The GAMAGO Platter Mat – Audio on a Budget Tweak of
April is the Coolest Month. Especially if, like myself, one is fortunate enough to celebrate a birthday early in the month. Normally normal relatives find themselves gifting wacky stuff instead of more neckties, golf balls, or barbecue tools. So it was for me this year, when I was presented with the subject of this review.
If you haven't noticed, analog audio is now retro-chic. Frame shops sell custom album art frames, and of course everyone still prefers analog to digital… clocks. You can also eat, mouse, recycle and repurpose, remodel - hell, there are even audio inflatable toys.
Of course, most of these vinyl tributes have nothing much to do with playing LPs.
Well, here's one that really does—or at least can: the GAMAGO Record Placemat. A 12" diameter disc with a center spindle hole, ribbed concentric (not spiral) grooves on top, a flat bottom below. Made of floppy black silicone, in China of course, and as it says in the fine print, "NOT A TOY". Now, the Internet is rife with rumors that the legendary seasonal specialist audio "designers" at LIRPA Labs moved their reverse engineering and production facilities to Asia decades ago, so really, who are we fooling?
OK, so it also says "Dishwasher Safe and Food Safe", because the things (they come in a pack of two) are technically intended for kitchen tables, not turntables. And they do work quite well in that application as they actually simplify the complexities of cutlery coordination and are great for protecting against milk spills and broken glassware.
But wait. Silicone is in fact an excellent compound for vibration suppression, which is exactly what is needed in an audiophile turntable mat. You can indeed buy silicone mats as official audiophile accessories, and while these might well be sonically superior, you can get a pair of GAMAGOs way cheaper, under $20 for a set, or just wait for a birthday hint request and let the relatives pick up the tab.
Little-known fact: although LPs are 12" diameter, turntable platters are typically somewhat smaller, to allow the outer raised rim of the LP to overhang the platter and insure uniform contact between the business part of the vinyl and the platter mat. So, just like silicone shoe inserts, you will want to trim the GAMAGO to fit your gear. The concentric ribs make precisely re-sizing the mat simple – the material is easily cut with ordinary scissors. The overall look is indeed retro, and not unlike the classic Thorens TD 124 ribbed mat.
The GAMAGO is 1.5mm thick, which is almost exactly the thickness of the standard Rega felt mat, so VTA will not be significantly affected on many non-VTA-adjustable tables with similar mats. The other mats I have acquired over the years vary from 1mm to 4mm, which is not a problem with arms with adjustable VTA. However, as the GAMAGOs come in pairs, you can stack the two to get a 3mm thick mat. Plus, the bottom mat can be used with ribbed side up or down for your tweeking pleasure.
The packaging states the mats are "dust resistant", but in fact the silicone is something of a dust magnet—and that is a good thing, as the dust is less likely to transfer to the bottom of the LP. And, of course, it can periodically be hosed off in the kitchen sink – or the dishwasher if you like. Try that with your dusty felt mats, Linnies!
But, how does it sound? Well, the general rule of thumb is hard mats (graphite and composite) tend to sound brighter and with more high-frequency detail, softer mats (felt, Audioquest Sorbothane, etc.) sound smoother, but the sound is a complex result of cartridge, arm, setup, disc, platter type and mat interactions, and the degree the platter mat damps the natural resonances of the other elements. The GAMAGO fits that paradigm, making it an obvious match for budget systems. On the other hand, high-end systems often require loading down a MC cartridge to reduce its high frequency resonance or other issues which a smoother balance might also mitigate.
I actually do like it on the Rega, in particular. There are other cheap mats out there, but the "drawer liner" woven foam types are significantly thicker than the GAMAGO. Tap the edge of the Rega's glass with a pencil and it will ring like a bell; tapping with various mats is an easy way to gauge how much more effective the silicone is.
As always, your mileage may vary. But with the GAMEGO you can always let them eat birthday cake off it too.