Savakus, are in the center. The real treat in this song is the interplay between the two guitars: Ian plays the lower line and Dunn plays an octave above. The RT81+ reproduced both guitars beautifully, and did just as well with Ian’s strong baritone voice carrying the lead and Sylvia’s high harmonies soaring above him. I’d say the RT81+ is great for singer-songwriter types.


One of my favorite vocal groups is The Manhattan Transfer. Man Tran specializes in a singing style known as “vocalese,” in which the parts of an instrumental composition are sung as stylized lyrics. One excellent example of their work is “Birdland,” which is included on the compilation album The Very Best of the Manhattan Transfer (Atlantic SD 19319). Originally written by Joe Zawinul as an instrumental jazz composition for his group Weather Report, the piece was adapted by Jon Hendricks, a master of vocalese. As Weather Report was a quintet, the backing here is spare: electric piano, bass, and synthesized drums. The singers perform the remaining parts, with lots of close harmonies throughout. The mixing engineer had a lot of fun moving the voices around the soundstage in short bursts, but for the most part, everything—including the instrumental backing and voices—is placed squarely in the middle of the soundstage. The RT81+/AT-VM95E combination was able to parse the individual parts so details were very recognizable, but it also did a fine job of presenting the group as a whole.

Next up was “Bali Run” from the 180gm two-disc release of Fourplay’s eponymous album (Evosound EVLP025). The song starts with a strong bass line played on the bottom strings of a five-string bass guitar, and the RT81+ fully captured the body and the slam of the line. During most of the recording, the instruments were closely grouped in the center. But there were occasional deviations, including a section in which the tom-tom was hard left, the snare was in the middle, and the cymbal was hard right. The RT81+ did a fabulous job of reproducing all the instruments. The performance was somewhat mellower through the Audio-Technica than it was through the Ortofon 2M Blue on my reference Music Hall Stealth turntable—but given the price differential, that’s to be expected. All in all, I really got into the way the tune was rendered on the RT81+.


Back in the late 1960s, a new style of music emerged: rock bands with big brass sections. This trend was led by groups like Chase, Chicago, Cold Blood, and Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T). BS&T was my favorite. I especially loved “Lucretia Mac Evil” and “Lucretia’s Reprise” from Blood, Sweat & Tears 3 (Columbia KC 30090). The band consisted of a singer, a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, five brass players, and a guy capable of handling (according to the liner notes) “organ, piano, electric piano, harpsichord, celeste, trombone, flute, alto flute, baritone horn, kitchen sink and vocals.” He also did most of the arrangements and I imagine the windows as well. The two songs are closely related, with the first, heavy on vocals, setting the scene, while “Lucretia’s Reprise” serves as a playground for the brass section. Here, I was concerned with how well the turntable could handle incredibly tight brass attacks and cutoffs. The RT81+ did just fine.

Phono stage comparison: Fluance RT81+ v. Apt Holman

Tomlinson Holman, who designed the Apt Holman preamp and later developed Lucasfilm’s THX certification program, wrote a paper on how phono cartridges worked with different preamplifiers and loads. Holman incorporated all he had learned into the Apt Holman’s phono section, and even today, it’s considered one of the best ever developed. So any phono stage that goes up against an Apt Holman preamp is facing major competition.

With the RT81+ connected to one of my preamp’s line inputs and the ’table’s built-in phono stage engaged, the sound was certainly respectable. It provided plenty of bass and a fairly smooth midrange, but not the most extended of highs. The pace and rhythm on “Rosanna” from Toto’s Toto IV (Columbia AL 37728) were very good, and overall, this tune sounded quite satisfactory.


But when I disengaged the turntable’s phono stage and instead used the phono section of the Apt Holman, I heard a crisper sound with the same amount of bass and lower midrange, but more extended highs. The soundstage was broader and had more depth, with a better rhythmic component and better reproduction of the very complex bridge.

That said, for the money, the RT81+ has nothing to be embarrassed about. For listeners whose systems lack a phono preamp, the one in the RT81+ will likely do you just fine.

Comparison: Fluance RT81+/Audio-Technica AT-VM95E vs. Music Hall Stealth/Ortofon 2M Blue

“Bette Davis Eyes,” from Kim Carnes’s album Mistaken Identity (EMI America SO-17052), is one of my favorite songs for comparing turntables. First up was the Fluance RT81+, and right from the start, I thought the imaging and soundstaging were excellent, with Carnes squarely in the middle, along with the drums and the clap boards. The keyboards and guitars were spread out across the stage, giving the song good width. However, although the high notes of the keyboards were prominent, the snap of the snare drum, in particular, sounded muffled. In the past, I’ve found that A-T cartridges offer similar results: good bass and decent mids, but the high-frequency response always seems somewhat muffled, as it did here.

Next up was my Music Hall Stealth, which retails for $1649, including the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge. The 2M Blue is generally acknowledged as a brighter cartridge than the AT VM-95E. And this time, the snare came through with the requisite snap, the keyboards shimmered at times, and the huskiness in Carnes’s voice was more prominent. The soundstage was just as wide as it had been on the RT81+, but there seemed to be greater depth.

I have to admit to preferring the sound of the Stealth, but I imagine many would find the RT81+/AT-VM95E combination just fine—especially at its price, which is less than one-fifth that of the Stealth turntable bundled with the 2M Blue cartridge. Plus, there’s the option of upgrading to a more refined stylus if you wish.


In the past, I’ve been underwhelmed by the AT-VM95E because of its slightly veiled highs. This was only occasionally an issue when it was teamed with the RT81+. Overall, this turntable is a fine performer and a bargain for the price. Among its few demerits were the higher-than-specified speed measurements. However, these weren’t severe enough to diminish the turntable’s overall performance. I’ve been impressed by every Fluance turntable I’ve reviewed, and the RT81+ just adds to the list. It’s worth checking out.

. . . Thom Moon

Associated Equipment

  • Analog Source: Music Hall Stealth turntable and Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge.
  • Preamplifier: Apt Holman.
  • Power Amplifier: NAD C 275 BEE.
  • Loudspeakers: Acoustic Energy Radiance 3.
  • Interconnects: Manufacturer-supplied on the Stealth and RT81 Plus; Wireworld Luna 8 (preamp to amplifier).
  • Speaker cables: Audtek 14-gauge OFC copper terminated in banana plugs.

Fluance RT81+ Turntable and Audio-Technica AT-VM95E cartridge
Price: $299.99.
Warranty: Two years, parts and labor.

4080 Montrose Road
Niagara Falls, ON L2H 1J9

840 Aero Drive,
Cheektowaga, NY 14225
Phone: 1-888-617-6863