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Positive Feedback ISSUE46
herbie's audio lab
Way Excellent II turntable mat
as reviewed by Ed Kobesky
I'm picturing someone—a normal person, not an audiophile—Googling the words "turntable review" and clicking on this by accident. It's worrying because here I am, about to devote 1000 words not to a turntable, but a turntable mat - the floppy thing that sits on top of the platter not doing a whole hell of a lot, at least to the untrained eye. This will naturally confuse and perhaps alienate any ordinary human being who was simply shopping for something to play their old records on.
However, turntable mats, like headshells, are one of those few accessories that make a pronounced difference. You can spend four figures on a mat these days and for that kind of money, they damn well better make a difference. The nice thing about the Herbie's Way mat is that it costs between $59.99 and $101.50 depending on style and thickness. They therefore pass my first test, which is that an accessory must cost a fraction of the product it is accessorizing.
I've used every kind of affordable mat—and this is embarrassing—but I have a library of them now, from cork to sorbogel to the reigning king of cheap mats, the ExtremePhono None-Felt. The latter cost less than an audiophile record and is made from a waffle-like foam that is commonly sold in hardware stores for use as a drawer liner or non-skid mat for area rugs. It works so well that I've used one for years as my default upgrade over rubber or felt. (The None-Felt is discontinued but some sellers on eBay still make them. I recommend yoder365. You can try and make one yourself but you'll never cut it as perfectly round as he does.)
The problem is, I loves me some Technics 1200. Some may consider that, in and of itself, a problem. However, the Technics 1200 is a highly musical device. It just needs a little coaxing. DJ slipmats are a nonstarter, because they (a) sound horrible and (b) are also mostly decorative, and I really don't want to see a shirtless Fiddy Cent staring back at me every time I change records. Technics offers its own thick rubber mat, but it sounds as ‘hard' as it feels.
The Herbie's Way Excellent II ($72.50) is a 3.7mm affair that fits the Technics platter like a glove. It's made from light spongy foam with a recessed donut in the middle for the label. It sticks to the platter nicely and grips the record effectively without being tacky. However, dust tends to stick and can't be brushed off with a normal record brush. From time to time, you will need to remove debris with some masking tape or a lint roller. No big deal.
Moving on to test #2: the finger tap. The Technics platter is especially "ringy" so any mat will have its work cut out for it. Compared to other mats, the Herbie's Way reduces a finger tap on the record label to a barely audible thud. However, it's very light, and it doesn't add any mass, which in some cases is preferable.
Test #3 is listening, and the Herbie's Way mat was clearly, irrevocably superior not only to the standard rubber mat but to cork and felt. The sorbogel mat came the closest to matching the Herbie's Way, but it was also more expensive and so tacky you literally need to peel the record off of it. Sometimes the mat even lifted off of the platter with the record, reminding me why it's been sitting in a drawer all these years. The felt mat was a mess, with especially muddy bass and a general sense of veiling and disorganization. The cork sounded somewhat like the rubber OEM mat from Technics, with a detailed but ‘hard' sound quality throughout the frequency range.
The Herbie's Way mat eliminated the most audible effects of the platter, dropped the noise floor, preserved more inner detail, tightened up the bass (which was also a bit thinner in comparison with the stock mat but tauter) and cleaned up the highs with additional detail and shimmer. The effects were not subtle and clearly audible. I'd compare them to adding an isolation platter under the table. Even though it was not ideal due to its thickness (3.7mm versus the recommended 2mm or 2.4mm), I tried the Herbie's Way mat on a Rega turntable with glass platter and it seems to work well in that application, too. I'm not sure what effect it may have on MDF platters.
As it turns out, Steve Herbelin, the Herbie in Herbie's Audio Lab, also makes a bunch of other accessories, all of them sensibly priced. Positive Feedback's own John Zurek thinks very highly of his CD mat, carpet spikes, and isolation dots. He even picked them for a 2006 Writer's Choice Award. It's nice to know that the Excellent II isn't a fluke, but another in a complete range of effective and affordable tweaks.
This is one of those "can't lose" products. It may or may not be a worthwhile upgrade to your particular turntable, but since a 90-day money back guarantee is offered, it's well worth a try. Way excellent, indeed. Ed Kobesky
Herbie's Audio Lab