I’ve been having fun listening to several really nice turntable mats and LP stabilizers. They range in price from $100 to $6,095, and I would have to say I was quite surprised by how much and how different they each affected the sound of my system. I shall start with the lowest-priced and build my way up, this will highlight the differences and you can decide for yourself which one if any sounds like the one or the combination you might want to try. I used all the clamps in combination with the Clearaudio “Outer Limit Turntable Ring” because that is how my turntable sounds best and each clamp sounded best that way. The only exception to that was when I used the Audio Replas’ mat, because it was too thick to work with the Clearaudio peripheral ring.
Clearaudio’s Twister Clamp: $100
This is the Clearaudio LP clamp I have been using in combination with their “Outer Limit Turntable Ring” for the last three years. This combination has proved to be quite satisfactory. The combination deals with warp records as good as anything I have ever used, including turntables that use vacuum hold down systems. As far as sound goes the combination gives you quieter backgrounds, a more stable image, better musical flow and slightly better bass than you get without it. The Clearaudio “Outer Limit Turntable Ring” also gives me better speed stability and more drive. The Twister Clamp is a very nice basic clamp, especially considering the price.
Millennium’s M-LP-Mat Carbon Mat: $349
Millennium’s Silentor LP Weight Support: $349
Millennium is a German company that is imported by Brian Ackerman’s Aaudio Imports. Millennium produces several audio accessories that have a recurring theme, in that many of their products make use of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is a very light and very strong material that has very good damping properties. My Clearaudio tonearms are made of carbon fiber.
This combination worked great with my Clearauido peripheral clamp, and brought about a significant improvement in the overall sound of my system. The mat is a .3 mm laminated carbon fiber mat with one side having a thin, felt-like surface and the other side is the carbon, flat surface. The carbon side definitely has more resolution, while the felt-layered side has more of a warm sound. I used the flat side, though occasionally when listening to a rather bright sounding recording I would flip it over to the felt side and indeed this was quite nice.
The Millennium Silentor is a very nicely machined stainless steel center clamp made to use with any turntable. It couples very tightly to the spindle and LP by use of an O-ring and a series of precision-drilled holes filled with granulated quartz and covered by the carbon fiber mat that goes on the record surface. This attention to detail along with its weight provides very good damping of the LP and worked quite nicely in my setup.
The Millennium combo allowed my system to have a more powerful sound than it did without them. The bass was improved by having more power, and more air around the bass. The midrange had a little more detail, and the image depth was slightly improved. A lot of mats and clamps tend to over-deaden the sound, but the Millennium combo also allowed my system to have a very alive and focused sound, making the music easier to follow, and individual instruments and voices were more easily delineated. Overall, the system just sounded more musical with this combo then it did even with the Clearaudio Twister Clamp.
I tried the Millennium combo on several turntables and as good as it was on my Clearaudio Wood Anniversary CMB turntable, it made an even bigger difference on the Linn, and the Thorens 124. It also made a bigger difference on my Clearaudio turntable if I was not using the peripheral ring. I would assume that was because they both deadened some of the same resonances. In no way should that be taken to mean that you should not use both, because they definitely sounded better together.
Clearaudio’s Statement Clamp: $900
Clearaudio’s Statement Clamp easily won the award for the heaviest clamp in this group and with my Clearaudio Anniversary Wood CMB turntable it was also the best looking. That, of course, was because it was made from matching stainless steel and the same Panzerholz wood used in the turntables bass. The machine work of the stainless steel top half is just beautiful and it also is the most ergonomically satisfying to put on and off the turntable. The heavy and beautiful stainless top is attached to a disc of Pahzerholz wood. Incidentally, this is the same wood that Clearaudio uses in their Statement turntable and mine. It is a solid bulletproof wood used in German limousines and some special armored trucks. The change from acrylic to “Panzerholz” in the Clearaudio plinths seems to breathe life, warmth, and an overall more musical sound into their turntables. They seem to have achieved the same effect on the sound of vinyl with the Statement Clamp.
When you turn the Statement Clamp upside down you see the tube that slips over the spindle is made from the same quality ceramic material that they use in their CMB bearings. You also see three different size ball bearings that are set into the wood at the points of an equilateral triangle. These ball bearings are set with precision into ceramic shafts in the wood so that even though they are each a different size, the clamp sits perfectly level.
I’m getting a little uncomfortable with all this talk about the sound of clamps and mats, but from the moment I first used the Clearaudio Statement Clamp, I was shocked by what a profound effect it had on the sound in my listening room. It started in the bottom and went all the way to the top. It literally extended the frequency extremes. The deep bass in my system, which admittedly didn’t plummet into the very deepest depths, came to life in a way I never dreamed it could. My system’s already had lightening fast attack in the bass, with realistic musical slam, but now it had much more weight and authority. This was not a subtle difference. There was also marked difference in sparkle, shimmer and air; the treble sounded simply beautiful.
It was not just the frequency extremes, in the midrange there was simply more music there. Plucked strings just came to life, as did horns, and woodwinds. Voices on LPs simply sounded more alive when played with the Statement Clamp than I had ever heard in my system. I was quite simply stunned by what the Statement Clamp did for my musical enjoyment. I think without a doubt of all the pucks and mat combinations I have tried it did the best job of getting rid of resonance. Now whether or not that makes it the most accurate is hard to say, but to my ears it made vinyl sound more like good reel-to-reel tapes. The good news is it did this without making my system sound dead; no, just the opposite, it made my system come to life.
Audio Replas’ TS OPT300 HR Turntable Mat: $6,095
Audio Replas’ OPS-1 HR LP Stabilizer: $2,095
Well, that brings us to a turntable platter mat and stabilizer that cost over $8,000 together. Joe Cohen of the Lotus Group brought these two items over to my house at a very interesting time. I had just put my Clearaudio Anniversary Wood CMB turntable back in the system after reviewing the DaVinci In UniSon turntable, and I was experiencing one of those terrible moments as an audiophile and, especially, as a reviewer. Now I’m not talking about withdrawal, but something even worse. In this case it was the immediate realization upon putting my turntable back in the system that I was going to really miss the weight and bigness my system had with DaVinci In UniSon turntable. Yet, even if I could afford the In UniSon that would not solve the problem, because the whole time I was listening to the In UniSon I was missing the transparency and speed of my Clearaudio turntable. I was even wondering if these two wonderful sounds were somehow mutually exclusive.
The answer thankfully is: they are not. The addition of the Audio Replas’ mat and stabilizer to my Clearaudio turntable gave me all the bigness and weight of the In UniSon, without any loss of transparency or speed. This combination created by far the best and most beautiful sound I have ever heard from any source component in my system.
What about the cost? I can offer no simple answer. Even Joe was at loss in justifying the material and labor for what they cost, but that it’s the best he could do given his cost and the need for dealers to make a profit. Let’s be honest, art is never sold based on price of material and this is definitely the work of an artisan if not an artist. So, let’s look at it another way. The DaVinci In UniSon turntable cost $26,850 compared to the Clearaudio Anniversary AMG Wood CMB Turntable, which costs $11,500 with the Clearaudio Synchro Speed Controller. So if you add the price of the Replas’ mat and stabilizer to the Clearaudio you get a cost of $19,700. This means if you can afford it, you get a far superior turntable and you have $7,150 left in your pocket.
Well, now that I’ve tried that bit of rationalization, let’s get on with talking about this truly special platter and mat.
Both the platter mat and stabilizer are made from a super-purity silica glass made from a special man-made quartz that has Audio Replas’ HR treatment. Audio Replas’ literature says, “vibration has a large influence on vinyl reproduction, thus exact vibration processing is essential. A quick-response material is ideal in order to bring out the maximum from a vinyl music disk.” They go on to say, “the material we use to deal with acoustic velocity, vibration processing speed, and capacity are markedly superior to any other material.” They designed the mat and stabilizer in an attempt to cope more effectively with the wide range of distorting vibration you get from a vinyl disc. They claim this results in superior sound quality from vinyl than ever before by allowing your turntable to bring out the full information contained in a vinyl disc.
I’m not sure about what all that means, but I know what I heard. Like the Clearaudio Statement Clamp, the Audio Replas’ mat and stabilizer had a profound effect on the sound in my listening room that started in the bottom and went all the way to the top. They also extended the frequency extremes. With the Audio Replas’ mat and stabilizer my system’s bass was not only more powerful and deeper; it was also more vibrant, had more bloom, and the decay was even more wonderful than ever before. The good news is it still had lightening fast attack, and realistic musical slam. The top-end sparkled, shimmered and never sounded the least bit bright or etched, and the midrange and treble were simply more beautiful.
The Audio Replas made the midrange fuller, and the music more fleshed out. Plucked strings came to life and seemed to be more vibrant, as did horns. Woodwinds sounded sweeter and there was more air around them. Voices sounded more alive and again with more air within and around them. The soundstage was deeper and wider with much bigger scale with this combo. I have to admit the Audio Rplas’ mat and stabilizer blew me away, but I could never get my mind around the cost.
With any product priced so astronomically above similar products, price and value always come into play. I also have also come to hate writing reviews where I can’t explain why something sounds like it does or cost what it does. So here is what I suggest. If you already have the turntable you plan to keep forever, and you would like to gild the rose a little (well really a whole heck of a lot), then here are two products you couldn’t go wrong with. The other good news is that at least for me I get enough of what I need from just the stabilizer to be satisfied. I’m not saying the stabilizer by itself is 90%, or any other percent as good as the mat and stabilizer combo. What I am saying is that the stabilizer by itself elevated the sound of my system to being the best source I have ever heard in my room, and taking the mat off didn’t leave me in dismay. I will miss it thought when it is gone.
What Happens if We Mix and Match
Let me just start by saying that you wouldn’t be much of a tweaker if you didn’t try the two mats with all the clamps, and I did. If you can afford both the Audio Replas’ TS OPT300 HR mat and OPS-1 HR stabilizer, then you should not pass them up. However, if you can’t afford both, and I would at least get the clamp; in fact, I thought it sounded superb on my Clearaudio turntable’s acrylic platter with no mat at all. I tried a lot of different combinations, but I could hear no reason to mix and match in the end. I did make one interesting discovery: The Audio Replas’ clamp made a bigger difference on some cartridges than others. For example, the Miyabi standard lacked air and sparkle when I used the Clearaudio Statement, but with the Audio Replas it came alive. This difference was not nearly as big with the Benz Ebony TR or the EMT cartridge.
These clamps and mats demonstrated as well as anything I have ever reviewed that it’s a lot easier to hear the difference in audio products than it is to decide which one sounds best. If you’re like most audiophiles I know, including myself, you might want to reread that last sentence, maybe even memorize it. The reason I say this is simple, all the time we are getting excited about hearing differences and jumping to conclusions about which is better. Sometimes this goes on for a long time. For example, when I first became an audiophile, no self respecting audiophile would own horns, high-efficient speakers, or even consider an eight-watt amp. We also dismissed direct-drive and rim-drive turntable as non-audiophile products. So be careful about confusing difference with better. Now, I said all that because that’s the real problem with comparing these clamps and mats.
The amazing thing was how different people, whose opinions I value, came to such different conclusions about these products. My twenty-five year old son whose ears I have learned to really trust, always picked the Audio Replas. A speaker designer I really trust always picked the Clearaudio Statement. Then, there was the industry insider who thought the Millennium clamp was his favorite. He didn’t think it was necessarily the absolute best, but thought it best combined the sounds of the two more expensive clamps. And lastly, the pair of ears who almost always hears like me picket the Clearaudio Twister for the same reasons of combing the best of the others, though not quite as good in the areas of the others’ strengths. One last thing, with all but my son, no one knew the price of any of the clamps when they were listening.
I lived with these products for months unlike any of the other people mentioned above. I came to feel that the Clearaudio Statement and the Audio Replas were the two best clamps, and if they cost one hundred or even two hundred dollars each I would buy both; but of course they don’t and I won’t. The reason is, I think they each sound best on different records. So what is the vinyl lover to do?
Well, if you have a starter turntable I would get the Clearaudio Twister and when I could afford to spend more, I’d spend it on my turntable or cartridge before I spent a lot on a clamp. On the other hand, if you have the turntable of your dreams, or at least as close as you can afford to the turntable of your dreams, I would try to listen to the other three. If money matters, you can’t go wrong starting with the Millennium’s Silentor clamp and then adding their mat later; this is probably the biggest bang for the buck in this group. If you want to step up a little, then you have a big and difficult choice to make. If you can, you need to hear both the Clearaudio Statement and the Audio Replas. I don’t know how feasible that is, so I have tried to tell you how they each sounded. Truth is I think you will be pleased with either, especially if you haven’t heard the other one. Once you hear them both, the problem is you will like them both for very different reasons. The Clearaudio Statement for its bass, solidity, and quietness; the Audio Replas for its tunefulness and how it sounded alive.
Then, of course there is the cost-no-object. Pretend there is no economic downturn, ultimate way to go: the Audio Replas Mat and Stabilizer. If you can afford them and have no problem with putting that much money into your vinyl setup, go for it. You won’t be disappointed. Yes, with this combo your system may sound a little more beautiful than it should, but how can you argue with beauty.
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