January 11, 2010

It's A Mad, Matte World! Turn Table Matte Shoot Out.

Pick your favorite mattes! From left, poly vinyl, felt(with photo graphic flash engaged, it turned grayish instead of black!), and cork based materials. A celebration of diversity indeed.

The LP format is a tweaker's heaven in paradise. The analog vinyl disc is a mechanical media storage device. The cartridge retrieves the stored information on the vinyl disc via the diamond tip of the stylus, which then converts the mechanical modulation thru the tightly wound coils and out puts a weak electrical signal. This signal is then amplified, sometimes by up to 1000x by a phono stage, which then out puts in the standard RCA 2V signal, ready for the line stage(pre amp) to do it's job. Every little surface area and contact points, be it mechanical or electrical, can be in variably tweaked, to influence the final sound of an LP play back system.

Assuming the cartridge, tone arm, turn table and phono stage choice has been finalised, what's the next area of attention? Well, there are a number of areas I can think of like, tone arm cables(see, I am thinking like a cable guy already!), isolation racks or cones and perhaps an LP clamp too. But if one has one of those popular turntable models, like Rega or Linn LP12, the after market tweaks and parts options(like platters & sub platters, power supply boards, belts, motors, sub chassis and plinths come to mind) are indeed limitless!

The CD player, by comparison, is far more simpler to setup, just connect the necessary power cord, and signal cables, you're good to go. At most common, tweaks are mainly centred around isolation racks or cones.

However, for today, I am going to share my experiences based on 3 platter mattes that I've found, made from different materials on my Benz Micro Glider L2, Ittok LVII, equipped Linn LP12. Since the vinyl disc sits on the matte between the stylus and the platter, it's bound to affect the sound some what, right?

First up, is the familiar black felt matte as per supplied by most turn tables in the original package. In my opinion, the felt matte is indeed meant to be a starter kit, just to get one up and running, for I've never been quite fully satisfy with it's sound qualities. From the very first time I heard it, I felt the high frequencies to be rather dry in quality. High hats and cymbals never quite shimmer as they should, it is as if they had split ends(I hope that's an appropriate description, I can't think of anything better for now) around the outer rims. Mids lack body and density. Bass is woolly and somewhat slow too. This felt matte didn't last more than a day on the platter. It would seem that my friend who sold me the Linn agreed, as he uses another matte.

He told me that the poly vinyl matte was his preferred choice over the felt one, and it was passed along to me to sweetened the deal, since he no longer needed it. The poly vinyl matte is a major improvement over the felt one. The earlier split end like high hats and cymbals are no more, and they now do shimmer much more like the real thing. I felt that the mids still lacked body and density, but vocalist mouth is much better focused now. Bass response is where the poly vinyl matte reign supreme! The slow tune and woolliness is now tightened and bass seemingly extended lower too. I loved the way the poly vinyl matte reproduced the up right double bass and bass guitar. Bass heavy music like dance, hip hop and R&B flavoured tunes sounds best with this matte.

Next up is a matte made from cork material. I recently met an LP12 old timer, and he told me he liked the cork matte best to go with the Linn. Following his advise, I bought one to try. The high frequencies are reproduced much like the poly vinyl matte. The mids on the cork matte is dense and full bodied, with little loss of vocalist mouth focus, just the way I liked it. The bass is almost as good as the poly vinyl matte, but just doesn't seem to extend as low. I do agree with the old timer's findings that, for us audiophiles, with wide musical genre diet, the mid centric cork material based matte is the best compromise we can make with the Linn LP12. It's certainly my choice for now. I must however, put this disclaimer in place, that since the LP format is so......... very tweak able, it is likely that one may not share or agree with my findings today, hence YMMV is very much applicable in this case.
The final choice for my Linn LP12.

However, if you're a "budgets are meant to be busted" kinda guy, I do have something coming up that might be of interest to you. Do stay tuned!
Here's a clue of what's to come. THE BEST LP matte for the Linn LP12? We'll find out soon.

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