Malachi's Mat Mishegas: Felt Mats From Rega, Pro-Ject and Audio-Technica

Felt mats have never been known for audiophile-grade sound, but how do they fare against each other? Can you hear differences among them?

For this comparison, I have included 48kHz/24bit samples of Rega ($30), Pro-Ject ($18), and Audio-Technica ($20) mats. These accessories came stock with turntables I have received (for both review and listening pleasure) from their respective brands.

The song used here is Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man,” taken from Analogue Productions’ new compilation The Wonderful Sounds of Female Vocals (AAPP 122). With its sparse arrangements, natural acoustic guitar sound, and sense of space, I thought it would be fitting for this test.

These tracks were transferred using my Rega Planar 3 turntable (2016 model) with Elys 2 cartridge, an RCA to AUX adapter, and AUX cable into the (now discontinued) Teac VR-20 PCM recorder. RIAA equalization and gain were applied post-production in Audacity. Noise reduction was not used. While there are many steps in that transfer chain, it works well for what I need. Even if you are listening on an iPad speaker or similar equipment, the files should still sound good enough to identify differences— if there are any.

File "1"

File "2"

File "3"

COMMENTS
Eskisi's picture

When I was this writer's age, what affected how much I enjoyed some piece of music had mostly to do with whether my mother was at home and how soon she would come over to yell at me, "Turn that garbage down!"

Maybe because of that I am completely deaf to hearing differences from matters such as:

-- Cables of any kind
-- Tonearms
-- Turntables
-- Digital copies of vinyl
-- and now, felt mats.

But I can tell the differences between cartridges, speakers and some -- but not all -- amplifiers.

Michael Fremer's picture
Listen to the SAT files?
Eskisi's picture

But, I have to admit, not enough to sort out if there are any differences, I figure I will never buy any of them.

Plus, I thought, when you deal with mechanical things, the slightest -- and perhaps inevitable -- VTA, anti-skating, etc., variations will probably account for bigger audible effects than those of three mega-buck arms.

I do know one thing. When I listen to 70s SQ quadraphonic recordings (with the excellent, new SurroundMaster Involve decoder) my tangential air bearing arm leads to much better separation of the four channels than any pivoted arm. Whether an ear can actually differentiate what a decoder can tell by tiny phase differences is another matter.

Lazer's picture

I think your commenting on the wrong article. This article was about 3 inexpensive felt mats.

Eskisi's picture

Except, if you look at Fremer’s response directly above, he was asking about the SAT arms which is what this comment was in response. Sorry for the confusion.

Lazer's picture

So you really can’t hear differences between turntables and tonearms?

Eskisi's picture

Not like the differences between cartridges and speakers.

Michael Fremer's picture
Your claim that VTA, anti-skating etc. variations will probably account for bigger audible effects than those arms is 100% incorrect. In any case my set up uses measurements not luck so all set ups measured identically. The problem with quad records from that era is yes, you get "separation" and 4 different events, each in its own space instead of a coherent picture. In that case I prefer mono!
atomlow's picture

All three sound exactly the same to my ears. Either way, I like my Rega felt mat since I'm a fan boy.

I've experimented with felt, cork, leather and rubber mats and for a time I liked cork the best. To my ears it gave a leaner sound. I switched back to a felt mat after Roy's comments in the Fremer/Rega tour videos. I haven't turned back, so someone might have to take my audiophile badge away.

Anton D's picture

The Rega is 2mm thick.

The Audio Technica is 2.70mm thick.

Pro-ject is reported as being "about" 1mm thick.

Adjusting one's arm height by a few millimeters may indeed change other parameters, so a sonic difference would be no surprise.

I will listen.

My bias going in is that the mat used to adjust VTA, arm height, etc, would be "best sounding."

saronian's picture

But each had a distinct character.

Order of preference, 2 - 1 - 3

alucas's picture

It is slight but I don't like 1 over 3. 3 has a better bass and it's much more enjoyable and balanced, instruments alittle more up front and real, hate #1 love #3 and if I get #2 to work I'll compare. Please don't tell me that they are all the same....because their not.

shawnwes's picture

Not sure which is which but definitely different from each other.

My guess is:
1 Rega
2 Project
3 Audio Technica

HighNoon's picture

Felts mats have not been on my list of mat replacements ever since I tried one way back in the 70s on my dads, hi fi record player of the time.
To my young ears it seemed to have obvious extra coloration in the sound, THD distortion I think.

So I put back the supplied rubber mat, and kept on enjoying my cheap pop 45s.

As for the demo, not much in it, maybe 2, but not really sure.

Cork might be a different matter, but the light weight bothers me a bit.

Maybe another test with cork mats?

misterc59's picture

If the amount of static when playing records may be related to each of these materials and could possibly explain some of the sonic differences heard, as delicate and sensitive cartridges can be. Why would the mat material be of no consequence to sound for this reason?

Cheers,
Terry

mammagamma74's picture

would be interesting indeed, there must be some magic in the "mats" made of paper and cork rins for instance used on the reson rota developped with denis morecroft.

lgoldman's picture

#2 is way ahead in clarity and the manner in which triangle etc stands out in first 10sec of track...#3 muddies these whereas #1 is not quite as good as $2 but not unbearable. Sorry for the puns!

Jim Tavegia's picture

I just couldn't tell enough difference that I would run out and make a switch to the other two if I owned one of them. I think this puts me out of the audiophile club. I would certainly give Sony Soundforge Audio Studio a try over Audacity and it can handle files up to 24/192. I would also look into either a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 or a Steinberg UR-22 usb interface and either can playback or record 24/192 files. The other option is a Tascam DR-40 SDHC card recorder and and easy dump of recorded files into your computer by usb.

Jazzfan62's picture

The bass seemed tighter and everything a bit more focused. 1&3 were about the same. It’s not “knock your socks off” kind of a difference, but noticeable.

francisalbert's picture

I’m not sure about the different mats but it sure was refreshing to listen to the music of Phoebe Snow . I forgot what great artist she really was .

Bru Fi's picture

Great experiment and well done. I would also likecto hear a versions with no mat at all. I could be wrong, but I believe that Rega prefers it this way as well as not using clamps.Please correct me if I am wrong.
Cheers all.

larson manor's picture

2, 3 and 1

saxman73's picture

I only listened to 45 seconds of each file on my computer and a UE Roll 2 bluetooth speaker (hardly audiophile, but actually surprisingly decent for that kind of thing) but the differences are very audible. I like 2 the best by far. More clarity all around, better bass articulation, better balance of everything. 1 is OK, if lackluster, 3 sounds weird and artificial to me. I would want 2 without hesitation.

Jerome Sabbagh
www.jeromesabbagh.com

SVinTO's picture

2, 1, 3 in order of preference for me.

GroovyGuru's picture

Listened on Mackie HR824.
2 is best for me and 1 is definitely the worst, 3 is in between. On the 1 treble are prominent (the proximity of the shaker!), The tonal balance is not respected, the sound lacks body and the stereo image is blurred. On the 2 I hear the balance of the mix and the timbre of the instruments (and the voice!), The bass are more held, the whole is more up, more fluid.
Thank you for the test Malachi ! Mr Fremer I will be very interested to hear a test with the Denon DL-103 and the "clamp on" solution...
Cheers from Paris

Vinyl On Tubes's picture

The Planar 1 & 2 have the felt mat. You can get a wool mat for these with Performance Pack. But the Planar 3 & above have wool mats.

recordhead's picture

WTF

Michael Fremer's picture
Wherein he is gifted the Planar 3 by a generous reader? You need to watch it!
clarkie's picture

I found the second piece more to my liking. It also seemed louder and more clear.

Anton D's picture

As any solid vinyl fanatic would tell you: if the LP in question didn't get 24 hours of rest and recovery after being played, then the subsequent plays are not valid for comparison.

;-D

ChrisM's picture

The best and most balanced and engaging is the #2
#3 is in the middle, not good nore bad.
The harsher sound comes from the first file.
So much fun, thank's !

Chatham7's picture

File 2 is the clear winner here, followed by file 2 and then file 1.
Obviously we don't know if VTA has been adjusted to compensate for the different thicknesses. Probably not!
Also you really need to allow for both the vinyl and the mat to adapt before recording the files. This would mean at least 24 hours betwwen recordings. Some materials take a long time, so you must take that into consideration when comparing any component.

Anton D's picture

We need more precision to that claim.

24 hours is an affectation. Church Lady would say, "24 hours? Well isn't that convenient?"

How many hours for a felt mat to properly settle down on a turntable?

bongo-hifi's picture

Each side of a felt mat also sounds different, so your test really needs six files for comparison.
I have a Linn LP12 with the factory supplied felt mat and both sides of the mat sound different as most Linn owners would confirm.
I dont agree with the sweeping generalisation the felt mats have never been known for audiophile sound,whatever that means.
The Linn felt mat sounds right on the LP12 for example where other "audiophile" mats do not, similarly for Rega,although I cant claim to have heard them all. The problem with such tweaks is that they tend to highlight certain areas of the frequency spectrum at the expense of the whole. If they really did bring significant benefits to the performance of those turntables then dont you think the manufacturers would include them as standard?

atomlow's picture

I have no idea why I keep checking to see the results of these felt (wool) mats. I didn't hear a difference but I'm still curious about the results.

jokerman's picture

Any difference is likely due to change in pitch of the tonearm with the different mat thicknesses. That change is def going to be more substantial than these 3 different felt mat textures.

swimming1's picture

I have a older Nottingham Interspace which came without a mat,so I figured that it was designed that way. No mat keeps down the variables ,too! Cheers,Chet

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