One of the best turntables now offers a Nagaoka cartridge

In 2019, I tested the Fluance RT85 Reference High Fidelity turntable. The Canadian audio brand had made big inroads into the increasingly popular turntable market through a strategy of offering incredible value for money. 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 this approach. It was a $499 turntable equipped with high-end features like an acrylic platter and an Ortofon 2M Blue – a cartridge that often sells for $250 on its own. It was a turntable that sounded good and excellent value for money. It topped my list of top platinum releases that year.

The Fluance RT85 is still the turntable I recommend to anyone looking to upgrade their vinyl setup but aren’t at the serious audiophile money-spending stage. Somehow it is still priced at $499.99 which is a feat in 2022. However, the company has made a major change for 2022. A second model has been introduced called the Fluance RT85N. What is the difference? It really 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.

Unpacking and setting up the Fluance RT85N

Fortunately, setting up the RT85N is also identical to the process used to set up the RT85. Fluance does a good job of packing everything out of the box in order and minimizing the choppy parts of the turntable setup.

The RT85N is a belt-driven turntable and its acrylic platter comes with the belt already wrapped around the edges. Simply place the platter on the spindle and slightly tug the belt in the top corner to pull it over the motor pulley. The cartridge comes pre-mounted in a head shell – which slides over the aluminum tonearm and secures with a screw sleeve. You need to balance the tonearm, adjust the counterweight, and adjust the anti-skating force. But the instructions provided are clear and no tools are required.

The RT85N is equipped with height-adjustable anti-vibration feet. The company includes a level in the box so you can make sure the turntable is properly leveled during installation. 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’s beautiful but beware, that finish reflects everything (as you’ll see in my photos), and it’s a dust and fingerprint magnet. The white gloves included in the box at least ensure that it remains fingerprint-free during installation.

As with the RT85, there is no built-in preamplifier, so you must connect this turntable to an amp or receiver with a PHONO input, or connect to a preamplifier which then plugs into a system’s AUX input of sound system.

Everything that makes the RT85 great is still there

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

About the Nagaoka MP-110

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

Sold alone, the Nagaoka MP-110 usually sells for around $150.

How does the RT85N compare to the RT85?

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

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

I played a record that really showed that contrast. The Smiths’ louder than the bombs compilation highlights Johnny Marr’s jangly guitar. To my ears, the RT85’s Ortofon 2M Blue made the guitar slightly more prominent and noticeably more detailed. With the RT85N’s Nagaoka MP-110, the overall tone of songs sounded warmer and the bass just a tad more prominent, while the guitar lost some of its edge.

They were both very good, but 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 Turntable. Both are priced at $499.99, which is excellent value for money considering the wide range of high-end components and performance offered by these turntables.

The choice you choose depends on your listening preferences – if you want to hear maximum detail, the RT85 with the Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge is probably the model to go for. If you prefer warmth and smoothness with a punchier low end, then the RT85N with the Nagaoka MP-110 should make you pretty happy.