First things first: the Fluance RT81 turntable's build quality is way above what I'd expect from a $250 turntable (with free shipping in the US). It puts the $309 U-Turn Orbit Plus and $449 Rega RP1 turntables to shame. The solidity the construction of the medium-density fiberboard base is noteworthy, and my sample's real walnut grain finish was stunning. This belt-drive design features auto-start operation, so as soon as you move the tonearm into position to play a record the platter starts spinning. That platter is cast aluminum, a step up from the fiberboard platters that usually come with budget 'tables; the RT81 platter is covered with a thick rubber mat. The turntable measures 16.5 by 5.5 by 13.75 inches and weighs 14.1 pounds.
The "S" shaped tonearm has a detachable headshell, and comes with a premounted high-quality Audio Technica AT95E moving-magnet phono cartridge. The RT81's tonearm's bearings are precisely aligned and free of play or chatter. The turntable has a built-in phono preamp, so you can play records with any wireless speaker equipped with an analog audio input jack, computer, or receiver. Alternatively, you can bypass the RT81's built-in preamp and use an external preamp, so I used a Schiit Mani preamp. The RT81 is a two-speed record player, so 33 1/3 and 45 RPM discs are welcome.
Since the tonearm has a calibrated counterweight, you don't need a separate stylus tracking force scale to set the force. The tonearm's base also has an easy to set anti-skate dial, taking the guesswork out of setting up the RT81. If I lost you with "counterweight," no worries, the owner's manual does a good job taking new-to-turntable audiophiles through the setup.
I started with my favorite David Bowie album, "Low," and that immediately led to Kraftwerk's "Autobahn." For a change of pace I popped on Duke Ellington's "'55" LP. Man, the sheer intensity of this 61-year-old music floored me, Ellington's men rocked! The RT81 was clean and quiet -- it feels like a $400-$500 turntable. I guess you can tell by now I'm impressed.
So if you've haven't yet been seduced by an Audio Technica, Music Hall, Pro-Ject, or Rega turntable, maybe the Fluance RT81 will be the one.