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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 5
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boston audio design

Mat 1 turntable mat

as reviewed by Victor Chavira

 

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VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6 (primary system) and B&W DM 302 (secondary system).

ELECTRONICS
Magnum Dynalab MD-208 (primary system) and Kora Explorer integrated (secondary system).

SOURCE
NAD T541 CD/DVD player (primary system) and Orion DVD/CD player (secondary system). LINN Axiss turntable with the K9 cartridge.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords (primary system). JPS Ultraconductor speaker cable, Nordost Blue Heaven interconnect (secondary system).

ACCESSORIES
Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, Vibrapods, Townshend 3D sink Table), and  Echo Busters (primary system). Monster Cable HTS1000 power center (secondary system).

 

This review marks my return to the wonderful realm of long-play records. For some time, I have been the happy owner of a pre-owned Linn Axis turntable. The Axis dates from 1987, and was Linn’s entry-level alternative to the LP12. The Axis shares many of the LP12’s features, but in a less costly, non-suspended design. The turntable includes Linn’s Japanese-made Basik Plus tonearm and was supplied with a K9 moving-magnet cartridge. Lastly, a black felt mat rests upon the thick aluminum platter.

Mats are designed to decouple the record from the platter. However, felt mats also collect dust, and can easily come off when removing a record, potentially snagging on a delicate stylus. Boston Audio Design’s solution to the problem of record mats is the Mat 1. The Mat 1 is a 3mm-thick platter of precision-machined graphite. Why graphite? According to Boston Audio Design’s literature, graphite has the ideal properties to both decouple the record from the platter and damp vibrations caused by the stylus as it travels through the groove. The Mat 1 weighs about a pound, so make sure your motor is up to the task of spinning the additional mass. Fortunately, the Axis’ active power supply varies the power going into the motor depending on the load.

In order to minimize variables, I have limited the recordings used in this review to three mint-condition LPs: Buena Vista Social Club on 180-gram vinyl, Beethoven’s Symphony no.6 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rene Leibowitz, and Pat Metheny Group’s Still Life (talking) from 1987. Although I listened to many LPs and 45s with the Mat 1, these three LPs are sufficient to illustrate the Mat 1’s advantages over the standard felt mat.

"Pueblo Nuevo, "Buena Vista Social Club

"Pueblo Nuevo" is an instrumental consisting of a slow danzon followed by a livelier mambo section. The instrumentation features acoustic piano, guitar, upright bass, and percussion. Listening to this track with the stock felt mat produced soft guitar attacks and muted bass. Piano chords seemed slightly out of focus. Replacing the felt mat with the Mat 1 produced sharper images and added a firmer foundation to the soundstage. The fine details of guitars and piano were more easily perceived, along with greater movement of the bass line throughout the composition.

"Dos Gardenias, "Buena Vista Social Club

"Dos Gardenias" is a lovely, warm bolero sung by seventy-year-old Ibrahim Ferrer. Listening with the felt mat gave a soft focus to his voice. I thought this might be an artifact of his long life of singing or of the recording process, but listening with the Mat 1 revealed Ferrer’s voice to be exquisitely clear and focused. Bass gathered more momentum and depth. The muted trumpet solo shone with a clear, brassy timbre and harmonic overtones. Soundstage dimensions became clearer and more defined.

Beethoven, Symphony no.6, second movement: "Szene am Bach" (Scene by the Brook)

Beethoven’s "Pastoral" Symphony is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, one I would enjoy even if I listened to it through an old clock radio. I could literally set this wonderful work on continuous replay on CD, but discovering it on LP has been an even greater pleasure. With the felt mat in place, I noticed a warm texture to the orchestra, but was that an oboe, bassoon, or English horn repeating the melody? Hard to tell, as things were being lost in the translation. Substituting the Mat 1 yielded greater definition and depth of field. The basses did not rest as much as I thought—they consistently add notes throughout the piece. Cellos answered with long arching lines of harmony. All of the woodwinds were now clearly defined by their places on the soundstage and their distinct harmonic timbres. Ah, the details in the music were now coming through!

"PMG," Still Life (talking)

I have been a fan of Pat Metheny’s for many years, and was fortunate to find this mint-condition LP at Amoeba Music in Hollywood. The recording is notable because it represents the first time Metheny mixed the acoustical output of his road weary Gibson archtop with the electrical signal, resulting in a unique sonority not found on his previous recordings. Listening with the felt mat created a subdued atmosphere. For a tune such as "So May It Secretly Begin," with its whispered guitar line and bossa nova beat, the felt mat’s warm character contributed to the music’s midnight mood. In contrast, repeated listening to the same piece with the Mat 1 resulted in greater understanding of the important structural elements of the tune, particularly the way ride cymbal and acoustic bass nudge the rhythm along. The Mat 1 extended the frequency extremes and clarified the musical elements within the composition.

The Boston Audio Design Mat 1 allowed the stylus to extract and pass along more musical information without the distortions or "colorations" of the felt mat and aluminum platter system. I found it to be a significant improvement over the stock felt mat, as it provided greater clarity, depth, and detail. However, it must be noted that poorly recorded LPs, or ones in poor condition, will still sound poor—the Mat 1 will not fix what is already broken. I also imagine that bright or thin-sounding phono stages or analog set-ups would not benefit from the extra-fine focus afforded by the Mat 1. Fortunately, my E.A.R. 834P is blessed with a breadth of beauty. Finally, due to the Mat 1's 3mm thickness, your arm may require a minor adjustment in VTA. If you’ve got a record playback system similar to mine, if not better, then you owe it to yourself to audition the Mat 1. Be prepared, however—you may find that you can’t listen without it. Victor Chavira

 

 

 

Mat 1
Retail: $190

Boston Audio Design
web address: http://www.boston-audio.com
email address: info@boston-audio.com
TEL: 617. 501. 5959

 

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