Review: Boston Audio Mat 2
Above photo: BA Mat2 on author's Technics SP10 mk2...
It started with a question; "which mat might be best for this very good sounding record player?" Is any mat other than the standard issue rubber mat preferable?
At this moment in time we live in the age of the internet. On the internet one can query any of a few dominant search engines to provide a list of discussions and articles on any topic. Most of it is available freely. Some of it is not free. So,....... restricting myself to the free info, I queried Google on platter mats for the SP10 mkII and came up with some useful suggestions. To summarize some of the serious contenders, I can list a few popular mat options for the SP10 mk2 that came to light during my search.
From the above list, and from having read several reviews on Boston Audio turntable mats, I decided on a BA MAT 2 as my first choice. A hunch....but there are many who will support the choice. And this is based on their own experience with Boston Audio turntable mats. So I simply surfed the web over to Boston Audio Design's site and asked the proprietor there (Austin Jackson) if I could buy a mat. This mat is not free. I had to pay. So would you. But there is a 30-day trial period as part of the deal. And shipping was included within the asking price.
Ordering: By email direct from Boston Audio Design. Payment was convenient. I used Paypal. Delivery was timely. Austin sent the mat via USPS 2nd Day air. Receiving: The mat arrived intact in a well packed box. Double boxed actually. It also comes with a letter sized data sheet.
Putting to use: All I had to do was remove the Boston Audio Mat 2 from its shipping container, remove the Technics rubber mat from the player and plop the new BA Mat 2 down over the spindle pin. Then, I thought, it was ready to play records. Or was it.
Observations: The OEM Technics mat is thick. Five mm thick as a matter of fact. (.197 inches measured with digital caliper) So is the Boston Audio Mat 2. (5mm) The OEM Technics mat is made from some unidentified compound of firm rubber. Firm yet supple. Even after 34 years in the atmosphere, my sample remains supple and perfectly fit for use. The Boston Audio Design Mat 2 is machined from solid graphite and displays no flexibility. It is a hard mat.
The BA mat 2 fits down over the spindle and into the pocket of the SP10 platter like it belongs there. On my sample The spindle hole on the BA mat is a bit oversize. Enough so that some care might be taken to ensure that the mat is well centered over the spindle pin. Otherwise there is some evidence of eccentric run-out between mat and platter as the platter turns. This is seen only if you are looking for it, but if your are the evidence is there.
The BA Mat 2 is machined (lathe turned) from solid carbon graphite (BA is protective about the exact composition of the graphite they use). It is a solid, rigid piece that does not flex with normal hand pressure. Nor does it seem to flex under its own weight. It is a stiff piece. Place the BA mat 2 on this platter and one wonders if there is adequate traction between the aluminum platter of the SP10 and the mat. For good reason. There is no traction.
The SP10 mkII motor produces one heck of a lot of torque when it starts and stops spinning its platter. It is presumed that the torque is also delivered when it makes speed corrections during the course of playback. With the oem mat in place, hold a record brush on a spinning record and watch the Technics' strobe. The strobe indicates that platter does not slow down from this application of external force onto it. Neither the record or mat. However, do this with the BA Mat 2 and the -record- appears to come to a stop while the platter continues to spin. At first I could not tell if it was the record slipping against the BA Mat 2.....or if it was the BA Mat 2 slipping against the sp10 platter. This much I was able to sort out by what I did next.
The stuff I used to "stick" the mat to the platter is resin of a type that comes from trees. Liquid solder flux. You can find a very similar product under the name "Pine Tar". Also known as pitch. Tree pitch. It is a gummy, sticky residue. Organic stuff. Park your car beneath a pine tree and come back later to find tree pitch drops on your nice shiny paint job. Sticks like glue. Heck, tree pitch is even used as an ingredient in some glues. But is it too sticky?
Photo: rosin solder flux.
Firstly, I removed the brand new BA Mat 2 from its recess within the SP10 platter. A beautiful piece of machining, the SP10 mkII platter. Then, using the brush applicator of the liquid solder flux jar, I applied a circular array of small dots of pitch to the Technics' platter surface. I did so sparingly. Thin dabs. Not very much and just a 1/2 dozen light spots of pitch. Then I replaced the BA Mat 2 into the sp10 platter. And I allowed the resin a few minutes to firm up. Afterward, the record would not slow when holding a cleaning brush against it while spinning on the platter. This told me it had been the BA Mat 2 that was spinning against the SP10 platter.
The next day I was able to remove the Mat 2 from the SP10. This means that the rosin isn't dangerously sticky. What I found were areas of residue spots, nickel sized, sticking to both the inner platter surface and also to the bottom mat surface. It is possible to clean this off, but I want to leave it there to provide traction between platter and mat. No apparent damage done. Problem solved. Others have volunteered their solutions to this problem. Some suggested putting down an array of transparent tape onto the inside surface of the platter. Then the mat 2 will find some traction between itself and the top non-adhesive substrate of the tape. Seems like a good suggestion to me.
Another observation: Some records may have a type of warp that will not allow any type of grip between the mat surface and record. A dish warp being the worst case. Warped records like this will have little traction against the mat and may lose traction during playback.* My solution to this problem is to simply not play such records on the mat. Others may solve the problem with a a record clamp that goes over the spindle pin in combination with a spacer puck that fits over the spindle but beneath the record, thus curving the record into contact with the outer rim of the mat. Still another solution would be a rim weight.
*. It should be stated that any 'hard' mat will exhibit this behavior; no traction between mat and record.
( 11_24_2013 )
The comparison between the oem rubber mat and the BA Mat 2 right away reveals some sonic differences. It was quite obvious (with the BA Mat 2) that upper frequency notes appeared cleaner and with sharper articulation. More air. More float. More sustain. Longer decay. Mahler No. 5. Haitink / Amsterdam Concertgebouw on Philips. Opening trumpet solo and the combined brass instruments that carry the piece forward and into the symphony was and were clean and relaxed. No brass blare. No haze. No perceivable distortions. Just clean massed brass instruments in nice focus. With the oem rubber mat in comparison the same passages has a slight glare. Like peering through a lens at a subject that is back-lit by the sun and with a slight solar flare blocking parts of the view. In direct comparison the BA Mat 2 appears to have cleaned the lens for this part of it.
Led Zeppelin II (Classic Records 180g). Whole 'Lotta Love; It may seem that one normally wouldn't expect to hear lots of fine inner detail in hard rock recordings. But there are - in fact- tons of fine detail to be reproduced in these recordings. That is when your record playback system is capable of doing so. On this first track of side 1 there are numerous fine details floating within the driving atmosphere of it. Firstly, I noticed how the cymbals were reproduced with excellent tone and timber of the spun bell bronze they're made from. Realistic. But it did not require an analytical ear to notice how long the sustain and decay of each cymbal hit was.... The initial strike; stick against metal. The splash, ripple, shimmer and ring. Like floating and flying in the space between and above the speakers. While these artifacts are prominent and obvious in the recording, it was also obvious that with the mat 2 the above noted musical artifacts were improved by a remarkable amount.
Then, toward the end of the piece, the driving rhythm notes appeared to be accompanied by soft musical reply to each phrase. Not heard with such clarity before this. It is an inner detail. Keep in mind that the SP10 mkII is very capable of reproducing lots and lots of detail from within the record groove. But now, with the Mat 2, there is more detail to be enjoyed. Not analytical. Its just there in the space before me.
Driving rhythm. Musical energy. That sense of flow........what are the effects of the Mat 2 on these? Nothing deleterious that I can tell. I may have been concerned about this when I saw the mat 2 slipping against the sp10 platter. But that thought is put to rest. And what I hear is foot tapping, dance inducing rock and roll drama. Good stuff. For the SP10 mkII, I like this mat. Recommended provided you can live with a hard mat for the above previously noted reservations.
(6-18-2014) Added listening notes:
Now that I've had this BA Mat 2 for half a year I can say that I still continue to use it on the SP10 mkII. I've found it acceptable to live with the mats short-comings (poor traction) as well as the mats sonic benefits. The primary and most noticed difference between the BA Mat2 and the oem standard mat is in the upper frequency region where an obvious sense of added clarity exists. The other frequencies are not adversely affected. Nor can I say that I hear any overt differences there. I should also note, again, that there is no change in VTA/SRA when changing the oem mat with the BA Mat 2. Both mats are the same thickness.
I can also note that even though I've been skeptical about the lack of traction between record and this hard mat, there does not seem to be any absence of visceral energy when such should be present. Not that I'd notice subjectively.
In the future I plan to experiment with record weights/clamps in combination with this mat. I'll add observations about that to this review when I have them