Mats Unmasked!

Thanks to all who downloaded and listened to the same track played using 8 different mats. That's a great deal of heavy lifting, hopefully made somewhat lighter by Mike Valentine's excellent Decca tree recording of a nimble performance of Vivaldi's "Concerto For 2 Mandolins". I hope you downloaded and enjoyed the "gift" track too.

The results are in and though this was not a scientific experiment, it was nonetheless interesting and useful. 199 readers participated. 37% or 73 votes were for "I Heard No Difference Whatsoever!"

Files "3" and "7" tied for the most votes (20 or 10%).

File "3" was Music Hall's cork mat ($49.95) with the raised discs. This news will cause Roy Hall to become more obnoxious than he is already and so is bad news for me.

Ironically "File "7" is a hand made, 1/16th inch thick cork mat that once was sold only in a Brooklyn, NY record store, put there as an "experiment". It sold "well" the maker told me, but his company sells other cork products in the range of 10,000 to 100,000 units annually and in this case "well" was a tiny number, plus, he said, his sales team was "tired of dealing with record and audio stores." Sounds familiar! So he's chosen to discontinue its manufacture.

Files "2" "5" and "6" tied for second place with 16 votes or 8% of the total. File "2" was Boston Audio's Mat 1 graphite mat ( $199). File "5" was one of two entries from "Hide in the Sound"—the one of suede (which is leather-$34), and file "6" was the MOOO mat ($75), which incorporates a vibration absorbing composition cork bottom and a cowhide top.

File "1" also with 8% but one fewer vote (15), was Zorin Audio's carbon fiber mat.

File "4" came in fourth (or third if you go by percentages, in which case File "1" tied with "2" "5" and "6" for second place) with 13 votes or 7% of the total. That one was "Hide in the Sound"'s split mat with one side suede and the other "leathery".

File "8" came in last with 5% or 10 votes. That one is "The Simple Mat" ($26.95), which is a synthetic cork blend designed for military use (the cork material not the mat, unless a guy in the military has a turntable).

I'm thinking perhaps being mat "8" was a handicap, no matter how good the mat (it's a mat loved by the folks at, which is its exclusive dealers).

A few readers asked about VTA adjustment given the various mat thicknesses. In fact, "The Simple Mat"'s maker says his 1/32 of an inch thick mat can be stacked for "quick VTA (SRA) adjustment." He says 1/32 of an inch on a 9" tone arm equals "1/5th of one degree".

Can you actually hear that? I say "no". I say most of the time when people claim to hear such slivers of a degree SRA/VTA changes they are hearing azimuth shifts that are easily audible. Azimuth shifts can be caused by the head shell offset angle on a pure unipivot arm or by a less than perfectly perpendicular VTA tower. But I don't think if you've set your SRA to 92 degrees that you are going to hear a difference re-set to 92.2 or 91.8 (etc.) but free free to dispute that!

For more information about the various mats visit these URLs:

The Simple Mat

Boston Audio Mat 1


Hide in the Sound

Obvious there are dozens of other mats. Perhaps this test has changed your perspective on the subject or maybe not!

audiof001's picture

Funny and (likely) so very true from what I've read about Roy's in the press. Still, I use his mat on my Neat Shield MO-19 idler with WT clone arm… and love it.

Michael Fremer's picture
I am of course being ironic as is Roy in all of his "nasty" manufacturer responses. He's quite a sweet and likable guy actually...
mpego's picture

Hi Michael,
The web address for The Simple Mat is missing an s. It's
About the mats, the result shows that with the proper tools (and skills) it's possible to home make your own very good sounding mat, at least as good as Music Hall's. Just get a thin sheet of cork and cut it.

Michael Fremer's picture
Thanks. I've made them all hyperlinks.
Russo7516's picture

I would like to thank you personally Mr. Fremer and to all the listeners who took the time to vote. Who knew that I would tie for first. When I made these mays in the eighties . I got a lot of sales and then the CD came along so I stopped making them . Mind you it was word of mouth about my product. Last year I made a couple for Human Head records in Brooklyn . Scotti's Record Shop in Summit NJ .They sold within a week . So I started making for a few other stores Heaven St Records and COOP 87 . They also sold . Then a was approached by an under ground punk site Kartoga/big cartel .com . More sold . I sent few samples out and U Turn audio called and said we like to place an order. So I was very happy. Mind you I was busy with other cork application . So I gave the slip mats to my sales dept . The reports from them that no one was interested . So I said I will just keep it to the sites above and not have them push the Slip mats and stay with the customers that said we love the product .Plus telling me what I can improve on. Brooklyn once again you rock. I am proud to say that . I am born and breed there .The young vinyl listeners are keeping this hobby alive . ( A big thank you to them and even a bigger thank you to U Turn Audio ) I went the way I was taught word of mouth. We 7516 Cork Co believe in quality , service , custom cutting to your spec's, loyalty to my customer base,all at a fair price. So I still will be producing them and still Hand cutting them . But for the stores that NO then the answer now is NO in return .
Also I would like to thank a few DJ's that use me and go through a few mats a month . I always say to them do you eat them . They go no they get stolen a lot lol . Go figure !
Here is my email .

Michael Fremer's picture
mpego's picture

After reading Mr. Russo (from 7516 Cork Company) comments I got in touch with him and discovered that U Turn Audio ( sells the cork mat online for $20. Unfortunately for me they dont't ship overseas (I live in Brazil).
Mr. Russo also confirmed that the thickness of his mat is 1/8th inch instead of 1/16th inch.
Nonetheless, glad it's still being made. Who knows, maybe someday when I get to New York...

Russo7516's picture

Yes 1/8 thickness is for U turn Audio it is custom fit for their Turn Table. I cut from 1/32 " to 1/4 " depend in what the customer may want.

andrewmorgan's picture

designed for military use (the cork material not the mat, unless a guy in the military has a turntable).

Maybe we should start a fund to ship Nomad's to the troops ;)

andrewmorgan's picture

Do you use a mat? if so what and why?

Michael Fremer's picture
My turntable's surface is a poured and precision machined composite material used in conjunction with a vacuum hold-down system so I don't use a mat.
Paul Boudreau's picture

Just curious - ever tried playing any records without the vacuum hold-down system (if that's even possible)? If so, did you notice a sonic difference? Thanks.

Yovra's picture

I didn't participate, because my iMac-setup is hardly revealing, but statistically the most votes by far go to "I Heard No Difference Whatsoever!"! Or am I a cynic?

Hide in the Sound's picture

Thanks for hosting the poll and creating the files. It was interesting to read the different opinions. May the felt mat be consigned to the dust bin of history!

Michael Fremer's picture
Amen! The felt mat is the worst possible mat material IMO: it is a dust attractor, a static electricity generator and neither couples nor decouples. CHUCK IT.
root1's picture

Now, Michael, what would be most interesting is to rerun the experiment changing the identifying numbers and order to see if the results are consistent. One has to feel bad for position #8. Once in a while I'll fatigue during a simple A-B-A-B if they are very close, and that's just two let alone eight. Love the site and all your hard work. Thanks.

Michael Fremer's picture
And not at all difficult to do but I wonder whether readers want to go through that again! Feedback please?
Hide in the Sound's picture

As someone suggested in the other thread, a shootout competition could make this more digestable and maybe add some March Madness excitement. Randomly pair them up and create a bracket. For the music, I suggest something that most everyone would know very well, like a Beatles song, Beethoven, etc. When listening to something you know very well, you can often detect nuanced differences due to a very clear frame of reference. The song could change each round (3 rounds total) to keep things interesting.

Jim Tavegia's picture

Where do I mail in my audiophile card? I have lost all credibility...if I ever had any. Dang!

Small woodland animals look out as we will be testing the chipmunk, otter, rabbit, jackalope, and beaver mats next. The armadillo and turtle mats will have to wait.

jeffsanswers's picture

Thanks to Mr Fremer and all participants in this test.I believe this was a fair test except for maybe one thing.The Music hall mat appears to be about a 1/2 inch thick.That equates to about 3 degrees vta. That is audible and many people prefer the sound of a rear down tonearm. This may or may not have made a difference.I was not surprised by the Brooklyn mat results. Cork has been a favorite for years,and rightly so.It protects the record and adds little or no attributes of its own. I tried cork in my personal pursuits but found my material with its greater surface tension,grip,coupling revealed more detail and clarity on my system and many others.The only reason I marketed this product was because of the input of others. At least a few people preferred my mat. Maybe they were the most discerning.[just kidding]. I think this test did prove mats matter.Most people can hear and many systems can reveal differences in platter-record interfaces.I think some of us would like to know [What does Mickey think? A few thoughts on each sample?]Will we find out.
Thanks again and God bless. May the music in your homes take you from the chaos in the world. Jeff

Michael Fremer's picture
To change SRA 1 degree requires a 4mm change at the back of a 9" arm. The Mooo mat is 1/4" (6.35mm) thick… So if there was no mat versus a Moo mat that would be about a 1.5 degree SRA change. But since the other mats have varying thicknesses, I'd say the difference between the Mooo mat and most of the others could have changed SRA by at most 1 degree and I'm not sure you'd hear that..
jeffsanswers's picture

Mr Fremer I was referring to the raised disc mat.I really wasn't trying to plead a case.It was all good! But here is the formula.A 9 inch tonearm is the radius.[2r pi]divided by 360]equals degrees in inches.In this case .157 inches. I know moving the rear of the tonearm does not follow the precise arc, But it is pretty close. Yes ,you are absolutely correct,thats 3.987 mm.

Russo7516's picture

Jeff I feel the same way . May the music in your home take you away from the chaos in the world. I myself am a hobbyist . Trust me I did not go in to this thinking I was going to win or make money selling them. If you see the prices they are selling for between 12 and 20 dollars retail . Plus if anyone has purchased a mat from me , know I will go above and beyond. I just cut one for some record VP and he was happy with the service I provided . His quote it is refreshing to see in this day and age . To be honest I thought Mike was going to laugh after he looked at it and reviewed it. BTW I think you have great product . Plus I took the test and couldn't tell one from the other .

jeffsanswers's picture

Thank you Sir! Look me up if you ever need a hand building something.Speakers,racks,etc.I am happy to help.
God bless

BillyJ's picture

I was hoping to hear (read that is) your comments regarding the mats. I myself was not able to discern any appreciable differences on my system, but I was hoping you'd tell us which mat sounded best to your ears, or at the very least, if there was something glaring you noticed about a particular mat. And, since both cork mats took the top honors, by slim margins to be sure, what is your opinion on cork mats.

Michael Fremer's picture
Next time I have a seriously high performance TT here for review I'll try the mats.
jeffsanswers's picture

One last thing on vta. Changing vta on an older cartridge exposes or presents a new or unworn surface of the stylus to the record.Just saying.And congrats to the winners! See you next round.

Michael Fremer's picture
A VTA/SRA change would affect only the angle at which the stylus's contact patch rides up and down on the vertical modulations. The patch would be riding on the same area just at a slightly different angle. Properly set to 92 degrees, would most accurately match the cutter head's vertical path.
audiof001's picture

I too would like to hear Michael's mat preference(s). Surely you've got a table or two there that you can test these mats on?

PaulieT's picture

Great test. I am very surprised that a cork mat was the winner. Maybe it's the raised disks that limit the contact to the record surface thereby reducing the damping characteristics of the cork.
I'll have to give this a try.

Mendo's picture

Just compared the "gift" to the iTunes 320kps of same track. F'n' laughable!!!!!! What's with the the grayish-white glaze that surrounds the cardboard cut out? Man MP3s suck arse.

martinjohnbutler's picture

First, thanks Michael, I've always been a little curious about this, and if it's an inexpensive tweak, all the better! I've been thoroughly enjoying my recent return to analogue playback, and now that i think about it, I've only listened to vinyl since my little Pro-Ject table arrived. Since i've been putting all my spendable money into my home studio, I'm not planning a table upgrade anytime soon, unless the analogue gods choose to send an offer I can't refuse my way. So, a mat seems like a fun addition, besides the mat that came with the Pro-Ject is always moving anyway. I'll probably get the Cork Company mat soon.

I'm curious to know what your preferences were.

martinjohnbutler's picture

Also, is there a thickness you recommend?

Michael Fremer's picture
Hi Martin! Can't be thickness specific.
Devilscucumber's picture

Just a thought that next time could we try a more plebian (SIC?) turntable which has sold in huge numbers (like the Rega's). Mats will sound better or worse on glass vs aluminum, and maybe throw in the Ringmat, Herbie's Way Ex, etc? I know it will be impossible to please everyone's choices but....

doddsainoz's picture

Great test Mr Fremer I just happen to use a cork mat myself the Pro-ject one with a turntable of the same brand, "love the combination." I must say though I'm a little bemused the very high quality of the Swan Song Phono Pre Amp seems to have been ignored a great many people. Great sound!

MeanGreen9's picture

I have a Rega P-25 with glass platter ans the Project Cork Mat. Much better sound than felt and less mess. Tried a few others and cork was the most neutral. Glad to hear I am not alone.

atomlow's picture

I didn't listen to any of the files because I did my own experimenting back when I bought my Rega P3-24. I never really minded the felt mat but I did land on liking the sound of cork the best. The Pro-Ject mat is enticing and $50 isn't bad but if you want some bang for your buck buy the VPI cork mat that's intended for their record cleaning machines. It works great and it's under $15. Since my rega has a glass platter I like that the VPI cork mat is self adhesive so I can stick it down on the platter.

Catcher10's picture

Another plug for the Music Hall cork mat with the small rounds. Been using one for 2yrs now with great results on my mmf-7.1's picture

Howdy, Micheal.

i am sorry to say that unlike the flac files in previous tests, I was not able to download these files, drop them into Audirvana, then process them through my Ayre D/A converter, and finally through my main system I am sure they are wonderful sounding files but I would imagine the differences would be hard to distinguish through computer speakers.


ChrisS's picture

Just got my plain-jane-flat-no-bumps cork mat to replace the felt one... What a difference! Thanks for the mat survey, Michael!

Johnnyjajohnny's picture

I know I'm two years too late, but I didn't discover this test until now.
I downloaded the files, couldn't hear any difference (like so many others) but wanted to compare the files to the digital version and I immediately noticed something that no one else has pointed out:
The channels are swapped - most likely on the vinyl edition due to a cable or something. It's odd that something so basic hasn't been picked up by anybody - least of all Fremer himself, mr. Golden Ear who's "the most experienced listener in the world and who can hear anything".

umairrasheed's picture

Denver Tree Solutions offers tree service in Denver colorado, including tree trimming in denver co, tree removal in denver co, and also in Arvada co, Aurora co, Lakewood co, Englewood co, Golden co Westminster co, Thornton co. Call Now: +1 (720)-704-1817.