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Here is the rundown on our cork and some marketing terms that have made the simple idea of buying a mat very confusing. We believe 100% it shouldn’t be.
The first thing we want you to do is to ask yourself "what is important?". Whether you do or do not know the answer, we think this section can help you.
In the about us section on our website, we talked about not being original. A lot of companies have changed their verbiage after we started to become a successful company. This verbiage closely resembles ours. However, that's ok and we are flattered, but here is what it actually means.
We can go into detail a lot on this as we aren't a middle company. We sell what we produce, developed the cork, and are involved in every step of the production process.
US consumers don't want to hear China. The consensus is that a large portion of Chinese products are subpar. Since there is a process to cork, being a natural product, it is really hard to nail down exactly what you technically can say. For this reason, there is a bit of grey area that companies can cleverly balance on. What most people don’t know, which is why this is an excellent marketing term, is that 95% of all cork in the world comes from the same region. Specifically, this region is the Alentejo region or Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain, in which some companies have determined is "Cork Country" to better elevate the quality of the product. The reason behind the world's cork coming from that region is very simple. Cork comes from a tree and that tree, for the most part, only grows in one place in the world. Therefore, it would actually be very difficult for any cork in the world to NOT come from there. Does that mean that it's pointless to indicate the cork is from Portugal? For some companies yes, but it can serve some purpose.
Since all cork grows in Portugal, you can get away with saying it. While not as clever as USA, Japan (another thing some may need to Google) but to say “Portuguese Cork” is a bit misleading. A lot of cork is not imported straight from Portugal and ends up in places where the subpar cork (lower grade and poorly harvested) gets processed into a final product. Companies can also get away with easily saying it's sustainable just because it's advertised as a natural product in which you don’t have to destroy the tree to get the product. It’s not wrong to say sustainable, as it is and that’s a wonderful thing. However, it doesn’t make the end product better. All cork is sustainable. A Cork tree cannot be harvested till after the first 25-34 years. It is then that the higher-grade cork will get harvested every 9-12 years. Several companies will use cork harvested earlier so that profits can be increased. However, that yields a substantially lesser quality cork
Analog Restorations cork is the highest-grade cork (gentile cork), processed in Portugal, and exported directly to the US. This means it is the highest-grade cork and arrives ready to turn into a finished product. It’s understood most cork comes from Portugal, but unless someone is involved in the entire process, any other cork would leave a question mark as to its exact origins. Since we are not a middle company and developed the cork, along with the manufacturer, there are no questions left unanswered.
This is a loosely used term. Most mats are cut in very large quantities with dies that are premade into either a 11.75” or 12” diameter and cut at large quantities. Over time these cutters will wear down and produce a mat with edges that crumble and are more squashed than cut. This is really a problem with cork that is of lesser quality as it doesn't want to stay together much anyway.
Analog Restorations mats are still die cut but the cutter was specially made to make a mat at 11.9", slightly smaller than the lead in on a record. This allows the record to be pulled off easily and eliminates the need for a recessed label indent. The thickness of the lead-in on an album does not hit the mat thus allowing the record to lay flat. Only 6 mats are cut at a time and the die cutter is replaced at a low volume of mats. With only cutting 6 at a time we can more closely monitor the condition of the cutters and the quality of the cut they produce. Because the cutters stay sharp and the cork is the highest grade, the edges stay clean, precise, and intact. This has always been a concern for lesser-quality mats.
This has always been a concern with cork, especially in lower quality mats and, in comparison to, the softness of felt. We would want to really clarify what non-abrasive means. As for most cork mats, they do not feel abrasive to the touch. For mats that have been laser etched or screen printed the design itself can become abrasive. However, cork naturally is not abrasive but only in the everyday idea of abrasiveness means. However, as any vinyl enthusiast knows, even the inner sleeve of an album can cause micro-abrasions on vinyl records. We equally would not consider an inner sleeve to be abrasive. What we have found, aside from the design, is that lesser-quality cork is also the culprit. Large granules, additives like sawdust and wood, open texture, and gaps all cause micro-abrasions. Additionally, some companies advertise that the cork is "sanded" to eliminate the preconceived notion a lot of consumers have. While some may actually sand the product the sanding is usually done to slightly soften the surface that poor-quality cork produces. This is only just making the surface slightly better as the abrasiveness of the surface and its ability to be sanded is solely limited by the original structure and disparity in the granules. Cork that contains gaps and a poor structure will never become nonabrasive.
Analog Restorations cork is made from a tightly packed and dense granule processed into blocks. From each block sheets are cut. The blocks are important because it provides the base for having the flattest possible mat. Since there is no roll memory, which is very inherent in cork, the mat will not have the propensity to curl or change shape. Each mat is then sanded to the exact same thickness which additionally improves the feel of the surface. This is not done to solve a problem with poor quality cork, but to additionally improve the surface and add softness. From this, we get an incredibly soft and truly non-abrasive finish that feels like suede. This has also allowed us to print really small and detailed images clearly onto a surface that otherwise would not allow it. For example, this can be seen in the clarity of the smallest 0.25-point streets on our geographical maps series.
This is an easy-to-use term as that's how most companies get an image onto the cork. It is the easiest, most versatile, and cleanest way to produce an image, even in colors. However, all sublimation is not the same. Sublimation is a dye that when combined with pressure and heat will turn into a gas and gets absorbed into the surface of the cork. This means there are a lot of variables including, the type of printer, type of transfer, amount of pressure, amount of heat, amount of humidity in the cork, surface of the cork, and several other factors. All of these, when not properly calculated and controlled can influence the final product. These variables also can influence the detail of the image. However, it is more a factor of the surface the image is being put on than it is the act of choosing sublimation as a printing method. Even all the best steps in sublimation can be taken, with the highest attention to detail, but the image is ultimately only as detailed as the surface it is going on. Unfortunately, cork is a porous material and the image is usually guaranteed to fade. There is no special ink that keeps that from happening, despite a lot of companies claiming it. Fading is mentioned from a marketing standpoint as it's a known concern. Simply saying it's special ink does not mean it will prevent fading. You still want to use high-quality inks but it is only still a piece of the puzzle.
How do we know this?
We thought we stopped fading several times with the use of higher and higher quality inks and printers. Surprisingly, they all faded and were mostly the same. Switching to the new cork actually made fading a little worse as the cork material was a little less permeable with its denser granule construction, but we knew we needed to make it work. (this, in addition to cost, maybe the reason many do not print on a nicer cork) It took us almost a year and in March of 2022, we can say we came up with a solution. This not only means that a fresh and new fly-by-night company has not devoted the time to determine if fading even exists, but it also doesn't involve special ink. Let's face it, from a vendor standpoint there are only so many companies that make quality ink.
Analog Restorations uses an extra process, in addition to the high-quality ink, that will lock in the color. So far this has been thoroughly tested over and over. This process will add almost an additional day to production for each mat, but it ensures that the rate of fading will almost halt. We also can do this without changing the surface of the mat, which was the hardest complication. Because we are not a middle company we can control all the aspects of the final product, with fading being one of them.
So, we know this is a bit of info. We aren't trying to persuade you to buy our mats over others as if we were deciding for you. We know this is your decision and we value what you decide to spend money on. We hope that with the right knowledge and understanding of the work and effort we put into producing our product our brand becomes your choice. Furthermore, we want to make sure that after the purchase, from the moment you open the package, you will love the product. Let's face it, it may not be an unreal change in audio from other cork mats, but we ensure you will feel and appreciate the quality and full attention to detail. We are not another company with a basic idea looking for someone else who can just make it.
With all this being said, if you have purchased one of our mats, we would love to hear any feedback you may have. We can’t keep moving forward and progressing in a positive direction without the help and feedback that our customers have.
From Analog Restorations, we truly thank you.