We take a guided look into the different types of turntable platter mat you can buy, what qualities they possess and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Whether you’re new to turntables or someone with a bit of knowledge behind you, there sometimes seems to be confusion and conflicting information around the humble platter mat. These thin discs can really change the sound and ways you listen to music so its good to know a little about them. That’s why we thought it would be a great idea to give our readers an overview of these arguably vital components that can manipulate and play with the sound of your setup.
We’re going to start with the basics and get into a few more details to help you decide which material you can get, what sound you want, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
What Is a Platter Mat?
If we are to discuss platter mats, let’s start with the basics: what they are and what they do.
Platter mats are thin, disc-shaped objects that users of turntables place upon the platter, with the record then being placed on top before taking it for a spin. They are about the same size and shape as a platter, but the thickness is usually between 1.5mm to 4mm. There are a variety of different materials used for platter mats, each with apparent disadvantages and advantages which will be discussed below. Design is another feature, with some people buying them purely for their looks when no records are spinning. The mats also protect the record’s surface and can avoid any unwanted damage.
In its simplest, technical terms, a platter mat is used to dampen resonances and minimize other vibrations caused between the turntables platter, surface and other parts of the turntable. The platter mat should, in theory, and with correct use, provide a higher fidelity listening experience. This increase in sound quality can also be coupled with reduced skip rates and the music becoming far more integrated with the system, therefore creating a more natural sound.
Types of Platter Mat
There are many types of platter mat out there, each using different materials and able to create different sound qualities. Whatever you go for, they do all have their apparent advantages and disadvantages. Like anything, a lot of your choice will, in the end, come down to personal taste. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the main platter mat materials and the good and bad qualities of each to help you decide which one is best for you.
Felt Platter Mat
Felt is one of the mainstays of platter mat material. These mats are probably the most aesthetically pleasing, able to feature colourful designs and graphics that can make your turntable more personal. Felt mats are not just used for home systems, but also by DJ’s as ‘slip mats’, designed to have less friction and make ‘scratching’ the record’s easier. When the DJ manipulates the record, the slip mat allows the platter underneath to continue rotating, and therefore not damage the turntable. Although felt is used by DJ’s, it’s still a mainstay for general use and has its advantages in being cheap, light and easily adjustable. On the downside, felt mats are renowned for attracting static, dust and hair that can affect the sound, and often feel cheap compared to other platter mats. They also may not stay as tight to the turntable if you’re only using it for listening.
Cork Platter Mat
Arguably, cork gives the biggest sound difference of all platter mats. This mostly inexpensive option is great at creating a smooth contact between the record and the platter, making it extremely easy to separate the record after use. Felt or material mats are renowned for sticking to the record when trying to remove them, but you shouldn’t have that problem with cork. Resonances between the record player and vinyl should be dampened more effectively than felt and material mats, whilst also absorbing mechanical noise from the record player with greater ease. Many users also swear by an improved sound and separation of detail within the music. On the downside, some cork mats can start ‘flaking’ over time, meaning tiny bits of cork could get lodged in your records. They’re also often not as durable as something like a felt mat. They may work better on certain types of platter over others – so there is a bit more trial and error involved.
Rubber Platter Mat
Rubber platter mats could still be classed as light-weight, but are a little bit firmer, giving that extra grip onto the platter. This extra grip allows the record to remain isolated from any vibrations by making sure the record sits completely flat. Some argue this creates a deeper, warmer sound that is more closely associated with the record’s original recordings. Once again there is no static to worry about and it also does the job of dampening the sound of mechanical parts admirably. These mats are usually durable and flexible, but slightly on the heavier side compared to other materials. After multiple uses, there is still a chance of rubber flakes attaching to records which you will have to watch out for. Another point that’s often not mentioned is the ‘burnt rubber’ smell that can often appear over time due to the friction – not really a disadvantage to sound quality but some might be put off by this.
Leather Platter Mat
A material used for platter mats that can often be overlooked is leather. Leather is interesting because it’s been argued it can simultaneously dampen some sounds whilst enhancing the quality of others. They are renowned for being used by lovers of bass tones and creating an unrivalled warm sound. As well as being static free and heavier in weight, the leather is usually smooth and soft which creates an ideal playing base and easily removable after use. Leather platter mats are durable and long-lasting and have that ‘quality’ look about them, but are always going to be one of the more expensive options. There are even mats with different types of leathers out there; one of the more expensive is Deer Hide, with many arguing it can really improve the acoustics in the music.
Hybrids and Other Options
Although the above platter mats can be seen as the mainstays, there are, of course, other options. Hybrids such as Turntable Lab’s Cork and Rubber mats have been growing increasingly popular over the years, some arguing that they include the best qualities of both materials to make for a unique listening experience. They are heavier than cork mats but have a firmer grip on the platter.
Other materials to look out for include acrylic, which is a more dense and expensive material but some swear by its dampening of mechanical sounds and improved warm tones. Others even enjoy using just the bare glass platter, such as the one featured on many of the Rega range of turntables.
As with many things that come with owning a record player, to find your perfect platter mat is a game of trial and error before eventually arriving at a sound that suits you personally. Listen to other peoples advice. Buy, test, or borrow a few different mats from your friends to see if you notice any differences. Remember, you don’t have to have just one – you may find out that some genres of music sound better with a cork mat while others on a leather one. At the end of the day, it’s all about personal taste, and just another addiction to add to your turntable hobby!
If you enjoyed this article, you might like our guide to buying a second-hand record player!