It came in a clear vinyl bag inside a manila envelope, along with an unsolicited sample of their Solid State Stylus Cleaner. Being in the furniture business, the mat had a very familiar look to it. So on my way to The Analog Shop in Victor, NY, to pick up my Linn turntable that was in for a minor tweaking, I stopped at a local carpet store. Sure enough, the None-Felt was made from the non-skid mat used under area rugs to keep lawsuits from undermining your high-end audio budget.
But before you think you can make one of these yourself on the cheap, consider that this stuff comes in a wide variety of textures and thickness. You could easily try a half a dozen varieties before you got it right, and spend a lot more time, energy and money than the modest $28 Extreme/Phono charges. And as my friend Bob Lietz of The Analog Shop said, cutting anything in a perfect circle, especially with a large concentric hole in it, is more than a little difficult. You also want to have the proper thickness if your tone arm does not have adjustment for the vertical tracking angle. The None-Felt was slightly thicker than the Linn felt which raised the stylus end slightly (which is preferable to lowering it).
Bob's point about cutting a perfect circle was born out when we placed the None-Felt on the Linn. It was no more perfectly round than the felt it replaced. Still, we stood back and admired the new look it gave the turntable. The little dark gray biscuit pattern had a masculine, high-tech look that brought the ancient Linn styling a little more up-to-date in this era of acrylic plinths and carbon fiber tonearms. None of this really matters, however, if you actually play LPs, since the vinyl completely hides the None-Felt.
I thought the proof of the product would be in the listening, but there was another hurdle that had to be mastered first. Vinyl addicts often speak of the ritual of playing LPs, which differs slightly from one turntable to another, as well as one user to another. Setting the cleaning ritual aside, my habit is to simply drop the LP onto the constantly spinning platter and cue up the tonearm. After clearing the arm when the music is over, I simply let the edge of the LP slide between the fingertips of both hands, and quickly lift it off the platter without stopping the motor. Do this a couple of thousand times and it will alter your genes and be passed on to your next born child. It is the slippery felt mat of the Linn that makes this little feat possible.
Prepare for Change
The None-Felt mat required serious behavior modification for me. The tacky plastic material precludes slippage when you grab the record while the table is still spinning. Try as I did, I could only do it one time out of ten with any semblance of grace. Usually, the record stuck to the mat and caused the platter to jerk until the LP came clean of the mat. Often the mat broke free of the platter and had to be re-centered. While this instant was much less than a second, I sensed that it was not healthy for the delicate set-up of the Linn. So now, I stop the motor whenever I wish to remove an LP, and start it again when I want to play the other side. (I help the motor by giving the platter a little rotational spin with one hand as I press the power switch with the other).
Why I Put Up With All This Hassle
Well, I wanted to see what the None-Felt could do for the Linn, and I thought my Audio Technica 160ML moving magnet cartridge, as respected as it was in its day, could use a little help. So I ran the None-Felt through the paces as I concurrently reviewed the JPS Labs Power AC In-Wall cable, Symposium Acoustics Rollerblock Jrs and Isis Platforms, and the Coincident Speaker Technology Partial Eclipse Mk II loudspeakers, which all appeared in last month's issue. Keep in mind that the Linn is a suspended table, so if your table does not have a suspension, or has a huge platter, or already has a good mat, your results may vary.
None-Felt + Svelte Shelf
But the None-Felt mat is not the last word in turntable tweaks, as I found out when I added the Symposium Svelte Shelf under the Linn. I had one of those "Oh, My G-d" moments when I replayed Blood Sweat & Tears with both the None-Felt and Svelte Shelf. While the None-Felt added focus to the music, the Svelte Shelf fleshed it out with a bloom and fullness that allowed me to taste the music. Combined, they took my analog playback system to a whole other level.
Clicks & Pops
At one point I pulled out a well-worn copy of "Peter, Paul & Mary," their self-titled first album. Using the None-Felt without the Svelte Shelf, the clicks and pops hit and disappeared with lightning speed, allowing this classic LP to show off the magnificent harmony of this vintage folk group. Five out of twelve songs on this LP can be sung by half of the people in their 50's. My wife, Linda, who was a "folkie" back in those treasured days, knows them all.
Cleaning Up My Act
Linda urges me to do this a lot. Mostly in reference to the piles of audio and furniture magazines that surround my listening chair. But at some point I thought it necessary to clean my stylus and I reached for the Extreme/Phono Solid State Stylus Cleaner. It comes in a little clamshell-like clear plastic case about the size of a silver dollar. And like a clamshell, it was a real pain to open. It seemed that in shipping the goop migrated into the cracks of the clamshell and sealed it shut. The issue was further complicated by the fact that the label was put on the bottom of the case, so I was trying to open it upside-down. The effort nearly cost me a fingernail, so be warned.
Since my system had undergone considerable upgrading during the time of this review, particularly with extensive use of the Symposium Acoustics products and Coincident loudspeakers, I revisited the Ellington and Lauper LPs. The effects of adding the None-Felt were essentially the same as I first experienced, and were certainly very worthwhile. But in the context of the upgraded system the contribution of the None-Felt mat was not quite as striking. If your vinyl front end and the rest of your system are already at, or near, the pinnacle of perfection, the None-Felt mat will probably have less to contribute. But if, like most of us, there is room for improvement, the None-Felt mat is a
"must try" product. Just be sure to specify your turntable model, as there is also a version of the mat with only a small hole for the spindle.
Linn LP-12 Valhalla turntable with Sumiko MMT arm and Audio Technica 160-ML cartridge on Symposium Svelte Shelf.
Extremephono likes to thank Rick for spending time with our products. While Rick had accurately described most of the sonic improvements and product attributes, we like to comment and augment a few pointers:
Rick had alluded that our mat appears to be similar to carpet linings, and $28 goes to paying for the precision cutting of concentric circles. We wish to point out that the material we used is very specific, and the donut geometry has been derived from extensive calculation and listening tests.
The last thing we hope is your readers making assumptions based on listening to their carpet linings. Given our unconditional 30-day return policy, please try the actual product before jumping to any conclusion.
For the record, in our first month of shipping mats, we had 3 returns. After we remedied with a more comprehensive set-up instruction, we have since had 0 returns. In a world full of finicky audiophiles and overpriced gadgets, the 0 return rate attests to the positive sonic performance and solid value.