[Italian version here]
Product: Red Felt Turntable Mat
Manufacturer: Collaro Audio - England
Price: £99GBP; direct from the maker
Reviewer: Mark Wheeler - TNT UK
Reviewed: February, 2020
Hot on the heels of one deviation from ye ancient lore of ye olde Turntablis Scotiae, the Audio Files Spoke modifications we offer further blasphemy with a mat not approved at Floors Road nor Glasgow Road neither. For a resumé of the strengths and weaknesses of the closed plinth subchassis turntable, as pioneered by Edgar Villchur whose neat AR XA turntables and even neater acoustic suspension loudspeakers (compact sealed boxes using the enclosed air mass compliance as the resonance defining parameter) enabled audio's acceptance in the living room, read the Spoke review series.
The Collaro red mat has been causing a stir on various Linnie forums, where compliance with the way of Linn usually holds sway. Results experienced by forum posters are universally positive, ranging from mildly to outrageously enthusiastic, so it seems like a good idea to give a Collaro Audio red felt turntable mat a listen.
Some may doubt how much, if at all, the mat supporting an LP can have any significant effect. Mentally picturing the Boston-Dearborn analogy, readers might soon wonder whether a sigle piece of fluff beneath the LP disc remains inaudible. In part 3 of the Spoke modifications review we considered the importance of the interface between platter (and therefore bearing and subchassis) and LP disc. Hence, when the Collaro Audio red felt mat arrived for review, listeners might expect an exaggerated difference on a Spoke modified Linn Sondek LP12 compared with a stock Klinik optimised LP spinner.
Others may insist that Linn's own black felt mat is part of a uniquely optimised electro-mechanical information retrieval system which must not be tampered with under any circumstances for fear of upsetting the mighty works of those Caledonian high priests, but the numerous current variations of the Linn Sondek LP12 undermine that position. The Linn felt mat was originally offered for "tag cueing", according to the early 70's Linn brochure, but fortuitously the felt mat was later identified as affecting the sound of any LP planted on it. Various thicknesses and grades of felt have been supplied by Linn dealers over the years and no official line has ever been given that different thicknesses sound any different (arm height notwithstanding). Your Old Scribe was told by a Linn employee that the Linn felt mat is supposed to be rinse-able in cold water to remove dust and contamination. One of Your Old Scribe's Linn mats was cold rinsed, dried flat and became slightly elliptical. The comparison mat here was never abused in this way, being cleaned only with the Vax vacuum cleaner curtain tool after 20 years this Linn mat is slightly ovoid now too.
The name Collaro is one of the oldest and most respected trade marks ever to adorn turntables, founded in 1920.
Collaro began with clockwork wind up gramophone mechanisms and then added electric models,
becoming by 1960 the worlds largest producer of record players.
Collaro designed and manufactured analogue source components (turntables and tape decks), originally in Barking in Essex.
They're listed in a 1929 directory as occupying:
Culmore Works, Culmore Road
Telephone: New Cross 3844-3804
Cables (telegrams): "Korllaro, London"
During the second world war, before production switched from audio, as so many factories did, to warheads. This is especially fortuitous as the second loudspeaker system used in this review is housed in decommissioned warheads purchased 5 miles from the Collaro wartime factory. Simultaneously, production moved from London to Derbyshire to reduce risk of bombing. In this world of multiple connections the site was more recently occupied by Vic Hallam's joinery, who made plinths for the Ariston RD11, the forerunner of the Linn Sondek LP12 and early models of these manufacturers differed primarily in plinth manufacturer (Linn used Greaves in Sheffield, a few miles up the road from Langley Mill) and the on/off switch type. There is now a Lidl supermarket and Warburtons bakery on the site at Langley Mill which was the WW2 Collaro works.
Collaro boasted, in 1929 that Any one element can be removed or replaced without interfering with the rest of mechanism, which is ironic, given that the name now adorns a single element, the turntable mat, claiming to offer superior performance. Collaro also fitted a Special unitplate embodying automatic stop and offered a Torque and Fatigue Spring Testing Machine to maintain turntable PRaT. By 1961 Collaro could also boast that they were manufacturing gramophone motors, recording units, tape recorders, [and even] fan heaters. Their boast of being the largest manufacturers of record changers may have attracted the Magnavox corporation buyout the following year.
As is sadly often the case, absorption by a bigger company meant that the Collaro brand lost its direction. The few 600 Series units they shifted in the 70s bore no resemblance to the product status of the glory days. They were competing directly against other UK popular market leaders BSR Macdonald and Garrard.
The Collaro Audio red (not) felt turntable mat is a circle of red fabric with a little hole at its centre and sized to fit a turntable platter. It fits those platters with a raised rim, like the Linn Sondek LP12 and the Garrard 401, but Collaro make a thicker, white version of their mat to match big old idler drive turntables like the Garrard 301/401, Lencos and Thorens TD124. For this first listen it will only be tried on the Spoked Linn Sondek.
Like the thicker Audio Files replacement mat, the Collaro mat is based on woven cloth, not compressed felted fibres.
Structurally this could be superior to felt and have more consistent thickness and closer tolerance between samples than ordinary felt.
However the question "Is this where I get felt?" is then sadly avoidable..
And the Old Scribe cannot pass a pun opportunity unmissed," quoth Plebs, stage left
The designer, Colin, came up with the material choice for the mat after about a year or 18 months of experimenting. Colin loaned the prototype to a listener who could hear the same improvements that Colin could, but he wasn't totally convinced. Colin went back to the drawing board. Colin identified a material of the same type but steamed so it was a bit thicker. This made a vast difference and became the basis for the first run. Two dealers soon signed up to sell the Collaro red turntable mat.
Colin's colleague, who has an engineering background and works as a printer, devised and supplied the press that Collaro now use.
They decided that £100 would be the price, before costing the labour and consumables.
Apparently the labour alone in making one of these mats is actually considerable and each one consumes blades and pressing sheets.
Hence, the value question is not whether £100GBP is too much for a 30cm disc of fabric, or too little for all the manufacturing processes, but does this represent a £100GBP improvement to an optimised expensive analogue front end?
Colin says he gets a little buzz of satisfaction when a newly cut one comes out of the press!
Collaro recommend clocking the Linn platter, which is a bit of an indictment of Linn's manufacturing accuracy. Your Old Scribe finds some samples of LP12 are more prone than others, which is equally true of certain Thorens vintages and most 2 part platter turntables. The Collaro red mat is about half the thickness of the Audio Files black mat and Linn original mats are somewhere in between. Investigations here at TNT-audio.com revealed the surprising variations in Linn mat thickness sample variation over the years. Typically about 2-3mm for most samples. It is worth getting SRA (Stylus Rake Angle about right for typical 130-150g records and accepting 180-200g discs with sound a bit softer, while skinny 1970's pressing might sound a bit splashy.
It is understandably a total faff adjusting VTA/SRA between each mat audition. Aural memory is notoriously unreliable, but A-B comparisons using our judging system are not possible due to the time taken to adjust VTA/SRA between mats. Hence rather than than offer opinions about A being inferior or superior to B, this review will concentrate on more enduring impressions.
Of all the various mats tried with the Spoked Linn and the original Cirkus and pre Cirkus Linns (including heavyweight rubber mats, sticky lossy mats, what seems like a painted cardboard mat, rigid mats and floppy mats) there are three very different front runners.
All three have strengths and all three have their place in the right system and all three are a worthwhile alternative to Linn's own circle of black felt. If that Linn Sondek is running an Ekos or an Ittok but the owner hankers after the fleet of foot but rarely obtainable Naim Aro, the Funk Firm Achromat might well fit the bill. However, if that listener is of the opinion that the Linn Sondek LP12 already sounds exaggeratedly upbeat, the Achromat will be an anathema.
If the standard Linn mat lacks enough dynamic snap (of the kind added by Linn synergistic Naim amplification, the Origin Live mat will offer this, at the expense of some traditional Linn warmth. Some acoustic jazz benefits from this kind of presence uplift (Eine Kleine Naimmusik as one industry insider calls it) and for readers exclusively addicted to such fodder, the Origin Live mat would be a fair choice.
For those about to rock, or other popular Linn beat rhythms, the standard issue Linn mat may well serve adequately.
For a bit more of the same, or at least similar but turned up to 11, the Collaro red is the one.
The renowned Linn Sondek architectural qualities are both preserved and built upon.
What is this twaddle? demand plebs, stage left, "The Old Scribe is still aiming for a mention in Pseud's corner"
One way to describe it might be a building construction metaphor (photographic and automotive metaphors having been done to death in audio reviews over the decades). The pre Keel Linn Sondek LP12 might have a tiny soundstage by modern high end standards, but what it does achieve it does so with (metaphorical) solidity, and as we established in an earlier article, stereo means solid. The solid foundations of the stock Linn Sondek are built upon by the more flamboyant red Collaro mat. There is no obvious change in frequency emphasis, which often leads reviewers to imagine they're hearing previously concealed second violins.
The overall balance is similar to the standard black circle of Linn felt.
The Collaro red soundstage is deeper with better delineation between individual instruments and acoustic clues. All the available listeners preferred the presentation offered via the Collaro red mat to the original Linn mat or the Audio Files black fabric mat, for similar reasons that either alternative was previously deemed acceptable. The slightly less compliant fabric (and stronger than felt fibre structure) of the red Collaro probably contributes to the increased scale (the vertical vector of the 45° stereo groove resolves as spatial information).
The red 'un also seems to offer improved clarity of the note envelope, from initial intensity rise to final decay, this apparent extra information again possibly enabled by the slightly firmer texture and therefore more rigid support.
It was established back in the Funk Firm Achromat review that there is an interaction between turntable mats and turntable supports, even in sprung subchassis turntables. Due to the tie wires, the Audio Files Spoke Linn is more even sensitive to supports and mats than Glasgow's original effort so this adds potential variables.
As mentioned in the recent Audio Files Spoke review Part 3, Linn Sondeks usually benefit from replacing the 2 rear feet with one central hard foot. As mentioned in the Funk Firm Achromat review, there seems to be a (hopefully symbiotic) relationship betwixt mat and turntable support, even when suspension separates them. Replacing the two rear feet of the Collaro red matted spoked Linn with a central Yamamoto PB9 & PB10 ebony spike and receiver base and a Yamamoto PB9 spike under each front foot creates only 3 points of contact. Once again this worked well with the 10mm laminated glass shelf (itself sitting on 3 PolyCrystal Point Discs on an updated Origin Live Ultra wall frame. As with other mats, this improved clarity with the Collaro red mat.
Generic replacement felt mats can cost as little as £18GBP. Linn themselves offered an alternative thin radially ribbed rubber mat in the early days, which might show up on Fleabay or Shark sometime and sounded off the pace but bassier at the time. The Origin Live mat (as thin as the Collaro) can be had for £40GBP. The now unfashionable, but once flavour of the month in certain comics, Ringmat system is an expensive, upgrade-able one trick pony beginning at typically £75GBP. Cheap cork mats can be had from £20GBP upwards. Some of the heavy firm or sticky rubbery mats can range from £20 to £100GBP. The Collaro red mat is £99GBP. For under £200GBP, interested readers can buy a sample of each of the front runners and choose for themselves in their own systems. People will apparently blown this kind of dosh on a bit of wire they've never heard in any system, let alone in the context of their own system.
Alternatively, readers who like the sound and presentation of their existing stock mat Linn Sondek will probably enjoy more of the same for a modest outlay in the context of a Linn front end. Collaro offer a money back guarantee for those who do not like it.
Whether consciously or not, your Old Scribe finds translucent red slabs of vinyl keep landing on this mat, as in the picture above of Free Live 1970 (in Croydon & Sunderland) and the excellently recorded (around Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch), genre obfuscating, outstandingly muisical double LP Buffalo Blood by Buffalo Blood bought at a gig in North Berwick last year. The Collaro red mat improved resolution of voices and guitars and extracted more acoustic cues on this album than the comparison mats.
As with so many electro-mechanical audiophile systems you pays your money and you takes your choice with mat options.
The spoked Linn Sondek LP12 is still very much a Linn Sondek so this mat test should be applicable to numerous iterations of Linn Sondek LP12 and many of the aftermarket modifications too. There are numerous mat options, inexpensive enough to buy and play with. The learning curve will be valuable and it'll offer an opportunity to contribute to online forums with actual experience. The Collaro mat is considerably better than an ageing Linn mat, better than at least 3 other felt or fabric alternatives and sufficiently different from the Origin Live or Funk Firm Achromat to justify buying all three and experimenting.
The Collaro red mat is also a sufficiently good enough all-rounder to be a fit and forget improvement over the original Linn black felt offering.
Many readers here are likely to be a little more playful and the hours you will never get back after spending several weekends with assorted audiophile casualties swapping between mats (remembering to adjust VTA every time) may well make life seem shorter; time flies while we're having fun.
Having been experimenting with numerous prototype and commercially available mats since the mid 1970's, including between the original Linn Sondek LP12 ribbed rubber (for extra pleasure?) Linn mat and the "for tag cueing" b>Linn felt mat, your Old Scribe can confidently recommend the Collaro red mat as a viable alternative to Linn's own effort, offering more of similar qualities.
As with numerous equipment upgrading services, if you like what you hear from your existing equipment, they say, do not replace it but upgrade it. The Collaro red mat is just such a proposition. Listeners who love their Linn Sondek with it's stock black felt mat are likely to love it a little more with a Collaro red mat. If not, there is a money back guarantee (T's & C's apply).
Music enjoyed while writing this review
on vinyl of course
Equipment used in this review:
Some wire is used to join these components together. No interconnects cost more than 10% of the device at either end, much of it is made by the Old Scribe from high quality components. Mark prefers balanced connection whenever possible, using Van Damme Tour Grade XKE Quad microphone cable and Black Rhodium Symphony wires and for RCA/phono connections, selection of multistrand and solid core cables in siler-plated copper, nickel and pure-silver in various guages to suit the compnent.
Reference: Vintage-radio.net Collaro page.
Copyright © 2020 Mark Wheeler - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.tnt-audio.com