If you’re new to the vinyl craze, some of the accessories that go along with your record player may be unfamiliar to you. Vinyl enthusiasts will quickly tell you that the use of turntable mats is essential to increase the sound quality of their records and reduce skip rates. Some who are just as passionate about their turntable are quick to say they don’t much matter.
How do turntable mats do this, and how do you decide which turntable mat is best for you? We’ll talk about turntable mats, the 5 best materials for a new turntable mat, and get into whether they really matter or not.
We’ll look at turntable mats for these 5 supposed benefits:
- Sound Quality
- Spin Consistency
- Visual Appeal
What is a Turntable Mat?
Turntable mat upgrades provide a significant improvement to record sound quality.
As the single point of contact between a record and turntable platter; mats are an effective way to enhance your turntable playback experience. Platter mats absorb vibrational energy in a unique way, ultimately enabling a stylus to make improved contact with the grooves on a record.
Turntable mats are one of the most important and affordable turntable accessories that will really help to improve the quality of the sound you produce when DJing or listening to music. Finding the perfect turntable mat for your setup can be more work than you originally did picking out the perfect turntable.
Do you want a slipmat or a turntable mat? Rubber turntable mat? Leather turntable mat? Cork turntable mat? Felt turntable mat? As always, the answer is, “it depends.” Record slipmats are fine for home listening, but they’re traditionally designed for DJing. Turntable mats come in a variety of materials that will each affect the sound of your records differently,
A turntable mat is a disc-shaped object which is placed between your platter and the vinyl. About the same size as your leather, turntable mats keep your record steady as it spins and ensure a smooth, even sound throughout your listening experience. Different turntable mat materials provide different acoustic experiences.
This makes the turntable mat one of the most important accessories for your record player. If you hang around vinyl enthusiasts, you will quickly learn that there are strong opinions regarding different turntable mats and their acoustic properties.
Turntable mats first appeared on the platters of early gramophones. They started out as velvet pads but were quickly replaced by rubber since it doesn’t collect dust and it’s easy to clean. Over time, music lovers have become more aware of the importance of turntable mats. They support records and keep them from slipping, protect records from scratches and dampen vibrations to improve sound quality. Audiophiles and DJs have kept records alive. DJs use them because it’s easy to get distinct sounds by spinning or holding a disc.
You can’t do this with a standard rubber mat because it’s designed to grip the platter and record. With a slip mat, you can hold records still while your platter keeps spinning underneath. You can even push records back and forth for a scratchy hip-hop sound. Felt mats are perfect for this purpose. Just replace your rubber mat with a felt one and you’re good to go. There are a lot of positives and negatives to different turntable mat materials, so let’s get into the specifics of each kind.
Many argue that changing the slipmat of your turntable from something other than its original is counterintuitive. The turntable plinth, platter and mat, as well as tonearm and cartridge and ancillary devices such as vacuums, are holistic systems. The ideal mat might be the one that came with the turntable, if it was properly designed. That obviously comes down to whether or not it was designed correctly in the first place, which can be subjective.
The market for replacement and “upgrade” mats is far smaller than it was ten or twenty years ago. There are certain mats designed for compatibility, but you run the risk of possibly doing harm to your turntable by changing the original “synergy” of proper matching.
When it comes to most plain jane felt mats, they often feature a thin/medium thickness, 2 mm on average, and are often included in some mid to high ranged turntables. A popular example of a felt mat is the Rega felt mat which is rather ubiquitous in the hi-fi world, however most felt mats are ever-so-slightly thinner than the Rega, and coarser feeling.
Those who are not a huge fan of felt mats often cite concerns because of the static issues that felt mats seem to have in practical use. Some find that they attract dust, hair, and airborne particles in general, and require the user to goose every LP with an anti-static gun. They sometimes stick to the LP after playing as well, which causes stress to audiophiles and those of us who are terrified of damage to their records.
Overall, felt is a cheap material, and while it’s not a bad option, there are concerns associated with felt. That being said, it’s better than no slip mat. All in all, felt mats tend to be the most versatile and can be used for both listening and DJing. Felt mats allows you to hold the record while the platter still spins. In addition, felt mats improve sound quality as opposed to no mat.
Popular leather turntable mats are often made of a soft suede leather that is medium thickness, often between 2mm-3mm, and most have a supple, nappy texture to it. Many point to leather mats as their favorite for simply enjoying the music as a listener, and many immediately notice an improvement in sound quality over stock mats. The best mats of this material will be high-quality leather like mats by Pro-Ject use, with no defects, or nicks anywhere. A good leather slipmat feels luxurious and you shouldn’t spend an arm and a leg on one, but it might cost a bit.
With less static and less dust than a standard felt slipmat, along with exceptional sound dampening properties, a leather turntable mat not only looks great but sounds great too. When cut from natural tooling leather and stamped with meaningful, audio-friendly patterns, these could be the best choice for you.
Leather is an excellent option to upgrade sound quality. Resonances are dampened more effectively than felt, and dust is kept away while avoiding static. Leather turntable mats provide a cost effective way of improving sound while reducing noise, static and dust.
Sound tuning through the replacement of a platter mat is possible when you turn to cork! Turntable mats have been always a big discussion how they influence the sound. The interaction between the record and the surface can be tracked very easily by the super-sensitivity of a good pick up cartridge.
Common felt mats give a smooth contact between record and platter but has the disadvantage with static. That means that felt mats often collect a lot of dust which can be then transferred to the record. Also the damping ability is very limited which can be a problem with metal platters.
Thick rubber mats overdamp the record and have an isolation effect which leaves the static on the record and hearable noise clicks are the result. Resonances are damped more effectively than felt, they keep dust away and they have also enough contactivity to avoid static. What is better depends on taste and the actual platter design.
Cork is a different but very interesting options to upgrade sound quality. Resonances are damped more effectively than felt, they keep dust away and they have also enough contact to avoid static. What is better depends on taste and the actual platter design. Turntable mats can make vinyl sound clearer with greater separation and detail.
Both cork and rubber are known to dampen and absorb unwanted vibration, a composite cork mat works remarkably on turntables, particularly on steel and lightweight turntable platters, due to its highly non-resonant properties.
To truly appreciate the sound of your vinyl records, you’ll want to hear your music exactly as the musician did. A rubber platter mat accomplishes this by allowing the record to remain isolated from unwanted platter micro-vibration resulting in a deep, full, tone for high fidelity playback of your vinyl music.
Rubber mats are a favorite of Technics, one of the biggest DJ companies in the world. They ship a thick rubber mat with their popular 1200 models which should be a pretty good indication of its quality. Rubber mats are highly sought after because they’re especially good at dampening vibrations, holding records in place, reducing dust and you can actually clean them.
In a good rubber turntable mat, very specific detail is accounted for to produce the highest quality playback possible. With a recessed center, a rubber turntable mat allows your records to lay perfectly flat. They can protect your records, absorb vibrations induced into the record by external forces, and help dampen your platter’s ringing. If placing a record on a hard surface disturbs you, use a rubber mat to fit over your platter for maximum protection.
No Turntable Mat
Here’s an idea–if you get a platter that’s perhaps made out of acrylic, for example, then why not go mat-free?
If you were to buy a turntable like the Marantz TT-15S1, for example (check out my review of the Marantz TT-15S1 here!) then you’ll notice that it comes with its very own acrylic platter. And because of that, you’re able to place your vinyl record directly onto the platter’s surface–there’s no mat needed!
This will save you from having to deal with static that sometimes happens when you use a felt mat. It also prevents you from having to deal with a felt mat clinging to the surface of your record when you’re ready to flip it over to the other side.
A turntable mat might be what you need to push your vinyl listening to the next level. When searching for the best turntable mat for vinyl, check this list first! There are a lot of great options available, and with perks to every material, it’s worth some effort. Happy spinning!
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