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I had tried a number of mats over the years, but it wasn't until I bought my first heavily Merrill modified AR turntable that I realized it's a platter SYSTEM that makes a difference. George Merrill would upgrade the stock mass produced AR drive platter bearing with one manufactured in a higher grade of steel and with closer tolerances. He would substitute the aluminum platter with an acrylic one, and on top of that would come a LEAD mat. (Pliable and dead.) The record was laid on the lead mat, and coupled to it with an outer periphery ring and either an inner clamp or weight. George was a pioneer in the use of acrylic platters and periphery weights.
Since hearing that platter system for the first time, I have been unable to go back to any other. I was lucky enough to purchase one of George's later model Heirlooms (with same platter system) several years ago, and I am in the process of having that table refurbed and upgraded by George's present partner Anthony Scillia.
You can learn more about George and Anthony's new platter system here:
(Disclaimer: I am the exclusive seller of what are the current Merrill mods. I sell because I wholeheartedly believe.)
Like Ddarch44's modded Merrill's, the best sounding mat for tables like my Teres is no mat.
Some tables are designed for close coupling of LP to platter. Teres uses a threaded spindle and clamp, which ennables very tight (and adjustable) coupling. If a periphery ring is also used it's sometimes possible to approach the coupling achieved by tables with vacuum hold down. If an LP is flat to begin with I often have to peel it off my platter after clamping, since the right amount of clamping can actually create a vacuum-like seal. The reduction in background noise and improvement in low level detail retrieval is noticeable.
When clamping I use the ever popular "rap-the-deadwax-with-a-knuckle" test to determine optimal clamping pressure. When pressure's just right (usually very tight, on my table), resonances from a rap dissipate rapidly with minimal echo or harmonics. IOW, the thump sounds "dead", not "ringy". This indicates good vinyl/platter coupling that will dissipate stylus/vinyl resonances effectively.
Other tables produce other sonic results of course. Some clearly benefit from a mat. On others there could be tradeoffs that would make a winning strategy unclear.
Mats are largely intended to isolate the LP (and thus the pickup) from various noise sources. They're a relatively inexpensive approach to engineering challenges that can, for a cost, be more effectively addressed by eliminating the noises at their sources.
To benefit from no mat and tight coupling without sonic detriments, a table must have:
1. low or no noise from the bearing
2. low or no noise from the motor
3. low or no noise from whatever system couples motor to platter
4. a platter which effectively dampens or dissipates vibrations emanating from the stylus/vinyl interface
Assuming a table has achieved 1, 2 and 3, achieving #4 becomes an interesting challenge in platter and bearing design. Different tables use different materials and designs, lead is often involved for example, with varying results of course.
Tables which have effectively addressed the above (very challenging) issues rarely achieve additional playback accuracy from a mat. This comes as a great relief to those who've already spent crazy amounts of money on their TT - at least there's no need to spend more on a yet another tweak! ;-)
I would take a slightly different spin on Mr. Deacon's view.
Some tables are designed for close coupling of LP to platter *interface*. I don't think the use of the Boston Audio Desgin Mat-1 would prclude the tight coupling of the LP to the mat and the mat to the platter on a Teres. Using the Teres clamp, I would presume you'd achieve that vacuum seal as well. However, it would be another layer for the platter interface. If this would be a good thing or a bad thing...that's another question.
While some mats are strictly for isolation, I belive a well engineered platter (or platter / mat system) may dampen, may isolate, may couple, or may do all of the above (to some extent) at the same time.
My Teres platter is solid acrylic (and it looks like I don't really have much of an option to upgrade it anymore) so I'd be interested in what the Mat-1 could do (for better or for worse) to my table. I don't think my solid acrylic platter meets Doug's condition #4.
Taking another stab at this, I do not use a clamp with the Mat 1. In fact, I haven't used a clamp since discovering that, for me at least, that silly paper-and-cork Ringmat sounded better on my VPI TNT Mk. II than the recommended mat-less platter and supplied VPI clamp. I couldn't have been more surprised (I had borrowed the Ringmat after being cajoled into trying it). Once I was clamp-free, I decided to see what else was out there and wound up with the Boston Audio which fortunately also sounds the best on my current replinthed Lenco. Dave
My table is the maplenoll ariadne which has a lead platter that is countersunk in the middle to account for the label thickness. Hence no pad is recommended as the clamp attempts to ensure solid contact of the lp to the platter. My platter does not have a vacuum system or outer ring clamp so severely warped records are not firmly contacted, but most other records are contacted by the entire platter. i did try a felt mat once but did not like the sound. it seemed the bass response was less
Great insight and an interesting spin. Clearly a mat could be combined with a clamp to provide a coupling system. That isnt the way mats normally get used but on the right table thats no reason not to try and you may have exactly the right table.
As an example of the wrong table, consider my old H-K/Rabco ST-8. Its noisy bearings (#1), motor (#2) and multiple belts (#3) all precluded clamping. I tried it and it seriously raised the noise level. Letting the LP float in isolation on the mat sounded best.
Your much better rig addresses issues 1-3 well, so the biggest remaining challenge from my list is indeed #4. Were agreed that acrylic alone does not effectively control intra-vinyl resonances and those are very destructive of good playback, as George Merrills, Ddarch44s and now Dopogues results all attest. (Dopogues platter is also solid acrylic, so his preference for a mat is consistent with all this. Apparently VPI should be selling Ringmats, not clamps!)
So, using your clamp to couple to a mat could provide valuable resonance dissipation, while your tables good behavior on #s 1-3 prevent any of the potential downsides that lesser tables might suffer.
Put a mat on your holiday list!
Just for the, er, record my platter is metal. Zinc, I believe. The TNT lost out to the Lenco some time ago.
I'm not sure I'd try to clamp a graphite map (Boston Audio) because of its composition/fragility. But then I wouldn't try to clamp anything :-)
And oh boy does it save time and eliminate the danger (ask me how I know) of dropping a clamp on an LP! Dave
That makes sense. Zinc probably wouldn't be so good for resonance control either. I doubt anyone clamps directly to that platter, especially not "bareback".
Good warning re: not clamping a Boston Audio Mat. If Nrenter decides to try he should MAKE SURE TO REMOVE THE REFLEX WASHER (or drill out a bigger hole in the mat, heh!). I actually cracked an LP in half once with my Teres clamp. I'd put two reflex washers on the spindle by mistake and couldn't figure out why the *&^% record wouldn't flatten out. I tried one more turn and SNAP! - it went from un-flat to really, really un-flat. Idiot...
Of course the biggest danger is swinging clamps around near mega-dollar cartridges. I consciously developed a movement drill so the clamp never passes over, under or near the tonearm. Taking out a $5K arm plus an $8K cartridge in a single dumb move is too scary to contemplate.
I'd really like to try the Mat-2 (5 mm thick) but I don't think my threaded spindle would support that thick of a mat. 3 mm is probably doable based on my tests. Perhaps I'll have to stack some old, unloved LPs and test later tonight.
The Mat-1 will probably be on my list sometime after the new year. However, I really want a Loricraft, too. :)
With the MMF-5, go with whatever is cheap and sounds best for you. Don't try to spend too much money tweaking the Music Hall (this is coming from a former Music Hall MMF-5 owner). I'd bet the cork will sound better.
You'd probably be better off 1) downloading an arc protractor and verify the alignment is spot-on, and 2) getting it directly off of that glass shelf and on to a maple cutting board (painted black). Both will be useful if / when you upgrade.