Old Garrard turntables, Fluance RT81 turntable review

In 1968, Q. I purchased a Garrard Lab 95 turntable.  It has been stored away since 1970. With vinyl records returning to popularity and all the rage these days, I am thinking about getting back into it myself. Is my Garrard is comparable to modern turntables? Can I get a cartridge for it?

-R.F., Bethel Park, PA

A. Vintage Garrard turntables range from mediocre entry-level models to the highly desirable Garrard 301sells for thousands of dollars if you are lucky enough to find one today. Your Lab 95 ranks as “just ok.” You can put a new cartridge on it, but a common complaint about old, unused Garrards is “the grease turns into glue.” If you are going to experiment with it, I would not invest more than $25 on a cartridge until the turntable has proven itself and worked reliably for several months. My gut instinct is you should get a new turntable if you want to play records again, and I have an excellent new recommendation for readers looking for a nice turntable that doesn’t cost a lot.

The vinyl renaissance has seen many new turntable manufacturers enter the market, and one of the latest is established speaker manufacturer Fluance. Fluance is known for producing attractive, good-sounding products at very affordable prices and their $199 Fi50 Bluetooth speaker is my favorite at the price. I was surprised to see them enter the turntable market, and after experiencing their new turntable I am glad they did.

The Fluance RT81 is unlike anything else at its $250 price point. It is manual belt-driven turntable (the audiophile’s preferred choice) with a beautiful walnut base that would not look out of place on an $800 turntable. It has a pre-mounted AT-95E cartridge, a built-in phono preamp and a stop mechanism that turns off the turntable when it reaches the end of the record. The most obvious cost-cutting move is the tonearm, which is not as finely finished or substantial as some arms found on competing models. It does the job though, so it is mostly a matter of feel and aesthetics.

The turntable is not very forgiving of worn, scratched-up vinyl, but put on a halfway decent record and the sound is fantastic. The AT-95E cartridge is found on a lot of inexpensive turntables and I’ve never heard it sound as rich, warm and detailed as it did on the RT81. Given this great sound, the built-in phono preamp seems to be of quite good quality and even if you receiver has a phono preamp I would try them both to see which sounds best.

When I thought of how to sum up the turntable, it was “musical,” which is a very high compliment in the world of audiophiles. When you play a record, the music comes through and it is pleasing and satisfying. The Fluance RT81 looks great, sounds great and is sure to find many friends at its affordable $250 price. fluance.com

Product features for the holidays: The holiday season will soon be here. Every year I do a gift guide with great electronics gifts for under $100, but unfortunately this leaves out a lot of more expensive products that make wonderful gifts as well. With this in mind, I will try and feature new products in the first part of the column (as I did today) and will devote and the second part of the column to exceptional products that make great gifts. This could be one of the best years ever for electronics gifts, so stay tuned!