RINGMAT 330 ANNIVERSARY

 

 

 

Caroline Osborn Gramophone

December 2003

"Whatever the science, this works: the noise floor drops and the dynamic range goes up ...the Anniversary Ringmat more than justifies its cost with the performance enhancements it can bring."

 

 

 

 

 

Bjarne B. Jensen

High Fidelity (Denmark)Number 3

2002

Superb support from Ringmat
Ringmat specialize in making enhancements for Vinyl, CD and DVD


When CD was introduced 20 years ago, the demise of the LP was deemed to be very soon. The rumours were greatly exaggerated, and still are, for although many have said goodbye to vinyl, new supporters are still coming in, which can be seen by the many new record players and pick-ups that still constantly pop up. Yes, within the last year, both the sale and production of LPs have increased, and although the numbers are small, it’s still very interesting.

I am one of those who have stuck with my old record player and albums through the years, although I must admit that there have been very long gaps in between playing my records. This has changed radically in recent months, during which I have played more LPs than CDs.

Ringmat Support System
My renewed interest in albums is due to the fact that I have acquired a Ringmat Support System, which has changed the sound of my records in such a positive way that I have to admit that, in many ways, LPs now sound better than CDs.

The System requires some effort from the user, so let me start with the simplest aspect, the Ringmat, which is placed on top of the platter. It is available in several versions, all made from cork rings, and a paper-like substance. I have had the opportunity to sample two versions, the former top model, called Ringmat MkII XLR, and the new Anniversary Ringmat 330, which was introduced recently when the Ringmat firm held the 10th anniversary of the product’s design. Both Ringmats make a big improvement over all other forms of record mat I have tried through the years. With Ringmat, the background gets darker, the bass faster and the top more open.

The new Anniversary version underscores this in an obvious way when you switch directly from the old XLR model. One notices a much broader and deeper perspective, with more height. This is very surprising, as the two mats look very similar. The difference is in the cut-outs and the gluing. The sound improvements are obvious, and even dynamics improve, so the extra money is well spent. As with many of the Ringmat products, the price can seem high if you look at the products and the materials used, ignoring the improvements in sound. In fact, one has to consider that these hand-crafted products demand a lot of skill and time and are much more demanding to make than they look. At this stage, there is already a big improvement in the sound of my albums, but the subsequent stages improve the sound even further.

LP Blue Statmat
The next stage is to introduce the LP Blue Statmat, which is an improved version of the LP Statmat. It now has three layers, which makes it much more powerful. It is simply placed below the Ringmat and doesn’t require any height adjustment of your pick-up arm. The LP Blue Statmat comes with a Statcap, which is placed on top of the record and remains there during play. Do the voodoo-like pieces of plastic work? Yes, definitely. All the usual noise associated with vinyl disappears, though not, of course, the scratches. There is more air between performers and the acoustics of the recording venues are easier to hear. The dynamics also improve. One extra plus is that the vinyl no longer retains static anymore, attracting the dust.

The next step is more demanding and the lazy can stop here. This also goes for those with a pick-up arm without height adjustment. But there is much more to gain if you take the full step and use all the modules of the Ringmat Support System. This last step takes some effort from the user. It takes time and is not without difficulties, but it is amply rewarded many times over with even better sound.

All Ringmat products are developed by John Rogers. To get some insight into the thinking behind the products you can start by reading the booklets that accompany the Ringmat Support System. The booklets are: “How to set up and fine tune a turntable” and the instructions for the “Ringmat Support System”. Everything is very thoroughly explained but let me nevertheless go through the stages one by one.

The System consists of a black latex mat that is placed upon the turntable platter, where it almost sucks itself into a firm position. On top of this are placed the so-called Ringmat Spacers of different thickness and colour. These are put on top of each other until you are left with the 4 or 5 thinnest. On top of these are placed the LP Blue Statmat and the Ringmat, with an LP on top. After this you adjust the tonearm until it is 2-2.5 mm lower at the back than the front. After this you can fine-tune the height with the Spacers according to the original cutting angle and adjust for the best sound.

Now comes the difficult part, which is the adjustment of tracking weight, as it is not always the recommended tracking weight from the manufacturer that gives the best sound. You start with a recording you know well, put it on the record player and start with a lower tracking weight than usual. You listen and try to find the tracking pressure where the sound snap into focus. This means all the instruments and voices have their own space and there is ample soundstage in height, depth and width. You might have to try a few times but in the end you will probably find a tracking pressure that is lower than the one you are using now.

Once you have found the right tracking pressure, you stick to it. After doing this, you can adjust the sound with the Spacers, which you can take off or put on according to the cutting angle of the record and the thickness of the vinyl. After a time you find a sort of average height, which you can then stick to, or use as a starting point if your listening becomes more critical.

The Result
But what is the result of all this effort? Before I get to this, I will tell about one of my friends who has heard the result. He is a hi-fi professional and left vinyl years ago. At first he was sceptical, but we ended up digging out old vinyl and playing for the next four hours. He has heard a multitude of vinyl-based systems, and found this was amongst the best he has heard, irrespective of price. And here you have to know that my system is based on a 25 year old STD record player, a Mørch UP-4 tonearm and an eight year old Denon 304. This is a long way from ’state of the art’, though I must admit that the RIAA in my Holfi Pre 1 definitely is. Nevertheless, it is amazing that the Ringmat Support System can bring these old components up to this level of performance. So what is the collective result sound-wise?

Let me start with an example from my vinyl collection. One of my trophies is an eight album Beatles box set, the records having been pressed by Toshiba in Japan. They have very silent surfaces and better dynamics than the European pressings. Nevertheless, it is only now that, for the first time, I have been able to resolve who is singing in the choruses and things like that. My admiration for Paul McCartney’s bass playing has also grown, and it is now heard with more detail and much better dynamics. Another example is Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”, with Lorin Maazel. It starts out with a very large soundstage, where a lot of things are going on. Here is a very large orchestra, chorus, soloists and a piano, whilst in the middle of it all they’re playing the dice game “craps”. All the details of the sound of this game are there in the middle of this very large soundstage, which I have never before heard in this classic recording.

I could go on like this for a long time but let me end up with a general impression. The sound-stage is more focused and the background much quieter, so the noise you thought was a part of vinyl replay disappears. The height grows. The bass goes deeper and the top cleaner. The sound gets warmer but without masking detail, which becomes more obvious but as a part of the whole picture. All in all, the transformation of my vinyl sound is astounding, and though the price is more than 2,200kr, you get a lot for your money. You can easily spend a whole lot more on pick-up or tonearm without getting this kind of result. I have tried the System on much more expensive record players, where the result was just as good. It is whole-heartedly recommended.

Statmat for CD and DVD
While we are talking about Ringmat products, I must not forget the new edition of Statmat, which is called CDi Blue. It is in three layers, with two layers of the active material and a thicker piece in the middle. Unlike earlier upgradings of Statmat, there is a very big improvement in sound, as the bottom-end gets more solid and you get a larger and more precise soundstage, which is very easy to hear when you switch from an older version to the new.

The new version is also easier to use. It also works on DVDs, and this goes for both sound and picture. The picture is sharper and achieves greater depth and all this from a super-discount DVD player. In short, there is every reason to upgrade to the new CDi Blue.

 

 

 

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