An Experiment with Platter Mats- the MyMat
Until I performed some recent experiments with a product called the MyMat, offered by a long-time member of the Audiogon community, I rarely thought about changing out platter mats. I’ve owned a number of good turntables over the years and figured: (a) that the manufacturer knew what was best, and (b) going down this rabbit hole was yet another potential morass—that the results would vary considerably based on a number of factors, including the particular turntable design and platter. How “projectable” would anyone’s findings be for others with different systems and preferences? As someone said in another context (having to do with the art of recording), there’s a lot of fiddling and manipulation to get something to sound “natural.”
The interface between the record and the stylus is affected by a number of elements including the mat, the platter, the arm and arguably the turntable itself. And we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the system—how it shades the sound in various ways, from light to dark, from analytical to soft and burnished; these variations may call for a different character in the front end of a vinyl system than another system which has a different overall sound. Ideally, I know all this stuff should be uncolored. But ask anybody who has thrown money, time and effort at building a system and they’ll tell you they didn’t hear the coloration until it was absent. Each element of the system is dependent on the other, which makes evaluating a single device in isolation difficult on any “absolute” basis, applicable to all systems and configurations.
That said, if you read the Internet for information on audio, you’ll see that platter mat swapping is a common enough practice across the range of audiophiles, from the budget conscious to the cost no object crowd, with different objectives, from minimizing static to tuning the sound.
Starting with a Restored SP-10
I started exploring the topic in earnest only a few years ago when my restored Technics SP-10 arrived, all refurbished and brought up to date (including the so-called “Krebs mod”) by well-respected gear specialist Bill Thalmann. (Thalmann was the technical director of Conrad-Johnson and runs a fabulous repair and refurbishment shop in Virginia that does everything from tape decks to electronic instruments).
I still had the original factory rubber mat for the SP 10 (I bought this turntable new in 1973, so it is the first version of the table, which is less desirable than the later Mk II or Mk III but figured it would be more than adequate for my vintage system). I ran down a lot of information on various platter mats that were being used on these relatively old tables, some of which included the vintage copper mat from Micro-Seiki (high price for a real one, knock offs available) as well as a metal mat from the same period offered by SAEC.
The Micro-Seiki was just too massive for my early model SP-10 which did not benefit from the more robust motor design of the later Mk II and III. I also looked at various alternatives- there’s lots of stuff out there, some using fairly exotic materials like graphite to acrylic—which is supposed to emulate the impedance characteristics of the vinyl record itself. I figured I could buy ½ a dozen and drive myself crazy doing comparisons. And then another possibility loomed- EAR Isodamp is a 3M damping material used that is used in all kinds of industrial applications- I bought a sheet of it sufficient to make two mats from Michael Percy—SD 125 which is sold as a 0.125″thick sheet.
This stuff had some of the properties I wanted- it was firmer than the factory rubber mat and less likely to overdamp the sound but still had substantial isolation properties and a rough textured surface that would grip the record. It wasn’t easy to cut a perfect circle –the manufacturer suggests die cutting—but I tapped a local craftsman who did a good job. And the whole thing turned out great. The Isodamp is self-adhesive, so that was also one less worry in terms of slippage. How good was it? On my vintage system, using an old tube McIntosh front end, Quad II amps restored by Thalmann and my Quad 57s, freshly restored by Electrostatic Solutions, pretty fabulous. This system, which I had owned since the early ‘70s (but deployed then new ARC tube electronics from the period) sounded better than ever. For what’s it’s worth, I do not use a record weight or clamp on the SP-10 as presently set up.
Enter MyMat- Listening on the Vintage System
When I was offered the opportunity of evaluating another mat—the MyMat, I started with the vintage system first. A single MyMat placed on top of the Isodamp mat, did not seem to do anything wrong- if anything, it seemed to add a little more air to the proceedings—the Quads are notoriously limited in some respects in terms of bandwidth and dynamics, (with an extremely narrow sweet spot), but they are revealing as hell. Those who have owned them understand the tradeoff, a sort of eerie transparency in the midrange that is still considered a standard by which other speakers are judged, but the inability to play loud or go very deep in the bass. What bass is there is quite convincing, it just doesn’t go terribly low and the speaker’s limitations are probably most evident on large scale material where they present things from a distant perspective—what I call a portrait in miniature. Small combo jazz, voice, strings and less than a full orchestra can sound very real and convincing. (Try to listen to unaccompanied Starker on a pair of old Quads and you’ll wish you took cello lessons as a kid).
The MyMat added a little lustre to the sound that wasn’t there with just the Isodamp mat in place. At this point, I was not readjusting VTA to compensate for the added thickness of the MyMat, which is all of 1 mm thick. If you are a believer in incremental VTA adjustments based on the differing thickness of various records—a whole other subject that I don’t want to delve into right now—you’d think by adding a mat, I’m in effect lowering VTA, with all that entails. But the single mat was giving me more apparent high frequency information—that’s not what lowering the VTA normally does.
One MyMat or Two?
Adding another MyMat-same thickness, so a total of 2mm of additional mat, seemed to lend more gravitas to the bass (a result consistent with lowering VTA) without any seeming compromises in high frequency information. Granted, the old Quads roll off, but within their range, sitting in that narrow sweet spot, I was hearing more information—that sort of uncanny ability of the old Quad to present music in space without any indication of the replay machinery, a quality for which this loudspeaker is legendary.
These results seemed consistent throughout a range of different kinds of music, from jazz to classical to pop. I tend toward “regular” issue old records if I am able to find them in flawless playing condition, rather than the latest 45 rpm audio recut or audiophile spectaculars (records popular among audiophiles because of their sonics) though I certainly have my share of those. However, a lot of the records I’m interested in were never reissued by audiophile houses, so in many cases, it’s a question of original pressing vs questionable reissue, if one exists at all.
Between the Lines
One of my old standbys is Janis Ian’s Between the Lines—a well-produced record that includes female voice, real strings, horns and a consistency in quality that is surprising for what was a standard issue mass market record at the time, circa 1975. (I have a lot of copies of this record, including an approval pressing and all of them sound the same—the record was cut by RL during the height of his career mastering vinyl). It also contains a variety of sounds, from simple arrangements to “more produced” tracks, but seems to maintain a naturalness, an ease of flow to the music that speaks to the care with which it was made.
The double MyMat seemed put the music into the room more than the single mat. Compared to the “stock” set up using the EAR Isodamp, sans any MyMat, everything was slightly “thicker” sounding—not dull, but a little more confined to the speakers and less “in the room.” This is really a question of degree with the Quad, which is notorious for its midrange transparency; on a record like Between the Lines, which depends heavily on Ian’s voice, the speaker really shines, its limited dynamics and roll off at the frequency extremes are hardly noticeable.
In one back-to-back comparison, I thought that the “standard” mat set up (EAR Isodamp) had a little more gravitas on the piano in the track “Bright Lights and Promises,” but switching back to the double MyMat set up, the gravity of the piano was there—I think what I was hearing was an overall shift in the tonal balance of the record, where everything above the bass was a little clearer, a little more “brought out” in greater relief.
Words get in the way sometimes, particularly when describing the subjective impressions of what one is hearing over a given system. If you try to account for various rooms, component combinations, set up in the room and all the other variables associated with any single system, observations about the effect of changing one aspect of that system often reflect more about the reviewer and their system than the particular object (component, tweak, recording) under scrutiny. The usual “your results may vary” is a standard caveat.
However, for whatever it is worth, I deliberately “designed” this system to be a non-tweaky, period system; when I originally had it set up in the mid-‘70s, using the same pair of speakers and same turntable with different tube preamp and amp (at that time, all ARC stuff), speaker cable was basically zip cord and interconnects were generally crappy molded plugs—the same type that come as “freebies” in box shop components today.
These days, I’m using Canare 4S11 as a speaker cable with the Quads and some pretty basic Analysis Plus interconnects; all are good quality cables, but none are exotic or terribly expensive.
In other words, I wanted this system to duplicate as much as possible the set ups available in the mid-70s, much as I used the Quads back then. (Frankly, the little Quad II power amps sound better than the ARC Dual 75a I was using at the time and still own). Perhaps part of this was simply nostalgia, but there was something to be said for a system that didn’t require rigorous fine tuning—back in the day, I just played the damn thing and replaced tubes and cartridges periodically. (At one point, I used ribbon super tweeters and a subwoofer, but never got them to cohere, so when I decided to revive the Quad system, I kept it stock, with no add-ons).
By comparison to the main system, described below, I think the Quad based system is fairly forgiving though you can hear into the midrange and the soundstage quite deeply and clearly.
As to what the MyMat is actually doing, I think a couple things are going on: first, the “pimpled” surface is grippy in some ways and also has the potential to decouple the record from the platter surface (or in my case, the Isodamp mat below it). The theory, I suppose, is that mats generally are supposed to reduce resonance between the record and the platter and thereby offer a more neutral platform on which the cartridge/stylus traces the grooves.
There’s no doubt that you can hear differences between different mat materials—I guess my question is how something this thin is changing the sound, and why. My speculation on what is happening is just that—speculation.
Some platter systems utilize vacuum clamping—binding the record even more tightly to the platter surface, which would seem to be the polar opposite approach to decoupling the record from the platter. I suppose the same could be said for various clamps, center weights and periphery rings- those all seem to be designed to hold the record surface tighter to the platter.
One of the things I learned from people using copper platters (like those on the TW-Acustics table) was that users were often adding an additional mat on top of the copper to reduce potential harshness. I gather that these not only include third party mats, but one offered by TW-Acustic itself. (Zanden has made a mat for TW-Acustic, but a new product is also being offered by U.S. distributor, High Water Sound, that is a combination mat and record weight). The point isn’t so much about those particular products, but that even the manufacturer and a leading distributor seem to recognize the sonic value of aftermarket mats in addition to the platter materials furnished with their products. Likewise, TechDas offers different upper platters made of different materials that are customer selectable based on sonic preference. There are doubtless other examples.
My vintage set up doesn’t suffer from any stridency. If anything, it is warm and perhaps burnishes the sound a bit, though it has that wonderful midrange that typifies the old Quad sound.
In all events, the MyMat, single and double worked extremely well with my refurbished SP-10 set up. I would think the MyMat would work well on any turntable using a hard platter and/or replacing a soft mat.
Moving on Up—MyMat on My Main System
I then moved up to the main system. This system (which is detailed here) is in some ways the opposite of the vintage system: it is tuned to a fine edge and required various adjustments between the integrated woofers, the crossover, level and placement of the larger separate woofers, their crossovers, level and phase. Overall, the system sounds very coherent, but it can sound spectacular or underwhelming depending on a lot of things, including the program material. It straddles a line between transparent, in the room sound and potential thinness and on occasion, stridency, owing to the horns. One ameliorative is that it relies entirely on tubes from phono stage to line stage to amps. (The woofers and there are four of them, use solid state plate amps) The cabling- from Kubala-Sosna, seems to lend a rich, full sound to the system and 15” subwoofers, with DSP added, bring up the bottom end to deal with the trick of getting the mid-horn to cohere with the integrated woofers in a box—an issue I’ve had since I’ve owned the Avantgarde Duos—integration of the midrange horn with the integrated woofers.
In other words, this system has been adjusted and fine-tuned over the years to get the most out of it that I can, while minimizing the shortcomings from which almost every system suffers. It is an “unforgiving” system in the sense that you can hear any sonic gremlins, noise, lousy pressings and bad recordings. It is also very revealing in positive ways when everything lines up. I don’t listen to audiophile spectaculars but tend to listen to a lot of small combo jazz these days, some of it avant-garde; when all is right in the world, you hear everything very clearly without a trace of the clinical or analytical—I attribute this mostly to the tubes and SET amps.
Likewise, the tonearm, which I’ve had for many years, can be quite ruthless in revealing the character of the cartridges I’ve used. It isn’t fiddly but is involved- requiring a substantial air compressor as well as a robust isolation system (I’m using the big Minus K, rated for a 250 lb load). I’m presently using Koetsu stone bodies and in the past, used Airtight cartridges.
The turntable, an original two motor Kuzma XL mounted on an HRS plinth with a Minus K vibration platform beneath it, has a platter mat of some type of woven material that is bonded to the top of the platter. The mat is not removeable. I normally use a Stillpoints LP1 record weight in place of the factory screw down clamp—I have found over the years and repeated comparisons that the Stillpoints sounds more “pacific”—it is a little more relaxed than the factory clamp and removes a propulsive aspect to the sound of the big Kuzma rig which adds a bit of a bump in the upper base but seems like a coloration compared to the Stillpoints. Adding a single MyMat seemed to give the system more gravitas—like lowering the VTA. Since I have the ability to adjust VTA easily on the fly with the Airline arm (which has two different measuring devices as part of the arm and an additional one that comes attached as part of the adjustable arm pod), it was a simple matter to compensate for the slight added thickness of 1 mm of a single MyMat. I didn’t think raising the VTA improved the sound.
With two MyMats, I was getting everything—listening to Woody Shaw’s Blackstone Legacy (Contemporary 1971) was a revelation—no edge to the horns, deep bass (thanks to a pair of bass players that included Ron Carter). When I played Charles Tolliver’s Connect (reviewed here), I adjusted the VTA a couple of nudges up—the two mats plus the chunkiness of this record seemed to require it (it’s a pretty heavyweight slab of record that without the mats doesn’t demand adjustment but I think the combination of two mats plus thick record required it).
Just as a reality check, I pulled out Between the Lines again—a record I have long used as a reference, including with the MyMat on the vintage system. I took the VTA back to “normal” for a regular record, two MyMats in place and listened. Sounded great. Full spectrum of sound, great transparency and bass that has tone and dimension- something that I found surprising about the Koetsu stone bodies (which I assumed were all about the midrange before I started using them).
As a further check, I did two other things:
- first, I removed the center weight, the Stillpoints LP1. The system sounded a little less heavy without the center weight—I added “lightness” (to paraphrase Colin Chapman), which was fine. As noted above, I had done a number of comparisons over the course of several years between the factory screw down clamp and the Stillpoints and consistently preferred the latter. Putting the Stillpoints weight back gave the sound a little more heft and more apparent bass (though this wasn’t deep bass, just a heavier presentation overall tilting toward the bottom end).
- Second, I removed both MyMats and went back to my standard set up. I think this sounded best, partly because the cartridge, arm and everything else in the system (EQ settings on the horns, woofer crossovers, gain and phase) were tuned to achieve this particular balance of sound.
Like I said above, this system rides on a knife edge- not that it is more revealing or better than something else, but that all the components work in relationship with one another to achieve a particular sound and I’ve tuned it accordingly, to minimize shortcomings while drawing on the strengths of the SET-horn approach.
The biggest failing of the system is that it simply flattens out on some recordings- I’m not running out of power, but the system won’t scale to a lifelike standard with some large pieces and turning it up just makes it louder, not better, or more convincing.
This phenomenon varies with the program material. Some material sounds absolutely real at pretty modest volume levels. In fact, my preferred listening mode is typically not very loud- the ambient noise in the room is relatively low, the power is quiet and the inter-component noises/gremlins, weird grounding anomalies and the like have been eliminated. So, I can hear a lot of information at relatively low volume. If I really want to energize the room and get those 15” woofers kicking I can crank it up, but I’m still rarely playing much over 80db (C-weighted). I can get deep bass that has tone, dimension and palpability at reasonable volumes due in part to the big woofers and the Koetsu stone cartridges- they have a lot more gravitas in the deep bass than the previous cartridges I’ve used (though it is pretty hard to compare a cartridge I used 14 years ago to what I’m using now, sonic memory being what it is).
By all appearances, the MyMat looks like some type of industrial vinyl that comes off a large roll, has a pimpled side (little bumps) and a flat side (recommended use is for pimpled side up). It is offered in various configurations- cut for a tight spindle hole, one with a larger cut out the size of a 45 adapter and another variation that allows for a label depression if the platter/mat in use does not take account of that.
I asked Steve Spillman, the fellow who makes the MyMat, for more information about the material, how he selected it and what differences he attributed to using multiples of his mat:
I come from a blue collar background. My field has been upholsterer for over 3 decades. My main hobby has been quality music reproduction in my home environment. To that end, I’m always on the lookout for anything I see that I believe will benefit my main hobby. Mostly this has resulted in some interesting things that have vastly improved my system on the acoustical and vibration control side. I usually take years thinking about improvements before implementing them. Then more years listening.
To that end: I found a material that is the basis for MyMat years ago and decided to try it. It sounded fine but I knew some improvements could be had. I took that material to a upholstery (fabric/vinyl) manufacturer with my ideas for decoupling on one side. Thus, the MyMat was born.
I have had different mats over the years and knew they made a substantial difference in lp playback. I used the MyMat in my system on both turntables in several configurations and in conjunction with or without a 5mm Funk Firm Achromat. Additionally, I have experimented with various clamps/weights, (never used a periphery ring) and have formed conclusions with those, to the point that I used, (before the MyMat) a modified VPI SS weight for lps that seemed on the dark side, and a Stillpoints LP1 for the lps that weren’t perceived as dark sounding.
I concluded from my experience with/without weights/clamps that I prefer no weight or clamp. My logic tells me that using a clamp, reconnects the lp to a mechanical bearing (I know some tts don’t use a mechanical bearing), which is what we try to avoid. My listening tells me that using a clamp or a weight deadens the sound slightly. Without a weight/clamp, the music “becomes free”.
The MyMat is just 1mm thick and it is flexible. Both of these aspects are very beneficial to all turntable owners. The slight thickness allows it to be used with minimal VTA change. It’s flexibility allows the MyMat to conform to your platter, leaving it damped completely. Even using two MyMats (just 2mm thick) is not a big deal for end users. But it is a big deal regarding the sonic upgrade. As Bill said, the top “inverted dimple” surface is grippy. Another plus.
I find using one MyMat, that I experience more nuances/subtle details that were previously faint or unnoticed. The midrange blooms. There is more air. The bass becomes more integral to the whole experience. It has a greater sense of purpose. This does increase when using two MyMats.
I offer them in three configurations as explained above. One way is a center hole cut-out at 1 & 1/4″. I’ve found that at least 50% of records are thicker in the center around the spindle. This allows for that. I supply, depending on a customer’s needs, spindle washers out of the same material to support the center of a lp dependent upon any one lp. I find if the record is supported evenly, one gets the best sound.
After listening in my system for three years, I decided to offer the MyMat to everyone. (BTW, I came up with it’s name by constantly talking with others about it and referring to it as my mat)
I have limited supply and when that is gone, I will let the product die.
Current price is $59.99 each. Contact me by PM through Audiogon. My moniker is Slaw.
I want to thank Bill for spending so much of his time/effort in reviewing my product. Thanks!
Some folks who have removeable mats made of a hard material have found that one MyMat underneath the hard mat (directly on the platter) and another on top of the hard mat has proved most effective in their set ups.
The price of the MyMat is 59.95 and as Steve indicated above, you can reach him via PM directed to his username, “Slaw.”
My take: this mat may be the answer for anyone using a metal platter or other hard surface. Steve’s main table was originally a VPI with an aluminum platter and a Townshend Rock 7 (plastic platter).
I don’t normally review gear on these pages but will look at vinyl-related “tweaks” and accessories. If you are coming back to vinyl and bringing an older turntable to life again (as I did in my vintage system), or using a relatively high end table which, to me, usually means an absence of turntable colorations or the sense that a turntable is the source, you may want to experiment with the MyMat. It seems to fulfill the promise of what it offers at a fairly low price and is not necessarily targeted to one type of turntable—it is light enough to work on suspended tables and isn’t simply a budget choice for those who aren’t able to spend more.
I’d be happy to hear from others who have used this mat and can report on their experience, especially in the context of their other system components and what they believe the strengths and weakness of their particular system are—this will be more informative than simply stating that they preferred the mat to something else on X brand turntable.