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Less esoteric, and certainly less portly than the turntable weight, or stabilizer, the turntable mat nevertheless – in my experience – has greater impact on how the cartridge is translating the information it tears from the groove at 20-inches a second. It could be argued the transference of sonic properties a mat imparts is furthered via the stabilizer’s mass, but that’s another article. Whether it’s the coveted industrial rubber consequence riding the Garrard 301 since 1954, or the often dismissed wool flimsy atop Rega turntables since the mid-70s, audiophiles have been experimenting with different materials and thicknesses of mats to place atop their turntable platters since vinyl started being pressed.
While some turntable manufacturer’s configurations call for no mat whatsoever due to the design and material used for the platter itself, many do. This has resulted in a galaxy of variations in mat choices available for the would-be purchaser to research and choose from. Indeed, the permutations involved are so numerous not only in the materials used, but cost, too, becomes a major factor. While a replacement wool mat for a Rega or similar deck will set one back a mere $25 USD, some more exotic offerings like the SPEC AP-UD1 mat (aluminum, processed lacquer) can cost upwards of $350 USD, with of course dozens and dozens of choices at all price points in between.
In my time I’ve used mats (on several different turntables) comprised of everything from wool, cork, felt, woven cloth/polyester, leather and suede to polymer-hybrids and the aforementioned SPEC metal/lacquer sandwich. All brought something different to the ‘table, and ranged from affordable to expensive. The one thing I’ll say up front, is that for the most part, it has been my experience, that you get what you pay for – the more expensive mats definitely allowed more of what was already on the recording to come through. Is this a proposition of diminishing returns? Yes and no. Over the years I’ve found that any decent turntable/tonearm/cartridge combo will reveal the differences inherent to the materials a mat is made of. But is putting a $350 mat on a $500 ‘table a worthwhile fit? I’d be upgrading the cartridge or tonearm before dropping similar sums on a mat – to me it’s a matter of the descending order of importance in the analogue chain of playback, cartridge and tonearm supersede a mat by a considerable margin in affecting the performance of your turntable overall.
The great thing about most mats is that for a reasonable cash outlay, (a little over $100 or much less), you can experiment with an impressive variety of improvements in resolution, or clarity, and subtle sonic influences. All are designed to help maximize a cartridge's ability to to pull information from the groove, most achieve this with varying levels of succes. Just what that success sounds like is in the mind and ear of the listener. Some examples I would recommend trying are the Auditorium 23 Standard, Herbie’s Way Excellent II, the Pro-Ject Leather It, the Linn Felt, and the fo.Q polymer mats.
Article courtesy of Rafe Arnott - Resistormag