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Do Record Mats Really Make a Sonic Difference? And if So, Which of These Do You Prefer.

Do Record Mats Really Make a Sonic Difference? And if So, Which of These Do You Prefer.
Here are eight excerpts of Vivaldi's "Concerto for 2 Mandolins" from the audiophile sampler record Chasing the Dragon (VAL007) produced and engineered by Mike Valentine. Also find the entire 96k/24 bit file generously provided by Mr. Valentine that you can enjoy as well as use as a "control" in helping you determine which mat (if any) helped produce the most accurate vinyl rendering of the file.

The original 96/24 Nagra digital recording used three Neumann M50 tube microphones in the classic "Decca tree" configuration.

The turntable/tonearm used was the recently reviewed Zorin Audio combo fitted with a Lyra Titan i feeding a feeding the recently reviewed Swan Song Audio Cygnet MC phono preamplifier. The A/D converter was the Ayre QA-9 currently under review. The files are 16 bit/44.1K WAV.

The mats were: 1) the stock carbon fiber one supplied with the Zorin 2) a Boston Audio Graphite mat 3) "The Simple Mat" made from synthetic cork 4) a now discontinued one of what feels like ultra-thin 1/16th of an inch cork from a fellow who shall remain nameless and whose mat was nameless so I'll call it the Brooklyn mat 5) the Hideinthesound suede mat 6) the Hideinthesound split mat with suede on one side and a smooth hide on the other side, 7) The Music Hall cork mat with the raised discs 8) the Moo mat made of cow hair and hide.

There are dozens of other mats worthy or coverage but we'll start with these.

Please download the files and listen. The plucked, percussive mandolin is an ideal instrument to demonstrate differences (if there are any) among the mats in terms of transient speed and clarity, sustain and decay—especially given the recording technique, which produces stable, three-dimensional images.

There's no "best" or "worst" (assuming you hear any difference at all). It will just be interesting to see if a consensus develops around one or two of them.

After voting, please leave a comment about what you heard and why you voted as you did.

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

File "4"

File "5"

File "6"

File "7"

File "8"

Master File

Master File "redbook"

A "gift" for you

Jim Tavegia's picture

I first listened on my gGrado 80s and then finally went to mty AKG 701's

I liked 2: good persussives and bass weight; 6: For all of 2 and slightly more room to me and good overall balance; 7; Much like 6 with good firm foundation and balance.

My ultimate choice was for 6, but this was a very close test and one of Michael's hardest to date. I thought 5 had extra mid bass for me.

Mats matter, but not as much as I thought, but on a Continuum with a revealing system I'll bet the differences are more distinguishable.

Michael Fremer's picture
And its platter surface is meant to be used "as is" so no mats can be used.
Michael Fremer's picture
The vinyl compared to the actual 96/24 file?
Ortofan's picture

Can you make available for download a 16 bit/44.1K WAV version of the master file?

Michael Fremer's picture
I think so. I can't right now. I'm on a Stereophile deadline but in a few days I will.
Ortofan's picture

Having a version of the "master" file available in the same format used for the other eight sample files would be most appreciated.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

...the master file was built of polished, sharp edged granite blocks (the weight and attack of the notes) , and the grains of the bonding mortar were visible (musicians breathing, chairs squeaking). The vinyl files, to various degrees, "looked" like they were built of eroded or abraded stones with crumbling mortar.

barrysconspiracyworld's picture

An excellent mat to try is Herbie's Way Excellent mat.

Michael Fremer's picture
Never heard one but some of you go bananas for it.
Glotz's picture

But it's the more expensive Grungebuster mat I wish you would have reviewed. Not out of pride or a need for validation, but to have someone who really knows what he's talking about explain its nuances objectively.

I still don't have enough time with it, and with most other new mats on the market, to declare it's "this" amazing, but I like what I hear after a few weeks of listening. It's definitely improved sound of the acrylic VPI platter versus sans mat. I think it's also better than the Delrin/lead original, but that was some time ago.

Another fascinating column this month on LTE and skating. I think most of us learn quite a bit each month. Thanks dude.

Michael Fremer's picture
Made me feel good.
AnalogJ's picture

Is there or should there be a control, perhaps a 'no mat' in there?

Michael Fremer's picture
Since I don't believe the turntable was meant to be used without a mat I chose not to but it probably would have been useful. Next time...
Steve501's picture

Hi Mikey
Pardon my ignorance, but could you clarify what the purpose of a mat is?

Jim Tavegia's picture

I downloaded it and played it back in Sony SoundForge. I am a huge fan of 2496 native files so I really like the sound of this file. It is crisper than the analog files and some might say has a slightly harder edge, but at 67 and with my hearing pretty much gone past 6Khz, I don't hear that so much, so crisper is good FOR ME. My own recordings for our local university are also native 2496 so I am used to acoustic music in this file size. I would love to hear this same file in 24/192.

This also proved why I will not download dsd files as with my AT&T download speed, it took a while to download this file as I am at 12-18 MBPS.

Anyway, the analog files are so good it really is not a loss to not have this in hirez digital. The inner groove quietness is remarkable on all these files.

Jim Tavegia's picture

In looking at the waveforms between file 6, my choice, and the 2496 file there is quite a bit of difference in the rise and attack of the plucks of the strings. I am wondering if this is a result of the possible slower amplifier slewrates of a exceptional phono preamp used, compared to the hirez digital file. Also the noise floor of the analog file is about 10 db higher which probably accounts for something, but it sounds so good it doesn't bother me. The ambient noise floor of the recording venue of the 2496 file is at about -61 db, so it is not a major issue and the 24bit audio issue of -144db dynamic range is theoretical and not worth talking about.

The question might be asked of the mandolin player as to which file(s) sounds more real to him as he was closer than anyone to the source instrument. Of course we might say there are two presentations: one for the player and one for the audience.

I apologize for all my comments on this, but I find it very interesting.

Michael Fremer's picture
For such useful comments!
Ortofan's picture

Would a "better" mat tend to muffle the groove pre-echo (heard just before the music starts) or allow it to sound more distinct?

avanti1960's picture

I thought samples 7 and 1 sounded the best with a slight nod to no. 7. There was clearly a difference in the quality of the bass. The master file exhibited what sounded like resonating, somewhat muddy bass. I listened through some quality Sennheiser headphones that have extended bass response and was able to hear the differences immediately.
The resonant bass was guilty of clouding the clarity of the strings. I will be shopping for a mat as soon as I finish typing this.

avanti1960's picture

is this a blind test? i sure hope not. it was not mentioned that it was.

Michael Fremer's picture
The mats are not identified
avanti1960's picture

why is this a re-do of the june 4th test? when will we see the results?

Michael Fremer's picture
On June 4th I wrote of the upcoming test. This is it. I will leave it up and not close it for a while until I feel there are sufficient votes.
avanti1960's picture

thanks for the clarification. eagerly awaiting the results and hoping no 1 or no 7 are available and not too pricey. i cancelled my order for the music hall mat until the identities are revealed!
thanks for the tests. loved the cartridge test as well.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Although I don't suffer from audiophilia nervosa, I did notice slight differences. Observations:

1. harsh, distortion
2. smooth
3. 3D, smooth, decay
4. deep bass, clear
5. distortion, background noise
6. 3D, some distortion
7. flat, compressed
8. wooly bass, 2D, cardboardy

I guess I better keep an open mind and not take others' word for it. Lesson is, listen for yourself.

But, and it's a big but, if these slight differences completely make or break an otherwise great recording for you, then you're neurotic. Sure one can hear differences if one tries hard enough, but after all, it's supposed to be about the music, isn't it?

Michael Fremer's picture
But this is just interesting plus the mat will affect every record you play on your turntable even if it's a subtle difference...
Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Mikey, will mat thickness differences affect the VTA, and thus the sound? Or did you already compensate for that?

BTW, inclusion of the original master file made the subtle differences a bit clearer. It would be great if you did that from now on on these tests. (Maybe even use the same piece of music for all gear tests so that we regular participants get that reference drilled into our thick heads.)

BTBTW, great piece of music!

Hide in the Sound's picture

The voting is interesting and I have a couple favorites myself, but the consensus thus far appears to be that there is no appreciable sonic difference. There are other considerations when evaluating a platter mat, though, and I suspect our host will address characteristics such as resistance to static electric charge (attracting dust), price, and aesthetics in his summary post.

isaacrivera's picture

When I voted, there were 74 votes, 29 of which thought they heard no difference. That is a 39% no difference vs. 61% some difference if no agreement on which is "best".

I would say most of those 29 percenters are due to listening via poor reproduction for the test (i.e. poor earphones), but statistically the votes clearly indicate differences are perceived.

Hide in the Sound's picture

I see your point, but your logic seems to miss the understood notion of a “consensus.” To demonstrate by an example, let’s say 8 files are presented and file number 4 garners 30% of the vote, while the remaining 7 files garner much lower percentages which, when summed, total 70%. Per your line of reasoning, one would conclude that file number 4 is not the consensus favorite, because 70% of the people listened to #4 and decided it was inferior to one or more of the others. I would disagree; by consensus, #4 is the favorite in this example. I believe the concept you are invoking is call “absolute majority” in voting vernacular, which by definition requires greater than 50% of the votes. I doubt we’ll get an absolute majority for any option in this poll, but we'll likely get a consensus favorite, barring ties.