One Of The Best Turntables Now Offers A Nagaoka Cartridge

In 2019, I reviewed the RT85 Reference High Fidelity turntable from Fluance. The Canadian audio brand had been been making big inroads in the increasingly hot turntable market through a strategy of offering incredible value for the price. Fluance turntables featured solid MDF plinths, upgraded components, and came with higher-end cartridges than the competition in the same price range. The RT85 was the pinnacle of that approach. This was a $499 turntable equipped with premium features like an acrylic platter and an Ortofon 2M Blue — a cartridge that often sells for $250 on its own. It was a great sounding turntable and an excellent value. It topped my list of best turntable releases that year.

The Fluance RT85 is is still the turntable I recommend to anyone who is looking to upgrade their vinyl setup but isn’t at the stage of spending true audiophile money. Somehow, it’s still priced at $499.99, which is a feat in 2022. However, the company did make one major change for 2022. A second model has been introduced called the Fluance RT85N. What’s the difference? It actually comes down to one component: the cartridge. The RT85N is equipped with a Nagaoka MP-110. I had the opportunity to try one out and here’s what you can expect.

Fluance RT85N Unpacking and Setup

Fortunately, the setup of the RT85N is also identical to the process used for setting up the RT85. Fluance does a nice job of packaging everything so it comes out of the box in sequence and minimizing the fidgety parts of turntable setup.

The RT85N is a belt drive turntable and its acrylic platter ships with the belt already wrapped around the edges. Simply place the platter on the spindle and pull the belt out slightly at the top corner to pull it over the motor pulley. The cartridge comes pre-mounted in a head shell — that slides onto the aluminum tonearm and secures with a screw sleeve. You do need to balance the tone arm, set the counterweight, and set the anti-skate force. But the provided instructions are clear and no tools are required.

The RT85N has height-adjustable vibration isolation feet. The company includes a level in the box so you can ensure the turntable is properly levelled when set up. Fluance also includes high quality cables to complement the turntable’s gold-plated RCA outputs. My review unit was finished in a high-gloss piano black. It looks beautiful but be warned, this finish reflects everything (as you’ll see in my photos), and it is a magnet for dust and fingerprints. The white gloves included in the box at least ensure it stays fingerprint-free during setup.

As with the RT85, there is no integrated pre-amplifier so you need to connect this turntable to an amp or receiver with a PHONO input, or connect to a pre-amplifier which then plugs into a sound system’s AUX input.

Everything That Makes the RT85 Great is Still Here

The RT85N still offers everything that made the Fluance RT85 such a fantastic turntable. You can check out my review from 2019 for the full picture, but some of the highlights include:

  • Servo-controlled belt-drive motor with optical sensor and 7 point silicone rubber motor decoupling with 0.07% wow and flutter
  • High mass acrylic platter
  • S-shaped aluminum tonearm with auto-stop
  • Adjustable counterweight and antiskate
  • Solid MDF plinth (turntable weighs 16.8 pounds)
  • Spike-type height adjustable vibration isolation feet

About the Nagaoka MP-110

Nagaoka is a Japanese audio brand with a an expertise in designing MM (moving magnet) cartridges. The Nagaoka MP-110 is equipped with an elliptical diamond bond stylus. It has a reputation for delivering the warm sound that vinyl fans crave, with clarity, smoothness, and solid bass reproduction.

Sold on its own, the Nagaoka MP-110 typically retails for around $150.

How does the RT85N Compare to the RT85?

Fortunately, I have a Fluance RT85 turntable as part of my office audio system. It’s connected to a 1980s vintage Pioneer receiver driving a pair of PSB Alpha P5 bookshelf speakers (reviewed here) and a Polk powered subwoofer.

So, how did the RT85N compare to the RT85? Both cartridges are moving magnet designs with a diamond elliptical status, a similar tracking weight, and a 20 – 20,000 Hz frequency response. However there is a noticeable difference in the sound output between the two of them. In particular, the RT85’s Ortofon 2M Blue plays brighter, where the RT85N’s Nagaoka MP-110 results in a warmer sound that also lives up to the “smooth” claim.

I played one record that really showcased that contrast. The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs compilation prominently features Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar. To my ears the RT85’s Ortofon 2M Blue made the guitar slightly more prominent and definitely more detailed. With the RT85N’s Nagaoka MP-110, the overall tone of songs seemed warmer and the bass just a little more prominent, while the guitar lost a little of its edge.

They were both very good, just in different ways.

Fluance RT85N Turntable Recommendation

As with the Fluance RT85, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending the Fluance RT85N Reference High Fidelity Vinyl turntable. Both are priced at $499.99, which is an excellent value considering the wide range of premium components and the performance these turntables offer.

Which one you pick comes down to your listening preference — if you want to hear maximum detail then the RT85 with the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge is probably the model to go with. If you prefer warmth and smoothness with a touch more low end oomph, then the RT85N with the Nagaoka MP-110 should make you pretty happy.

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