Turntable Mats: What Are They Used For?
If you’re new to owning a record player, it can be a challenge to understand all of their moving parts and features. As you get more experienced in turntable features, you’ll develop preferences for which accessories produce the sound you prefer.
One of the first accessories to learn about is the turntable mat. This is one of the best first turntable components to play with because changing it changes the sound of your records and helps you develop a better ear for vinyl.
To help you get started, here’s a quick guide to different types of turntable mats and what they’re used for.
What’s a Turntable Mat?
A turntable mat is a circular mat made of soft, absorbent material that lies between the platter of your turntable and your record when it’s playing. It absorbs vibrations and enables the stylus to contact the grooves on your record more smoothly and consistently for an overall better sound.
Every record player comes with a standard turntable mat to get you started. As you become a more experienced vinyl listener, you may want to change the standard mat out for one that shifts the sound of your music in a more auditorily pleasing direction.
There are many different types of turntable mats, each with its own pros and cons. Some turntable mats are meant for DJing, some for home use. Some amplify bass, and some dampen static and crackling.
Rubber mats usually come standard with turntables, but some vinyl enthusiasts swap them out for mats in other materials for various reasons that we’ll get into later.
What Are Turntable Mats Used For?
Turntable mats physically support your records while they’re playing. They prevent slipping, protect from scratches, and dampen mechanical vibrations so that the sound quality of your record is better.
If you’ve played a record on a record player before, you’re probably familiar with the crackling sound that sometimes accompanies the audio. It’s caused by electronic static and mechanical vibrations from operating the record player. Turntable mats reduce that crackling, hissing sound and help your record player give you a smoother, clearer audio experience.
Some materials are better than others at doing this job, although a lot of it comes down to personal preferences for how you want your record to sound. While you don’t have to have a turntable mat, they’re good for protecting your record from the turntable platter, which is usually made of metal and can be abrasive to the softer vinyl material of a record.
What Are the Types of Turntable Mat?
If you can think of a soft material, someone’s probably used it to make a turntable mat. There are many types of turntable mats and lots of different mat-making materials, but some are more popular than others. We’ve listed a few of the more common types of turntable mats here for you.
Rubber Turntable Mats
These are the standard. Rubber mats are anti-slip and secure, meaning that they grip well enough to keep the record moving with the mat, not spinning independently. They absorb vibration very well, and they’re the standard-issue turntable mat for a reason.
Rubber mats give good, clean, non-distorted sound, although some audiophiles seem to think they don’t dampen static as well as some other materials. Rubber is also an easy-to-clean material, so rubber is a good choice if you have problems with dust.
However, rubber mats are comparatively heavy and thick. When you combine that with the high amount of friction such a sturdy material creates with the platter, the result is a slight burning rubber smell that slowly develops after using the record player for a while. The smell won’t change the sound of your records, but it can be alarming and off-putting over the long term.
Felt Turntable Mats
These mats are soft and somewhat slippery. They’re considered good for DJ tricks like scratching because you can hold the record still while the felt-covered platter spins.
However, felt is a soft, fuzzy material. That means that felt mats can attract dirt, hair, and dust. The mats can also stick to your records after playing. Using a felt mat can be fun, but you may find yourself cleaning your mats and records more often if you use one.
Leather Turntable Mats
Leather mats are thick, soft, and sturdy. They absorb a lot of vibration and dampen static. For this reason, leather mats are a great choice if you want to noticeably improve the sound quality of your records. They stay cleaner than felt mats and look sleek and elegant.
One of the unique sound properties of leather mats is that bass notes sound clearer and broader on a leather mat. They also last a long time and are often beautifully decorated. You get what you pay for, however. Leather mats can be a bit pricier than other materials.
Cork Turntable Mats
Cork mats are trendy, probably because they’re a good compromise between the pros and cons of rubber, felt, and leather. They don’t attract dust, and they also dampen static and vibrations, so you get a good sound and keep your records clean as well.
The sound you get using a cork mat is often described as “warm” because they are light but ]non-resonant. This means they absorb much of the mechanical noise and resonance of your turntable but don’t amplify the record’s tones, enabling you to hear the sound of the vinyl more clearly, with less interference.
However, you can’t do DJ tricks with a cork mat. The soft wooden material doesn’t have much slip, so it’s difficult to hold a record still and let a cork mat spin beneath it freely. Cork is also not as durable as some other materials. Because it’s so light and soft, over time, bits of your cork turntable mat will start to crumble and flake. These can stick to your record or create sound interference due to uneven contact with the record player’s platter and your vinyl record.
No Turntable Mat
If the platter of your turntable is made of a vibration-absorbing material like acrylic, it’s possible to give up using a mat entirely. This eliminates all of the absorbency, cleaning, and clinging issues that mats have in general. However, it can only be done if your turntable is made of acrylic or a similar material.
Standard metallic turntable platters could wreck vinyl if you use it consistently without a mat. Playing your record straight on the acrylic platter of your record player can make the sound more varied and sharper because the acrylic sharpens the differences between high and low notes.
Other Turntable Mats
You can also get mats made of more than one material (cork and rubber hybrids are a popular option). There are also options made of unusual materials such as glass, acrylic, wool, and soft metals like brass. Some music enthusiasts even use other records as mats, claiming it adds depth and power to the sound of the record they’re playing.
Specialty mats are usually created with specific effects and sounds in mind, so if you’re thinking of using one, it’s a good idea to look into their specific properties and make an informed decision.
Do You Really Need a Turntable Mat?
Yes, you really do need a turntable mat. The real question is, should you change your turntable mat? Turntables are carefully designed, and generally speaking, the type of mat that comes with the record player is optimal. Turntable mats are carefully selected, just like all the other elements of a good record player.
However, if you want a different sound or feature that your current turntable mat doesn’t provide, a little trial and error won’t hurt. It all depends on you, your level of turntable expertise, and the sound that you want to coax out of your vinyl collection.
If you’re not sure what kind of turntable mat is best for you, try a few different kinds. Play the same record on different turntable mats and listen carefully, fine-tuning your ear and deciding which mat gives you the sound you like the most. Playing with the mechanical subtleties of sound is part of the fun of having a vinyl collection. Turntable mats are one of the most easily accessible ways to do that.