Review: Grungebuster CD Mat Herbie's Audio Lab Tweak

Category: Accessories

Model: Grungebuster CD Mat
Category: Accessory
Suggested Retail Price: $19.95
Description: CD Mat
Manufacturer URL: Herbie's Audio Lab
Model Picture: View

Review by blake (A) on July 26, 2003 at 17:26:44
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for the Grungebuster CD Mat


First, let me state that I do not have a $3,000 digital front end and I do not know how this product will function with a really high end player. That being said, the tweaked DVD player that I use currently sounds better in my opinion than an Arcam Alpha 8SE which I sold a few years ago.

I have used an Audioprism CD Blacklight for a few years now with decent results. The improvements with the Blacklight were subtle, and I would use it regularly, except when CD or DVD playback simply would not function with it (as is the case with the Herbie's mat every once in a while).

I recently read a thread on Audiogon which stated that the Marigo mat was the best of the bunch. I have no experience with the Marigo simply because I didn't want to spring the $80 for it.

The Herbies mat is $20, not exactly a huge sum. I would highly recommend it, particularly for those with cheaper digital gear; whether it brings about as much of an improvement with higher end gear, I cannot say.

The "Grungebuster" is simply far superior to the Audioprism Blacklight. Audible improvements could easily be heard on music where vocals previously seemed to "trail off" and not be easily understood (Bob Dylan's Love and Theft and Emmy Lou Harris' Wrecking Ball for example). The Grungebuster imparts a clarity which was simply not there before with the Blacklight mat (which itself improves very slightly upon a nude CD). The good thing about this clarity is that it comes about without a "thinning out" of the performance. On the contrary, background becomes noticeably darker, instruments are more fleshed out, bass performance is slightly enhanced and the top end is noticeably cleaned up as well. One thing that I cannot stand is an increase in clarity that is accompanied with any lean aspect being applied to the music. This is not the case with the Grungebuster; in fact just the opposite occurs. Both Pat Methney's guitar and Charlie Haden's bass (Under the Missouri Sky) really filled out and have never sounded better in my system with the Grungebuster. On certain tracks (certainly not every one on every CD), I can actually hear info that I have not heard before. Ironically, this usually occurs in relatively quiet "solo" passages where there is a background accompanyment (hope that's spelled right, I doubt it) from one or two other instruments (Jimmy Smith's "Damn" comes to mind here).

In short, the Grungebuster lives up to its name, for all of $20. There is a newly found smoothness, a noticeable improvement from top to bottom (bass midrange and high frequencies) a removal of grain and edge, and a revelation of more musical info and increase in clarity.

Alas, there is also bad news (is anything perfect in audio?). On some CD's and DVD's the Grungebuster simply will not work. This also happened to me with the Blacklight, but the Grungebuster appears to be a little bit pickier still. Probably has something to do with the actual thickness of the CD, but on some, you will simply get persistent spinning and an inability for the player to start to read the CD or DVD. I've experienced this with a number of CD's that the Blacklight would not function with in the same manner as well as a rental DVD last night that came with an ID ring fixed around the centre hole. In the cases where it doesn't work, you simply stop your player, remove the buster and start over (with a slightly depressed feeling you're not going to receive its benefits).

I've only used it for 3 or 4 days now, and the other problem, if you can call it that, is putting it on the CD or DVD. I'm getting used to it, so it is certainly less of a problem, but the grungebuster is a bit of work to "install". It is very thin and slightly tacky on one side (which you are to fix to the label side of the CD before inserting). It is a bit of work to get it centered properly and the easiest way, by far, is to apply it with the CD/DVD still in its jewel case or container.

Whether this trouble is worth it to you, I don't know, but it is to me and I'll be continuing to use the grungebuster on everything I can. Definitely recommended, especially for $20.

Associated gear
See System under "blake's equipment" at Audioasylum

Similar products
Audioprism CD Blacklight

Where do you get this mat? Please let us know. Thanks.

I bought it right here on Audiogon. Just do a search for Herbie's or Grungebuster and it should show up. And, just to be clear, I have no affiliation with Herbie other than as a satisfied customer with this mat. I have never purchased any of his other products.
I will add some comments and my endorsement of this product.

I tried many CD mats including the Audioprism Blacklight which for me had no positive effect I could detect. I do own a Marigo Crossbow and previously thought this the best CD mat available which seemed to make a very slight improvement.

Herbie's surpasses the Crossbow and is the best CD mat I have ever used. There have been many expensive CD rings/labels that you could apply to CD, but cannot be removed (this breaks my golden rule of never apply a tweak which cannot be removed) Herbie's is a very pliable thin rubber like material that firmly adheres to CD, but can be removed after use. There is no slippage/spin of the mat, and it seems to do the best job of any mat of cleaning up CD grunge from sound.

Herbie has great service and ships product promptly, price is very reasonable $20 (depending which model you need),
here is link to site:
I'v tried the Herbie's CD mat as well. In general, I like its' effect on CDs but not SACDs. I haven't tried it with a Bob Dylan CD yet, but if it can make him more intelligible, it would be truly miraculous!
I agree with hdm and sam. Can't imagine a better improvement for $20. The music is cleaner and clearer and really does have less grunge which results in a fuller and more relaxed presentation. I ordered on a Monday and Herbie had it in my CD player on Wednesday. If you don't like it you can send it back so you can't lose!
An update with respect to discs not playing with the Herbie's mat:

Following the posting of this review, Steve Herbelin (from Herbies) contacted me via e-mail to thank me for the positive comments. He also suggested that I sand down the inner ring on the mat to rough it up a bit to aid in the clamping of the CD within the player when playing and possibly eliminate the problem I was having with the 3 discs which would not play. He also said that he would be happy to send me a "sanded" version of the mat to try out. As I was not keen on sanding and possibly destroying the mat I had (as I like its performance very much!), I decided to take him up on his offer.

Sure enough, the "latest" version of the Grungebuster arrived at my door a few days ago. I immediately tried it with the 3 discs (Otis Rush/Any Place I'm Going, Mark Whitfield/The Marksman and Charles Earland/I Ain't Jivin' I'm Jammin') that would not play with the previous version.

Well, Steve was right. With the new version, 2 of the 3 discs played perfectly. With the Whitfield disc, the CD played, but there is a fair bit of transport noise, so I'm unsure as to whether I'll "Herbie" this disc when I play it. I'm also thinking that the sanding of the inner circle slightly improves the mat's performance overall, something that Steve also hinted at, in that the roughed up surface provides a tighter lock with the clamping mechanism of the player (at least my player) and results in a slightly better read of data.

In any event, my hat goes off to Steve Herbelin, first of all for an excellent product at a reasonable price, and secondly, for absolutely first rate customer service. He definitely went "the extra mile", all on a $20 sale, which shows me that he's dedicated to great service, and also very quick to respond to a customer's concern and try to improve his product.
Megasam describes the product as being a thin rubber mat. I would assume then, that as the owner of a transport using Pioneer's Stable Platter mechanism, I wouldn't benefit from using this tweak. (The transport's a Theta Pearl, and for those of you who don't know, the SP - which is no longer produced, unfortunately - functions like a 'turntable' for the disk, with a thin rubber mat covering an aluminum platter, complete with 'spindle', on which you set the CD upside-down to be laser-read from above, so you've got gravity working for you along with an internal clamp.)
Zaikesman: You might want to check out the ad for the grungebuster here at Audiogon. There is a model specifically for the stable platter players that costs a bit more ($24.95) that can be applied directly to the "platter" or turntable and simply left on there. If it works as well as the regular model, you won't be disappointed.
OK.....I have never had any CD not play with mat, but I will gently sand the inner green ring to give it a rougher texture to tweak performance.

Also I will mention after a week or so of use bottom of mat will start to pick up dust etc from CD and become less sticky.....which you may like. But you can also just place mat under lukewarm tap water and wipe away any dust/debri to return mat to original more sticky condition.
I concur, enthusiastically, with the glowing reviews this $20 GrungeBuster is getting.

Everything just sounds more correct now - instruments and voices sound 'stouter', a little firming on the deepest bass notes and less annoying chatter in my head when listening (perhaps related to less jitter?). I've used AudioPrism, Aurex mats and they have had either suspect (AudioPrism) or downright deleterious (Aurex) effects.

With the Grungebuster, with or without a spin on a Bedini Clarifier, music is just more enjoyable. A really worthwhile $20 find. Not quite a serious component upgrade, but an appreciable upgrade well in excess of it's modest cost.

As for owner Steve - his non-hurried professional demeanor is appreciated and the packing job was commendable. A really good product and a very enthusiastic owner here.
While Blake began this review by stating that he did not have a $3K front end, and couldn't judge how the Grungebuster would work on a really high-end CDP, owning a Wadia 861, I can answer that by stating, it performs superbly, and more than lives up to its name. In fact, it performs so well that I never insert a CD without it. My son's experiences with his mid-fi system, and a Sony SACD Player have been similar. In fact, I will be ordering several more Grungebusters. One for my son, another for my HT, and several for Audiophile friends. For barely more than the price of (1) CD, you can't afford NOT to try this product -- highly recommended!
I've been using these mats for a while now, and think its one of the best mods so far. I have a highly modified Wadia 20, and a stock Panasonic DVD-R.

Being the adventurous type, I tried one on a CD-R while recording on it to see if there would be any difference. My computer refuses to recognise any disk with the mat on it. Weird. They work fine in my transport.

Don't even think of trying to put one of these into a car player.

John C.
I just discovered why I had a problem with the grungebuster with a very small number of discs and would like to point out that it is in no way a fault of the mat and that nobody else is likely to experience this.

Was doing some more tweaking to my DVD player in the past few days and noticed that the clamping wheel on my player when engaged was making contact (with a few thicker disks) with some damping material I had installed on the underside of the lid. Cutting out a small amount of this damping material allows full clearance for use of the mat with any of my discs now.

Obviously, I will be using the grungebuster happily with everything now. Still highly recommended.
The Grungebuster 2 is great as well. I have not tried the first version but the second and smaller version is well worth the $8.00. It increases the focus and depth of the recording.
I've been using the Grungebuster 2 as well. It's easier to deal with than the original Grungebuster and seems to work just as well if not better. When I forget to put it on a CD, I notice its absence right away. Now I'm thinking about springing for the Herbie's turntable mat, which is a somewhat larger investment.
The Grungebuster 2 is even better sonically. A great deal.
I tried the turntable platter mat, and it's an idiosyncratic product. Extremely thin and lightweight compared to something like a Sorbothane-type mat, it may be capable of damping record resonances but it's not going to damp platter resonances to any significant degree (with or without a clamp). It didn't get along with the undamped cast aluminum platter on my turntable, and I probably wouldn't use it with glass platters either, but it may be an interesting alternative for someone with an inherently well-damped platter such as acrylic or similar. Then again lots of people like the unclamped Ringmat on their glass-platter Regas and that doesn't even attempt to damp record resonances (though by the same token it decouples the record from the platter to a greater than average extent, which is another dabate), so of course no one should go by what I say. Herbie gladly allowed me to return his mat for a refund when it didn't work out, so you've got nothing to lose trying one for yourself (I kept the Halo tube dampers, which did work for me).
Zaikesman,thanks for your thoughts on the Herbie's turntable mat. I have a glass-platter Rega, as it turns out, and you've given me some things to think about. Like you, I also use the Herbie's halos, plus the iso-cups with ebony balls. Together they made a significant different in my system for the better.
I've been using the Grungebuster 2 for a couple of months now and agree that it is the cat's meow of tweaks. It's even great for DVDs.
If it works as well as the tube dampers! :) I'll have to get some. I think his 90 day trial period is very generous.
He's also found an interconnect that he's endorsing.
I've bought ebony and it takes a long afternoon to work a set of 3 cones. So if the "ball" price is good it's worth it imho as I like the sound of ebony.
I love this thing. I heard the same improvement.

It did have an issue loading. What I did was to open the CDP and raise the top of the thing that holds the CD when in play. The mat would hit that on the way in and scrunch up. Now I can just lay the mat on the CD and hit play.
I purchased the Mat based on the positive reviews I read here and in other places and also on the low cost.

The online ordering process was textbook: order placed easily, confirmation received, shipping notice received and 3 day delivery to Philadelphia.

From the beginning, I've been pleasantly surprised at how much difference it makes.

First of all, my system:

Rotel CDP 855
NAD T-163 Pre/Pro - Set to Stereo, Direct (flat)
Emotiva UPA2 Amplifier
Klipsch KG-4
Room: 9 x 18 x 9

Note: as has been mentioned, putting the mat on when the CD is still in the case makes it easy to place properly.

On the first track of the soundtrack of "Cinema Paradiso", the stage seemed to gain significantly in depth - which seems to be a consistent characteristic of the mat. In addition, the presentation of the individual instruments is significantly improved - I can simply hear more of what Morricone puts into this spare arrangement.

I thought I knew the Faure Requiem pretty well. With the Mat, it became clear that I had been missing a lot of the complimentary figures in the voice lines behind the soloist.

In the Rachmaninoff 2nd Symphony, 3rd Movement, the Mat made it easier to follow the accompaniment behind the clarinet solo, making the patterns much clearer.

In "Tap Your Troubles Away" from the original cast recording of "Mack and Mabel", the sound of the tapping sounded more like it was live, due to the presentation of the low frequencies that had previouly been missing> In addition, the orchestration was more coherent and more enjoyable.

I found the same sorts of improvement in just about everything I have listened to so far.

Given the cost, I don't know of anything I've done to my system over the years that has even approached the value this thing delivers.

Based on what I've heard so far, I can easily add my strong endorsement to the others here.