Hexmat Yellow Bird Turntable Mat Review
David Price finds this quirky new platter mat to be a sound improvement…
Yellow Bird Platter Mat
Nothing is new in vinyl replay. I remember heated debates in the letters pages of hi-fi magazines of the late nineteen seventies, discussing the merits of rubber platter mats vs felt types, cork, suede or even glass. British superdecks of the day tended to have felt mats, while Japanese had rubber. Then in the eighties, new designs came along with carbon/vinyl mixes or other such exotic hybrids.
It's not solely the material used for the mat that counts, but how it interacts with the platter that it's resting on, and the record itself. It needs to support the vinyl disc, stop it from slipping and isolate it from the platter, or at least damp it, so the combined resonant frequency of mat and platter doesn't intrude unduly. Be clear then, turntable mats do make a real difference to the sound of a record deck, and it's not black magic or hocus-pocus, as some claim. The question is, is the mat fitted to your deck the best that it can get?
With the advent of the £115 Hexmat Yellow Bird, vinylistas have even more choice when tweaking their turntables. It comes all the way from Budapest in Hungary, as the creation of engineer Zsolt Fajt. It may look weird, but there's an interesting philosophy underlying it – rather than coupling the vinyl record to the platter as many mats try to do, it attempts to make it almost float. The designer says the actual contact surface is just a couple of square millimetres in real terms; in other words, this isn't so much a mat as a clamping mechanism that separates the record from the platter, letting the vinyl's own intrinsic properties damp things.
The material feels like a softish, pliant plastic with a slightly rubbery texture. Tap it, and you get a dull thud that decays very quickly. The product comes in a hexagonal form, said to help the vibration control, and sports fifteen little semi-cylindrical protrusions on the same place, either side. Having tried umpteen aftermarket accessory mats over the years, I can genuinely say I've never seen anything quite like it. Understandably, the designer is unwilling to get into specifics regarding the materials used because there may be a host of similar products on eBay within weeks.
Having several turntables secreted around my house, I was in the happy position to try the Hexmat in various different contexts. First was my Technics SP15, a broadcast-standard late seventies Japanese direct drive with a fairly heavy aluminium platter, and a dense and hard rubber mat which was duly removed. With a 12-inch single of Animotion's Obsession, the sound changed noticeably, with a tighter and tauter rhythmic gait; there was an even snappier rhythmic feel – surprising considering this deck is fast anyway. On my ageing copy of ELO's Out of the Blue, the first track seemed a little quicker and more urgent. I felt I could hear a little more midband detail, with the various instruments in the mix separated out more subtly.
I got a similar result from my Sony PS-8750 [pictured], which has a lighter and more ringing platter than the Technics, although I felt it took out a touch too much bass. My Michell GyroDec seemed to like it, bringing a subtle but useful extra level of detail that made it easier for me to pick through Dance On a Volcano by Genesis. There was more definition to the treble too, with better-resolved decay on the cymbal work. Steve Hackett's guitar work had a nicer timbre; it was more vibrant and less muddy, clearly making the music more enjoyable. Turning to some electronica from Leftfield, and Not Forgotten was more defined on my old Rega Planar 3. This has a glass platter, typically a felt mat doing the damping duties. The Hexmat tidied up things and livened up the tonal balance slightly.
“Interesting” is how I would describe this. It certainly breaks some rules – especially the one about a mat having to properly support the record – but to my ears, it brought about a clear and noticeable improvement, albeit not as dramatic as changing your cartridge, for example. Whether it's worth its steep asking price is your decision, but it certainly deserves to be taken seriously and auditioned on your own deck if you possibly can.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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