Product: The Mat by AudioMani
Approx.cost: 30 Euro/$
Reviewer: Stefano Monteferri - TNT Italy
Reviewed: July, 2004
After the colored rings to be applied to the CD edge, the rigid stabilizers made of graphite, kevlar or carbon fibers in different weights and thicknesses and the soft but tenacious adhesive films, it seems that all has already been said and manufactured in this specific field. All of them are objects which try to offer a solution to what it has been recognized as one of the most relevant problems of Audio CD reproduction: the optical pick-up might experience difficulties in the reading of the information present on the digital support because of the vibrations (and other factors) during rotation.
Some manufacturers tried to solve the problem by designing CD transport units of outstanding quality and build complexity, using quite different philosophical approaches. Among the best known examples (perhaps because they have been used by several manufacturers in the past few years) are the impressive and massive Teac VRDS transport mechanisms and the evocative (it recalls the functional architecture of analogue turntables) and charming Pioneer Stable Platters. In these cases, using a stabilizer is in fact useless if not even harmful.
Is the game over? Not at all, and it is enough to take a look at this interesting "The Mat" stabilizer for CDs and investigate some of its features to make it immediately clear.
Developed by AudioMani, the Italian distributor of Eichmann cables, unlike most of its competitors, The Mat is not rigid but extremely flexible. It is made of black rubber in which carbon fibers are embedded (???). The external part of the Mat has a strange edge, not thicker than a couple of millimeters, which allows better centering during the installation phase, as well as making the CD edge opaque.
The thickness of The Mat varies. It is thinner at the center where it has a hole, useful for not hindering the magnetic clamp action of some top-loading machines. It becomes thicker towards the edge, in order to concentrate the dumping action exactly where it is most needed: close to the middle and external CD circumferences.
The weight is negligible, such that it will not be an excessive "inertia obstacle" for the transport unit, and it seems that it has been designed to ease the task of the "servo-system", in order to make it less busy to control the rotation of the equipment by improving the "fly-wheel action". Therefore, it attempts to:
From the theoretical and structural point of view, there are enough reasons to consider The Mat simple and genial at the same time. Let's see what happens during practical use...
The utilization of the black mat is an extremely simple and straightforward operation: after having inserted the CD into the sliding or top loading mechanism, The Mat simply goes on top of the CD, paying attention that its external edge completely covers the circumference of the CD. Once the "Play" button is pushed, if your transport unit does not refuse to start for some (probably justified) reason, you will notice that all the loading and reading operations will actually take place in the usual ways and times, immediately reassuring you about the hypothetical "added mechanical stress" that the transport unit is subjected to.
Ok, it works, but... how? The Mat carries out the duties for which it has been designed and built exactly in the way described by the manufacturer. The timbre becomes warmer, and where previously, in some musical passages, there was a kind of sourness (sometimes even approaching annoyance), now a better tonal coherence is perceived. The increase in terms of fluidity and fluency is remarkable, with the subtlest details finally playing their role of refined gluing element needed in order to match the most energetic dynamic contrasts.
The message flows with a noticeable reduction of that feeling that sometimes pervades you while listening to music recorded on CD, and makes you now feel a kind of "continuous flow" which somehow improves the enjoyment. The music is brought in a less sharp-edged way making reproduction less aggressive.
One might confuse this diluted aggressiveness with a limited performance in terms of dynamic contrast, while instead the diminished sense of annoyance yields to more natural and relaxed listening. Using "The Mat" improves the virtual image in terms of focalization, with all the elements composing a more stable and accurate holography. The perception of the infra-instrumental blackness is improved and depth becomes clearly more pronounced. Everything is brought with more precision and with fewer sound fluctuations which might transmit a feeling of a reduced width; the "source" of the sounds is returned more promptly and its development is improved in coherence and time stability.
The Mat works, no doubts about it, and it acts in a way to ease as much as possible the task of the pick-up of the digital players, either CD or any other format. The paradox is that, in a system which has been balanced and optimized with the outmost care, sometimes the achievable improvements will produce remarkable sound variations, which may jeopardize the laboriously achieved final result.
In my opinion, it would be better to start from this improved position, where information is extracted at the origin in the most complete and accurate way and at a later stage, re-optimize the rest of the system like supports, accessories, loudspeakers positioning or anything else, in order to achieve an improved global result (no system can ever correct missing information afterwards).
"The never ending story"? Somehow yes, but this is part of the fun!
© Copyright 2004 Stefano Monteferri - www.tnt-audio.com
English translation: Carmelo Di Stefano - Supervisor: Andrew Brown