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What is a good choice for your turntable?
If you are new to the world of record listening, before you read the following, we recommend you head over to our page of audio terms.
A platter mat on your turntable can be viewed as one of the most important components of your turntable in respects to how often it is actually overlooked. Being involved in the industry, in the capacity we have been, has made it a very obvious decision for us to produce turntable mats as an upgrade. We recognized the the current market was presenting a bit of a of disservice to the average consumer. The reason being is that most turntables on the market, for the average consumer, were coming with very poor platter mats. So, being that this is a very important component and can dramatically effect what you hear, it meant your brand-new table, or even many vintage turntables, was already preforming less than its capabilities…right out of the gate. There are a few reasons we believe this is so prevalent amongst these tables. One is that that manufacturer expects you to change the mat with something that you want (enter Analog Restorations). The other reason is that most tables on the market, for the average customer, need to be offered at a very specific price point. The manufacturer will typically focus on other features and benefits and save money on things such as a platter mat. It is hard to market a new turntable that may not have certain features, but with a better platter mat, versus a turntable that has the more notable and marketable features at the same price point. Hence, why a platter mat is overlooked and does not even become part of the conversation.
Below is our description of what each platter mat may offer to your experience and you will find the use of many of the terms discussed from our Audio Terms page. Our hope is that through gained knowledge you can make the decision for yourself, truly understanding the benefits.
We will discuss platter mat materials on several different principles that are specific to the outcome of what you hear. We separated those principles into three main categories, Static, Stability, and dampening.
The propensity for the material to create static electricity. This not only means its ability to have electrostatic potential itself, but also its propensity to create an electrostatic potential on another material (like your vinyl record). This also includes its ability to trap or attract dust. Now dust does not always cause static but will certainly have an effect on what we hear. For the purpose of platter mat materials we are going to discuss dust and static together.
Due to the nature of a turntable, cartridge, and stylus being a mechanical component that is highly critical on vibrations and tracking properly in the grooves of an album stability plays a vital role. We want to make certain the stylus and its movement stays perfectly inline and does not move in and adverse way apposed to its intention. The stylus contact on the album is critical and this means that not only does the stylus need to be stable, but the record and the surface in which the record is placed needs to stay free from moving or slipping. Stability is an interesting concept as we usually want to relate it to something extreme, like a tire spinning on ice or doing burnouts in a K-Mart parking lot. Unfortunately, everything on a record and turntable happen in a much more minute thus in actuality creating a more critical effect. For home audio listening we want the record to be completely stable…so no slip mats. Stability is achieved in a couple ways, some in which will affect the dampening quality of the mat. Which is our next factor in platter mat material.
Dampening is the ability for a material to control vibrations. This is most important for listening to records because vibrations are the basis of what we want to hear, as they are literally what the grooves on a record are. That is the most critical aspect, however, it is not the only source of potential vibrations. The main goal is to make certain that the record itself is stable and free from outside vibrations, so that the needle/stylus is only picking up the vibrations that create the music. We can chose certain materials that will increase stability by controlling how the material slips against the surface of the record as well as the surface of the platter. However, those material choices don’t always help control vibrations from outside influence. The motor on the turntable, the shelf that it is on, the flooring in your house, toddlers and pets, etc. can all cause unwanted vibrations. It becomes more complicated then this as there are many factors of dampening. If something is under-dampened, we are going to hear all the bad stuff just mentioned. This means that all the outside influence is making its way to the turntable, then through the platter, then onto the record itself. That is where the needle/stylus is picking it up and send it down the rest of the lane and out your speakers. If something is over dampened it can affect what we want the needle/stylus to pick up. We would be able to relate to this by putting your hand on a bell when it is ringing. The intention of a bell is to create a particular set of frequencies, a specific sound. By placing our hand on the bell, we are effectively dampening the vibrations causing the bell to sound different and in actuality, sound worse.
Below are a couple common platter mat materials:
Felt or cloth (also includes "Slip Mats):
As you may have read in our information sections about static, we have what is called the Triboelectric series. Felt is made from a blend of fibers but usually is primarily wool. We know that (based on the triboelectric series) felt has a predisposition to transfer electrons to the surface of materials like vinyl and has a very high propensity to do so. This is the primary basis of static electricity build up. In addition to that, while it may not attract a lot of dust as aggressive as other materials in your home, dust is inevitable. Due to the woven fibers of the felt dust and particles will settle and then become trapped in the surface of the mat. Through electrostatic induction, those dust particles could easily become charged, in turn heavily attracted to materials like your vinyl. So, we have a couple situations with felt that will certainly increase the probability of static build up on the surface of the record as well as the transfer of dust and positively charged ions.
As far as stability goes, most felt will create a slippage between the platter and the underside of the felt mat in addition to slippage between the mat and the underside of the record. This makes both points of contact that are crucial to stability in fact quite unstable. Amongst the choices available and considering the similar costs between them, felt is very unstable in comparison.
In terms of dampening felt becomes a big player in the audio world for reducing unwanted noises. Whether sound and vibration reduction in a studio or as a buffer on a symbol to help control unwanted or harsh resonances. The material itself will control vibrations very well and typically absorb unwanted noises. However, the ability for it to do so is drastically dependent on its thickness as well as the density of the fibers in which it is woven. Most current felt options for a turntable platter mat are very thin as they must stay within the guidelines that the turntables they go on can be adjusted. Being thin causes the felt to lose what would otherwise be considered the positive dampening attributes, allowing a lot of vibration and unwanted noises to transfer through to the surface of the record.
So why are felt mats used. Well, typically it’s a cost thing. They are very inexpensive to make and do help keep the cost down on most new tables. For this reason they are also mostly viewed as an original equipment item and not an upgrade. You will also find them in a lot of record shops and used as promotional items because they are very cost effective and easy to print a multitude of designs and colors on. A large portion of felt mats and especially slip mats, are screen printed, in which will cause the ink to sit on top of the mat and can be abrasive. While felt is typically viewed as soft and smooth as a positive attribute it can offer quite a disadvantage with static and stability. You will also find them used in the DJ market as a lot of the principles discussed here do not apply and are superseded by attributes that felt can actually offer, opposite to what we would want in home use. The term slip mat comes from the DJ market.
If we refer to the Triboelectric series again we noted that rubber has a propensity much like Vinyl. Hard rubber is actually closer to having little desire to retain an electrostatic charge. However, due to dampening characteristics become less advantageous as the rubber becomes harder, most manufacturers will use a softer rubber. It is good to note that having a similar propensity to rubber means that the vinyl itself will not want to cause an electrostatic buildup on its own with the rubber. However, both materials with have a high propensity to hold a charge that would attract dust and other positively charged ions, which in turn could cause an increase in electrostatic potential.
Rubber usually has an inherent nature to be tacky which will reduce the amount of slippage that occurs between the mat and the platter as well as between the mat and the record. This offer excellent stability and will keep things from moving about.
Most rubber mats will reduce the amount of outside noises in a very positive way. Unfortunately, due to the properties of rubber they can very much over dampen the record and have an isolation effect, just like putting your hand on the bell. This effect will limit the dynamics and alter the dynamic range. Dynamic range is the possible volume of all sounds in any piece of music we listen to. While we don't want the bad outside noise to get louder, we also don't want limit what we were meant to hear. Over dampening caused by rubber mats can certainly cause that.
Rubber is probably the most common mat you will find due to its versatility vs. benefits ratio. Rubber does have tremendous manufacturing capabilities and is quite versatile for most manufactures to use but will have a higher cost to produce than that of felt. Therefore, we are seeing an increase in the use of felt as companies try to become more competitive with their retail cost.
Cork is a sustainable product that under most circumstances has a neutral triboelectric effect, which means it does not have the propensity to attract positive or negative electrons. This allows cork to avoid static load and produces less noise. With that being said we want to also understand that not all cork is created equal. Lesser quality cork and mats that are produced poorly will have many gaps and inconsistencies in the surface. These usually do not cause abrasive characteristics, but they can be a great place to for dust to settle.
The cork provides a great increase in stability over felt and that in which is similar to rubber. It can accomplish this while staying thin, roughly 1/8-inch. This is ideal as it does not change the position of the record over a felt or most other than mats, which keeps things where they should be and requiring no change in alignment.
One of the benefits of using a cork mat is the damping of resonances from metal turntable platters and therefore, producing less noise. Any vibrations and resonances are dampened more effectively than felt and will not over dampen like rubber can. This is also something that can be drastically affected by the quality, composition, and manufacturing differences in cork. So as the material is certainly able to dampen properly and appropriately for home audio, it does not hold true for all cork platter mats. Cheaper quality cork mats will have a less of a positive impact.
It is an affordable and excellent substitute for either a felt mat or a rubber mat and is primarily offered by most turntable manufacturers an upgrade to their existing product line. A lot of manufacturers that offer cork do not always offer a high-quality option, rather an easily marketable item that is usually produced with poor manufacturing principles with premature cork. These cork mats can also contain fillers like wood and sawdust to keep costs down. These are what you will typically see in cork that has been processed in China.
Acrylic mats are believed to control static because the material of the acrylic is most similar to that of the record, therefore eliminate the creation of static between the surface of the mat and the record. While that is a positive attribute, it does have some drawbacks. As you know, you are constantly fighting with electrostatic buildup on your record. The vinyl record will attract dust and have interactions with positive ions and other surfaces, even the air, in which will create an electrostatic potential on the surface of the record. Being that the triboelectric properties of vinyl and acrylic are similar, you can expect the same struggle to occur with the platter mat. So, while they may not create static as two materials in contact with one another, the attraction of dust and other particles can increase the annoyance of pops and crackles in your listening experience. Of course, this is also a large environmental variable and does not mean that it would hold true for all situations. It can be said that when a vinyl record that has a zero net charge is removed from an acrylic platter that also has zero net charge you would not have a change in electrostatic potential, or the buildup of static electricity. The same cannot be said for felt mats as they have an opposite propensity.
Most acrylic platter mats are made perfectly smooth. While that is very good at making sure your records don’t get scratched, it offers no frictional basis to provide proper stability.
There are also almost little to no dampening qualities of acrylic platter mats in how they are currently manufactured and is often confused with the reason manufactures use acrylic platters. While the material and thickness does offer more than felt, it would not be considered to have proper or adequate dampening as a buffer between the platter and record. However, high end turntables are built substantially more stable and have less inherent vibrations. Because of that, the need to upgrade an existing mat is less of a critical and needed decision. Therefore, you may see fewer negative attributes with very high-end tables and the use of acrylic, but that only covers a small part of the market and may not include you.
Acrylic is not necessarily a bad choice. However, it is typically marketed in ways that are not actually proper to the basic principles of static electricity, stability, and dampening. Acrylic platter mats have seen a large resurgence in popularity as they are easily marketable, they come in an assortment of colors, and are easy to produce. It is very common to see acrylic platters offered on higher end tables as well as upgrades to many more budget friendly tables. For this reason, it is believed that it has helped the marketing of acrylic platter mats. It is important to understand that the construction and material of the platter does not follow the same purpose and application as the platter mat. They serve very different purposes and the decision on one comes as a corequisite for decision on the other.
So, what is our conclusion?
There are so many different factors that make this difficult for many people that research this subject. We broke down the specifics based on the characteristics of the material and how it handles static, stability, vibrations, and dampening. This seems pretty straight forward right? So why is there all this conflicting info for those who decided to research using the phrase “the best”? While we described the inherent nature of the materials from a composition standpoint it does not necessarily indicate so much as to how it applies to your turntable, more so, your listening experience. For a lot of reasons we really can’t give you a “best” for this topic, one in being is that it is highly subjective. Another reason is that there are just too many other variables that involve differences in your equipment, environment, and even down to the type of music you are listening to. So, that really means that we need to approach the topic in a different manor, one in which would answer a different question. When you research a subject involving an upgrade its best practice to get into the habit of looking for information that will help determine if the upgrade is going to provide a noticeable difference, then evaluate the difference and see if it is what you are looking for. Additionally, you want to evaluate that difference based off either your own equipment or at least something that is close to your current equipment. It is only then that you can characterize the difference as an improvement or not. We do want to continuously view those two words as being the same as “difference” and “improvement” can be remarkably opposing to one another.
Here are some things to consider:
There are many different degrees of felt, but most fall under original equipment rather than what would be viewed as an upgrade. In most cases they are better than not having a mat at all, but they do not have properties that increase the listening experience.
Static is highly environmental and is subject to many different variables. This can be due to a platter mat, however, a platter mat material should never be chosen for the idea that it will cure a problem of static. While possible and certainly having the ability to reduce static you would need to approach the problem of static differently to see if a platter mat material would be a corrective measure or not (as outlined in Intro to Static). Additionally, there are materials used in platter mats that inherently will increase the probability of electrostatic buildup and discharge. For that reason alone, you may want to avoid platter mats made from those materials. When looking at materials, do not look at the advertising to determine its propensity towards static, as it is “anti-static” is a highly thrown around catch phrase. It is always best to look at the physical materials involved and evaluate there interactions individually and together with your system.
Separate the words different and improvement. They are two very distinct words and while they can go together, they should be approached separately. This is also true across multiple people and situations. Some people may feel there is a difference but not an improvement that satisfies their particular interest. There are also some people that feel there is no difference at all, therefore, no improvement. This varying degree of response is not only be because of the subjective nature of audio but also because of potential differences in environment, equipment, experience, and musical taste. So, we can conclude that because something is advertised as different does not mean that it is an improvement. There are also many situations in which an obvious difference and improvement would occur. If you were to simply research acrylic platter mats, you would find a tremendous amount of info that might say the same thing. This info will go into detail on the exact differences and the result would yield a quite positive review and overall outlook on the capabilities and performance of acrylic (we are just using acrylic as an example). What must be looked at, adding to the difficulty for a concise conclusion for you, is what the comparison is being based on. We can completely guarantee that if you buy a table that has a felt mat that is very cheap in quality and you replace it with a $20 acrylic platter mat, you are going to absolutely notice a difference. You will probably even be astonished and amazed that a platter mat could create such a difference (as we have been trying to tell you). At that point your conclusion would be that acrylic mats are a tremendous improvement. Unfortunately, we would expect it to improve much better than a cheap felt mat, so it does not really hold much merit in then saying that acrylic is a great platter mat choice. The comparison is not really fair and creates a pretty acute method to come to a conclusion.
Because of the lack of info in comparison between like products there is a difficulty in determining what is not only a difference, but an improvement. Therefore, when looking at a platter mat for an upgrade make certain to only consider one platter mats ability or differences to that of another platter mat that would also be an upgrade. Comparing anything to only something that would not be considered an upgrade is going to yield a very limited, inaccurate, and almost expected assessment.
Understand that platter mats will have a different effect, across the board, with varying differences in equipment. If we just focus on turntables, this would include things like cost, drive type, age and condition, weight, and even environmental things like placement. Thus, when comparing platter mats you must not focus 100% on generalizations. In example, cork is viewed most accurate for the money in its dampening characteristics. Meaning that it dampens unwanted noises but does not over or under accentuate any particular part of the music. This is a physical property that in comparison with other options, at a like price point, is a factual statement. However, we do not want to generalize that to a point where we are guaranteeing an outcome. This means that you would not want to expect that its capabilities and improvements are going to be just as noticeable on a direct drive table versus a belt drive table. Or that it will be the same on a metal platter mat versus acrylic or glass. Even that upgrading a mat on a budget friendly table would have the same effect as on a very hi end table. You want to investigate platter materials by there inherent characteristics first, then investigate the like comparisons between equipment. This is especially true as most platter mat upgrades like this are more prevalent and explored on low to mid-fi components. Therefore, someone with a very high-end table would easily be able to say that switching out a platter mat made very little improvement while someone with an entry level or mid-fi table would be able to drastically notice an improvement. A platter mat upgrade is almost essential in an entry level or mid-fi table because of the attributes of getting a table at those price points. This includes what the tables originally come with as well as things like build quality, where the need to dampen and reduce certain noises are almost needed. Such corrections may have been addressed differently in a high-end table, making the differences or improvements in a mat much less broad. The bottom line is that would and does affect the individual review on the product. You can easily have two separate reviews on the same product with two completely different outcomes.
Prioritizing things that are important to you is critical. Some of us are highly critical and technical shoppers with very little regard to aesthetics, while others buy strictly on appearance. Audio is your personal experience, so there is no right or wrong. However, if you are choosing a platter mat material based of aesthetics you would want to understand that there is the potential that you have traded one thing for another. So, if you are investigating take the “what is the best platter mat” approach this means that it is important to look at the entire aspect of the platter mat and focus on why someone may be stating that one is better than another. Try to align their reasons with your priorities. If you have the feeling that an acrylic mat is being revered because they come in really pretty colors, then know that may constitute a different definition of “best” then your own. However, regardless of your priorities (that can easily be different than someone else’s) get something that excites you, for whatever reason that may be.
There are no wrong answers, just what you like. The common thing we see a lot is that the average consumer feels that they would not be able to hear the difference as they are not trained, or they do not characterize themselves as an "Audiophile". Thus, they overlook considerations such as a platter mat. At Analog Restorations we feel that is garbage. We do not want anyone that is wanting to experience music to lack the confidence in knowing that they already have the tools they need to determine what is better or best for themselves. The concept of better and best is truly subjective, but the most important "subject" is yourself.
After what we consider as some basic guidelines you are probably still reaching for some semblance of an answer. Well, here it is…..
At the risk of sounding biased, we obviously feel that cork makes a pretty spectacular platter mat. This means that that for the money, in comparison with platter mats at the same price point and even higher, for most peoples turntables, and for the most enjoyable difference and improvement it is a hard material to beat. Now of course this sound biased, but we will close with this. At Analog Restorations we are an audio company, having been involved in many different aspects. We could easily produce a mat of any material. We could be making felt and acrylic mats a lot easier (bigger profit too). We specifically chose cork because we feel it creates the best opportunity for the customer to have a positive outcome. That in doing so we will only increase the chances for the customer to have a much better experience, on many different levels. We genuinely feel that is the most appropriate goal to have. Thus, we made it an additional goal to have one of the nicest and highest quality pieces of cork we could produce. We did this with every intention to not single anyone out because of price, which we also find defeatist to the experience. You should not have to spend a lot more to have a more rewarding experience.
Please read our process on how we make our cork, the mats, the image, and the final product. Not all cork is created equal.