I don't think any audio
accessory, no matter how unusual, has elicited as many "you've got to be
kidding!" reactions at first sight as the Marigo CD/DVD damping mats. I
owned an early version of this unique Marigo technology several years ago, and
from the beginning virtually every visitor to my listening room had the same
reaction to what appeared to be a flimsy cardboard-looking disc that
nevertheless, when placed atop a CD, suddenly improved sonic focus, frequency
response, imaging and overall musicality, making even early-generation CDs sound
more “analog-like.” Unfortunately that early Marigo CD mat got lost in the
shuffle of my move to Chicago, and I never got around to replacing it. But
remembering how much I had liked the original Marigo CD mat, I was delighted
when Ron Hedrich told me he had finally achieved what he considered the ultimate
improvement in that technology. So I received a brand-new Ultima Signature Mat
along with the RHX Mystery Feet reviewed elsewhere in this issue.
The first thing I noticed was how extraordinarily thin the new mat is. Ron says it is half the thickness of its predecessor. While it still superficially resembles very thin cardboard, this mat is fabricated from a highly sophisticated composite material incorporating carbon nanotubes. This lightweight device, according to the Marigo website, performs miraculously to damp out vibrations in a spinning disc. Rather than paraphrase the site’s statements, I urge the reader to read Marigo’s description. Some of the[r assertions are, frankly, technical points that as a layman in engineering and physics I simply don’t feel qualified to judge.
But I was able to assess one remarkable
assertion. Marigo tells the user to orient the Ultima Mat so that its
orientation is perpendicular to the printing on the disc's label. The Ultima Mat
is translucent, so in a well lighted room the user can read the label printing
through it. The Ultima Mat also has a blue line printed on its topside, with a
triangular hole cut on that line to facilitate orientation to the disc. I admit
to being skeptical about this instruction initially. But the proof was in the
listening. On many different CDs in many musical genres, I compared the sound
with and without taking care to properly orient the Ultimate Mat atop the CD.
Occasionally I heard no perceptible differences, but on a great majority of CDs
the proper orientation yielded more relaxed and musical sound. I also tried this
difference in my Oppo DVD player. Similar results – e.g., the Blu-Ray DVD of
"12 Years a Slave" had better color fidelity and contrast with proper
orientation, discernible even with my impaired vision.
For the last few years I had been using the
Millennium M-CD-Mat, a carbon fiber disc damper that performed very well on both
CD and DVD. I expected a close contest between the Millennium and the Marigo
disc dampers, but the Marigo Ultima Mat consistently came out on top.
Marigo Ultima Signature Mat retails for $239. I guess if you judge audio value
by pounds per dollar, which may seem extravagant. But if you want to hear and
see the best from your digital discs, it strikes me as a great value. My
Modwright CD and Oppo DVD players are high-performance high-value components,
but far from the multi-thousand-dollar digital rigs available in today's audio
marketplace. I have spoken to colleagues who have heard the Marigo Ultima
Signature Mat in megabuck state-of-the-art setups at audio shows – e.g., a
$30,000 dcs system at the 2013 RMAF –and they report improvements from using
the Ultima Mat similar to what I heard on my more modest equipment. The bottom
line for me is that anyone with a lot of digital discs will be very happy with
the Marigo Ultima Signature Mat.
There is not a lot of risk involved in trying the
Ultima Signature Mat. Marigo offers a 30-day in-home trial with a money-back
guarantee if the product is returned. They also provide a 5-year replacement
warranty if the Ultima Mat is torn or damaged in use. I guess there is also not
much risk for Marigo with this warranty. Ron Hedrich has advised me that no
Marigo mat has ever been returned because of a tear. And I suspect that few
listeners will want to return the Ultima Signature Mat after hearing and seeing
what it can do. I purchased the review sample, and it is now integral to my CD
and DVD use.