THE STORY OF STATMAT AND THE STAT FILM

 

JOHN ROGERS REVEALS HOW THE STATMAT FILM WAS CONCEIVED AND DEVELOPED


STATMAT FOR DIGITAL REPRODUCTION
The origins of Statmat reach back to around 1991, when most of the initial development work on our first product, Ringmat, had been completed. Ringmat was launched the following year. The Story of Ringmat can be read here.

At the time, it was felt that the sort of improvements in sound reproduction brought about by Ringmat could also be introduced to digital playback, though the methods of reproduction were in many ways quite different.

I remember the discussions I had at the time with Denis Morecroft, my co-designer of Ringmat. He played a cd, then rinsed it in water, and played it again – the sound the second time was immediately far better, clearer and more dynamic, but in a short time the sound quality reverted to how it was the

 

first time the cd was played. Others, who have had similar experiences, have written about the water test. What we needed to do was to find a means to at least equal the improvement of the water effect and then to retain it throughout the duration of the CD in play.

 

Clearly, electrostatic fields were building up during play, which were having detrimental effects on the environment in the cd player and no doubt on the cd itself and the electronics inside the player. Some initial ideas were tried out, some included cork!  But these were only to demonstrate that any solution had to be extremely lightweight, otherwise the timing of the music was thrown out of balance and the reproduced frequencies lowered as though the speed had been reduced – the same effect as having the wrong speed with vinyl replay. Even a minimal weight was noticeable in a revealing system. To some ears, the effects of using a weighted disc might be attractive, perhaps in the short-term, but the resulting reproduction is not accurate and therefore not sustainable in a top performing system. The hearing faculty becomes restless because the sound is clearly not right.

 

A variety of lightweight conductive materials were tried, some with spectacular but flawed results. The most encouraging came from certain types of conductive film, which we then augmented with several types and colours of ink. The greens and blues were interesting but the only successful ones were conductive black inks. Extensive trials enabled us to refine the compositions of the inks, each of which had specific attributes in the sound reproductive processes when used with cds in play, and therefore in the way they handled the electrostatic fields building up in the cd player, on the cd and amongst the electronics. The best results came from having a different ink on one side of the film to the other and to have clear film between the patterned layers on each side.
 

Small changes in distance between the conductive ink layers had a big effect in the way the electrostatic charges behaved and evaluations of these effects, together with those of the different ink properties on the top and underside of the film, eventually resulted in the patterns seen today. There then followed much experimentation with the thickness of the ink and the drying processes involved, as these affected the permanency of the ink covering, resistance to scratching and the way the inks controlled the electrostatic charges and therefore the sound.

 

The cutout patterns in the film are a result of earlier research work I carried out for the Ringmat Spacers, subsequently used in the Ringmat Support System and later for the Anniversary series of Ringmats and many other Ringmat products. They reduce the effects of vibration and resonance in materials during mechanised operations and as a result of materials being attached or otherwise coupled to one another and in turn suffering from vibrations occurring during everyday life – traffic passing by and so on. Resonance and vibration with media carriers is a particular problem. The cutouts follow a special geometric pattern that involves adding or removing mass in key positions in relation to area and shape. The basic pattern is found in varying ways in all our products.

The first Statmat for cds was launched as a single film in 1996. There quickly followed a MkII version and then a MkII CDi version in September 1999 with a change in the overall size and improvements in the cutout patterns brought about as our understanding of the way the patterns worked increased with experience.

 

NEED FOR A HEAVIER STATMAT
As mentioned above, initially, the Statmat was marketed as a single film product. However, with drawer loading mechanisms, some difficulties were being encountered as developments within the industry changed the way many drawer mechanisms were built and behaved. The increased speed of movement of lighter and a more “open” design of drawers sometimes caused the very light single film Statmat to be lifted in the air as the drawer closed, with the result that the film did not always stay in position on the disc. Another problem was that many pucks or clamps collected grease from the centre of cds (from the handling process, especially when they were pressed down over the retaining clips in the centre of the jewel cases, leaving greasy finger marks), which, in a warm, even hot, environment inside the player caused the grease near the centre of the disc, and thereby the pucks or clamps, to become very tacky. This tackiness was sufficient for the pucks or clamps to lift the single film Statmats off the cds when they were ejected from the player at the end of play. Obviously, this was not an issue with top loaders, but in some cases it was a problem for users with certain drawer loading players.

STATMAT CDi BLUE
We therefore designed a slightly heavier Statmat, the CDi Blue, which did not move so readily during movement of the drawer, nor lift up with the puck or clamp. To compensate for the slight extra weight (1.8g as opposed to 0.3g of the single film) it was necessary to take advantage of the extra layers to design an even more powerful Statmat. One so powerful that the adverse effects of electrostatic charges would be reduced even more and the new mat would also be more effective in reducing the effects of vibration during play.

 

The extra power to handle electrostatic charges came from using two Statmat films, one a mirror image and placed at 90º to the other, with a specially coloured blue substrate in between, all cut using the special anti-vibration CDi pattern. The Statmat CDi Blue was launched at the London Hi-Fi Show in September 2001.

 

LP BLUE & STATCAP
Following the development of the single film Statmat MkII CDi, an LP version for vinyl replay was also introduced, but because we were so impressed with the improvement in sound with the early prototype versions of the CDi Blue, we immediately started to develop a version of the CDi Blue for LPs. These development processes soon began to run concurrently, and we quickly found that improvements we were bringing about with vinyl could also be used for cd and, similarly, improvements found for cd could also enhance the LP performance. It was a very interesting period of design work. The vinyl aspect of the design was more complex because we were also able to introduce a Statmat on the other side of the media carrier, the Statcap. As a result, it has always been possible for us to get a higher quality sound with vinyl than with cd, over and above other considerations between the two forms of reproduction. The LP Blue and Statcap were launched at the Manchester Hi-Fi Show in November 2001, two months after the CDi Blue in London.

 

STATMAT CDi PLUS
The increased use of the single film Statmat MkII CDi in computer systems meant we needed to find a way to keep the film on the disc in some of the very shallow, lightweight CD/DVD/CD-ROM transports used in computer systems, which were also increasingly being used in hi-fi system components. After some research, we developed the use of an adhesive ‘ring’ for the underside of the Statmat that would adhere to the label side of the disc to retain the Statmat in position during play but was repeelable so that it could be used again with the next and subsequent discs. The sound

quality was also better than with the standard Statmat MkII CDi. It had the additional benefit of providing ‘worry free’ use of the Statmat film in conventional cd and other digital players, though its use in multi-play and car cd players would still not be appropriate. Statmat CDi PLUS was launched at the London Hi-Fi Show in September 2005.

 

STATFEET
In the early days of using the Statmat film, having been impressed by the control that Statmats were having over the sound, I was curious what effect the film had on equipment generally. So I draped sheets of the Statmat film over some amplifiers I was using to see what would happen. Not being sure what to expect, I was surprised how massively the sound immediately changed. Further experimentation showed that to get the sound right, we had to use the single Statmat film underneath equipment rather than on top, and under a ‘foot’ of an item of equipment. It seemed to break the electromagnetic contact between the equipment above and the supporting shelf, or other base, the equipment was resting upon and to whatever other equipment might lay within the vicinity and to which the first item of equipment might be coupled electro magnetically, as well as physically. Additional layers of the film improved its power, but it only worked underneath one ‘foot’ of an item of equipment – placed under more than one ‘foot’, the Statfoot simply did not work as it should. It also mattered how the film was orientated in relation to which ‘foot’ was used, as turning the Statmat film through 360º kept changing the sound.

Conveniently, this all came about as we were working on the design of the Ringmat Feet, so it seemed appropriate to include the resultant Statfoot in each set of Ringmat Feet when they were launched in 1999. Statfeet were also made available separately for use under all sorts of hi-fi and AV equipment, including televisions.

The research involved with designing Statfeet showed how powerful these passive components are and how easily they can massively change the sound according to how and where they are used in a system. It is therefore important to keep Statmats and Statfeet away from hi-fi and AV equipment unless in use in the manner prescribed. It is therefore appropriate also to bear in mind other aspects of the performance of the Statmat film when making A/B comparisons with and without the film in place.

RETAINED CHARGE
One aspect of the Statmat film that caused confusion in the early days for users and reviewers was the way the ‘charge’ imparted by the film was retained for a while after the Statmat had been removed. In fact, it is more complicated than that because removing the film also removes the weight of the Statmat, or the very fact that something is intervening between the Statmat and the clamp or puck or whatever, even though the Statmat is a mere 0.3g. So removing the Statmat temporarily actually improves the sound until the beneficial effects of using the Statmat start to wear off – a matter of a minute or two later. The sound then steadily deteriorates towards its ‘non-Statmat’ state until the Statmat is again put to use. Without realising this situation, quick A/B comparisons with and without Statmat can produce a confusing situation.

PHASE ANOMALIES
Another difficulty arises with sound reproduction systems where the sound is affected by phase anomalies, such as those caused by having the absolute phase of a drive unit in a loudspeaker inverted so as to maintain a flat frequency response at 1metre (same set up with both speakers, of course). Or with certain speakers using heavy/complex crossover arrangements that affect the phase of the signal, or loudspeakers with drive unit alignments designed to obtain special spatial effects, as these can affect the coincidence of direct and reflected waveforms, effectively introducing phase anomalies. The way Statmat works is to correct phase errors caused by electrostatic and electromagnetic interference, but if the absolute phase of the signal is significantly turned away from true 0º or 180º by the design of the speakers, then the correction brought about by the Statmat will, to an extent, be nullified. The same situation arises with other phase anomaly situations, such as those caused by vibration and resonance in materials, which is why other Ringmat products have been designed and introduced – to achieve a true 0º or 180º signal throughout the sound reproduction chain.

Both 0º and 180º are mentioned because this depends on the recording. All recordings have both true 0º and 180º absolute phase situations and switch from one to the other according to the way the recording is actually made and how it is put together through mixing and editing the various session or sound takes. Also, some digital recordings that have subsequently been re-mastered have no absolute phase integrity at all and are full of anti-phase. More about this subject another time.

Coincidence of direct and reflected waveforms
Ringmat and Statmat products correct phase distortion and other anomalies in the music signal that are caused by electrical and physical vibrations and resonance in materials.

One of the effects is to retain greater accuracy in the absolute phase of the signal. As a result, sound information starts and stops more quickly. With ‘overhang’ removed, the sound is much clearer. However, this improvement may not become so apparent if the sound is then slowed or smeared by sound reflections arriving at the listening position at varying times rather than together, because the position and angle of the speakers require a consequent adjustment.

This situation is not unique to Ringmat and Statmat products. Similar adjustments may be required whenever introducing any manufacturers’ products into a sound reproduction system, be it a hi-fi or home cinema system.

Accordingly, the position of each speaker in relation to a rear wall, the distance between each speaker and the extent to which they are ‘toed-in’ (to tighten imagery and adjust relationships in distance to rear and side walls) needs to be checked each time there is any change. Depending upon the accuracy of the system, an adjustment of 3mm to 6mm either way may be all that is needed, although sometimes more is required if there is still a problem.

Depending upon the ease with which a speaker can be moved and the manner in which it is supported, I usually find it possible to ascertain the correct position simply by listening to each speaker in turn while ‘leaning’, ‘turning’ or ‘swivelling’ it in each direction, concentrating on any changes in the timing, clarity and transparency of the sound as this is done. This should NOT be attempted by anyone if the speakers are too heavy or not suitably under control. Care should be taken to ensure they couldn’t topple or cause damage either to the speakers or their supports. Where necessary, help should be sought with holding a speaker and to check that there is no risk to the cables or to any connections. Where appropriate, also first mute the outputs from the amplifiers or switch them off whilst moving the speakers any appreciable distance.

FURTHER DEVELOPMENTS
In time, new products using Statmat film will be introduced to refine sound reproduction still further.

 

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