Described in "Pot-Pourri" Sept 93, the original Ringmat resulted from fresh thinking on the optimum way of supporting vinyl records on a conventional platter: it comprised a 242mm paper/cotton disc with two narrow concentric rings of a cork composite on the upper surface and two near the outer edge, on the underside. Total thicknesses of 2, 2.5 and 3mm were made to accommodate systems where no arm height adjustment was possible. The position of the support rings had been arrived at on the basis of both computer prediction of vibration modes and by subjective listening tests. But shortly after the mat was on the market, continued experimentation had led to a MklI replacement; this had an additional underside ring and a small paper quadrant next to the spindle cut out. The MklI offered considerable sonic improvements. (An upgrade service is available for Mkl owners.)

But co-designer John Rogers is a perfectionist, and he has persevered with the design. During April, a 330 MkII XLR is to go into production. This is basically similar, except that the top outer ring is now wider (3.2mm) and 8mm less in diameter, while the profile of the inner ring, which sits some 16mm away from the record label, has been lowered.

Once again, the changes in sound quality are surprisingly apparent. But, as Rogers admits, careful listening comparisons are needed to confirm that these are not merely "trade-offs', when the XLR may seem to sacrifice some of the "air" of the earlier Mkll.

The opening drum taps of "Play of the couples" from Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, on the Classic Sound recut (Chicago SO/Reiner), offer an immediate contrast: on the MkII, light and airy, with atmospheric reverberation sounding from the other side of the soundstage, these are firmer, deeper with the XLR and the player's position is sharper focused I used a Well Tempered Arm/VdH MC 1S (with body casing removed), Linn LP12 with Cirkus modifications and Naim power supply, on RATA stands.

Some more aggressive Bartok followed: the last two movements from the Fourth String Quartet on the Juilliard's 1970 CBS reissue -this was chosen as I had always disliked its "one mic to each player" character. Now, contradictory though this may seem, one could more easily pinpoint each instrument in space, while as a group the quartet had become more unified. The strings snapping back on the fingerboard, as the composer prescribed in the pizzicato (iv), were richer; the inner detail was easier to follow.

It was evident that the XLR realised more low register and ambient information (thus the increased focus within textures). With Rickie Lee Jones's "Easy Money', similarly, one could hear more about how the track was produced: echo added to voice; the fade up of piano etc. More importantly, there was more expression to the singing.

On the ASM/Argo recording, the Andantino of Rossini's Second String Sonata begins with a very powerful tutti. With the XLR a whole layer of hazy near-congestion was removed, the acoustic was clearer and support lines more apparent, such as quiet bass accompaniment figures. You wanted to go on listening indefinitely; also you could still listen comfortably at higher replay levels.

The superb (and alas no longer available) Fennell Symphonic Winds/Telarc LP has some demanding HoIst tracks, with added percussion. These were much cleaner; with more perceptible depth layers in the hall; and, for the first time in my system, the anvil in "Song of the Anvil" remained in position, where usually it shifts inwards after its first entry.

So, an improvement in several musical aspects occurs. An essential replacement for the 12in felt or rubber mat for any critical listener, the MklI remains very satisfactory, but the XLR at 47.50 (a trade-in allowance is offered against the MkII) is even better.

 

Christopher Breunig, Hi-Fi News & Record Review, April 1996
 

Hi-Fi News and Record Review